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Hillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug

Hillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug
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Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

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DELETE... SWEEP... REPEAT: Facebook says it is removing 559 pages and 251 accounts that "have consistently broken ... rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior."

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The company explained Thursday that this batch of accounts and pages was focused on manipulating the platform for financial gain by pumping out misleading political clickbait and spam rather than trying to actually influence U.S. politics.  

"They post clickbait posts on these Pages to drive people to websites that are entirely separate from Facebook and seem legitimate, but are actually ad farms," Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said.

"The people behind the activity also post the same clickbait posts in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites."

Gleicher said this type of behavior, which started with obvious scams like promotions for fake products, is growing increasingly sophisticated.

"Topics like natural disasters or celebrity gossip have been popular ways to generate clickbait. But today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site," he wrote.

What's different: Gleicher didn't detail the accounts Facebook removed. The New York Times, however, pointed out a page with a large following called, Right Wing News, as one of the removed pages.

The page frequently spread sensational and misleading headlines to its 3.1 million followers. Unlike pages that have been banned in the past, it was founded by an American, blogger John Hawkins, not Russia or Iran.

This time, it was about money, not interfering in elections or undermining the American political process.

Facebook may be willing to go further: This batch of removed accounts suggests that actors don't have to be explicitly nefarious (ie, a foreign government) and seeking to thwart democracy. Americans trying to make a buck by subtly misleading people isn't okay with Facebook either.

Read more here.

 

BREITBART SNAGGED AN INTERNAL GOOGLE POWERPOINT: The leak of internal research at Google is giving a rare glimpse into how the company is grappling with balancing free speech with the pressure to crack down on harmful or troublesome content

A research presentation, titled "The Good Censor" was leaked to the conservative news outlet Breitbart, which then published it in its entirety.

The slides discuss the questions Google must contend with as it determines how to handle user content. They cover a range of information, including analysis from researchers, journalists and critics as well as Google's interpretation of those findings. It's unclear who the presentation was intended for, but it provides a window into how the company is trying to grapple with issues of free speech and censorship.

"How can Google reassure the world that it protects users from harmful content while still supporting free speech?" the presentation asks at the start.

Another slide shows a spectrum with "free speech" on one end and "user welfare" on the other.

In the presentation, Google notes that many digital platforms, including itself, Facebook and Twitter, were founded with leanings toward free speech. But those platforms now find themselves increasingly "performing a balancing act between two incompatible positions." The "utopian principles of free speech," as Google describes it, are now being compromised by bad actors and difficult situations.

Google cites several examples of this including the rise of the alt-right on social media. The presentation also highlights a controversial incident in which video blogger Logan Paul who broadcasted the corpse of someone who committed suicide to a massive audience.

Google confirmed the presentation to The Verge.

Read more here.

 

TELL NORTH KOREA NO MORE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE's recent goodwill toward North Korea is at odds with his administration's attempts to crack down on the country's cyberattacks, and experts say the president's plaudits could hinder U.S.-led efforts to deter North Korean aggression in cyberspace.

North Korea has shown no signs of curtailing its aggressive cyber tactics, despite a Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint last month blaming the country's government for several high-profile cyberattacks. Researchers for security firm FireEye recently observed that the DOJ's very public allegations have "thus far failed to put an end to their activity."

But even as more examples of the cyber threat emerge, Trump has remained largely complimentary of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un as he looks to reach a historic deal on denuclearization. Analysts say a more unified front is necessary to stop Pyongyang's cyber efforts.

"Certainly to the extent that your messaging seems at odds with what your law enforcement is doing, or your economic policies don't match up with your diplomatic actions," that will "make it more difficult for that message to be delivered to whatever country you're talking about trying to deter from a certain set of actions," said Michael Daniel, cybersecurity coordinator during the Obama administration who's now head of the Cyber Threat Alliance.

The administration has promised to remain tough on North Korea until it denuclearizes. But Trump's remarks toward Kim have changed dramatically during his presidency, going from promises to unleash "fire and fury" over the nation's missile tests to recently saying he and Kim "fell in love."

"I was really being tough and so was he," Trump said at a rally in West Virginia late last month. "And we would go back and forth. And then we fell in love. No really. He wrote me beautiful letters."

Those comments came the same month that the DOJ attempted to "name and shame" North Korea in a 179-page complaint about the country's alleged involvement in the 2014 Sony Pictures hack, the WannaCry malware attack and the theft of $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh.

Read more here.

 

SPEAKING OF STOLEN MONEY: Two Chinese companies are warning customers that hackers used stolen Apple IDs to get into their digital payment accounts and steal money.

Ant Financial's Alipay and Tencent, according to Bloomberg, both said that they had contacted Apple over the Apple IDs, which some users have linked to their Alipay and Tencent WePay accounts.

The companies did not offer details on how the hackers might have gotten the accounts but recommended that users of their digital wallets take steps to protect themselves including by changing passwords. Alipay also said that Apple has not taken steps to fix the issue yet.

"Since Apple hasn't resolved this issue, users who've linked their Apple ID to any payments method, including Alipay, WePay or credit cards, may be vulnerable to theft," Alipay said in a post, according to Bloomberg's translation. When asked for comment, Apple said that it encourages its "customers to create a strong password and turn on two factor authentication to protect their accounts."

Read more here.

