Hillicon Valley: Facebook mired in new data controversy | DC sues Facebook over Cambridge Analytica | Treasury hits Russians with new sanctions | Hackers post EU diplomatic cables on Trump

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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ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER FACEBOOK CONTROVERSY: Facebook granted major tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix access to users' personal data in ways not previously disclosed, according to interviews and internal documents reported by The New York Times.

The news outlet cited interviews and hundreds of documents from the social media platform that showed the company allowed Microsoft's Bing search engine to view the names of Facebook users' friends without consent, allowed Netflix and Spotify to read users' private messages and allowed Amazon to obtain users' names and contact information through their friends.

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The agreements with Facebook applied to more than 150 companies, most of which are technology and online retail sites, the Times reported.

Each of the deals was in effect as recently as 2017, and some were active this year, according to the Times. Read more here.

 

Fast backlash: Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzNonpartisan Jewish group tells Ocasio-Cortez to avoid Holocaust comparisons Nonpartisan Jewish group tells Ocasio-Cortez to avoid Holocaust comparisons Dem senator: American Jews 'disgusted' by treatment of migrants at border MORE (D-Hawaii) on Tuesday cited the bombshell report in his call for a federal privacy law.

"It has never been more clear. We need a federal privacy law. They are never going to volunteer to do the right thing. The [Federal Trade Commission] FTC needs to be empowered to oversee big tech," Schatz tweeted just hours after the report landed.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump jumps into 2020 race The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump jumps into 2020 race GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-Fla.) also told reporters on Wednesday that one of Congress's priorities next year will be "how we treat people's behavior online."

"Is it your personal property that you have a right to control how it's used, or is it something you surrender every time you go online?" he said.

"The vast majority of Americans are not aware that when you go online to these platforms, your personal behavior, including your network of friends, the things that you like, are being sold as a commodity," Rubio continued. "And at a minimum, Americans should be made aware of that and ultimately be given the opportunity to opt in rather than opt out."

MSNBC host Kasie Hunt also announced on Wednesday that she would be quitting Facebook.

"I've been thinking about this for quite some time as story after story has been written about how the people who own this platform use the information we voluntarily give them in the pursuit of maintaining friendships and connections," she wrote on her account.

"Unfortunately, I simply don't trust them anymore. I won't be staying on the platform in 2019," she said, adding that for now she would continue to use Facebook-owned Instagram.

 

FACEBOOK'S TROUBLES AREN'T OVER YET: The attorney general for Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit against Facebook on Wednesday over its handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in what is the first government enforcement action the company has faced in the U.S. over the incident.

The lawsuit accuses Facebook of failing to protect user data from mishandling by third parties and alleges that the company's privacy policies violated D.C. consumer protection laws.

"Facebook failed to protect the privacy of its users and deceived them about who had access to their data and how it was used," Attorney General Karl Racine (D) said in a statement. "Facebook put users at risk of manipulation by allowing companies like Cambridge Analytica and other third-party applications to collect personal data without users' permission."

"Today's lawsuit is about making Facebook live up to its promise to protect its users' privacy," he added.

The lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, is seeking civil penalties, restitution for Facebook users in the district and an order for Facebook to change its privacy policies. Read more here.

 

2016 WILL NEVER BE OVER: The Trump administration on Wednesday sanctioned nine Russian nationals for allegedly attempting to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

The Treasury Department announced that the nine GRU officers, who had been indicted by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE earlier this year for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), are now facing penalties for "their direct involvement in efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election by targeting election systems and political parties, as well as releasing stolen election-related documents."

The department also sanctioned two GRU officers over the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a military-grade nerve agent in March.

British officials have charged the two officers, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and the use of the nerve agency. Russia has denied any involvement in the attack.

Also sanctioned was Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, whom the Justice Department revealed in October was indicted for her role in overseeing finances for Project Lakhta, a Russian influence campaign aimed at interfering in U.S. elections. Read more here.

 

NOT SO DIPLOMATIC, CHINA: Hackers posted thousands of stolen European Union (EU) diplomatic cables on an open internet site, exposing a tranche of sensitive communications in which foreign officials reportedly expressed concern about President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE.

Area 1 Security, a firm focused on following phishing attacks, tied the ongoing cyber campaign to China, stating that the attack was carried out by a unit within the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

According to the firm's press release, the hackers specifically went after the COREU network, which facilitates cooperation on pertinent foreign policy matters between 28 EU countries as well as other organizations like the United Nations.

