News Roundup: Facebook in crisis mode post Cambridge Analytica scandal

A roundup of the week’s technology news including a self-driving car death, EU digital tax, and shouting at drones.

A roundup of the week’s technology news including a self-driving car death, EU digital tax, and shouting at drones.

 

Facebook faces its biggest crisis to date

You thought subversive Russian influence on elections through the use of questionable Facebook ads and groups was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Facebook this week is facing the biggest crisis in the company’s history after news broke the company gave away access to millions of users’ data, which may have then been used to help power election campaigns.

Circa 2014, academic researcher Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “this is your digital life” which utilized a ‘log in with Facebook’ feature. Around 270,000 logged in this way, and thereby agreed to share personal data. Due to Facebook policy at the time, however, Kogan also had access to the data of those 270,000 people’s Facebook friends – around 50 million in total – including information such as location, interests, likes etc.

Kogan then shared this data with Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm, which used the information to create a database of people and crunched the numbers to infer political leanings. This is significant as Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, claims the company was heavily involved with helping Donald Trump be elected president in 2016.

Kogan sharing the data was against Facebook Ts&Cs for developers, but he did not aggressively steal this information, he simply forwarded on information he legally collected. At some point Facebook learned of this data sharing and requested the information be deleted, but this apparently did not happen. Accessing friends’ data is no longer allowed in this way - and hasn’t been since 2015 -  but the damage has been done.

Things are compounded by the fact Facebook employed one of Cambridge Analytica’s founding directors.

One can argue about the effectiveness of ‘psychographics’ and the impact Cambridge Analytica actually had on this or any other election, but the point for Facebook is that its poor privacy protocols allowed one company to harvest the data of millions of people – the majority of which had no say in the matter – in a completely unchecked manner.

As well as potentially unethical-though-probably-not-illegal activity with Facebook data, Cambridge Analytica were found by Channel 4 News to promise they could ‘entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and sex workers’, while the Guardian reports the organization was trying to influence elections in Africa with hacked email leaks.

 

While the news is big, if not completely surprising. It’s the fallout that keeps on giving:

Facebook’s initial focused seemed to be on whether Cambridge Analytica’s actions counted as a ‘data breach’, rather than, say, ‘a complete lack of oversight, appropriate policy and control, and reaction after the fact’.

Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica, the academic Aleksandr Kogan, and the whistleblower Christopher Wylie’s accounts.

Facebook also said Kogan had violated FB policy.

Kogan says he is being used as a “scapegoat” over who is to blame.

Mozilla and others suspended advertising with Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica suspended its CEO Alexander Nix.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is auditing Cambridge Analytica, as is Facebook.

Obviously, lawsuits have been filed.

The UK Conservative party is under fire to explain its links to Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL.

All the negative press cost Facebook over $60 billion in stock market value, and Mark Zuckerberg’s personal fortune dropped almost $10 billion.

There was a #DeleteFacebook campaign.

 

Reactions have been interesting:

Steve Bannon distanced himself from any ‘dirty tricks’.

Cambridge Analytica’s Twitter account has been a bastion of defiance. Tweets include timelines of events, myths debunked, tweet storms, and the golden; “If success breeds envy and scrutiny, then so be it. There are countless firms that have used our tactics to get information on target customers.”

Tim Berners-Lee took to Twitter to say Facebook had been “abused and misused” and data gathered for research should be used only for research.

A former Facebooker has said there could be many more examples of such data sharing.

Cambridge Analytica and others pointed out that Obama’s campaign had very similar methods, but many failed to note the main difference was the level of consent involved.

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton said it was ‘time to delete Facebook’.

 

Though he took his time, Zuckerberg finally did emerge to make some public comments:

In a lengthy Facebook post, Zuckerberg admitted the company made mistakes but he didn’t actually apologize for anything.

He eventually did apologize on CNN.

He told the NY Times there will be investigations into thousands of apps and will let people know if it thinks people had their data shared. And #DeleteFacebook didn’t lead to many deletions.

 

The first self-driving car death

The inevitable has finally happened. A pedestrian has been killed by a self-driving car. 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was struck down by an Uber vehicle while in self-driving mode in Tempe, Arizona. She died later in hospital. An Uber employee was behind the wheel but the car was in an autonomous mode.

The chief of the Tempe Police has said Uber is ‘unlikely to be at fault for the incident’ as Herzberg had abruptly walked out into traffic.

Friends of Herzberg have called for Uber and the government to be charged under negligent homicide.

Uber has paused its autonomous vehicle tests while an investigation is under way.

A video of the moments just before the collision is has been released by Tempe Police, as has footage from of the interior of the vehicle. We won’t embed it here as it may be unsettling, but here is the link.

 

EU wants to tax digital companies

Many of the world’s big tech companies are known for their creative tax structures. Not illegal, but simply using the loopholes to good effect. The European Union, however, has had its fill, and plans to change how digital companies are taxed in order to extract more money/make companies pay a fair share, depending on your viewpoint.

The new rules would aim to tax companies on where they are doing business and create profits, rather than where they are registered. This means companies could be taxed in countries where they have no physical or registered presence.

Under proposals for general tax reforms, companies would fall under the classification of a 'digital presence' if its exceeds €7 million in annual revenues, or has more than 100,000 users, or over 3000 business contracts in the EU.

