Posts Tagged ‘Whatsapp’

Our phones are being targeted by spyware

December 10, 2018

“IT’S not paranoia if they really are out to get you.” For Ahmed Mansour, a human rights activist hailing from the UAE, those are words to live by; after all, speaking out on inconvenient issues in a country which frowns upon such expression, is a perilous vocation at best and a deadly one at worst.

So when Mansour receives a message on his phone with an attached link, he doesn’t automatically click on it even if it promises him the greatest cat videos of all time.

That approach served him well when he received several such messages from an unknown source. Instead of clicking, he sent the messages to cybersecurity firm Citizen’s Lab which sent them forward to another cybersecurity firm called Lookout for investigation.

Image result for spyware, smartphones, photos

What they found was a form of spyware they had not yet seen, despite the fact that their entire job is to root out and counter such malicious tools. In the words of Lookout, it carries out “the most sophisticated attack they’d ever seen”. How sophisticated? For one thing, this spyware was designed for phones using Apple’s iOs software, which was previously considered incredibly secure (it is also now available for Android).

Once installed, the spyware ensures total surveillance by installing modules that allow the end user to listen to all calls, take screenshots, read all messages and emails, scan contact lists, photo galleries and browser histories. It can even turn on your phone’s microphone at will, essentially turning your phone into a surveillance device.

If you think that your messages are safe because you use encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Signal then consider that Pegasus is capable of logging keystrokes, and thus can read what you’re typing before it is encrypted. And the best part is that it leaves no trace of its existence; even the most skilled cybersecurity experts won’t be able to locate it unless they know exactly what they are looking for. And last but not least, Pegasus can self-destruct; deleting itself without a trace if there is no communication with its command-and-control server for 60 days.

Developed by the Israeli company NSO technologies, Pegasus is a commercial product available for sale to interested bidders, and there is no shortage of those. An investigation by Citizen’s Lab revealed that Pegasus has been detected in at least 45 countries, many of which are notorious for human rights abuses and the suppression of even the most innocuous acts of dissent.

While the Mansour case took place in 2016, Pegasus is back in the news thanks to a lawsuit filed against NSO by Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz who claims that it was this software, obtained by the Saudis and surreptitiously installed on Jamal Khashoggi’s phone that allowed the Saudi government to monitor his communications.

Three other lawsuits against NSO have been filed, one by a Qatari citizen, another by a group of Mexican activists and journalists and the third by Amnesty International. All of the complainants claim that they have been targeted by this spyware. For its part, NSO claims that it only sells Pegasus — which is classified as a weapon by Israel and requires governmental approval prior to sale — under the strict condition that it be used to fight ‘crime and terror’. However, leaked emails submitted along with the lawsuits tell a different story: when UAE officials were offered an expensive upgrade to the spyware, they demanded proof of performance by asking NSO to obtain phone calls made by Abdulaziz Alkhamis the editor of a London-based Arab newspaper. Three days later NSO sent them an email containing those recordings.

Why phones are being targeted for spyware is of course obvious: these little devices know more about us than our family and friends do, and if Big Brother gets into these then well, our lives are literally in their hands.

Sometimes it’s not even necessary to get into the phones, as the apps we like to use are sufficient to glean information from. Take the fitness app Strava which inadvertently gave away the locations of US military bases in Afghanistan and even — thanks to the military personnel using it — allowed other users to actually track movements around the base. While the rest of the world was hunting virtual creatures on Pokemon Go! several militaries around the world banned its use by active personnel for the same reason.

But now we have smart TVs, refrigerators and (believe it or not) salt shakers. All these are part of what we like to call ‘the internet of things’, and each one of them is a potential surveillance device. Smart water meters may be efficient for the user, but they also can let hackers know exactly when you flush your toilet. As for those voice assistants we love to use, how can Alexa hear you say ‘hello’ if it’s not always listening? And how hard would it be then for others to listen in? At which point does our convenience end up compromising us?

The writer is a journalist.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2018

See also:

Chinese Android Phone Shipped with Spyware


Big Brother Australia cracks open encrypted messaging

December 7, 2018

A new law will require tech firms to give security agencies access to their encrypted data, a provision experts expect other Western nations to soon replicate

 SYDNEY, DECEMBER 7, 2018 1:25 PM (UTC+8)
New Australian legislation will require tech companies to open back doors to their encryption technologies. Photo: iStock

New Australian legislation will require tech companies to open back doors to their encryption technologies. Photo: iStock

Facebook defends Mark Zuckerberg’s exposed emails

December 7, 2018

“Time and again, Facebook proves itself untrustworthy and incapable of building the world it claims it wants to see.”

Every few days there seems to be a fresh accusation or leak that paints the social network in the worst possible light and calls into question whether it poses a threat to its members, wider society and even democracy itself.

