Congress Calls for Hearing with Facebook, Twitter and Google

Founders Code

While Cambridge Analytica has a proven shady history as noted below, Facebook has already admitted guilt and offered apologies when it comes to safeguarding private user information and interactions. So, when it comes to social media Facebook, Google and Twitter hold the power. Instagram and SnapChat are quite popular but do not hold the volume of data in comparison.

Now the FTC comes knocking at the door of Facebook.

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The stuff you share and the inferences Facebook makes about you are packaged together with similar people’s data, stripped of names and sold to companies. That allows businesses to put ads in front of people they’re certain they can influence.

On Facebook, you are the product. Advertisers are the customer.

Facebook’s not alone. Most advertiser-supported networks sell some of your information to third parties. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Amazon, Twitter and Yelp do the same.

Giving up our privacy is the price we pay for getting to use Facebook for free. Most of the time, that tradeoff works: People take advantage of free services by posting, searching and sharing. Most companies that collect our data use it for legitimate purposes and within the bounds that companies like Facebook permit.

That arrangement has turned Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOGL) into online advertising juggernauts. They have built massive audiences of billions of customers, and advertisers flock to them. Facebook and Google control three-quarters of the $83 billion digital advertising market in the United States, according to eMarketer.

But the customer-is-the-product deal doesn’t always work to the user’s advantage. This weekend, the public learned data company Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed 50 million Facebook users’ personal information to influence the 2016 election.

Internet companies have a financial disincentive to give users more control over their data. If people share less, social networks will earn less money. More here.

In part from Bloomberg:

Fake News

Bell Pottinger’s tactics included producing phony television news reports as well as fake terrorist propaganda videos containing computer code that allowed Western intelligence agencies to track anyone who watched, according to a 2016 report from the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit reporting organization.

The man who awarded Turnbull’s Bell Pottinger unit its first Iraq contract was Ian Tunnicliffe, then a British colonel who was running strategic communications for the U.K. defense ministry. Tunnicliffe, now retired, has been a member of SCL’s advisory board. He didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

SCL also stoked ethnic tensions in Eastern Europe and sprayed fake graffiti in the Caribbean, according to the firm’s own sales documents. Its defense business claims in pitch documents to have worked for clients as wide-ranging as the Libyan National Transitional Council, NATO and the U.K. Foreign Office. It says it worked in Pakistan for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Pacific Command in India on countering radicalization.

SCL recently signed a contract with the U.S. State Department for market research and public-opinion polling, according to a federal procurement database. The one-year contract, signed last week, is worth $496,232, according to the database.

Deep Ties

The firm also has deep ties to the British defense establishment and Conservative Party. Its first chairman was Geoffrey Pattie, a defense minister under Margaret Thatcher. In addition to Tunnicliffe, the advisory board has included retired Rear Admiral John Tolhurst and Ivar Mountbatten, the great-nephew of Louis Mountbatten, the military hero and Queen Elizabeth’s cousin. Jonathan Marland, a former Conservative Party treasurer who served as a minister for business under former Prime Minister David Cameron, is a shareholder.

Marland told the Guardian newspaper he hadn’t had a role in running SCL following his initial investment and had refused requests to introduce the firm to Conservative Party officials.

Roger Gabb, a former British Army officer who later made his fortune as a wine distributor and wholesaler, is also a major SCL shareholder. A founding director who, with his family, still controls about 25 percent of the firm’s shares, Gabb has also been active in the Conservative Party and the campaign for the U.K. to leave the European Union. He donated 500,000 pounds ($705,300) to the party in 2006. In 2016, he was fined 1,000 pounds by the U.K.’s Electoral Commission for failing to disclose that he had helped purchase local newspaper advertisements supporting the leave side in the Brexit referendum. More here.

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