Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Facebook’s Zuckerberg agrees to live-stream European hearing

May 21, 2018
MEPs had balked at prospect of closed-door session tackling privacy concerns

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to developers, May 1 © Reuters

By Camilla Hodgson 

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has bowed to pressure and agreed to allow his grilling in front of the European Parliament this week to be live-streamed, the president of the EU body said in a tweet on Monday.
Last week MEPs revolted against plans for Mr Zuckerberg to testify in a closed-door hearing, and demanded the session, due to take place on Tuesday evening, be live-streamed. Earlier in the week, Mr Zuckerberg had agreed to attend a private hearing with at least eight MEPs over Facebook’s use of personal data following the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal.On Monday morning, Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, said the Facebook founder had agreed to this proposal to webstream the hearing following discussions.“I have personally discussed with Facebook CEO Mr Zuckerberg the possibility of webstreaming meeting with him. I am glad to announce that he has accepted this new request. Great news for EU citizens. I thank him for the respect shown towards EP,” he said.


EU parliament pushes for Zuckerberg hearing to be live-streamed

May 21, 2018

There’s confusion about whether a meeting between Facebook  founder Mark Zuckerberg and the European Union’s parliament — which is due to take place next Tuesday — will go ahead as planned or not.

The meeting was confirmed by the EU parliament’s president this week, and is the latest stop on Zuckerberg’s contrition tour, following the Cambridge Analytics data misuse story that blew up into a major public scandal in mid March.

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However, the discussion with MEPs that Facebook agreed to was due to take place behind closed doors. A private format that’s not only ripe with irony but was also unpalatable to a large number of MEPs. It even drew criticism from some in the EU’s unelected executive body, the European Commission, which further angered parliamentarians.

Now, as the FT reports, MEPs appear to have forced the parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, to agree to live-streaming the event.

Guy Verhofstadt — the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats group of MEPs, who had said he would boycott the meeting if it took place in private — has also tweeted that a majority of the parliament’s groups have pushed for the event to be streamed online.

Guy Verhofstadt


EP President Tajani forced by five of the eight political groups – representing a majority of MEPs – to open the meeting with by webstreaming the hearing.

And a Green Group MEP, Sven Giegold, who posted an online petition calling for the meeting not to be held in secret — has also tweeted that there is now a majority among the groups wanting to change the format. At the time of writing, Giegold’s petition has garnered more than 25,000 signatures.

Sven Giegold


Das dürfen wir uns nicht bieten lassen! Die Anhörung von Mark im EU-Parlament soll im Geheimen stattfinden. verspricht Transparenz, will sich aber der öffentlichen Verantwortung in Europa entziehen. Jetzt Petition unterschreiben:äsident-antonio-tajani-geheim-anhörung-verhindern-befragung-von-zuckerberg-im-eu-parlament-muss-öffentlich-sein 

MEP Claude Moraes, chair of the EU parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee — and one of the handful of parliamentarians set to question Zuckerberg (assuming the meeting goes ahead as planned) — told TechCrunch this morning that there were efforts afoot among political group leaders to try to open up the format. Though any changes would clearly depend on Facebook agreeing to them.

After speaking to Moraes, we asked Facebook to confirm whether it’s open to Zuckerberg’s meeting being streamed online — say, via a Facebook Live. Seven hours later we’re still waiting for a response, including to a follow up email asking if it will accept the majority decision among MEPs for the hearing to be live-streamed.

The LIBE committee had been pushing for a fully open hearing with the Facebook founder — a format which would also have meant it being open to members of the public. But that was before a small majority of the parliament’s political groups accepted the council of presidents’ (COP) decision on a closed meeting.

Although now that decision looks to have been rowed back, with a majority of the groups pushing the president to agree to the event being streamed — putting the ball back in Facebook’s court to accept the new format.

Of course democracy can be a messy process at times, something Zuckerberg surely has a pretty sharp appreciation of these days. And if the Facebook founder pulls out of meeting simply because a majority of MEPs have voted to do the equivalent of “Facebook Live” the hearing, well, it’s hard to see a way for the company to salvage any face at all.

Zuckerberg has agreed to be interviewed onstage at the VivaTech conference in Paris next Thursday, and is scheduled to have lunch with French president Emmanuel Macron the same week. So pivoting to a last minute snub of the EU parliament would be a pretty high stakes game for the company to play. (Though it’s continued to deny a U.K. parliamentary committee any face time with Zuckerberg for months now.)

The EU Facebook agenda

The substance of the meeting between Zuckerberg and the EU parliament — should it go ahead — will include discussion about Facebook’s impact on election processes. That was the only substance detail flagged by Tajani in the statement on Wednesday when he confirmed Zuckerberg had accepted the invitation to talk to representatives of the EU’s 500 million citizens.

Moraes says he also intends to ask Zuckerberg wider questions — relating to how its business model impacts people’s privacy. And his hope is this discussion could help unblock negotiations around an update to the EU’s rules around online tracking technologies and the privacy of digital communications.

Claude Moraes MEP

Looks like @Europarl_EN group leaders made the decision & Mark Zuckerberg has accepted invitation to come before us. As Chair of the @EP_Justice along with Rapporteur we will ask searching questions on behalf of 500m Europeans. Privacy, , interference in elections. 

“One of the key things is that [Zuckerberg] gets a particular flavor of the genuine concern — not just about what Facebook is doing, but potentially other tech companies — on the interference in elections. Because I think that is a genuine, big, sort of tech versus real life and politics concern,” he says, discussing the questions he wants to ask.

“And the fact is he’s not going to go before the House of Commons. He’s not going to go before the Bundestag. And he needs to answer this question about Cambridge Analytica — in a little bit more depth, if possible, than we even saw in Congress. Because he needs to get straight from us the deepest concerns about that.

“And also this issue of processing for algorithmic targeting, and for political manipulation — some in depth questions on this.

“And we need to go more in depth and more carefully about what safeguards there are — and what he’s prepared to do beyond those safeguards.

“We’re aware of how poor US data protection law is. We know that GDPR is coming in but it doesn’t impact on the Facebook business model that much. It does a little bit but not sufficiently — I mean ePrivacy probably far more — so we need to get to a point where we understand what Facebook is willing to change about the way it’s been behaving up til now.