The latest barrage came in the form of a tranche of “confidential” internal emails published online by MPs, who have been smarting that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg refused to testify before them.

Facebook protesters
Facebook has faced several scandals over the course of 2018. GETTY IMAGES

Facebook’s staff feel like they are under siege.

As Damian Collins, the chair of the Parliamentary committee responsible, put it, if they could not get “straight answers” from Mr Zuckerberg then at least the emails could reveal how his firm treats users’ data and protects its “dominant position”.

Mr Collins claimed the documents prove that the social network continued giving some favoured apps access to users’ friends’ data after a cut-off point that was supposed to protect its members’ privacy.

He added that the emails showed the firm had also sought to make it difficult for users to know about privacy changes, and had surreptitiously studied smartphone users’ habits to identify and tackle rival apps.


Mark Zuckerberg
Emails written by Mark Zuckerberg were among those published by the parliament committee. GETTY IMAGES

Overnight on Wednesday, Facebook has published a blow-by-blow response to these and other allegations.

The main thrust of its defence is that the emails had been “cherry-picked” to paint a “false” picture of what really happened.

But does its counter-attack stand up?

White lists

One of the key apparent gotchas from the documents was Facebook’s repeated references to “whitelisting” – the process under which it grants special access to users and their friends’ data to some third parties but not others.

The context for this was that in April 2014, Facebook announced that it planned to restrict developers from being able to tap into information about users’ friends as part of a policy referred to as “putting people first”.

Until that point, any developer could build products that made use of Facebook users’ friends’ birthdates, photos, genders, status updates, likes and location check-ins.

While such access was to be cut off, Facebook said it would still allow apps to see who was on a user’s friends list and their relevant profile pictures.

However, if developers wanted this to include friends who were not using the same app, they now needed to make a request and pass a review.

New apps needed to apply immediately, and existing ones were given a year’s grace.

Zuckerbeg's empty chair
Mr Zuckerberg was “empty-chaired” at a recent hearing by Mr Collins’ committee.  Credit UK PARLIAMENT

But Mr Collins said the emails demonstrated that some firms “maintained full access to friends’ data” after the 2015 deadline.

The documents certainly show several apps sought extended rights – although it is not always clear what the final outcome was.

But Facebook says it only gave “short-term” extensions to the wide range of information about friends and did so in cases when apps needed more time to adapt.

“It’s common to help partners transition their apps during platform changes to prevent their apps from crashing or causing disruptive experiences for users,” it explained.

In fact, Facebook already gave Congress a list in July of about 60 organisations to whom it granted this privilege, and said at the time that in most cases it was limited to an extra six months,

The names excluded some of the bigger brands referenced in the emails, including Netflix, Airbnb and Lyft.

The inference is that if they were indeed granted special long-term rights, it was only to access complete lists of friends’ names and profile images.

But since Facebook does not disclose which developers have these extra rights, it is impossible to know how widely they are offered.

Value of friends’ data

Facebook has long maintained that it has “never sold people’s data”.

Rather it said the bulk of its profits come from asking advertisers what kinds of audience they want to target, and then directing their promotions at users who match.

But Mr Collins said the emails also demonstrated that Facebook had repeatedly discussed ways to make money from providing access to friends’ data.

Mark Zuckerberg himself wrote the following in 2012: “I’m getting more on board with locking down some parts of platform, including friends’ data… Without limiting distribution or access to friends who use this app, I don’t think we have any way to get developers to pay us at all besides offering payments and ad networks.”

Facebook logo
Facebook says 2.3 billion people use its service at least once a month. GETTY IMAGES

Facebook’s retort is that it explored many ways to build its business, but ultimately what counts is that it never charged developers for this kind of service.

“We ultimately settled on a model where developers did not need to purchase advertising… and we continued to provide the developer platform for free,” it said.

But another email from Mr Zuckerberg in the haul makes it clear that his reasoning for doing so was a belief that the more apps that developers built, the more information people would share about themselves, which in turn would help Facebook make money.

And some users may be worried that it was this profit motive rather than concerns for their privacy that determined the outcome.

Android permissions

Another standout discovery was the fact that Facebook’s team had no illusions that an update to its Android app – which gave Facebook access to users’ call and text message records – risked a media backlash.

“This is a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective,” wrote one executive, adding that it could lead to articles saying “Facebook uses new Android update to pry into your private life in ever more terrifying ways”.

In the conversation that followed, staff discussed testing a method that would require users to click a button to share the data but avoid them being shown an “Android permissions dialogue at all”.

Mr Collins claims the result was that the firm made it as “hard as possible” for users to be aware of the privacy change.

