Hillicon Valley: Facebook purges more fake accounts from Russia | Amazon shareholders look to block facial recognition tech sales to police | ACLU sues for records on social media surveillance | Tim Cook says FTC should let consumers delete their data

Hillicon Valley: Facebook purges more fake accounts from Russia | Amazon shareholders look to block facial recognition tech sales to police | ACLU sues for records on social media surveillance | Tim Cook says FTC should let consumers delete their data
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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. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig).


MORE RUSSIANS FOUND ON FACEBOOK: Facebook said Thursday that it has deleted a number of pages on its platform that were operated by Russian news agency Sputnik and promoted anti-NATO sentiment in eastern European countries.

The company wrote in a blog post that the pages were used to "mislead" users about the content's source and the pages' purposes. Facebook says it took down 364 pages that were operated by Russian employees of state news agency Sputnik in central and eastern Europe.


More than 100 pages operated by Russian agents out of Ukraine were also taken down, based on a tip from U.S. law enforcement, the company said.

"The two operations we found originated in Russia, and one was active in a variety of countries while the other was specific to Ukraine," wrote Facebook's head of cybersecurity. Read more here.


ZERO REKOGNITION: A group of Amazon shareholders are trying to prevent the company from selling its facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies out of concern for the technology's impact on civil liberties.

Shareholders filed a resolution Thursday to prohibit selling Amazon's facial recognition software, known as Rekognition, to government entities until the company's board looks into its potential use and finds that "the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights."

"It's a familiar pattern: a leading tech company marketing what is hailed as breakthrough technology without understanding or assessing the many real and potential harms of that product," said Michael Connor, the executive director of Open MIC, a nonprofit trying to encourage shareholder activism at tech companies.

"Sales of Rekognition to government represent considerable risk for the company and investors. That's why it's imperative those sales be halted immediately," Connor said. Why it's an issue: Black lawmakers, civil rights groups and privacy activists have criticized Amazon's contracts with law enforcement agencies for Rekognition out of concern for the technology's accuracy and how it could be abused by police.

Amazon's response: Amazon Web Services (AWS), the subsidiary developing the technology, has argued that Rekognition is reliable and that its law enforcement clients are subject to a strict user policy. Read more here.


TRACKING HOW WE'RE TRACKED: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday sued seven federal agencies, seeking to obtain records on how the government surveils people on social media.

The lawsuit seeks to compel the Justice Department (DOJ), FBI, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), State Department and others to turn over documents related to their social media surveillance, including the guidelines they use and their communications with social media platforms and private businesses.

The ACLU said it has submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to each of the agencies they are suing but have not received substantive responses.

"The FBI, for one, has repeatedly acknowledged that it engages in surveillance of social media posts," the ACLU wrote in a blog post describing the lawsuit. "So it was surprising when the bureau responded to our Freedom of Information Act request on this kind of surveillance by saying that it 'can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.'" Read more here.


KEEP YOUR CALENDARS MARKED: A federal appeals court denied the Federal Communications Commission's request to postpone oral arguments in a court battle over the agency's decision to repeal its net neutrality rules.

The FCC had asked for the hearing to be postponed since the commission's workforce has largely been furloughed due to the partial government shutdown.

The hearing remains set for February 1.

After the FCC repealed the rules requiring internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally in December of 2017, a coalition of consumer groups and state attorneys general sued to reverse the move, arguing that the agency failed to justify it.

The FCC had asked the three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to delay oral arguments out of "an abundance of caution" due to its lapse of funding. Read more here.


JUST SAY NO TO RUSSIA: In a major rebuke of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE, the House overwhelming passed a resolution Thursday formally disapproving of the Trump administration's rolling back of sanctions on companies owned by Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a 362-53 vote, the House sounded its disapproval of the lifting of sanctions, with 130 Republicans breaking with Trump and backing the Democratic measure.

The vote comes after legislation to prevent the rolling back of sanctions failed Wednesday on a procedural vote in the Senate. Eleven Republicans voted in the Senate to prevent the lifting of sanctions. Read more here.


I (DON'T) BLESS THE HACKS DOWN IN AFRICA: A cybersecurity firm has identified four different cyberattack campaigns against various banks and other financial institutions in West African countries, researchers said Wednesday.

Researchers for the firm Symantec said in a new report that the attacks have taken place since mid-2017. It's unclear who is responsible for the attacks.

The impacted countries were Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"They could be the work of a single group or, more likely, several different groups employing similar tactics," the report reads. Read more here.


HEY YOU, GET OUT OF MY CLOUD: A team of researchers have identified a new kind of malware that they say can remove cloud security products.

Researchers from Palo Alto Networks' Unit 42 said in a report released Thursday that the malware samples they obtained, which are used by a hacking group known as "Rocke," showed that they could remove security products from compromised Linux cloud servers.

The Rocke group seeks to mine cryptocurrency and has apparently found ways to derail cloud protections that might otherwise detect their malware, the researchers found.

The report is particularly concerning as more and more private and public groups move toward using the cloud for online data storage purposes. This research indicates that the protections in place could be disabled.

The researchers determined that the malware would gain full control of the products, and then use the product's main administrative control to uninstall them from the servers. The code followed instructions on how to disable the protections that were publicly available online. Read more here.


DELETE IT ALL: Apple CEO Tim Cook called for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to allow users delete their data "on demand, freely, [and] easily" amid growing concerns about how large companies collect and sell information about individuals.

In an op-ed published Wednesday in Time magazine, the Apple chief laid out a series of recommendations for a comprehensive national data privacy law, which he said should include greater oversight of data brokers.

Data brokers are third-party entities that collect and sell data about consumers using their online footprint.


Cook wrote that the FTC could create a "data-broker clearinghouse," which would require data brokers to register their activities.

"Meaningful, comprehensive federal privacy legislation should not only aim to put consumers in control of their data, it should also shine a light on actors trafficking in your data behind the scenes," Cook wrote. Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: A cautionary tale on internet freedom carve-outs.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Big news about our new pivot.



Jack Dorsey has no clue what he wants. (HuffPost)

How secrecy fuels Facebook paranoia. (The New York Times)

Hacked Instagram influencers rely on white-hat hackers to get their accounts back. (Motherboard)

The shutdown is breaking government websites, one by one. (The Washington Post)