Under proposals for an interim tax on digital activities, companies with total annual worldwide revenues of €750 million and EU revenues of €50 million would pay tax at a rate of 3% on activities such as selling online advertising space, facilitating the sale of goods and services, and selling user-provided information.

“Our pre-internet rules do not allow our Member States to tax digital companies operating in Europe when they have little or no physical presence here,” said Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs. “This represents an ever-bigger black hole for Member States, because the tax base is being eroded. That's why we're bringing forward a new legal standard as well an interim tax for digital activities.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said he is against such a plan. Ireland was fighting the EU’s demands to inflict a large tax bill on Apple last year.

 

Security

  • Government employees don’t think cybersecurity is their personal responsibility
  • Best Buy will no longer sell Huawei devices
  • The US spending bill, deep within its 2,232 pages, contains the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD) Act, which would make it much easier for authorities to get their hands on digital data from companies globally. The EFF is against the act while Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Oath are in favor.

 

M&A

M&A activity in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East is due to explode in 2018, according to a new report from Baker Mckenzie. Global technology and telecommunications in the two regions were both around the $1.2 billion figure in 2017 but are due to reach $4.9 billion in LatAm, and $5.9 billion in Africa and the Middle East in 2018.

Salesforce has acquired MuleSoft, Meltwater has bought DataSift, and Lloyd’s Register has snapped up Nettitude.

Google has reportedly acquired imaging startup Lytro, but this is yet to be confirmed.

 

Everyone is pushing for AI

It used to be that every company was offering Cloud services. Everything was a SaaS product of some sort. Now it’s all about companies offering their AI capabilities.

At its Think event this week, IBM pushed AI hard and announced Watson Assistant, a white label voice assistant so companies can create their own voice assistants. It also announced a Deep Learning as a Service offering.

This week also saw HPE and Lenovo push new AI-based offerings, but they haven’t quite bet the farm on it in the same way as Big Blue

 

Everyone is pushing for Blockchain

If companies aren’t pushing AI on you, they’re probably talking to you about Blockchain instead.

According to CoinDesk, Chinese e-commerce platform JD.com has published a white paper outlining its plans for a Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) platform which would provide tools for developing Blockchain-based apps.

Fujitsu this week announced it was opening a ‘Blockchain Innovation Center’ in Brussels, Belgium, with the intent to ‘develop blockchain beyond financial services as a new architecture for information systems and sectors of all kinds.’

And finally, Google is also getting in on the Blockchain action. Bloomberg is reporting that the search giant’s Cloud division is developing its own distributed digital ledger service. The kind that Azure and IBM already offer.

Ed Snowden recently outlined his view on Blockchains and cryptocurrencies, and he’s not a fan of the openness.

“Everybody is focused on the transaction rate limitations of bitcoin being its central flaw, and that is a major one,” he said during a Blockstack event via webcam. “The much larger structural flaw, the long-lasting flaw, is its public ledger.”

“You cannot have a lifelong history of everyone's purchases, all of the interactions be available to everyone, and have that work out well at scale.”

 

New tech

At Think IBM also showed off a new project it’s dubbed “world’s smallest computer”; a device the size of a grain of salt and with the computing power of your average computer chip from 1990.

LG wants to expand its WebOS beyond its own smart devices and has created an Open Source version to create a wider ecosystem.

Could we soon be seeing an Alexa from Amazon aimed toward the elderly? CNBC is reporting that Amazon has been contact with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to ‘discuss potential collaborations and share research, and designing technology for aging populations.’ Such a device already actually already exists; it’s called ElliQ.

Deutsche Telekom has announced that its phones will no longer come with preinstalled bloatware.

Facebook, aside from trying to deal with all the Cambridge Analytica fallout, is testing new Patreon-like features for ‘Creators’ on its site.

A Filipino developer has made a new programming language based on Ruby designed for Tagalog speakers who don’t know English. It’s called Bato and is available on GitHub.

 

Shouting at drones

Amazon is known to be pretty good at this conversational UI thing. It’s also no secret that Amazon is quite keen on drone delivery. So it should be little surprise that Amazon wants to create drones that understands what people are saying to it.

A new patent from the tech conglomerate shows the company wants to have drones that understand human gesture speech. The patent says this would be to aid in the delivery of a package - for example where the drone should land/drop the package off to - but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to add more customer service options such as ‘deliver this again same time next week’ or ‘my parcel is damaged, get me a new one’.

Also, is this not one of best patent images you’ve ever seen? [courtesy of the United States Patent and Trademark Office]

In other news, Samsung has filed a patent for a new extendable tablet screen.

 

1 old Steve Jobs resume = 174 iPhone Xs

Remember when we told you about the Steve Jobs CV expected to fetch $50,000 at auction? It actually raised $174,000. The 1973 one-page job application was won by ‘an internet entrepreneur from England’ according to Reuters.

“There are many collectors who have earned disposable income over the last few decades using Apple technology, and we expect similarly strong results on related material in the future,” Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction, told Reuters.


Robots can’t dunk

Yes, Toyota created a robot that can hit three-pointers with alarming regularity. But can it dunk like Jordan? Is it going to star in a remake of Space Jam? No. Humans still rule basketball. Case closed.