Facebook’s defence is that the change was still “opt in” rather than done by default, and that users benefited from better suggestions about who they could call via its apps.

“This was a discussion about how our decision to launch this opt-in feature would interact with the Android operating system’s own permission screens,” added the firm.

“This was not a discussion about avoiding asking people for permission.”

It previously defended its conduct in March after users had spotted saved call logs in archives of their Facebook activity and did not recall giving the social network permission to gather them.

Whether you accept its explanation or not, it does not look good that executives were clearly worried that journalists might “dig into” what the update was doing in the first place.

The risk is that this adds to the impression that while Facebook wants its members to trust it with their information, the firm has an aversion to having its own behaviour scrutinised.

Surveying rivals

Part of the way through the hundreds of text-heavy pages is a selection of graphs.

They show how Facebook tracked the fortunes of social media rivals including WhatsApp – which it went on to buy – and Twitter’s viral video service Vine – which it decided to block from accessing some data.

Many of Onavo’s users are unlikely to have been aware of its ties to Facebook. Google

This tracking was done via Onavo, an Israeli analytics company that Facebook acquired in 2013 – which provided a free virtual private network app.

VPNs are typically installed by users wanting an extra layer of privacy.

Mr Collins accused Facebook of carrying out its surveys without customers’ knowledge.

Its reply was that the app contained a screen that stated that it collected “information about app usage” and detailed how it would be used.

It is true that the app’s privacy policy stated that it might share information with “affiliates” including Facebook.

But it is questionable how many of its millions of users bothered to read beyond the top-billed promise to “keep you and your data safe”.

In any case, if Facebook is not hiding anything it is curious that, even now, on Google Play the app continues to list its developer as being Onavo rather than its parent company, and only mentions Facebook’s role if users click on a “read more” link.

It is also noteworthy that Apple banned the app earlier this year from its App Store for being too intrusive.

Targeting competitors

You do not get to be one of the world’s biggest companies just by playing nice.

So, Mr Collins’ accusation that Facebook had taken “aggressive positions” against rivals is probably unsurprising.

Even so, it is interesting the degree to which Mr Zuckerberg is involved.

“We maintain a small list of strategic competitors that Mark personally reviewed,” disclosed one memo.

“Apps produced by the companies on this list are subject to a number of restrictions… any usage beyond that specified is not permitted without Mark-level sign-off.”

Facebook protesters
Politicians are under pressure to consider tougher regulations for Facebook and other tech companies. GETTY IMAGES

As the case of Vine demonstrated, he is willing to take a tough line.

When asked if Facebook should cut off Vine’s access to friends’ data on the day of its launch in 2013 – ahead of the later wider crackdown – his reply was brief.

“Yup, go for it.”

Facebook suggests such behaviour is normal.

“At that time we made the decision to restrict apps built on top of our platform that replicated our core functionality,” it said in its response.

“These kind of restrictions are common across the tech industry with different platforms having their own variant including YouTube, Twitter, Snap and Apple.”

But it added that it now believes the policy is “out-of-date” so is removing it.

Too late for Vine, which shut in January 2017.

And Facebook’s problem is that politicians now have another reason for new regulations to limit anti-competitive behaviour by the tech giants.

Digital rights campaigners also have new reasons to gripe.

“Time and again, Facebook proves itself untrustworthy and incapable of building the world it claims it wants to see,” Dr Gus Hosein, from Privacy International, told the BBC.

“They show a pattern, fostered by market dominance, of deceptive and exploitative behaviour, which must be stopped.”

Australia passes cyber snooping laws with global implications

December 6, 2018

Controversial laws allowing spies and police to snoop on the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists and criminals were passed in Australia on Thursday, as experts warned of far-reaching implications for global cybersecurity.

There has been extensive debate about the laws and their reach beyond Australia’s shores in what is seen as the latest salvo between global governments and tech firms over national security and privacy.

Under the legislation, Canberra can compel local and international providers — including overseas communication giants such as Facebook and WhatsApp — to remove electronic protections, conceal covert operations by government agencies, and help with access to devices or services.

Under the legislation, Canberra can compel local and international providers to remove electronic protections, conceal covert operations by government agencies, and help with access to devices or services

Under the legislation, Canberra can compel local and international providers to remove electronic protections, conceal covert operations by government agencies, and help with access to devices or services Under the legislation, Canberra can compel local and international providers to remove electronic protections, conceal covert operations by government agencies, and help with access to devices or services AFP/File 

Australian authorities can also require that those demands be kept secret.

The conservative government had pushed for the bill to be passed before parliament rises for the year this week, saying the new powers were needed to thwart terror attacks during the festive period.

A last-minute deal was struck with the opposition Labor Party over its demands for more oversight and safeguards when the laws are used, with a review of the legislation to take place in 18 months.

