Has Facebook gotten out of control? After listening to Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify before a committee of the U.S. Congress last week, I didn’t pity him at all. He deserved it, and, in fact, probably was treated too kindly.
His presentation seemed decent in comparison to those dire warnings about the boy wonder and his inability to conduct himself in a mature fashion in public. He allegedly was thoroughly schooled on the proper behavior before political vultures, supposedly.
I mean he did all right, I guess. But far too often he’d respond to a complicated question with a stock answer, that he’d have his team get back in touch with the questioner. I just wonder if that has happened already or ever will happen. The fact checkers also found some contradictions in what he said about when and how Facebook first became aware of the existence of Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly harvested user information without their knowledge.
In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented security expert Chris Weber, co-founder of Casaba Security, a Seattle-based ethical hacking firm that advises major tech, financial, retail and healthcare companies. They also work with companies to develop secure apps and software. He is the co–author of the book, “Privacy Defended: Protecting Yourself Online.” During this session, Chris discussed the growing brouhaha over Facebook privacy, and the kind of information they’ve collected about their users. Its unexpected involvement with the 2016 Presidential campaign was also covered, and what about the appearance of Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg before Congress? You also heard Chris talk in general about protecting your privacy, and making it harder for hackers to take control of your accounts by using strong passwords and two-step authentication, which involves adding a second method, often a smartphone, to provide extra security from hackers.
You also heard from long-time Apple guru and prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, as Gene recounted yet another annoying episode of his ongoing troubles with AT&T when he tried to check into a cheap offer for DirecTV. Gene explained why he’s kept AT&T service for his iPhone even though there are other and possibly better alternatives. Bob says he switched from AT&T to T-Mobile. There’s also a brief discussion of “world backup day,” as Gene facetiously suggested that maybe the show ought to go back in time to honor the event in the proper fashion.
And what about published reports that future versions of macOS and iOS might allow you to run the same apps on both? And what about recent speculation that Apple will someday ditch Intel processors on Macs and make yet another processor move, to the same A-series ARM chips used on iPhones and iPads? Is this a reasonable possibility, or would the fact that many Mac users need to run Windows at native speeds make such a move unfeasible?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and special guest cohost Don Ecker introduce UFO researchers Ben Moss and Tony Angiola, from MUFON Virginia. The two focus on their four-year study of the 1964 Socorro, NM case and their friendship with UFO researcher and amateur paleontologist Ray Stanford. Both Moss and Angiola have been guests on the History Channel’s “Hangar 1” reality show, loosely based on MUFON’s research. While this episode will focus heavily on hardcore research of UFOs and the possibility that they are extraterrestrial, they will admit that, so far, very little progress has been made towards solving the mystery.
WATCHING TV WITHOUT iTUNES AND APPLE TV
Aside from adding 4K and HDR support and a few odds and ends, the Apple TV 4K didn’t change much from its predecessor. Well, except for those complaints about the fact that the 32GB model is, at $179, $30 more expensive than the already-expensive fourth-generation model. That doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense inasmuch as the 64GB version is unchanged at $199.
Evidently Apple’s bean counters have an answer for this screwy move, but it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It’s not that the Apple TV 4K does so much more than the Roku Ultra, which can be had for as little as $69.99 from Amazon.
Well, there is the fact that Apple TV of any sort is required if you are invested in Apple’s ecosystem for iTunes video content and hope to watch the forthcoming TV shows that will probably come to you via Apple Music.
I do have a handful of iTunes movies that I have acquired over the years, mostly when they were dirt cheap. But there’s also a service called Movies Anywhere that can concatenate your videos from several services into one readily accessible library.
When VIZIO sent me a 2017 M-Series TV display for review last year, I was able to take advantage of the fact that it included support for Google Chromecast. The remote has dedicated buttons for such services as Netflix and VUDU; the latter is roughly an iTunes equivalent from Walmart mainly focused on movies.
In addition to the built-in streaming apps, a SmartCast app for iOS and Android lets you “cast” or stream a thousand or two more services via your Wi-Fi connection to the TV. With all that going on, I realized I hadn’t used my third-generation Apple TV since December. After moving to a new apartment last week, I unpacked all the TV accessories, and promptly put the Apple TV on one of the bookshelves in my office.
As most of you know, VIZIO is not the only company to make smart TVs with support for third-party streaming services. Since the ones the TV makers design are usually pretty bad, buying a dedicated set-top box to handle those tasks makes sense. But some TV makers have opted to deliver built-in support for Google or Roku. Apple doesn’t embed its hardware and software into third-party products, but maybe it should if it wants to spread the joy. Think about CarPlay.
As it stands, if you’re not embedded in Apple’s ecosystem, Apple TV offers little if any advantage.