“And we have a real locus there — which is we have more Facebook users, and we have the clout as well because we have potential legislation, and we have regulation beyond that too. So I think for those reasons he needs to answer.”

“The other things that go beyond the obvious Cambridge Analytica questions and the impact on elections, are the consequences of the business model, data-driven advertising, and how that’s going to work, and there we need to go much more in depth,” he continues.

“Facebook on the one hand, it’s complying with GDPR [the EU’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation] which is fine — but we need to think about what the further protections are. So for example, how justified we are with the ePrivacy Regulation, for example, and its elements, and I think that’s quite important.

“I think he needs to talk to us about that. Because that legislation at the moment it’s seen as controversial, it’s blocked at the moment, but clearly would have more relevance to the problems that are currently being created.”

Negotiations between the EU parliament and the European Council to update the ePrivacy Directive — which governs the use of personal telecoms data and also regulates tracking cookies — and replace it with a regulation that harmonizes the rules with the incoming GDPR and expands the remit to include internet companies and cover both content and metadata of digital comms are effectively stalled for now, as EU Member States are still trying to reach agreement. The directive was last updated in 2009.

“When the Cambridge Analytica case happened, I was slightly concerned about people thinking GDPR is the panacea to this — it’s not,” argues Moraes. “It only affects Facebook’s business model a little bit. ePrivacy goes far more in depth — into data-driven advertising, personal comms and privacy.

“That tool was there because people were aware that this kind of thing can happen. But because of that the Privacy directive will be seen as controversial but I think people now need to look at it carefully and say look at the problems created in the Facebook situation — and not just Facebook — and then analyze whether ePrivacy has got merits. I think that’s quite an important discussion to happen.”

While Moraes believes Facebook-Cambridge Analytica could help unblock the log jam around ePrivacy, as the scandal makes some of the risks clear and underlines what’s at stake for politicians and democracies, he concedes there are still challenging barriers to getting the right legislation in place — given the fine-grained layers of complexity involved with imposing checks and balances on what are also poorly understood technologies outside their specific industry niches.

“This Facebook situation has happened when ePrivacy is more or less blocked because its proportionality is an issue. But the essence of it — which is all the problems that happened with the Facebook case, the Cambridge Analytica case, and data-driven advertising business model — that needs checks and balances… So we need to now just review the ePrivacy situation and I think it’s better that everyone opens this discussion up a bit.

“ePrivacy, future legislation on artificial intelligence, all of which is in our committee, it will challenge people because sometimes they just won’t want to look at it. And it speaks to parliamentarians without technical knowledge which is another issue in Western countries… But these are all wider issues about the understanding of these files which are going to come up.

“This is the discussion we need to have now. We need to get that discussion right. And I think Facebook and other big companies are aware that we are legislating in these areas — and we’re legislating for more than one countries and we have the economies of scale — we have the user base, which is bigger than the US… and we have the innovation base, and I think those companies are aware of that.”

Moraes also points out that U.S. lawmakers raised the difference between the EU and U.S. data protection regimes with Zuckerberg last month — arguing there’s a growing awareness that U.S. law in this area “desperately needs to be modernized.”

So he sees an opportunity for EU regulators to press on their counterparts over the pond.

“We have international agreements that just aren’t going to work in the future and they’re the basis of a lot of economic activity, so it is becoming critical… So the Facebook debate should, if it’s pushed in the correct direction, give us a better handle on ePrivacy, on modernizing data protection standards in the US in particular. And modernizing safeguards for consumers,” he argues.

“Our parliaments across Europe are still filled with people who don’t have tech backgrounds and knowledge but we need to ensure that we get out of this mindset and start understanding exactly what the implications here are of these cases and what the opportunities are.”

In the short term, discussions are also continuing for a full meeting between the LIBE committee and Facebook.

Though that’s unlikely to be Zuckerberg himself. Moraes says the committee is “aiming for Sheryl Sandberg,”  though he says other names have been suggested. No firm date has been conformed yet either — he’ll only say he “hopes it will take place as soon as possible.”

Threats are not on the agenda though. Moraes is unimpressed with the strategy the DCMS committee has pursued in trying (and so far failing) to get Zuckerberg to testify in front of the U.K. parliament, arguing threats of a summons were counterproductive. LIBE is clearly playing a longer game.

“Threatening him with a summons in UK law really was not the best approach. Because it would have been extremely important to have him in London. But I just don’t see why he would do that. And I’m sure there’s an element of him understanding that the European Union  and parliament in particular is a better forum,” he suggests.

“We have more Facebook users than the US, we have the regulatory framework that is significant to Facebook — the UK is simply implementing GDPR and following Brexit it will have an adequacy agreement with the EU so I think there’s an understanding in Facebook where the regulation, the legislation and the audience is.”

“I think the quaint ways of the British House of Commons need to be thought through,” he adds. “Because I really don’t think that would have engendered much enthusiasm in [Zuckerberg] to come and really interact with the House of Commons which would have been a very positive thing. Particularly on the specifics of Cambridge Analytics, given that that company is in the UK. So that locus was quite important, but the approach… was not positive at all.”

Information wars: Europe aims to set the global standard with GDPR

May 20, 2018

The EU’s rules for data privacy were once derided as restrictive, but after the Facebook scandal Brussels hopes they will help bring big tech to heel

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Sarah Gordon and Aliya Ram In London 

Vera Jourova, the EU’s justice commissioner, describes it as a “loaded gun” in the hands of regulators. This week the bloc introduces the General Data Protection Regulation, which will, its advocates argue, dramatically improve the care with which organisations both within the EU and elsewhere treat our personal data.
GDPR will harmonise data protection rules across the world’s largest trading bloc, give greater rights to individuals over how their data is used, put in place significant protections for children and streamline regulators’ ability to crack down on breaches.When the new rules were first proposed, many executives in Silicon Valley derided them as restrictive and anti-competitive. But in the wake of the scandal over the use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, Europe’s approach to data privacy has started to appear much more relevant.