The government also agreed to consider further amendments to the bill early next year.

National cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon said police have been “going blind or going deaf because of encryption” used by suspects.

Brushing off warnings from tech giants that the laws would undermine internet security, MacGibbon said they would be similar to traditional telecommunications intercepts, just updated to take in modern technologies.

Global communications firms have repeatedly said the legislation would force them to create vulnerabilities in their products, such as by decrypting messages on apps, which could then by exploited by bad actors.

Experts such as the UN special rapporteur on the right to privacy Joseph Cannataci have described the bill as “poorly conceived” and “equally as likely to endanger security as not”.

“Encryption underpins the foundations of a secure internet and the internet pervades everything that we do in a modern society,” Tim de Sousa, a principal at privacy and cybersecurity consultancy elevenM, told AFP.

“If you require encryption to be undermined to help law enforcement investigations, then you are ultimately undermining that encryption in all circumstances. Those backdoors will be found and exploited by others, making everyone less secure,” he said.

The new laws also include secrecy provisions, which could raise doubts over whether Australian and foreign vendors have already been compelled to act — undermining their business models where privacy is a key selling point.


Social media spreads hope and fear among Central America migrants

November 27, 2018

As a group of migrants prepare to form a new caravan to set out from El Salvador for the promised land of the United States, eager participants exchange messages over social media.

How will they cross the border? What should they bring? Mothers and their children, youngsters fleeing violent gangs, men hoping to find a way to feed their families: the caravan attracts all sorts.

As soon as one caravan leaves, plans for the next one swamp social media. Hundreds of interested parties fire off questions, engage in discussions or share their hopes and fears.

© AFP | As soon as one caravan leaves, plans for the next one swamp social media, with hundreds of interested parties firing off questions, engaging in discussions or sharing their hopes and fears

“My aim is to reach the United States. In the caravan, no one will be able to touch me,” said one rasping voice in an audio post on a chat for the last caravan to leave El Salvador.

The day before it departed, migrants spent the night on the El Salvador del Mundo square in the capital San Salvador, a place dominated by a huge column upon which Jesus stands atop a globe.

Since October, more than 5,000 central American migrants have set out on the long, arduous journey of thousands of kilometers, either by foot, bus or hitch-hiking northwards towards the US.

– ‘It’s safer in the caravan’ –

“I found out about the caravan on Facebook. Someone posted a link in a WhatsApp chat,” a 38-year-old widow with children aged 11 and 13, told AFP.

“People exchange information, there are no leaders.”

Her face shaded by a baseball cap, she refuses to give her name for fear that gangs will harass her. They might one day have their eyes on her eldest, a pretty brunette with long, curly hair.

These gangs strike fear across not just El Salvador but the whole central American region, whether by murder, forcing boys to join them or raping girls.

The widow quit her $6-a-day job making corn tortillas to join the caravan. She has no other way of trying to reach the US.

“We poor people, we don’t have the $8,000 that a coyote demands,” she says, referring to people smugglers.

“It’s also safer in the caravan,” she adds.

Another mother was forced to abandon her house under threats from gangsters who had already kidnapped her husband.

The 39-year-old said the caravan offered an opportunity to give her 12- and 14-year-old sons “a better future.”

On the El Salvador del Mundo square, families gathered with children in tow to witness the official decorating of the city’s Christmas tree amid fireworks and singing.

Few people took any interest in the migrants, easily recognizable among the throng by their meagre backpacks.

– ‘Lies and lack of solidarity’ –

Following the lead of 2,000 migrants who left Honduras on October 13, an initial group of 400 Salvadorans set off on October 28.

Three days later, their numbers had swelled four-fold, some alerted to the possibility through Facebook pages such as “El Salvador emigrates for a better future,” which has been liked more than 4,000 times.

By November 18, though, there were barely 200 left among them as the rest had given up walking and stumped up the $5 necessary to take a bus to Guatemala.

While social media plays an important role in mobilizing and organizing would-be migrants, it can also sow the seeds of doubt or discontent amongst them.

Unverifiable tales of migrant hostility encountered in the countries they pass through are quick to spread, particularly by WhatsApp.

“They’re all crammed at the Mexican border and no one’s giving them anything,” wrote one anonymous person from a Mexican cellphone.

Another claims that you have to pay “$50 to get a child through” the border.

Evelyn Marroquin, El Salvador’s migration service director, says migrants are left with many complaints.

“They said those who organize the caravan asked for money… that there wasn’t the solidarity advertised on social media to progress together… that all the comments on social media were lies,” she said.

– MS-13 threats –

A 43-year-old mother and her sons aged 16 and 20 told AFP they were arrested and detained in Mexico.

