Hillicon Valley: Facebook endures rough day with regulators | New York AG probing collection of user emails | Canada says Facebook broke privacy laws | Ireland investigating password breach | Twitter pushes back on report about white supremacist content

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).


A NO GOOD VERY BAD DAY FOR FACEBOOK: New York’s attorney general is launching an investigation into Facebook after it was reported last week that the company had scraped the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their consent.

“It is time Facebook is held accountable for how it handles consumers’ personal information,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Facebook has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of respect for consumers’ information while at the same time profiting from mining that data.”


James added that the incident is the “latest demonstration that Facebook does not take seriously its role in protecting our personal information.”

Facebook did not immediately respond when asked for comment on James’s announcement.

Business Insider first reported Facebook’s actions last week after a security researcher noticed that some new Facebook users were being asked for their email passwords when they signed up for the social network.

Facebook told the outlet that it harvested 1.5 million users’ address books. The total number of email addresses it obtained is unclear but could easily reach into the tens or hundreds of millions.

The company said it did not access the content of any of the users’ emails.

Read more on the investigation here.


AND OVER IN CANADA…: Canada’s privacy watchdog is accusing Facebook of violating the country’s privacy laws in its handling of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and vowing to take the social media giant to court.

Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) released its “troubling” findings on Thursday after a yearlong probe into Facebook’s privacy practices.

The report blasts Facebook for disputing the agency’s conclusions and for not agreeing to greater regulatory oversight.

“The stark contradiction between Facebook’s public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems we’ve identified — or even acknowledge that it broke the law — is extremely concerning,” Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement.

In a call with reporters on Thursday, Therrien, the privacy commissioner, warned users to exercise caution when using Facebook.

“Canadians are at risk because the protections that Facebook offers are essentially empty,” Therrien said.

Facebook’s response: Facebook said it has worked to address a number of the OPC’s concerns and was willing to enter into a compliance agreement.

“After many months of good-faith cooperation and lengthy negotiations, we are disappointed that the OPC considers the issues raised in this report unresolved,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “There’s no evidence that Canadians’ data was shared with Cambridge Analytica, and we’ve made dramatic improvements to our platform to protect people’s personal information.”

Read more on Canada’s case here.


AND IN IRELAND…: Ireland’s privacy regulator on Thursday announced that it is probing Facebook’s recent announcement that “hundreds of millions” of user passwords were exposed within the company’s internal servers for years.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC) said it has initiated a “statutory inquiry” into whether Facebook violated the European Union’s sweeping data rules, called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), by allowing the passwords to be stored in a format that employees could search through. 

“The Data Protection Commission was notified by Facebook that it had discovered that hundreds of millions of user passwords, relating to users of Facebook, Facebook Lite and Instagram, were stored by Facebook in plain text format in its internal servers,” the IDPC said in a statement.

“We have this week commenced a statutory inquiry in relation to this issue to determine whether Facebook has complied with its obligations under relevant provisions of the GDPR,” the regulator added.

What we know: The inquiry comes weeks after Facebook said in a blog post that hundreds of millions of users’ passwords had been stored in unprotected plain text accessible by the company’s employees. It later added that millions of Instagram passwords had been stored this way.

Facebook in a statement on Thursday emphasized that it has not seen evidence that the passwords were “abused or improperly accessed.”

“We are working with the IDPC on their inquiry,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Read more on Ireland’s ongoing Facebook probes here.


DON’T TEST ME: Facebook is cracking down on third-party apps on its platform, announcing Thursday that it will no longer allow programs like the one that enabled political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to obtain the information of millions of users without their consent.

The company said in a blog post that it will no longer allow apps with “minimal utility,” like personality quizzes, and will no longer allow apps to “ask for data that doesn’t enrich the in-app, user experience.”

The announcement comes five years after a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan built a Facebook app called thisisyourdigitallife, which collected data on users through a personality quiz and by vacuuming up information about the friends of the respondents. Kogan later sold the data — which included information on as many as 87 million users — to Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that worked for President Trump’s 2016 campaign and several other Republican candidates.

Read more on the apps that won’t be allowed here.


THE NEW REVOLVING DOOR: One of President TrumpDonald John TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants ‘one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany’ Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey MORE‘s top tech advisers is leaving the administration to join the newly restructured Fox Corp. as head of the broadcaster’s federal policy team.

Abigail Slater will be the new senior vice president for policy and strategy, Fox announced on Wednesday.

Slater joined the White House in February 2018 as special assistant to the president for technology, telecommunications and cybersecurity. She previously served as general counsel for the Internet Association, a trade group representing companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google.

“Abigail Slater has been a technology policy maker at the highest levels of government and industry and will use that expertise to craft and communicate FOX’s policy priorities,” Danny O’Brien, Fox’s head of government relations, said in a statement.

The Trump administration has credited Slater with helping to craft and execute its strategy for promoting the rollout of next-generation wireless networks known as 5G.

Read more here.


SEE WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS: Twitter is pushing back on a new report from Motherboard indicating the company hesitates to crack down on white supremacist content because Republican lawmakers could be swept up in such a purge.

Motherboard reported earlier Thursday that a Twitter employee at an all-hands meeting last month said the company does not use artificial intelligence (AI) to aggressively take down neo-Nazi content because it could unintentionally remove Republican lawmakers and their supporters from the platform.

Twitter, in a statement to The Hill, said the story has “absolutely no basis in fact” and disputed the “characterization of the exchange at the meeting of March 22.”

“There are no simple algorithms that find all abusive content on the Internet and we certainly wouldn’t avoid turning them on for political reasons,” the Twitter spokesperson said.

Why Twitter is under fire: The report comes as Twitter users concerned about the spread of white supremacist content call on the company to “ban Nazis” and take stronger action on the spread of misinformation. Last year, the company came under fire for its decision not to ban Alex Jones, saying the conspiracy theorist and InfoWars founder did not violate its rules. It ultimately banned Jones and his affiliated accounts in September.

Critics for years have pointed out that Twitter — along with other social media platforms — has been able to harness the power of AI to proactively remove content from terrorist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda, but it has not employed the same strategy when it comes to neo-Nazis and other white supremacist content.

According to Motherboard’s report, the Twitter employee said the company believes a total eradication of white supremacists would take down some Republican lawmakers and their supporters.

A growing chorus of conservatives, including President Trump, claim that the world’s largest social media companies, including Twitter, have an anti-conservative bias.

Motherboard’s report prompted some on the left to revive their criticisms of Twitter for its approach to white supremacist content. Among them was Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzAnti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets ‘digital divide’ | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Lawmakers, tech set for clash over AI MORE (D-Hawaii), who questioned why the company doesn’t use “human beings” to “make human judgements” instead of an AI.

Read more on the unfolding situation here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: What to make of the European Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market





How Amazon automatically tracks and fires warehouse workers for ‘productivity.’ (The Verge)

Facebook’s flood of languages leave it struggling to monitor content. (Reuters)

Inside the team at Facebook that dealt with the Christchurch shooting. (The New Yorker)

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