According to many companies and data protection authorities, GDPR could become the global norm, setting standards for behaviour not just in the EU but in countries where hitherto individuals have had few weapons to defend their rights online.

“Europe was way ahead on this,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, admitted last month.

Yet as the final countdown to May 25 begins, cracks in the EU’s vision have appeared. Many businesses are unprepared for the new rules and several countries have failed to pass the necessary legislation to implement them nationally. Serious questions have also been raised about the ability of data protection authorities across the bloc to enforce the new rules adequately.

“Everybody is leaving it until the last conceivable moment, despite the fact there was a two-year deadline,” says Harry Small, head of data protection law at Baker McKenzie. “Quite a lot of companies have not really woken up.”

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Vera Jourova, the EU’s justice commissioner © Bloomberg

Even critics acknowledge that GDPR will introduce a new rigour into the messy patchwork of rules governing how our data are treated across Europe. It requires any organisation anywhere in the world that handles the personal information of an EU citizen to be transparent about how it collects, stores and processes it.
Organisations must obtain unambiguous consent to use and retain data, keep it up to date, delete old data and — if they have a large volume of personal information, data subjects and range of items — will have to appoint a protection officer.Consumers will have the right to ask for the information companies hold about them and request that their data is deleted from business databases. The rules forbid companies from processingdata on race, ethnicity, political opinions, religious beliefs, trade union membership or sexual orientation without explicit consent.

Ultimately, the impact of GDPR will depend on whether individuals decide to exercise the greater powers the rules give them. They are part of a growing worldwide push for customers to mature into “digital adults”, with both greater control over and responsibility for their own information. Proponents hope that GDPR will help individuals become both more demanding and more aware of their power.

“Data subjects are going to become increasingly aware of their rights, and they’re not going to put up with poor practices by organisations,” says Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner.

But she points to the fact that Facebook’s registered users have increased even while the Cambridge Analytica scandal has raged as an example of the so-called “privacy paradox”, that while people say control over their data matters to them, they have remained, by and large, casual about relinquishing it.

GDPR: how Europe’s data law works

GDPR’s reach is already spreading well beyond the EU. According to Graham Greenleaf, a professor of law and information systems at Australia’s University of New South Wales, 120 countries globally had data protection laws in 2017, but GDPR is probably the broadest and most rigorous.

For a start, any country wanting to sign a trade deal with the EU will have to sign up to respecting GDPR, the first time the EU will formally address the issue of trade and data flows as part of its role negotiating free trade agreements on behalf of its 28 member states.

For many large multinationals, it could make sense to adopt GDPR globally both from a cost and consistency standpoint. Regulators in places such as Hong Kong have based their laws on the EU’s 1995 data protection directive, and have said they intend to update them to reflect GDPR.

Yet despite the predictions about global impact, there are big questions about how it will actually be implemented within the EU.

Given the scope of the new rules, which run to more than 200 pages, preparing for GDPR has proved both onerous and expensive. Companies in the UK’s FTSE 100 are estimated to have had to spend an average of £15m each to comply with them, according to research by the legal tech firm Axiom. Meanwhile, in the US, the International Association of Privacy Professionals and EY say members of the Fortune 500 will spend a combined $7.8bn on compliance, an average of almost $16m each.

The survey suggests that Fortune 500 companies have each had to hire on average five full-time dedicated privacy employees — such as data protection officers — as well as another five employees to work part-time on compliance.

For some businesses, GDPR has required them to conduct an audit of what information they hold, but the task of “cleansing” databases of old or duplicate information, and contacting individuals for consents, has often taken months of staff time.

For one small recruitment agency in London — the sort of business where personal data about potential clients is vital — getting ready for GDPR has involved “not just a database project, but a whole programme of change”. The company has employed one staff member just to “cleanse” the data on individuals which it holds, and to contact people for consent to continue holding it.

“We used to make the assumption that because someone’s information was in the public domain, like LinkedIn or their own website, that there was no problem with us holding it,” says the person at the agency in charge of implementing the new regulations.

Given the scale of the task, a significant number of organisations will not be ready in time for May 25. A survey of nearly 200 global businesses by SAS, an analytics company, in February found that fewer than half expected to be fully compliant by deadline day.

Smaller companies across the EU and elsewhere are at particular risk. In March, the UK’s Federation of Small Businesses found that fewer than one in 10 small businesses in the UK were fully prepared for GDPR, with just under one in five unaware even of the existence of the new rules.

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says Europe has taken the lead on data protection

It is not just organisations which are lagging behind. In January the European Commission said that of the bloc’s 28 member states only Austria and Germany had fully adopted changes to their legislation ahead of the new regulations. While countries such as the UK are expected to pass the laws at the last minute, Baker McKenzie says five EU countries, Bulgaria, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Romania, have not even published a bill or proper information about how they will implement GDPR.
For organisations which remain in breach of the new rules, failure to comply could bear a high cost, with fines of potentially 4 per cent of global turnover or €20m, whichever is the greater. The cost of putting things right, as well as the reputational hit, could be even higher.But there are significant question marks over whether those in charge of enforcing the new rules are up to the task.

As early as 2015 Jacob Kohnstamm, former chairman of the Netherlands’ data protection authority, was warning that organisations breaking the rules faced “little chance of being caught”. Given his organisation’s budget to do investigations, “the chance of having the regulator knock on your door is less than once every thousand years”.

The resources available to most European DPAs’ budgets are still a fraction of those in North America — and have only risen by about a quarter on average across the bloc in response to the increased demands on them that GDPR represents.

Giovanni Buttarelli, the EU’s European data protection officer, warned at the end of last year that the number of people working for regulators in the EU — about 2,500 — was “not many people to supervise compliance with a complex law applicable to all companies in the world targeting services at, or monitoring, people in Europe”.

Last September Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s information commissioner, said she needed more staff on better pay if the regulator was to effectively enforce GDPR. After a boost in government funding, the Information Commissioner’s Office will increase headcount by a third to about 700 by 2020, but DPAs and companies across the bloc are fighting to hire the trained staff they need.