She is another who withheld her name out of fear of the MS-13 criminal gang that originated in California but has since spread its tentacles throughout Central America.

It’s a group that US President Donald Trump frequently claims has infiltrated the migrant caravans as he pushes a tough stance on border security.

MS-13 made her nephew disappear and then harassed her after she went looking for him.

It also tried to recruit her youngest son when he was only 11.

Getting away from the gangs is proving tough. After leaving home, she received death threats when exiled in Guatemala, forcing her to move on.

Even at the Mexican detention center, she came across gang members.

“We landed in something even more dangerous, worse,” she said.

After her travails, she opted to be sent home and now stays at Migrant House, an establishment run by Catholic missionaries in San Salvador.

She plans to relocate to one of the few regions of the country not beleaguered by gangs “for my sons’ safety, no matter how far away or isolated it is.”

One thing she’s sure she’ll never do again, though, is try to emigrate.

Despite such difficulties, another group is active on social media, preparing to head out from El Salvador on January 2.

Within minutes, 200 people have connected to the group and the messages multiply.

Without revealing his identity, #StarLord announces himself as the group’s administrator. He decides who gets to stay in the group, deletes messages and dishes out advice.

– ‘Fleeing hunger and blood’ –

On average 300 to 400 people leave El Salvador every day. The caravans have proved hugely tempting, in particular for those who cannot afford to pay the sums demanded by “coyotes.”

Authorities have even snared people smugglers who managed to infiltrate caravans.

“Three people were arrested in the first two caravans in the act of trafficking people,” El Salvador’s minister of justice and public security, Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde said.

The presidents of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, and Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, have hit out at the caravans, claiming they’ve been manipulated politically in order to “violate borders.”

Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela have been accused of encouraging caravans to deflect attention from the crises in their countries.

For Benjamin Cuellar, a Salvadoran human rights expert, those accusations have “no objective foundation.”

He says attention should be turned instead to solving the problems that motivate people to migrate.

“People live in hell. They’re fleeing… hunger and blood.”


Facebook Morale Takes a Tumble Along With Stock Price

November 14, 2018

Employee surveys show weaker optimism about future, confidence in platform’s mission

Image result for facebook, pictures


Facebook Inc.’s FB +1.20% difficult year is taking a toll on employee morale, with several key measures of internal sentiment taking a sharp turn for the worse over the past year, according to people familiar with the matter and messages reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Amid a plunge in the stock price, ongoing leadership turmoil and critical media coverage, just over half of employees said they were optimistic about Facebook’s future, down 32 percentage points from the year earlier, according to the survey, which was taken by nearly 29,000 employees. Fifty-three percent said Facebook was making the world better, down 19 percentage points from a year ago.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg directly addressed the survey results at a question-and-answer session in early November, some of the people said, saying he and other senior officials were taking steps to address the underlying issues.

The darkening mood within the social-media giant is notable in part because its workforce has been resilient through other difficult patches in the past. That includes the period after the 2016 presidential election, when many critics were blaming Facebook for allowing fabricated news articles to pervade the platform.

But many people inside Facebook say this period feels different, in part because of the unusual turbulence at the top of the company, which has struggled to respond to its various internal and external controversies. The declining stock price has also hurt morale among employees for whom stock options are a large part of their compensation, current and former employees say.

Facebook’s current data crisis involving Cambridge Analytica has angered users and prompted government investigations. To understand what’s happening now, you have to look back at Facebook’s old policies from 2007 to 2014. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains. Illustration: Laura Kammerman

“It has been a difficult period, but every day we see people pulling together to learn the lessons of the past year and build a stronger company,” a Facebook spokeswoman said. “Everyone at Facebook has a stake in our future and we are heads down shipping great products and protecting the people who use them.”

The biannual “pulse” survey asks employees to assess how strongly they believe in Facebook’s overall mission and whether they believe the company has a positive effect on the world, people familiar with the surveys say. It also asks them to measure their satisfaction with their individual managers and work-life balance.

These types of polls are increasingly common as companies try to gauge employee sentiment and identify any problems before they fester.

There are some 30 questions on the Facebook survey, which is conducted in April and October every year.

Employees on average said they intended to stay another 3.9 years at Facebook, down from 4.3 years a year earlier. About 12% said they planned to stay less than a year. Former employees said these figures typically rose.

In survey responses, some employees indicated they were worried about Facebook’s sharpened focus on growth and frustrated over a “lack of innovation” within the company. Employees also questioned the company’s higher emphasis on the main Facebook platform over Instagram, WhatsApp and other growing services that Facebook owns.

In July, Facebook startled investors with dour growth projections that sent its stock price tumbling. Shares haven’t recovered and remain down more than 35% in the past four months, putting the company on track to have its first annual share-price decline since going public in 2012.