So how is life with one less appliance connected to my TV?
Well, as I said, Netflix is a dedicated button on the VIZIO remote. When you press it, you get a very standard menu that isn’t that different from the one on an Apple TV. I had no difficulty whatever playing the shows I wanted to see, even the ones that were started on Apple’s streamer. I was able to just resume playback. Indeed, while deciding whether to set up a DirecTV at my new home — the only option available because the place is wired by CenturyLink and they embed the satellite provider with dishes installed on each building — Barbara and I mostly ran Netflix. Maybe we’ll stay that way and save some bucks.
But I found a bargain rental at VUDU and ordered it. Walmart’s order processing is a tad more complicated than iTunes. It’s set to bill via my Walmart account, where my payment option is stored. When you order a movie rental from iTunes, the transaction occurs in the background unless there’s a problem with your payment method. So, yes, you are charged, but you don’t see a receipt until it arrives via email.
Not so with VUDU, where you are taken to an online order form where you are shown what you’re ordered and the price with tax. You have to physically OK that order for it to work. When you want to resume playing your movie, you have to select it again from the VUDU home page to continue watching. You are stepped out of the listing for that movie, unlike iTunes where you just pick up where you left off.
All right, a couple of more steps for ordering and resuming playback, but otherwise I had no difficulty in managing the interface. This sort of represents an Apple approach versus a Microsoft approach; the latter usually involves extra steps to accomplish the same task.
But since movie rentals are a rare thing for me — and usually only when there’s a special offer — a few more clicks on a remote is not going to represent a problem.
So what is going to become of Apple TV anyway?
Well, a company executive announced recently that full-featured games are being brought to the iOS platform because the power of Apple’s new graphics processors, and Metal 2, make it possible to bring you the entire experience at a performance level similar to a console. I suppose it’s possible that Apple TV could be upgraded to provide similar levels of performance. When equipped with a gaming controller, it would provide an experience that would freak the console industry. It might also offer additional sales potential.
On the other hand, since I’m not a gamer, it doesn’t really matter to me. I still don’t need an
Apple TV — or a HomePod if you care.
So I’ve decided to send my Apple TV on to someone who might need it.
You’re no doubt familiar with the name Robert Mueller and his investigation into the Trump campaign’s affiliations and alleged involvement in the Russian campaign to interfere with the 2016 Presidential Election. You’ve probably heard that Facebook was used by Russians to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election, and you’re no doubt aware that the Facebook data of more than 87 million users was obtained by Cambridge Analytica to influence the 2016 Presidential election. But you’re probably still wondering how this all happened, and we’re all wondering who’s guilty.
The question no one’s asking, however, is why a campaign calling to “Make America Great Again” by growing jobs and the American economy spent almost $6 million to employ an analytics firm in the United Kingdom with employees from the U.K. and Canada?
Facebook chairman and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress this week, but his prepared testimony is already available, and he won’t likely stray far from it regardless of the questions asked by the Senate Judiciary Commerce Committees at 1:15 p.m. CST on Tuesday and House Energy and Commerce Committee at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Here’s what happened in Zuckerberg’s own written words.
“In 2007...we enabled people to log into apps and share who their friends were and some information about them...In 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app. It was installed by around 300,000 people who agreed to share some of their Facebook information as well as some information from their friends whose privacy settings allowed it...Kogan was able to access some information about tens of millions of their friends.”
“In 2014...we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the Facebook information apps could access. Most importantly, apps like Kogan’s could no longer ask for information about a person’s friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. We also required developers to get approval from Facebook before they could request any data beyond a user’s public profile, friend list, and email address.”
“In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica...we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and other entities he gave the data to, including Cambridge Analytica, formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data -- which they ultimately did.”
“Last month, we learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified. We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to investigate this.”
So the first thing we learn from Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony is that Facebook failed to protect the data of our friends from third-party app developers if our friends’ privacy settings allowed the sharing of some of their personal information. It took Facebook seven years to right that wrong. Even after doing so, Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to simply “certify” that they had deleted the data instead of proving they had deleted the data. “Clearly it was a mistake to believe them,” Zuckerberg said during the hearing, Tuesday.
The last, and most important thing we learn from Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony is that without the work of journalists, Facebook wouldn’t be aware of its mistakes in order to rectify them, providing just another reason for the importance of a free press. This while the government is compiling a database of journalists, where they reside, what they write and for whom in the interest of homeland security. Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary Tyler Houlton asserted on Twitter that the list is “standard practice of monitoring current events in the media,” but the list’s existence will scare aspiring journalists from the trade like similar lists scared patients from applying for medical marijuana prescriptions in Montana. I personally heard from multiple Montanans who chose to continue self-medicating their conditions with marijuana illegally for fear of being found out by the federal government as a user of cannabis.