 

GIVE US THAT MEMO: A trio of top Senate Republicans is demanding that Google hand over an internal memo that reportedly advised the company not to disclose a vulnerability that exposed hundreds of thousands of Google Plus users because it would draw attention from regulators.

The Wall Street Journal reported the existence of the memo on Monday shortly before Google revealed the software bug that exposed the private information of up to 500,000 users of its social media platform to third-party developers.

The memo from Google's legal and policy staff advised the company's leadership that going public about the vulnerability would invite "immediate regulatory interest" at a time when fellow tech giant Facebook is facing a firestorm over its Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Read more here.

 

ICYMI: The Hill reported this week that the latest privacy audit by the accounting firm Ernst and Young cleared Google's privacy practices. Though it's heavily redacted, the document appears to make no mention of the software bug..

 

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER ELECTION SECURITY BILL: A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced legislation that would block any persons from foreign adversaries from owning or having control over vendors administering U.S. elections.

The proposed law, known as the Protect Our Elections Act, would mandate that the companies involved in administering U.S. elections reveal any foreign owners, as well as inform federal, state and local officials if there is a change in ownership or control of the company.

Companies that fail to do so would be subject to a $100,000 fine.

The legislation comes after it was revealed earlier this year that a Russian oligarch in 2015 had purchased a software company used for some of Maryland's voter registration system. There is no evidence that any changes were made to the system as a result.

"Our free and fair elections are central to what makes America's democracy an example to the world. We cannot allow Russia or any other foreign adversaries to own our election systems," Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDem senator: 'Shameful' seeing Trump serve as 'mouthpiece' for Saudi leaders Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE(D-Md.), one of the bill's cosponsors, said in a statement. "This isn't just a hypothetical issue -- it happened right here in my home state of Maryland." 

Read more here.

 

WYDEN BILL GAINS SUPPORT: Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE on Thursday touted that his cyber bill that aims to strengthen election security -- in part by requiring paper ballots -- is gaining steam among other Democratic senators.

Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthSenate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Hillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Senate Dem: Trump's 'fake, hyperbolic rantings' an insult to real Medal of Honor recipients MORE (D-Ill.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinTreasury sets politics aside, admits China isn't a currency manipulator Hillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Poll: Baldwin leads GOP challenger by double digits in Wisconsin MORE (D-Wis.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Congress moves to ensure the greater availability of explosives detecting dogs in the US Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Trump ends law enforcement program at wildlife refuges | Pruitt canceled trips he already had tickets for | Senate panel approves new parks fund MORE (D-Wash.), and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Lawmakers move to award posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to Aretha Franklin The farm bill gives Congress a chance to act on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act MORE (D-Mich.) have signed on to support The Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act  just weeks before the 2018 midterm elections

The bill also calls for "risk-limiting" audits for all federal elections.

"The longer we wait to put real measures in place to protect our election systems, the more vulnerable our democracy becomes to the threat of hackers and foreign adversaries." Wyden said in a statement. "I welcome the support of my colleagues today, which demonstrates the increasing need for Congress to take real action to confront these threats head on."

 

APPLE TO THE RESCUE: Apple CEO Tim Cook announced Wednesday that his company plans to donate to hurricane relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

In a pair of tweets, Cook wrote that the affected region "holds a special place in [his] heart."

"I grew up on the shores of the Gulf Coast, near Pensacola and Mobile, and that region holds a special place in my heart," Cook tweeted. "That's never been more true than now. To all those communities in the path of Hurricane Michael, you are in my prayers. Please stay safe."

Read more here.

 

COME OUT AND CELEBRATE: Facebook launched a new feature on Thursday to help its LGBTQ users celebrate National Coming Out Day.

For the first time, the platform added "Came Out" as a life event on user's profiles. People can now list "Came Out" on their profiles along with other events like graduating from high school, starting a job and getting married.

Tudor Havriliuc, a vice president at Facebook, told NBC News that the company hopes the feature will prompt people to share their own coming out stories.

"For the LGBTQ community, Facebook is a way for you to come out, celebrate your pride and find support," Havriliuc said. "Visibility is so important because it changes hearts and minds about being LGBTQ when friends and family see us living our true lives."

Read more here.


BLAMING BIAS: Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBooker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds The Democratic Donald Trump is coming Biden: Trump administration 'coddles autocrats and dictators' MORE (I-Vt.) is taking a shot at Facebook and Google as well as the GOP in a new video about Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughFive takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Trump says midterms about ‘Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order and common sense' Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate MORE.

In the video posted on Sanders' Twitter account, his senior advisor, Ari Rabin-Havt, criticized Republicans as being hypocritical in their claims that Google and Facebook are biased against conservatives.

Rabin-Havt pointed to Facebook vice president of public policy Joel Kaplan's support of Kavanaugh's nomination and Google's donations to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that has been instrumental in picking conservative Supreme Court Justices, in making the argument that Google and Facebook are not biased toward the left.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Everything is bad now.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: It's not just foreign state-owned telecom posing a threat.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

House GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder. (The Hill)

Tech executives just now distance themselves from MBS. (BuzzFeed)

Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems can use subpoena power to reclaim the mantle of populism Is there a difference between good and bad online election targeting? Collusion judgment looms for key Senate panel MORE takes shots at tech in a new interview. (The Atlantic)

From memes to Infowars: How 75 fascist activists were "red-pilled" (Bellingcat)