Facebook is one of the few major tech companies whose stocks have dropped significantly in the past year, while rivals like Twitter Inc. have jumped and Google parent Alphabet Inc. has remained mostly flat.

Morale has also been hit by a near-constant barrage of criticism from outsiders about its lax data-privacy practices, growth-oriented culture and role in fanning violence in volatile countries such as Myanmar, current and former employees say.

Leadership turmoil is another factor. For most of its nearly 15-year history, Facebook’s leadership was remarkably stable, but nearly a dozen high-profile or senior executives have announced their departures this year, including Facebook’s top lawyer and longtime policy chief as well as co-founders of Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook’s employee base was 33,606 at the end of September 2018, up 45% from the year before. Many of the new employees work in the areas of safety and security and currently are sitting on stock options that are worth less now than a year ago.

Broader employee sentiment about the company has been slowly declining for nearly two years, according to surveys. The overall favorability score, or how Facebook measures broader sentiment toward the company, stood at 70% in October, down from 73% a year ago, the survey shows. It was 74% in early 2017.

Seventy percent of employees said they were proud to work at Facebook, down from 87% a year earlier, the survey shows.

In some areas, Facebook employees’ sentiment held steady. About 81% of employees said it was important to fulfill Facebook’s mission to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”—roughly flat compared with a year ago.

Some current and former employees say sentiment has started to turn around after the midterm elections last week, during which the company appeared to have avoided major catastrophes. Mr. Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg addressed employees two days after the midterms to reflect on the lessons of 2018, a person familiar with the matter said.

Some employees indicated that they were cautiously optimistic that the company was heading in the right direction after more than two bruising years.

That turnaround is not yet reflected in the survey data. A year ago, 84% of Facebook employees said they were optimistic about the company’s future. At the time, Facebook had just disclosed that Russian-backed actors had purchased ads and spread disinformation on Facebook using fake identities.

That fell to about 67% in April, shortly after the company disclosed that an academic broke Facebook’s rules and shared user records with the political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

It now stands at 52%.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at

Social media in the spotlight in Brazil presidential race — Fake news, disinformation and conspirational content circulates faster than factual information on social media

October 24, 2018

Brazil, like other countries, is facing a very electronic election. WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter are the weapons of choice to sway the country’s 147 million voters — and abuse of social media has been widespread.

Facebook and its WhatsApp messenger service — hugely popular in the Latin American nation — have been thrust into the spotlight for being used to traffick in disinformation.

The extreme-right frontrunner in the run-off election on Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro, has largely eschewed Brazil’s established media, preferring to woo voters online in a manner very reminiscent of US President Donald Trump.

Image result for WhatsApp, brazil, photos

Bolsonaro’s trailing rival, leftwing candidate Fernando Haddad, has raged against “fake news” and “lies” targeting him and his Workers Party, as Bolsonaro’s support has grown into what looks to be an unassailable lead.

Surveys suggest Bolsonaro could pick up 59 percent of the vote, to 41 percent for Haddad.

If the race goes in that direction, Brazil — a country that threw off military dictatorship just three decades ago — will veer to the far right, under a president Bolsonaro vowing a relentless crackdown on crime and corruption.

Image result for WhatsApp, brazil, photos

This week, the 63-year-old former paratrooper, a pro-gun lawmaker backed by influential evangelical groups, warned the “red marginals” of the Workers Party “to get out or go to jail.”

The language online is just as blunt, mixing truth with lies, or presenting opinions as fact. Many shared posts amplify the Workers Party’s past corruption. Some portray Haddad as trying to promote homosexuality in schoolchildren. Others, those backing Haddad, call Bolsonaro a “fascist” bent on destroying democracy.

– Closed accounts –

Accusations of defamation and campaign dirty tricks are flying back and forth. The federal police have opened an investigation into online “fake news” against both candidates.

The potential of social media to influence Brazil’s election also evokes the revelations of meddling that came out in the wake of the US election and the Brexit referendum in Britain, both in 2016.

Facebook, its reputation badly marred by those revelations, said on Monday it has closed 68 pages and 43 accounts linked to a Brazilian marketing group, Raposos Fernandes Associates, that media reported was promoting Bolsonaro online on a massive scale.

WhatsApp said it has shuttered hundreds of thousands of accounts to counter “spam or disinformation” after a report saying several companies had been hired for $3 million each to send bulk messages attacking Haddad and the Workers Party. Bolsonaro has denied having anything to do with the contracts.

A WhatsApp executive, Victoria Grand, vice president for policy and communications, told reporters in Sao Paulo on Tuesday that the company had no plans to lift a 20-recipient cap for forwarded messages imposed in July, down from a previous limit of 250 recipients.