“It’ll take time to build staff,” Ms Denham told the FT. “We have started more investigating . . . of social media companies and elections. I’d call that more of a proactive [investigative] culture. The whole approach needs to change.”

Ms Dixon’s office in Ireland has 100 staff and she plans to recruit 40 more this year, bringing in litigators, criminal lawyers and staff with investigative experience, for example from the insurance sector. “To use the big corrective powers that really bite we will have to be demonstrably showing we’ve followed fair process,” she says.

Ms Dixon is well aware of the scale of the task ahead, given that Dublin is the European home to many of the US tech groups such as Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, LinkedIn and Airbnb.

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‘Solid’ web supporter: Sir Tim Berners-Lee © Getty

Under GDPR one authority will take the lead on cases such as data breaches and related issues rather than the current situation where a company can face multiple legal challenges from regulators in different EU member states. In theory, GDPR prohibits “forum shopping” by companies keen to choose their preferred regulator, and objective criteria should govern who leads on specific cases.
Facebook would be the Irish DPA’s responsibility, given its central administration is in Ireland, its terms of service are associated with its Irish entity and it has a substantial data protection and privacy team in Dublin.For companies such as Google, which provides services through its global headquarters, regulation will depend on where cases are brought in Europe. This will make it less clear which regulator has oversight over the company’s data use and privacy practices.

There are other grey areas. Advertising technology businesses that harvest data from third-party websites may have to seek consent from users. Google has dealt with this by defining itself as a “controller” of data under GDPR when handling third-party information. But the designation has been resisted by publishers which will have to seek consent to share information with Google, raising concerns among their own users.

Privacy campaigners have cried foul over the imperfections of GDPR. But as the world’s attention zeroes in on data protection after revelations about Facebook’s massive data leak, officials in Brussels will hope the rules can mark a new beginning in how personal information is policed.

Control your information: Rules call for more consumer ownership

Europe’s new data privacy rules are underpinned by the basic principle that individuals — not companies — should own their personal information. For Tim Berners Lee, the British computer scientist widely credited with inventing the worldwide web, this is crucial to promoting competition on the internet, which he argues is increasingly dominated by a handful of platforms.
“We could imagine that in a better world . . . you’d have a choice of search engine and a choice of social network to join,” he told the FT. “All the photos you have on LinkedIn, Flickr and Facebook would be yours. “In a better world you’d have complete control over your information.”The lawmakers who drafted the General Data Protection Regulation paid a visit in the summer of 2016 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Sir Tim is based. There they were given a short talk on his solid decentralised web project, which aims to improve privacy by building technical tools that give users ownership over their data.

The idea, which has already been implemented by some non-governmental organisations and data brokers, is a central plank of the GDPR. The rules mandate companies to allow citizens to download their data in a “commonly used and machine-readable format” that would allow them to share or sell it with other companies.

This would theoretically make it possible for a user to move between social media companies with all their information — or sell it back to the company for a price. However, Robin Jack, an independent analyst, says that most data is still unreadable. “Data is messy,” he says. “There are lots of things that are inconsistent, like date formats, whether the prices of things have currencies or not, whether times have time zones.”

Social media companies argue that the data they gather is inherently incompatible with other companies. For example the “audience” profiles created by Facebook cannot be matched with the lifestyle categories generated by Snapchat.

“It’s difficult to create that interoperability between those companies,” says Katherine Tassi, Snap’s deputy general counsel. “For example, Snap giving access to its service to another service is not necessarily meaningful.”

Vietnam set to tighten clamps on Facebook and Google, threatening dissidents

May 19, 2018

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A struggle over internet laws in Vietnam is pitting a government keen on maintaining tight control against U.S. technology companies trying to fight off onerous new rules – with the country’s online dissidents among the biggest losers.

The latest conflict centers on new cybersecurity legislation set for a vote by Vietnamese lawmakers later this month. It aims to impose new legal requirements on internet companies, and hardens policing of online dissent.


By Mai Nguyen and Jonathan Weber


Facebook, Google and other global companies are pushing back hard against provisions that would require them to store data on Vietnamese users locally and open offices in the country. But they have not taken the same tough stance on parts of the proposed law that would bolster the government’s crackdown on online political activism.

Vietnam offers a case study in the conflicting pressures the likes of Facebook and Google confront when operating in countries with repressive governments. It also shows how authoritarian regimes try to walk a line in controlling online information and suppressing political activism without crippling the digital economy.

Such tensions are playing out across Southeast Asia, where the enormous popularity of Facebook and Google has created lucrative business opportunities and outlets for political dissent. With that, though, has come both government censorship and a way to get propaganda to large audiences efficiently.

The region is particularly important for Facebook and Google because most Internet users in China are blocked from accessing them.

An industry group called the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) is leading efforts to soften the proposed cyber law in Vietnam. Jeff Paine, managing director of the AIC, said he and others were able to raise concerns about the law directly with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and other top government officials when they visited Singapore last month.

The discussions took place as part of a seminar about internet issues that included academics, industry officials and the high-level Vietnamese delegation, according to Paine. He said there was “a healthy dialogue” that focused mostly on how Vietnam can leverage the next stages of the digital revolution.

But he said there was no discussion of content restrictions.

The Vietnamese government did not respond to a request from Reuters for comment for this article.

Political activists in Vietnam rely on social media to rally support, and the new cyber law comes on the heels of an April letter from more than 50 rights groups and activists to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg accusing the company of working too closely with the Vietnamese government to stifle dissent.

Facebook and Google say they have to abide by local laws in the countries where they operate.

Facebook’s latest “transparency report,” released Tuesday, shows that in the second half of last year, the company began blocking content in Vietnam for violations of local law for the first time. The company reported 22 such instances – though it said they were prompted by “private reports of defamation” rather than direct government requests.

Google last year also blocked YouTube videos at the request of the government for the first time. Updated figures released Friday show the company was asked to remove more than 6500 videos in 2017, mostly for criticizing the government, and that it complied with a majority of the requests.

The transparency reports do show that the companies don’t automatically do the bidding of the government. Facebook said it had received 12 government requests for Facebook user account data in 2017 and complied with only 4 of them, all of which were “emergency” requests. The company defines an emergency as involving “imminent risk of serious physical injury or death.”

