Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Russian, Iranian accounts trying to interfere in 2020 | Zuckerberg on public relations blitz | Uncertainty over Huawei ban one month out

Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Russian, Iranian accounts trying to interfere in 2020 | Zuckerberg on public relations blitz | Uncertainty over Huawei ban one month out
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FACEBOOK CRACKS DOWN: Facebook on Monday announced it had taken down networks belonging to Russian and Iranian actors on both Facebook and Instagram, part of a new effort to secure the platforms from foreign interference ahead of the 2020 election.

The networks comprised pages and groups on Facebook and Instagram that were "engaging in inauthentic behavior" regarding elections. They were targeting the U.S., North Africa and Latin America. Three of the networks were Iranian, while one was Russian. 


Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, told reporters that the Russian network had the "hallmarks of a well-resourced operation" with potential links to the Russian Internet Research Agency, a group that carried out interference campaigns during the 2016 U.S. elections. 

Facebook emphasized in its announcement that the accounts were taken down "based on their behavior, not the content they posted." 

In a press call on Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg detailed the company's work to prevent disinformation and voter suppression in 2020.

"We're in a much better place in dealing with this, but this isn't an area where we can take our eye off the ball, or where you ever fully solve the problem," Zuckerberg said.

And some policy updates: Zuckerberg also unveiled a set of new set of policy changes and tools for election security.

The platform unveiled "Facebook Protect," a service for campaigns to help secure them against hacking. Campaigns that opt-in to the service will have to "turn on two-factor authentication, and their accounts will be monitored for hacking, such as login attempts from unusual locations or unverified devices," according to Facebook. 

The social media giant is also adding a tab to all pages with information about their operators, including location, legal name or website.

New rules on state-run media: Facebook also announced plans to identify content from state-controlled media sources posted on its platform.

"Next month, we’ll begin labeling media outlets that are wholly or partially under the editorial control of their government as state-controlled media," the social media giant said in a blog post.

Facebook's definition of state-controlled media was developed in collaboration with experts and organizations in the fields of media, governance, human rights and development. The company says it will make the determinations based on the funding and structure of media companies, as well as open-source reporting about them.

The policy change is likely to affect outlets like Russia Today, which was reportedly used by the Kremlin to help influence the 2016 election.

Read more on the announcements here.


WHICH WAY FOR HUAWEI: There is heightened concern among U.S. lawmakers over Chinese telecom giant Huawei one month out from a deadline by the Trump administration for American companies to stop doing business with the firm.

There are lingering questions about the ban itself. The Commerce Department added the firm to a prohibited "entity list" in May before issuing temporary extensions through mid-August. Those were renewed again until Nov. 19, with Saturday marking the one-month deadline for companies to cut off business with the firm.

The Trump administration has urged companies to stop doing business with the telecom giant due to concerns it may pose a threat to U.S. national security, but the exact timing of the ban has also been complicated by ongoing U.S. trade negotiations with China. Trump has floated Huawei as a potential bargaining chip.

Worries from Democrats: Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenUSTR launches investigations into countries' digital taxes House Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' On The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program MORE (D-Ore.), a leading member of Congress on tech issues and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Thursday that "this is a time to be very tough with respect to holding the line on Huawei."

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump asserts his power over Republicans Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence panel, told The Hill that he did not "have a lot of confidence that the president understands the implications, that this should not be part of a trade discussion."

Warner referenced efforts by the State Department and other agencies to convince allied nations to cut Huawei out of their networks and asked, "How would we have credibility to go back on any other technology issue?" if President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? MORE were to "trade away" Huawei. 

Companies in limbo: Robert Mayer, the senior vice president of cybersecurity at USTelecom, which represents broadband providers nationwide, said the uncertainty around the Huawei ban is fueling uncertainty in the telecommunications industry.

Huawei's defense: A spokesperson for Huawei told The Hill that should the temporary license not be extended, the U.S. economy could take a hit.

"Huawei purchases $11 billion in products from American companies each year," the spokesperson said. "If Huawei is forced to find alternative suppliers, up to 40,000 to 50,000 jobs could be affected. Huawei will feel pressure in the short term. However, as foreign companies diversify their supply chain to not rely on the U.S., this will have a larger, long-term impact on U.S. companies -- and particularly affect individual workers and their families."

Read more on the impending Huawei ban here.


ZUCKERBERG'S CHARM OFFENSIVE: Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergOn The Money: Protests highlight COVID-19's economic toll on African Americans | Senate confirms Trump watchdog for coronavirus funds | USTR launches probes into countries' digital taxes Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg on the defensive over Trump posts | Twitter labels another lawmaker's tweet | USTR opens probe into digital taxes Two Facebook software engineers quit over Trump posts MORE is in the midst of a public relations blitz as criticism of the company he founded mounts in Washington.

Zuckerberg in recent weeks has made a flurry of public and private appearances to make the case for his company and stave off anger from policymakers on both sides of the aisle.

From livestreaming a Q&A with Facebook staff to meeting with GOP lawmakers and conservative pundits, Zuckerberg has been making the rounds, a sharp break from his company's normal strategy of deploying other high-level executives in moments of crisis.