“We?re pretty comfortable with that number,” she said, implicitly rejecting a call Bolsonaro made last week for the smaller cap to be overturned.

Grand stated: “I know this is a critical moment for Brazil.”

WhatsApp is one of preferred methods for communicating in Brazil. The country, population 210 million, has 120 million WhatsApp users.

– ‘Emotionally-charged’ –

Bolsonaro, a previously obscure lawmaker, is a deft user of social media, just like Trump, for whom he has expressed admiration.

After being stabbed last month by a lone assailant, Bolsonaro intensified his online use while convalescing. His Facebook videos, tweets and Instagram posts have millions of followers, far more than Haddad, a 55-year-old former mayor of Sao Paulo who is telegenic but restrained in manner.

Further frustrating Haddad, Bolsonaro has dodged the usual televised debates. Instead of dueling over policies, he has harangued and attacked his rival on the internet.

According to an Oxford University study of Brazil’s presidential election, Bolsonaro dominated Twitter conversations and “Bolsonaro supporters spread the widest range of known junk news sources,” though Haddad supporters shared the biggest volume.

But Twitter is used by a much smaller, better-informed niche than the more generally adopted WhatsApp.

One of the researchers on the study done by the Oxford Internet Institute, Nahema Marchal, cautioned that it was “extremely difficult to make causal claims between what people see online and how they vote” and that “every election is different.”

“Like the US, however, Brazil has seen a number of popular political Facebook groups hacked. There has also been an uptick in political violence, in what has been a bitter and divisive campaign,” she told AFP.

While digital technology use differs from country to country, “research indicates that disinformation and conspirational content circulates faster than factual information on social media,” she said, in large part because online content “is often the most emotionally-charged.”



Social Media messes with your ability to think independently (10 Weird ways)

See also:

Social media manipulation rising globally, new report warns

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing, shoes and child


No automatic alt text available.

Neuroscience may help explain a current lack of social and emotional skills, impulse driven decision making and mob-like behavior in society…

Chinese police officer strikes a pose (Getty Images/AFP)


No automatic alt text available.

Social media is making children regress to mentality of three-year-olds, says top brain scientist

Social Media Could Determine the Outcome of Bazil’s Election — “It’s a mob rule tool”

October 22, 2018

Brazil’s already bitter presidential election is slipping into legal acrimony that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the eventual winner.

The latest development occurred after evidence emerged of systematic electoral abuses involving the Facebook-owned messaging application WhatsApp.

An investigation by the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper last week revealed businessmen supporters of polemical far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro have paid millions of euros to companies to bombard WhatsApp users with messages attacking the Workers Party of his rival Fernando Haddad.

Image result for Jair Bolsonaro, photos


The two men face each other in a run-off round on Sunday, October 28th, with opinion polls making Mr Bolsonaro clear favourite. Supporters of both campaigns have been spreading false or misleading information on social media and WhatsApp. But leading fact-checking organisations in the country say those linked to Mr Bolsonaro are the worst offenders.

Though the WhatsApp initiative organised by his wealthy supporters has not yet been directly linked to the Bolsonaro campaign it violates Brazilian electoral law, which since 2015 bans any sort of corporate donation. Following the Folha report WhatsApp said it had moved against the companies involved.

On Saturday Brazil’s federal police announced an investigation into alleged schemes on WhatsApp following a request from the country’s chief federal prosecutor. Brazil’s top electoral court will also investigate the case at the request of Mr Haddad. The court has the power to annul the mandate of any eventual winner, but precedent indicates this would only happen after several years if at all.

A judge on the court upheld claims that the re-election of Dilma Rousseff to the presidency in 2014 violated campaign financing laws. But a majority of his colleagues refused to strip her winning ticket of its mandate, citing fears over political stability. The final vote took place almost three years after the election, by which time Ms Rousseff had already been removed from office by congress.

Reaction from dismayed politicians

Following the latest revelations the Democratic Labour party whose candidate Ciro Gomes was eliminated after coming third in a first round earlier this month demanded the result be annulled while a member of Mr Haddad’s Workers Party is seeking to have Mr Bolsonaro’s candidacy expunged.

Being a free network, WhatsApp has proved hugely popular in Brazil. But in recent election campaigns it has emerged as the favoured vehicle of those seeking to spread hateful and false information designed to influence voters after clampdowns against such practices on Facebook’s news feed and Google’s search results. As a closed network WhatsApp has proved particularly difficult to monitor in real time, allowing those who would spread content that violates Brazil’s electoral laws to do so with near impunity.

Last week a group of concerned Brazilian academics and journalists asked WhatsApp to make several modifications to the application in order to temporarily limit its reach in Brazil. In response the company said there would be insufficient time to implement changes before the vote.