In cases where content is alleged to violate local law, both companies say takedown requests are subject to legal review, and when they comply the material is only blocked locally.

Direct government censorship requests don’t tell the whole story though.

Facebook also removes content and blocks accounts for violating its own global “community standards,” which bar material and behaviors ranging from posting pornography to hate speech and inciting violence.

“The first thing we do when a government tells us about content that violates laws is we look at whether it violates our standards,” said Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management. The company this week began providing data on community standards violations but does not break it down by country.

“My account was blocked for 8 months,” said Le Van Dung, an independent journalist in Vietnam who signed the letter to Zuckerberg. “I sent letters to Facebook management for months but there’s only an automatic reply saying they have completed your request.”

His account was restored last month, the day after the appeal to Zuckerberg was sent, he said.

Facebook said Dung’s account was correctly removed for violating community standards provisions barring “spam” activities and was restored by mistake. Dung denies engaging in spam. He did, though, have more than one account. Multiple accounts are not allowed on Facebook and fall within the company’s definition of spam behavior.

Rights activist Le Van Dung live streams on Facebook in a coffee shop in Hanoi


Vietnam has had tough internet regulations in place since 2013. They ban any postings that are anti-government, harm national security, cause “hatred and conflicts” or “hurt the prestige of organizations and individuals.”

The rules also ban social media users who “spread fake or untruthful information.”

New rules implemented in 2017 tightened the screws further. One turning point, according to Yee Chung Seck, an attorney in the Ho Chi Minh City office of the international law firm Baker McKenzie, was an April 2017 meeting convened by the government to discuss a range of Internet ills including disinformation, hate speech and bullying.

That came just after the government called on all companies doing business in the country to stop advertising on YouTube, Facebook and other social media until they found a way to halt the publication of “toxic” anti-government information.

Yet another decree implemented last month stated that social media platforms had to remove illegal content within three hours of it being reported by the government, though Paine said the rule applies only to domestic companies.

Still, Facebook and Google don’t seem to be under any imminent threat given how deeply they have penetrated into Vietnam society.

About 55 million of Vietnam’s 96 million people are regular social media users, according to research by Simon Kemp, a digital media consultant based in Singapore.

Facebook, YouTube and Google Search are far and away the most popular internet destinations, Kemp’s data shows. Facebook is also the most popular platform for online shopping in Vietnam.

And the government is eager to nurture the country’s digital economy: smartphones and all that they enable, especially e-commerce and online banking, are transforming economies across Asia, and no one wants to be left behind.

“They love that part of the story,” said Chung.

But the government also wants more control, including local data storage and local corporate offices – a provision company officials privately fear is designed to allow the government to intimidate companies by exposing individuals to arrest.

Both Facebook and Google serve Vietnam from their regional headquarters in Singapore.

The new law also gives more power to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which is tasked with crushing dissent in the communist-ruled country.

Facebook said it expected the new rules would require it to restrict more content. Google declined to comment.



For the rights activists, there appears to be little hope of relief.

For example, just this month, a Facebook user in Vietnam was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for posts which “distorted the political situation,” according to a statement posted on an official Communist Party website.

Still, Facebook remains an important tool for activists in Vietnam – a country where government criticism is rarely tolerated and the battle between the authorities and dissidents is a game of cat-and-mouse.

“Sometimes we use Facebook to distract authorities, like we pretend to discuss an important meeting, which obviously won’t happen,” activist Nguyen Lan Thang said. “Then we watch from afar and laugh as they surround our fake meeting spot,” Thang added.


(Additional reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Martin Howell)

Ten Killed in Texas School Shooting

May 19, 2018

Suspect, who is in custody, was identified as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis

SANTA FE, Texas—Minutes after the start of the school day at Santa Fe High School, a 17-year-old walked into an art class armed with a shotgun and .38 revolver and opened fire, killing 10 people and wounding 10 others.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis.  CreditGalveston County Sheriff’s Office, via Associated Press

Authorities identified the suspect, who is in custody, as Dimitrios Pagourtzis. The former high-school football player had no criminal record and hadn’t previously displayed signs of instability, but authorities found journals on his computer and cellphone saying he wanted to carry out the shooting and commit suicide afterward, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said.

The shooting is the deadliest school shooting since a gunman killed 17 people in February in Parkland, Fla., and is the country’s ninth fatal shooting in 2018 on school grounds, including college campuses and excluding suicides, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates stricter gun laws.

Mr. Abbott said he would convene discussions with lawmakers, educators, students, parents and Second Amendment advocates, starting next week, to take action to prevent such attacks in the future.

“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and the families,” the Republican governor said. His response Friday was a marked shift from his declaration of a day of prayer after the killing of 26 people at a Baptist church in Texas in November.

Mr. Abbott said Friday he was interested in speeding background checks; strategies to keep guns away from people who pose an immediate danger; hardening schools to make them more secure; and resources to address mental-health issues.

Santa Fe is a lush rural city of 13,000 between Houston and Galveston that is dotted by modest ranch homes and where some residents keep horses or cattle on their property.

Santa Fe High School student Hunter Kana, center, attends a vigil at her school Friday evening for the victims of a shooting earlier in the day. Ten people were killed and 10 others were wounded in the shooting.
Santa Fe High School student Hunter Kana, center, attends a vigil at her school Friday evening for the victims of a shooting earlier in the day. Ten people were killed and 10 others were wounded in the shooting.

John Robinson, 16, a sophomore at the school, said six friends were in the classroom where the shooting took place, and he felt “shook” while he awaited information about their condition.

“Why my town? Small-town Santa Fe. Not a lot happens here,” he said.

The February shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sparked a national debate over gun-control laws, with calls for legislative efforts in many states, including imposing age limits on gun purchases, bans on assault rifles and so-called red flag laws that give courts the authority to temporarily disarm people who are deemed dangerous.

The two guns used by the Texas suspect belonged to his father, the governor said. It is common in school shootings for the weapons to come from the home.

Mr. Abbott said the suspect was linked to a Facebook page, since taken down, which displayed a black T-shirt that said “Born to Kill.”

