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Former Facebook employee exposes its inability to stop misinformation

a34d2e80-180c-11ea-8bdf-45f34cbf9a5eA 6,600-word memo written by fired Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang shows how widespread political misinformation campaigns are on the platform — and how little the social network is doing about it. According to BuzzFeed News, which has obtained…

Source: https://www.engadget.com/facebook-memo-political-misinformation-053704272.html
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Silicon Valley’s Biggest Trump Supporter Wins TikTok

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Oracle, one of President Donald Trump’s biggest supporters in Silicon Valley, beat out Microsoft for TikTok’s U.S. operations on Sunday, multiple media outlets reported. Nonetheless, after weeks of talking about a sale, it is not clear that the deal will involve one.

Read more…

Source: https://gizmodo.com/silicon-valley-s-biggest-trump-supporter-wins-tiktok-1845044713
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jody Serrano

China may kill TikTok’s U.S. operations rather than see them sold

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The controversial push to force Chinese tech unicorn ByteDance to divest part or all of its smash-hit TikTok social media service to a US-based company could be in doubt after a report today indicated that China’s government may oppose the transaction. According to reporting by Reuters, the Chinese government may prefer TikTok to simply shutter its U.S. operations instead of allowing it to be sold to an American company.

The potential divestment of TikTok is not a regular business transaction. Instead, the deal is being demanded by the U.S. government, as President Donald Trump directs foreign and economic policymaking via executive fiat. Leaning on his own fabled business acumen, the American premier has also demanded that his government receive a portion of any final sale price. It is not clear if that concept is legal.

As the U.S. and China spar around the globe for both economic and political supremacy, the deal is a flashpoint between the countries with a muddle of companies stuck in the middle. ByteDance is in the mix, along with Microsoft, Walmart and other companies to a lesser degree, like Oracle. The Trump administration has set a mid-September timeline for a deal being struck, though as the month burns away it is not clear if that timeline could be met.

The United States is not alone in taking steps to curb Chinese influence inside its borders, as the TikTok sale comes after India banned the app, along with dozens of other China-based applications.

The deal is also under pressure from a changing regulatory environment in China, with the country’s autocratic leadership changing its export rules to possibly include elements of TikTok that could limit a transaction, and perhaps scuttle its sale.

For ByteDance, the situation is a nightmare. For lead-suitor Microsoft, the transaction is a shotgun marriage that it might not be entirely enthused about. For the Trump administration, it’s an attempt at a power play. And for China’s increasingly authoritarian government, the deal could feel like submission. So, if the deal does manage to come together it will be more surprise than eventuality.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/09/11/china-may-kill-tiktoks-u-s-operations-rather-than-see-them-sold/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Alex Wilhelm

Russia, China and Iran trying to hack presidential race, Microsoft says

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Russian, Chinese and Iranian hackers have mounted cyberattacks against hundreds of organizations and people involved in the 2020 presidential race and U.S.-European policy debates, with targets including the campaigns of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Microsoft said Thursday.

The report is the most expansive public warning to date about the rapid spread of foreign governments’ efforts to wield hackers to undermine U.S. democracy.

The perpetrators include the same Kremlin-aligned Russian hacking group whose thefts and leaks of confidential Democratic Party documents helped torpedo Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes in 2016, said Microsoft, which offers products designed to detect such attacks.

Targets this time include the Trump and Biden campaigns, administration officials and an array of national and state parties, political consultants and think tanks, as well as groups such as the German Marshall Fund and Stimson Center that promote international cooperation.

“The activity we are announcing today makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election as had been anticipated,” Microsoft said in a blog post. It added that its security tools detected and blocked “the majority of these attacks.”

The company did not answer numerous questions from POLITICO seeking more details about the attacks.

The revelations come amid a feud between congressional Democrats and the administration over what it knows about foreign threats against the election, in particular the Democrats’ accusations that Trump’s intelligence leaders are failing to alert the public about the Kremlin’s activities. Trump and his supporters have pushed a message that the Chinese are trying to help Biden — a claim not supported by intelligence officials, who have told POLITICO that Russia’s efforts pose the most active and acute danger.

An official intelligence community statement last month said China prefers that Trump not be reelected, that Russia is denigrating Biden and that Iran is undermining the president.

Some of the hackers’ targets confirmed Microsoft’s reporting, though none said the cyberattacks had succeeded.

“As President Trump’s re-election campaign, we are a large target, so it is not surprising to see malicious activity directed at the campaign or our staff,” said Thea McDonald, deputy press secretary for the president’s campaign team. “We work closely with our partners, Microsoft and others, to mitigate these threats. We take cybersecurity very seriously and do not publicly comment on our efforts.”