Facebook is only guilty of being careless. Zuckerberg nor his company can be charged with a crime, but they failed to notify the more than 87 million users that their information had been acquired by Cambridge Analytica. They also failed to make sure that data was not available for further exploitation by Cambridge Analytica by accepting Cambridge’s word that the data had been deleted. Judging from the effects of Zuckerberg’s failure to accept blame for Cambridge Analytica’s deceptive data mining and the effects of his recent testimony, that mistake won’t be made again.
On March 27, when Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie dismissed earlier claims from Cambridge Analytica that the firm had not used Facebook data, Facebook’s stock price was $152.22 -- down from 185.09 on March 16. Facebook’s stock price was up 4.55 percent to $165.11 as Zuckerberg testified on Tuesday. Cambridge Analytica won’t be so lucky.
A slew of Cambridge Analytica employees are likely guilty of violating the federal law prohibiting foreign nationals from “directly or indirectly participat[ing] in the decision-making process of any...political committee...such as decisions concerning the making of...expenditures, or disbursements in connection with elections for any Federal, State, or local office,” according to a complaint by Common Cause submitted to the Department of Justice.
“[Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher] Wylie said that many foreign nationals worked on the campaigns, and many were embedded in the campaigns around the U.S.” Wylie told NBC News that there were “three or four full-time [Cambridge Analytica] staffers embedded in [Thom] Tillis’s campaign on the ground in Raleigh,” North Carolina.
A second Cambridge Analytica staffer said the “team handling the data and data modeling back in London was largely Eastern European and did not include any Americans.” On March 25, the Washington Post published that “Cambridge Analytica assigned dozens of non-U.S. citizens to provide campaign strategy and messaging advice to Republican candidates in 2014, according to three former workers of the data firm...Many of those employees and contractors were involved in helping to decide what voters to target with political messages and what messages to deliver to them.”
Cambridge Analytica’s “dirty little secret was that there was no one American involved...working on an American election,” Wylie said. One Cambridge Analytica document obtained by the Washington Post explained, “For the Art Robinson for Congress campaign, Cambridge Analytica SCL assumed a comprehensive set of responsibilities and effectively managed the campaign in its entirety.” The New York Times reported that the John Bolton Super PAC “first hird Cambridge Analytica in August 2014” and “was writing up talking points for Mr. Bolton.” Cambridge Analytica also “helped design concepts for advertisements for candidates by Mr. Bolton’s PAC, including the 2014 campaign of Thom Tillis, the Republican senator from North Carolina, according to Mr. Wylie and another former employee.”
Mother Jones reported the deep involvement of Cambridge Analytica staff in the management and decision-making in Senator Ted Cruz’s 2016 Presidential campaign. “Cambridge Analytica was put in charge of the entire data and digital operation, embedding 12 of its employees in Houston.”
So there’s ample evidence that many employees of Cambridge Analytica have violated the Federal Election Campaign Act prohibiting foreign nationals from participating in the decision-making process of any political committee with regard to such person’s Federal or nonfederal election-related activities. But why isn’t the Trump campaign and fellow Republican campaigns subject to punishment for hiring foreign agents to participate in American elections?
Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. paid Cambridge Analytica almost $6 million to effect the 2016 Presidential Election. Cruz for President also paid Cambridge Analytica almost $6 million to effect the 2016 Presidential Election. Make America Number 1 paid Cambridge Analytica almost $1.5 million during the 2016 election cycle.
The John Bolton Super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1 million during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. The North Carolina Republican Party paid Cambridge Analytica more than $200,000 over the same period.
These are all Republican campaigns, supporting Republican candidates who, allegedly, want nothing more than to create American jobs and a thriving American economy. But they’re not putting their money where their mouth is. Giving more than $16 million to an analytics firm in the United Kingdom does nothing to improve the economy or create jobs in America, which is why the Trump campaign and other Republican campaigns are more guilty than Facebook and even Cambridge Analytica.
The Federal Election Campaign Act should not only prohibit foreign nationals from participating in and effecting American elections, but prohibit campaigns from spending campaign funds on services provided by foreign entities.
We can’t stop campaigns from purchasing products made outside America’s borders. Not much is produced in America anymore. But when it comes to services like catering, polling, marketing and advertising, campaign spending should be limited to those firms that reside in America in the interest of protecting the integrity of American elections and growing the American economy. It’s hypocritical of the Trump campaign to run on a slogan of “Make America Great Again” and then spend its money to grow un-American economies and jobs. Regardless of what the Mueller investigation uncovers, the Trump campaign is already guilty of selling out America.
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