“He gave himself up and admitted at the time that he didn’t have the courage” to take his own life, Mr. Abbott said, after being confronted by two officers stationed at Sante Fe High School.

Authorities found explosive devices at a home and in a vehicle associated with the suspect, and were interviewing two other people of interest, Mr. Abbott said. Authorities also were searching two residences linked to the suspect, he said. In Alvin, Texas, state troopers blocked off a stretch of State Highway 6 while multiple law-enforcement officials searched a home on the road connected to the suspect’s family.

Those killed were mostly students, and the wounded included a police officer. He was in critical condition after major blood loss from a gunshot wound in his elbow, according to a doctor at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Santa Fe School Shooting Leaves at Least 10 Dead, More Injured

A shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, Friday morning left at least 10 dead and others injured. The suspect identified as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a student at the high school, is in custody. Photo: Associated Press.

Among the victims was an exchange student from Pakistan, Sabika Sheikh, who was at the high school as part of a U.S. government-funded educational program. Ms. Sheikh was an honor roll student, according to an April school announcement.

Friday’s shooting took place early in the morning at Santa Fe High School, where there are about 1,500 students. Authorities said the suspected gunman wore a long coat that helped disguise the shotgun.

Rome Shubert walked into art class Friday morning at 7:03 a.m., as he usually does, to finish a project before school started.

Related Video

President Trump Comments on ‘Horrific Attack’ in Santa Fe, Texas

‘This has been going on too long in our country,’ said President Trump, speaking from the White House, following a deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Photo: Getty.

A star pitcher on the baseball team who had thrown 11 strikeouts in the team’s playoff game the night before, Mr. Shubert said he heard a loud pop from the hallway but thought nothing of it at first.

After more shots were fired he jumped to the floor, throwing up a table between him and the entrance to the classroom. The art class was the first classroom that the gunman entered in the morning, officials said.

Mr. Shubert said he saw the shooter’s legs, covered by a trench coat, as he walked past him and fired at the ground near him. At first he thought the shots may have been blanks to scare the students, but realized the rounds were live when he saw a bloodied student behind him.

Acting on pure adrenaline, he said, he sprinted to a rear exit in the room and bounded over a 7-foot wall. That’s when Mr. Shubert realized he was covered in blood and he had been shot. “I’m just glad I’m alive,” he said.

Hannah Hershey, an eighth-grader at Santa Fe Junior High, spent much of Friday praying for two friends she heard had been shot.

“It’s hard to know something like that could happen so close by,” Ms. Hershey said, adding that she had seen her friends Thursday at pole-vaulting practice. “It’s so weird seeing them one minute and then hearing they’ve been shot and they’re at the hospital now.”

Santa Fe High School had practiced shooter lockdown drills. In February, the school was placed on lockdown after “a report of popping sounds thought to be gunshots heard outside the school and in the area,” according to a letter the superintendent wrote parents. After determining there was no threat, lockdown was lifted after a little over an hour, the letter said.

President Donald Trump said his administration “is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others.”

Mike Rawlings, the Democratic mayor of Dallas, called for “substantive action” from the Republican-controlled Congress and from Mr. Trump.

“History will not look kindly upon those elected officials who failed to act in the face of repeated mass murders of our children. Spare us your thoughts and prayers and do your job,” Mr. Rawlings said in a statement.

Write to Christopher M. Matthews at and Jon Kamp at

Appeared in the May 19, 2018, print edition as ‘Ten Killed at Texas School.’

See also: The New York Times

Who Is Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the Texas Shooting Suspect?


Cambridge Analytica ‘under investigation by FBI and Justice Department’

May 16, 2018

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Political consulting firm at the centre of a data privacy scandal worked for Trump presidential campaign and has been tied to Brexit vote

By Jeremy B White San Francisco

The Independent US

Federal investigators are reportedly investigating Cambridge Analytica, the political firm implicated in a data privacy scandal.

The Justice Department and the FBI have opened an inquiry into the now-defunct company, according to the New York Times, speaking to former employees and banks that worked with the company.

Cambridge Analytica obtained Facebook profile information encompassing as many as 87 million users, a transfer that was not revealed until after the company had gone on to work for the Trump presidential campaign.

An ensuing uproar has since led the company to cease operations amid an exodus of customers. But the data transfer’s aftermath is continuing to unfold.

How the company came into possession of and then used personal information is of particular interest investigators, who were said to have reached out to Facebook.

A survey app developed by Aleksandr Kogan harvested the data of both users and their friends, Facebook has said, which was then passed to Cambridge Analytica. The company failed to delete the data despite certifying it had, Facebook said (Cambridge Analytica disputes this).

While Cambridge Analytica has said the information gathered by Mr Kogan was not used in service of the Trump campaign, the consulting firm’s potential role in both Donald Trump’s election and the Brexit vote has attracted intense interest.

In the runup to the presidential election, Cambridge Analytica touted its ability to appeal to distinct segments of the electorate with what it called “psychographic” profiling – an approach that dovetailed with the Trump campaign’s embrace of Facebook’s tools to precisely target advertisements to certain groups.

Mark Zuckerberg admits ‘my mistake’ as 87m Facebook users could have seen data accessed by Cambridge Analytica


A prominent backer of the company, Robert Mercer, and his daughter have used their wealth to gain substantial clout in Republican politics – including by supporting the far-right news website Breitbart, whose chairman Steve Breitbart who initially was one of Mr Trump’s closest counselors.

In the UK, members of Parliament have uncovered evidence of what they call linkages between Cambridge Analytica and the Brexit campaign.

The UK’s information commissioner earlier this month ordered the company to turn over all the data it had collected on an American professor.

Google probed in Australia for allegedly tracking phone users at their expense

May 15, 2018
Australian authorities launched an investigation into Google’s massive data harvest from smartphones, which reportedly allows the search giant to track users’ movements even with location services turned off.

The investigations stem from findings made by the California-based software company Oracle, which revealed that Google was collecting up to one gigabyte of each users’ monthly phone data to secretly trace their location.

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Pakistani human rights activists targeted in Facebook attacks

May 15, 2018

Is the Government of Pakistan behind the Facebook attacks on Pakistani human rights activists Diep Saeeda?