Likewise, the Republican National Committee has “been informed that foreign actors have made unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the technology of our staff members,” an RNC spokesperson said.

Biden’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Microsoft has also alerted SKDKnickerbocker, one of Biden’s chief communications and strategy firms, that Russian hackers had unsuccessfully targeted its networks, Reuters said early Thursday ahead of the report’s release. Those attempts also failed, Reuters reported. The firm did not respond to later requests for comment.

The attacks on the Stimson Center were first observed in May, spokesperson David Solimini said, and Microsoft notified the think tank about the nature and source in late July. He and German Marshall Fund spokesperson Sydney Simon both said they’d seen no evidence that the attacks succeeded.

Christopher Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said Microsoft’s findings are “consistent with earlier statements by the Intelligence Community on a range of malicious cyber activities targeting the 2020 campaign.”

“It is important to highlight that none [of the targets] are involved in maintaining or operating voting infrastructure and there was no identified impact on election systems,” Krebs said in a statement. He added, “Everyone involved in the political process should stay alert against these sorts of attacks.”

The Treasury Department announced its own steps to combat Kremlin interference Thursday, saying it had designated the pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach for sanctions for promoting discredited allegations against Biden.

Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, confirmed that his group had been the target of apparently unsuccessful attacks from Chinese hackers, but cautioned that those did not appear election-related.

“It is not surprising that we would be targeted by China, based on the substance of our work,” Brookie said. “This appeared to be about information gathering and espionage as opposed to election interference of any kind.”

Among other details, Microsoft reported that:

— The hacking group popularly known as Fancy Bear, which is linked to Russian military intelligence and played a major role in the 2016 attacks on Democrats, has gone after more than 200 organizations in recent months. The targets include political campaigns, national and state party organizations, consultants for both parties and think tanks. (The group is also known as APT28, and Microsoft refers to it as Strontium.)

— A Chinese hacking group called Zirconium or APT31 has attacked high-profile people in Biden’s campaign and at least one prominent person in Trump’s campaign, the tech giant said.

— Phosphorus, an Iranian hacker group often called Charming Kitten, has gone after Trump campaign staffers and administration officials.

Microsoft’s blog post said that it had blocked the majority of the attacks.

The company’s analysis offered some new details on the hackers’ methods.

For instance, in 2016 the Russian group primarily relied on so-called spearphishing, which tricks victims into clicking on malicious email links to gain access to documents that it later released through outlets like WikiLeaks. But in recent months, Russia has shifted toward more crude “brute force” attacks and a technique called password spray, in which hackers input many passwords in a bid to guess their way into a system.

“Strontium also disguised these credential harvesting attacks in new ways, running them through more than 1,000 constantly rotating IP addresses, many associated with the Tor anonymizing service,” wrote Tom Burt, corporate vice president for customer security and trust. “Strontium even evolved its infrastructure over time, adding and removing about 20 IPs per day to further mask its activity.”

This is far from the first time that a company in the cybersecurity business, not the federal government, has been the first to go public with details about major attacks against their customers by nation-states. Previous examples include a landmark 2013 report by the cyber firm Mandiant on Chinese Army-connected hackers conducting cyber espionage against U.S. critical infrastructure like the electrical power grid.

Meridith McGraw and Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.

Source: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/10/russia-china-iran-cyberhack-2020-election-411853
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Tim Starks

Facebook cracks down on political content disguised as local news

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Facebook is rolling out a new policy that will prevent U.S. news publishers with “direct, meaningful ties” to political groups from claiming the news exemption within its political ads authorization process, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: Since the 2016 election, reporters and researchers have uncovered over 1,200 instances in which political groups use websites disguised as local news outlets to push their point of view to Americans.


  • Now, Facebook is ensuring that Pages connected to those groups are held to the same standard as political entities when it comes to advertising on the platform.
  • The “news exemption” means that promoted content about social issues, elections or politics from news publishers is not labeled as political within Facebook’s political archive.

With the new policy, Pages on Facebook belonging to news outlets that are backed by political groups or people will still be allowed to register as a news Page and advertise on Facebook, but they will no longer be eligible for inclusion in the Facebook News tab, and they won’t have access to news messaging on the Messenger Business Platform or the WhatsApp business API. 

Be smart: Key to Facebook’s new policy is the way that it’s differentiating a straight news outlet from a political persuasion operation. Facebook will consider an outlet to be political if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • It’s owned by a political entity or a political person (definitions below).
  • If a political person is leading the company in an executive position, such as a CEO, board member, chairman of its board, or a publisher or editor-in-chief.
  • If the publisher shares proprietary information about any of its Facebook accounts or account passwords, API access keys, and/or data about their Facebook readers — like location, demographics, or consumption habits — directly with a Political Person or Entity as they are defined below.
  • If the Page lists a political entity or a political person as its “Confirmed Page Owner” or “Confirmed Page Partner” on Facebook.