In the last week alone, Zuckerberg sat down with Fox News for an interview, met behind closed doors with House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and on Thursday delivered a speech at Georgetown University where he painted Facebook as a defender of free speech.

"The future depends on all of us," he said during his nearly 40-minute speech at Georgetown. "Whether you like Facebook or not, I think we need to recognize what is at stake and come together to stand for voice and free expression at this critical moment."

It's a high-stakes gamble for a tech executive who for much of his career has sought to remain out of the public limelight. When Zuckerberg first testified before Congress in 2018 over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, some critics panned his testimony as robotic. But he emerged largely unscathed despite tough questioning.

Now, he's again taking a more public role in defending his company, which faces a slew of challenges over its market power, privacy policies, an ambitious plan to launch a cryptocurrency, and in its latest controversy -- scrutiny over how Facebook handles misleading or false political ads.

Progressive pushback: Critics of Facebook have dismissed Zuckerberg's latest outreach.

"The reaction to his speech yesterday was largely negative, in some ways they're backed in a PR corner," said Sarah Miller, co-chairwoman of Freedom from Facebook, a coalition of progressive groups calling for breaking up the company. "No matter what they try, I think their press and reputation continues to suffer damage."

Read more here. 


CYBER MELTING POT: A suspected Russia-backed cyber hacking group used Iranian tools to attack 35 countries, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the United Kingdom's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warned Monday.

The NSA and the NCSC found that the Russian hacking group, known as Turla, used tools created by Iranian hacking groups to target victims mostly based in the Middle East and to steal documents from governments and other entities. Turla specifically targeted victims in countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

In some cases, the agencies found that Turla attacked the same victims that the Iranian hacking groups that created the tools had previously targeted.  

The NSA noted in its joint advisory with the NCSC that Turla stole data from Iranian infrastructure as well, including directory listings and files, enabling Turla to gain "unprecedented insights" into the strategies used by the Iranian hacking group to target victims. 

The NSA and NCSC wrote that the Iranian hackers behind the creation of the cyber tools used by Turla "were almost certainly not aware of, or complicit with, Turla's use of their implants."

The announcement of these cyber activities comes after a ramp-up in cyber activities between the U.S. and Iran in recent months. 

Read more here.


HARVARD ALUMNI NETWORK NEWS: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan recommended two individuals for staff positions on Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBiden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Here's how Biden can win over the minority vote and the Rust Belt MORE's presidential campaign, an aide to the South Bend, Ind., mayor confirmed to The Hill. 

Zuckerberg and Chan made the recommendations in emails to Buttigieg's campaign manager Mike Schmuhl. The two individuals, Eric Mayefsky and Nina Wornhoff, were eventually hired to the campaign. 

The emails from Zuckerberg and Chan were first reported on Monday by Bloomberg. The aide to Buttigieg said that the emails were unsolicited and came earlier this year at a time when the campaign was inundated with résumés from people hoping to work for the fledgling presidential bid.

"To give you a sense of what the time was like, we literally had people staking out the coffee shop on the first floor of our building wanting to work for our campaign, hoping to run into someone," the aide said.

Mayefsky was hired as senior digital analytics adviser and Wornhoff was hired as organizing data manager.

The aide also noted that it wasn't unusual for campaigns to hire staffers recommended to them. Lis Smith, a senior communications adviser for Buttigieg, tweeted on Monday that the campaign has so far gotten staff recommendations from former presidents, members of Congress and one of Buttigieg's high school teachers.

Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Zuckerberg and Chan, did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment. But according to Bloomberg, the couple made the recommendations after Mayefsky and Wornhoff asked them to connect them with the campaign. 

LaBolt added that Zuckerberg and Chan "have not decided who to support for President."

Zuckerberg on Monday also made clear that he is not supporting Buttigieg's campaign. 

"This shouldn't be taken as an endorsement," Zuckerberg told reporters.

"We have several mutual friends from college who introduced me to Pete a number of years ago. When a number of colleagues I had worked with at Facebook or my philanthropic foundation were interested in working [for the Buttigieg campaign], they asked me or wife Priscilla to send over their resume, and so I did that."

Zuckerberg and Buttigieg both attended Harvard University in the early 2000s and Buttigieg was friends with two of Zuckerberg's roommates, including Chris Hughes, one of Facebook's co-founders who has since become a vocal critic of the social media platform.

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: "Inexplicably redacted watermelon." 


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Why America must boldly win the technological race against China



The FTC said Sunday Riley faked Sephora reviews for almost two years to boost sales. (Buzzfeed News)

Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosNASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon SpaceX launches first manned space flight from US in nearly a decade Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns MORE surprised high school students in Washington, D.C., Monday. Most didn't know who he is. (Washingtonian) 

AT&T pulls "Stand for Equality" video featuring anti-ICE congresswoman. (Motherboard)

After Q3 surge, Warren becomes top draw for Big Tech employees' donations in 2019. (Morning Consult)