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Diep Saeeda
Diep Saeeda has been a human rights activist for 25 years

In December 2016 Diep Saeeda, an outspoken human rights activist from the Pakistani city of Lahore, received a short message on Facebook from someone she didn’t know but with whom she had a number of friends in common: “Hy dear.”

She didn’t think much of it and never got round to replying.

But the messages weren’t coming from a fan of Mrs Saeeda’s activism – instead they were the start of a sustained campaign of digital attacks attempting to install malware on her computer and mobile phone to spy on her and steal her data.

Over the next year, she received multiple messages from the same Facebook account, apparently run by a young woman calling herself Sana Halimi, claiming to work for the United Nations.

However, the attackers targeting Mrs Saeeda made crucial mistakes that allowed researchers from human rights group Amnesty International to trace a number of individuals linked either to the operation or to the malware used.

They include a British-Pakistani cyber security expert running a company he claims to be based in Wales, and another who used to work for the Pakistani army’s public relations wing.

Mrs Saeeda is clear whom she believes is ultimately responsible for the attacks: “I’m convinced these are intelligence agencies… They try to harass people and force them to leave the country.”

A screenshot of Sana Halimi's Facebook profileImage copyrightDIEP SAEEDA
Image captionMrs Saeeda was contacted by “Sana Halimi” a year before the account began sending her malware

She says in the past they targeted her for promoting dialogue between ordinary Pakistanis and Indians.

“There was a time they would visit my home or office on a daily basis. When I get up in the morning, there would be two people outside my home.”

But she says the malware attacks were more invasive than anything she had previously experienced.

Crackdown fears

Amnesty International has spoken to three other Pakistan human rights activists who have been targeted in the same way.

They discovered that the main piece of malware being used had also been used in previously documented attacks on Indian military and diplomatic officials.

Amnesty International say they have no evidence of Pakistani state involvement and are unable to say who is ultimately responsible for conducting the attacks.

Sherif Elsayed-Ali, director of global issues at Amnesty, told the BBC they were calling on the Pakistani authorities to investigate the attacks “as a matter of urgency… and to ensure that human rights defenders are adequately protected both online and offline”.

Human rights groups have repeatedly warned that the Pakistani intelligence services appear to be cracking down on activists who criticize them.

In January 2017, a group of bloggers went missing for a number of weeks before being released. Two subsequently told the BBC that they had been detained by the security services and tortured.

An activist vanishes

A year after first establishing contact with Mrs Saeeda, “Sana Halimi” sent her the first messages with malware attached.

Mrs Saeeda was at the time in a state of panic. One of her closest friends, fellow activist Raza Khan, had disappeared.

The 40-year-old, who worked on promoting better relations between Pakistan and India, had been attending a talk on extremism on 2 December 2017.

He hasn’t been seen since leaving the event. The next day, friends found his door locked and light on – his computer missing.

They believe he was taken into custody by the intelligence services.

A few days after Mr Khan’s disappearance, as Mrs Saeeda was becoming increasingly vocal in the media, she received her first malware attack.

“Sana Halimi” sent her a fake Facebook login page via Facebook Messenger. Had she clicked on it, the site would’ve recorded her Facebook password.

She didn’t though and a few weeks later received another malware attack, again from “Sana Halimi.” This time the message contained a link – apparently to a set of New’s Year’s Eve-themed photo filters.

In fact, it was malware designed to hack into her mobile phone and intercept text messages.

Again, Mrs Saeeda didn’t click on the link. The attackers changed tactics.

“Sana Halimi” messaged Mrs Saeeda, telling her she needed to talk to her privately about the disappearance of her friend Mr Khan.

Mrs Saeeda, desperate for anything that could help locate Mr Khan, became suddenly interested.

A screenshot of the conversation between Mrs Saeeda and Sana HalimiImage copyrightDIEP SAEEDA

The messages continued for over two weeks and culminated in a message from “Sana Halimi” purportedly containing an attached document that would help her “understand” what had happened to Mr Khan.

Mrs Saeeda attempted to download it but it was blocked by her computer’s antivirus software. The document appeared to be another piece of malware.

Over the subsequent weeks and months, Mrs Saeeda was repeatedly targeted in further attacks, this time over email.

One email she received claimed to be from the office of the chief minister of Punjab, the province she lived in.

It said the chief minister would be visiting her office to discuss the case of her still missing friend Mr Khan.

By this time though, Mrs Saeeda was aware she was being targeted and forwarded the emails to Amnesty International instead of downloading the files.

A screenshot of the email Mrs Saeeda received reportedly from the chief minister of Punjab.Image copyrightDIEP SAEEDA

They discovered Mrs Saeeda had been sent at least two different pieces of malware, one by Facebook, and one by email.

The malware attached to the email could, amongst other things, “log passwords, take pictures from the webcam, activate and record audio from the microphone, steal files from the hard disk”.

They identified this malware as a software called Crimson.

Crimson attacks have been documented before. A number of cyber security firms wrote about the malware in March 2016 after discovering it was being used to target Indian military and diplomatic figures.

Claudio Guarnieri, from Amnesty, told the BBC the Crimson malware used to target Mrs Saeeda was “almost identical” to that used in the past.

An independent cyber security firm told the BBC it was “highly confident” the attacks documented by Amnesty had been carried out by the same group behind the attacks on Indian targets.

‘Digital spy services’

Amnesty was able to use the malware they examined to identify some of those associated with creating it.

They discovered the malware linked to the New Year’s Eve photo filters that “Sana Halimi” had sent to Mrs Saeeda via Facebook would send any stolen data to a server registered in Lahore.

The owner of the server was a man called Faisal Hanif whose email address and phone number were listed in the server details.

Pakistani human rights activists hold images of bloggers who have gone missing during a protest in Islamabad on January 10, 2017.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe disappearance of the bloggers last year prompted a number of protests

These linked to a Facebook profile revealing that Mr Hanif owned a company called Super Innovative.

On its website, Super Innovative advertises digital spy services, which allow you to monitor calls, text messages and emails of your “children, company employees or loved ones” whilst remaining “unnoticeable”.