Definitions: Facebook defines a “political person” as “a candidate for elected office, a person who holds elected office, a person whose job is subject to legislative confirmation, or a person employed by and/or vested with decision-making authority by a political person or at a political entity.”

  • It defines a “political entity” as “an organization, company, or other group whose predominant purpose is to influence politics and elections.”
  • That definition would include political parties, campaigns for elected office, ballot initiative campaigns, PACs and Super PACs, and entities regulated as “Social Welfare Organizations” under Section 501(c)(4) of the IRC.
  • For-profit businesses that provide political consulting or strategic communications services to other types of Political Entities will also be considered Political Entities themselves.

Between the lines: The move comes days after Google confirmed to Axios that come September, it will ban politically-motivated advertisers that disguise themselves as local news websites to promote their political point of view.

  • Earlier this year, Twitter banned all political advertising. According to a Twitter spokesperson, this includes self-identified “news” sites that are funded by a PAC, SuperPAC or a 501(c)(4).
  • News publishers who meet Twitter’s exemption criteria may run ads that reference political content and/or prohibited advertisers under Twitter’s political content policy, but they can’t include advocacy for or against those topics or advertisers.

The big picture: Ahead of the 2020 election, big-money political groups have been exploiting the huge gaps in local news in America by propping up fake local news websites that are disguised as non-partisan.

  • Many of these sites leverage social media advertising, especially on Facebook, to boost their content.
  • The practice of setting up these types of websites has been used by political groups for years, dating back to 2014, and picking up steam during the 2018 midterms.
  • As Axios has previously reported, some of these efforts are done openly with the backing of big donors, while others are done in a secretive, spammy fashion. Both tactics are manipulative, and Facebook’s new policies address both.

Be smart: While many of the big local news spam networks initially uncovered by researchers belonged to conservatives, Democrats have been throwing millions at it too.

  • One of the tactics they’ve been using to potentially skirt election rules is to establish newsrooms as “for-profits.”
  • Still, according to Facebook’s rules, these “for-profits” would be defined as having “direct, meaningful ties” to a political entity or group due to being majority funded by a progressive nonprofit organization.
  • The biggest and most sophisticated example of this type of website is Courier Newsroom, which is backed by ACRONYM, a 501(c)4 progressive nonprofit organization that invests in multiple for-profit companies in the media and technology space.

Yes, but: Some news sites may fall in a grey area. For example, they could be backed or owned by a person with ties to a partisan foundation, but they are not influenced by that person’s political affiliations.

  • Facebook’s policy team will ultimately be responsible for making decisions around which news sites would be subject to these policies.

The bottom line: It was a deceptive and effective practice while it lasted. These new policy changes by Facebook and its tech rivals should help to reduce the distribution of these sites, or at least provide more transparency to users about who is really behind them.

Go deeper:

Source: https://www.axios.com/facebook-pages-news-exemption-e66d92ce-2abd-4293-b2ad-16cf223e12f1.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sara Fischer

Twitter account that just copies Trump tweets suspended for glorifying violence in under three days

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When the account tweeted Donald Trump’s infamous ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ post, it was banned for 12 hours

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/trump-twitter-account-copy-tweets-glorifying-violence-suspended-a9545831.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Adam Smith

After Twitter fact-check, Trump threatens to regulate or close down social media platforms

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Once again, Trump has doubled down. Following the addition of a fact-checking warning label added to his tweet about mail-in ballots, Trump took to the platform yet again to denounce it. In what may be his strongest words to date against a service that has largely given him free rein to this point, the President suggested that social media services would have to be regulated or shut down. Republicans have long held that social media sites harbor an anti-conservative bias. 

“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices,” he tweeted. “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016.”

That last bit appears to be a reference to the role platforms like Twitter and Facebook played in the 2016 election. Trump then went on to reassert earlier claims about mail-in ballots, accusing a push for easy access to voting amid a pandemic of being a “free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft.”

It was precisely those claims that earned him a Twitter fact-checking label in the first place. As of this writing, however, no such label has been added to the new tweet sent a little after 7AM ET this morning. It’s been a busy couple of days for Trump on his favored social media platform, following the long holiday weekend. Last night he accused the service of “stifling free speech,” in spite of Twitter’s long-standing reluctance to either delete tweets or ban Trump over perceived TOS violations.

This morning the President took to Twitter to once again tie a cable news morning host to an old conspiracy theory about his late-wife host and declare “Obamagate” worse than Watergate.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/27/after-twitter-fact-check-trump-threatens-to-regulate-or-close-down-social-media-platforms/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

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