In an article reinforcing their request published in the New York Times the group disagreed, noting WhatsApp made changes quickly in India after rumours disseminated on its app provoked lynchings.

India Pushes Back Against Tech ‘Colonization’ by Internet Giants

September 4, 2018

In India, American companies dominate the internet. Facebook’s WhatsApp is the most popular app on phones. Virtually every smartphone runs on Google’s Android system. YouTube is the favorite video platform and Amazon is the No. 2 online retailer.

For some Indian political leaders, it is as if their nation — which was ruled by Britain for a century until 1947 — is being conquered by colonial powers all over again.

And they are determined to stop it.

“As a country, we have to all grow up and say that, you know, enough of this,” Vinit Goenka, a railways official who works on technology policy for India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, said at a conference last week.

In recent months, regulators and ministers across India’s government have declared their intention to impose tough new rules on the technology industry. Collectively, the regulations would end the free rein that American tech giants have long enjoyed in this country of 1.3 billion people, which is the world’s fastest-growing market for new internet users.

India is trying to establish strong data protections for its citizens, as Europe did, while giving the government the right to obtain private information as it sees fit. Credit Sanjit Das/Bloomberg

The proposals include European-style limits on what big internet companies can do with users’ personal data, a requirement that tech firms store certain sensitive data about Indians only within the country, and restrictions on the ability of foreign-owned e-commerce companies to undercut local businesses on price.

The policy changes unfolding in India would be the latest to crimp the power — and profits — of American tech companies, and they may well contribute to the fracturing of the global internet.

In May, Europe put into effect a sweeping new privacy law that gives Europeans more control over what information is being collected on them. In the United States, California just passed a privacy law that gives state residents more protections than Americans at large.

As India sets the new rules of the game, it is seeking inspiration from China. Although India does not want to go as far as China, which has cut off its internet from the global one, officials admire Beijing’s tight control over citizens’ data and how it has nurtured homegrown internet giants like Alibaba and Baidu by limiting foreign competition. At the same time, regulators do not want to push out the American internet services that hundreds of millions of Indians depend on.

Read the rest:


UAE used Israeli spyware ‘to target Qatari emir, Saudi prince’

September 1, 2018

Emails obtained by the New York Times appear to show purchase of software created by Israeli NSO group.

NSO has been implicated in a series of digital break-in attempts, including a campaign against journalists, human-rights activists and lawyers [File: Reuters]
NSO has been implicated in a series of digital break-in attempts, including a campaign against journalists, human-rights activists and lawyers [File: Reuters]

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) asked an Israeli spyware company to hack into the phones of the Qatari emir and a Saudi prince among other political and regional rivals, emails obtained by the New York Times appear to show.

According to a report published on Friday, leaked emails submitted in two lawsuits against the Israel-based NSO Group suggested involvement in illegal spying for clients.

Rulers of the United Arab Emirates have been using Israeli spyware for several years, leaked e-mails show. Credit Rustam Azmi/Getty Images

The two lawsuits were filed in Israel and Cyprus by a Qatari citizen and Mexican journalists and activists who were targeted by the company’s spyware programme, Pegasus.

Emails submitted in the lawsuits showed that the UAE signed a contract to license the company’s surveillance software “as early as August 2013”.

Image may contain: 1 person

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

The Emiratis sought to intercept the phone calls of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in 2014, as well as Saudi Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah – seen as a contender for the throne at the time – and Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s current prime minister.

Gulf crisis

To activate the spyware on the target’s phone, a text message is sent with a link.

If the target clicks on the link, Pegasus is secretly downloaded to the phone, enabling the user of the technology to gain access to all contact details, text messages, emails and data from online platforms such as Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat and Telegram.

The technology can also monitor phone calls and “potentially even face-to-face conversations conducted nearby”.

According to the New York Times, the lawsuits argue that the NSO Group’s affiliate successfully recorded the calls of a journalist and attempted to spy on foreign government officials at the request of its Emirati customers four years ago.

The hacking of Qatar’s state-run news agency and government social media accounts on May 24, 2017, set into motion a major diplomatic crisis, which saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt sever diplomatic relations and cut off land, air, and sea links with Qatar on June 5 last year.

The NSO Group group also sold the surveillance technology to Mexico on condition that it should be used only against criminals and “terrorists”, yet some of the country’s most prominent journalists, academics, human rights lawyers and criminal investigators have been targeted.

On August 1, Amnesty International released a report that said one of its employees was baited with a suspicious WhatsApp message in early June about a protest in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC.

The London-based human rights organisation said it traced the malicious link to a network of sites tied to the NSO Group.

The company has previously admitted charging customers $650,000 to hack 10 devices, on top of a $500,000 installation fee.