The company website claims to be based in Penarth, Wales.

When the BBC visited the property, a woman living at the address admitted knowing Mr Hanif and told the BBC he did occasionally visit from Pakistan. But she said she knew nothing about the company Super Innovative.

Mr Guarnieri says there is no evidence Mr Hanif or Super Innovative were involved in sending the malware to Mrs Saeeda but his research connects Mr Hanif to the creation of the malware used to target her.

“What we believe is that they were the ones tasked to create these tools, but not necessarily the ones that used it.”

When contacted by the BBC, Mr Hanif denied involvement in the attacks on Mrs Saeeda.

He said he believed he had been hacked – and his details falsely used to register the server linked to the malware. He denied having created any spyware that could be used to steal mobile phone data.

Shortly after the BBC contacted Mr Hanif, the server linked to the attacks was taken down.

No more email attachments

In researching the creators of a previous version of the Crimson malware, the Amnesty team came across a massive lapse in security by those linked to it.

A folder containing as yet unreleased copies of the malware was left publicly accessible.

Mr Guarnieri told the BBC it was a “pretty common mistake” for those working in the field to make.

As well as copies of the malware they found a word document that appeared to be an outline of an online team dedicated to targeting perceived opponents of the Pakistani army.

The document states that part of their role consists of checking different websites “to see if there are any anti-army content on it, so we try to take them down or at least trace the administrators… We are working on different target accounts to trace their IP addresses or to compromise their accounts.”

By establishing the email address associated with the metadata of the document, Amnesty researchers traced it to an Islamabad-based cyber security expert, Zahid Abbasi.

When confronted by the BBC, Mr Abbasi confirmed he had previously worked for a year for the Pakistani military’s public relations team (ISPR) and that the document was genuine.

He admitted his role included tracing the IP addresses of “people abusing institutions” online and “compromising their accounts” by, for example, sending them fake Facebook login pages.

However, he denied that human rights activists were amongst those targeted or that he had any connection to the Crimson malware.

There is no evidence that Mr Abbasi was involved in the attacks on Mrs Saeeda.

There was no immediate response to the BBC’s request for comment from the Pakistani army.

Mrs Saeeda told the BBC: “After these attacks I feel insecure – even my own children sending me an email, I’m scared someone is using their name. I don’t open emails with attachments.”

She added tearfully, “The people who are doing it are spending their resources and their energy on a person who has given 25 years in [peace] activism.”

Apple’s Tim Cook urges Duke graduates to think hard about data privacy — “Technology Shouldn’t Mean Trading Away Your Privacy”

May 15, 2018

Lingering concerns about data privacy practices among American tech firms came up again at the Duke graduation as Apple’s Tim Cook took some veiled shots at Facebook and Google on privacy….

During a commencement address to Duke University Sunday, Apple CEO Tim Cook used some well-known platitudes, telling the students to make brave choices, rise to challenges and be unafraid to break with conventional wisdom.

He also appeared take yet another jab at Facebook and its handling of user data.

Image result for Tim Cook at Duke, Photos

“We reject the excuse that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy,” Cook said. “So we choose a different path, collecting as little of your data as possible, being thoughtful and respectful when it’s in our care because we know it belongs to you.”

The comment echoed Cook’s earlier criticism of Facebook, which has endured months of criticism after it was revealed that a political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, was able to harvest data for nearly 90 million Facebook users.

“I wouldn’t be in this situation,” Cook told reporters from Recode and MSNBC in March.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg hits back at Tim Cook

“The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product,” he said. “We’ve elected not to do that.”

Cook also called for increased regulation of social media and questioned whether Facebook should monetize user data on its free platforms by selling targeted ads.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shot back at Cook in an interview published by Vox last month.

“You know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib. And not at all aligned with the truth,” Zuckerberg told Vox.

Cook on Sunday again aimed to paint Apple’s (AAPL) handling of user data in stark contrast with Facebook’s. He credited Apple co-founder Steve Jobs with instilling within the company the drive to do things better.

“In every way at every turn, the question we ask ourselves is not, ‘What can we do?’, but ‘What should we do?” Cook said. “Because Steve taught us that’s how change happens, and from him I learned to never be content with the way that things are.”

Apple has had a few tangles with privacy issues as well.

Related: Tim Cook disses Amazon second headquarters search

The company caught flack when it announced in February a plan to move iCloud accounts registered in mainland China to state-run Chinese servers. Apple made the move after it unsuccessfully fought to be exempt from a controversial new cybersecurity law in the Asian nation, but the decision alarmed privacy advocates.

And in 2014, hackers were able to steal nude photos from celebrities’ iCloud accounts.

After that, Apple committed to increased transparency, and the company encrypted iPhones to make it more difficult for anyone — even authorities — to get their hands on data.

Cook, who often weighs in on social issues, also used his platform at Duke University to praise the “fearless” women who have spoken out in the #MeToo movement, the Parkland student advocating for tighter gun control, and people who “fight for the rights of immigrants.”

— CNN’s Sherisse Pham, David Goldman and Seth Fiegerman contributed to this report.

Includes video:

See also:

In Jab At Facebook & Google, Tim Cook Tells Duke Grads “Technology Shouldn’t Mean Trading Away Your Privacy”


Facebook Suspends 200 Apps in Investigation Over Data Abuse

May 14, 2018
Apps await an investigation into whether they misused data — Update comes as social network’s share price bounces back
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Thousands of Facebook apps have been examined and 200 suspended, the social network said Monday, as the service continues to grapple with the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

The suspensions are part of an app investigation and audit that Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg promised on March 21. The company is examining apps that had access to user data before the platform’s policies changed in 2014, reducing the information they could access. Any app that either refused or failed an audit would be banned from Facebook, it said.

In the first phase of the investigation a review would identify every app that had access to large amounts of Facebook data, and in the second investigators would conduct interviews, make requests for information, and perform audits that may include on-site inspections.

The suspended apps are pending an investigation into whether they did in fact misuse data.

The update shows that the consequences from the scandal are far from over, even as Facebook’s stock price has recovered to pre-scandal levels.