The discovery of the breach has also cast a spotlight on U.S. relations with China and Russia, according to The New York Times, which reviewed the contents of the hacked cables.

One cable reportedly detailed a July meeting between European officials and Chinese President Xi Jinping where Xi compares Trump's "bullying" of Beijing to a "no-rules freestyle boxing match."

Diplomats also reportedly described a July meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, as "successful (at least for Putin)."

A cable sent in early March, meanwhile, highlights difficulties between the U.S. and the EU. According to the report, a senior European official in Washington discussed "messaging efforts" to deal "with the negative attitude to the EU in the beginning, which had created a lot of insecurity," while also suggesting diplomats circumvent Trump by dealing directly with Congress.

Oren Falkowitz, CEO of Area 1 Security, said the fact that hackers went after a network used to conduct foreign policy is significant.

"The fact that they had access to the network -- that is a future risk," Falkowitz said in a phone interview with The Hill.

Falkowitz said there is nothing "remarkable" about this attack from a "technical perspective," but he says he hopes it will help focus more attention on phishing attacks. He also said it further shines a spotlight on supply chain attacks, noting that the more information is shared with trusted parties, the more vulnerable it becomes.

"The supply chain attacks are increasingly becoming problematic," he told The Hill.

Area 1 Security says it first began to detect the cyber campaign after the hackers targeted E.U. entities like the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Ministries of Finance, trade unions. think tanks, among others.

The researchers identified a "consistent set of characteristics and chain of events that tie together a larger campaign that includes targeting of the United Nations and the AFL-CIO, in addition to the accessing of diplomatic cables from the European Union's COREU network," the press release reads. Read more on the hacks here.

 

THE KIDS AREN'T ALRIGHT: Twenty-two consumer advocacy groups are accusing Google of marketing apps toward children that are not age-appropriate or that illegally collect their data.

The coalition, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday asking it to investigate the Google Play Store's Kids and Family sections.

"The business model for the Play Store's Family section benefits advertisers, developers, and Google at the expense of children and parents," CCFC Executive Director Josh Golin said in a statement. "Google puts its seal of approval on apps that break the law, manipulate kids into watching ads and making purchases, and feature content like kids cleaning their eyes with sharp objects. Given Google's long history of targeting children with unfair marketing and inappropriate content, including on YouTube, it is imperative that the FTC take swift action."

The complaint cited research that found that many of the apps featured in the children sections of Google's app store violate the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 law that requires websites to obtain parental permission before collecting user data on children ages 13 and younger.

Google responded on Wednesday saying it had begun taking action to remove apps flagged by researchers in recent months.

"Parents want their children to be safe online and we work hard to protect them," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. Read more here.

 

ELON 'EPIC' MUSK: Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Tuesday unveiled his underground transit tunnel in Los Angeles to members of the media, who rode through it in the Tesla Model X, according to The Associated Press.

The tunnel, which is about a mile long, is a test example meant to show that the tunnels can be successful in aiding traffic pains in some of the nation's most congested areas.

The test ride was bumpy, the AP noted, but Musk reportedly described it as "epic."

"For me it was a eureka moment. I was like, 'This thing is going to damn well work,'" he told reporters. Read more here.

 

FASHION POLICE: A YouTube star in Thailand is facing defamation charges for criticizing a dress worn by her country's Miss Universe contestant, which was designed by the daughter of Thailand's king.

Wanchaleom Jamneanphol hosts a popular Youtube channel under the name "Mixy Bigmouth" and critiqued the blue dress worn by Thai entrant Sophida Kanchanarin on Facebook, according to The Guardian.

Thailand has strict laws on regarding its monarchy, making it illegal to speak negatively about the country's leaders.

The law states it can punish anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent."

Thai millionaire and aspiring politician Kitjanut Chaiyosburana filed charges against Jamneanphol. Read more here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: An antitrust Game of Thrones – The fantasy fight against Google and Facebook.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: I agree.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Lynch testimony marks final interview of GOP-led probe into FBI, DOJ. (The Hill)

A government shutdown doesn't mean all the IT shuts down. (Nextgov)

The cost of living in Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics Facebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics Libras fire back at Facebook for naming new cryptocurrency after astrological sign representing fairness MORE's internet empire. (The Ringer)

How to delete Facebook. (The New York Times)

SoftBank's biggest backers balk at planned $16 billion acquisition of WeWork. (The Wall Street Journal)