Hillicon Valley: Facebook releases audit on bias claims | Audit fails to calm critics | Federal agencies hit with fewer cyberattacks in 2018 | Huawei founder says company faces 'live or die' moment

Hillicon Valley: Facebook releases audit on bias claims | Audit fails to calm critics | Federal agencies hit with fewer cyberattacks in 2018 | Huawei founder says company faces 'live or die' moment
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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).



BIAS AUDIT: Facebook on Tuesday released the findings of a long-awaited audit exploring conservatives' suspicions that the platform is biased against right-wing voices, with the company vowing to make changes to advertising policies that affected anti-abortion rights messaging.

The study, conducted by lobbyist and former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), surveyed more than a hundred conservative figures and organizations about their views on Facebook. It found that many are concerned about the social network's efforts to crack down on hate speech and worry that its content policies are being applied unevenly.

The takeaway: Kyl's report does not conclude one way or the other whether Facebook is censoring conservatives, as President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE and other GOP leaders allege and as Facebook has adamantly denied.

Criticism rolls in: The allegations, which are unproven, have prompted some eye-rolling from Democrats and other tech critics.

Rashad Robinson, the president of the civil rights group Color of Change, said on Tuesday that if Facebook were to change its platform to accommodate the conservative suspicions, it would hamper the site's ability to crack down on hate speech and other problems.

"Claims of anti-conservative bias are simply an attempt to distract users and the media from the conservative movement's attacks against Black communities and other marginalized groups," Robinson said in a statement.

And Republican Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump doubles down on Section 230 repeal after GOP pushback Senate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (Mo.), an outspoken Facebook critic, questioned the usefulness of the report.


What Facebook's doing: The report touts some of the changes Facebook has made in an attempt to increase transparency and improve oversight of its content moderation.

"We know we need to take these concerns seriously and adjust course if our policies are in fact limiting expression in an unintended way," Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post.

In one change announced Tuesday, Facebook said it would relax a ban on advertisements featuring images of medical patients with tubes attached to them, a policy that conservatives said was being used disproportionately to target messages against abortion.

Read more on the report here.

SCRATCH THAT: Facebook on Tuesday launched a new tool that will allow users to prevent the powerful social media platform from tracking them across the web.

The company's new "Off-Facebook Activity" tool will allow people to access a list of the companies sharing information about their online activity with Facebook and offer users the opportunity to opt out of that tracking.

While the tool is aimed at allowing users to prevent Facebook from tracking their activity across the web, it does not affect third-party companies' ability to still collect data on those users.

"Off-Facebook Activity lets you see a summary of the apps and websites that send us information about your activity, and clear this information from your account if you want to," Facebook officials said in a blog post.

Importantly, Facebook will still collect data from other websites, though it will be anonymous. If users say they do not want companies to share their data anymore, Facebook will disassociate that information from their user profile.

For now, the tool will only be available in Ireland, South Korea and Spain, and it will be rolled out to other locations in the coming months.

Read more here.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT KICKS IN: The founder of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei said Tuesday that his company is in a "live or die moment" amid threats of penalties from the U.S.

In a memo obtained by Reuters, Ren Zhengfei told staff to work aggressively toward sales targets as the firm goes into "battle mode" ahead of the U.S. adding Huawei to the "entity list," which is seen as a death sentence for included groups as U.S. companies are banned from doing business with them.

"The company is facing a live-or-die moment," Ren, a former Chinese army officer, said in the memo that was verified by Huawei.


"If you cannot do the job, then make way for our tank to roll; And if you want to come on the battlefield, you can tie a rope around the 'tank' to pull it along, everyone needs this sort of determination!"

The U.S. on Monday granted Huawei a second 90-day "temporary general license," allowing the Chinese firm to continue doing business with American companies.

Read more on the memo here.

FACEBOOK PULLS TRUMP AD: Facebook has pulled an ad for President Trump's reelection campaign after it violated the platform's advertising policies. 

Popular Info reported Monday that Facebook pulled the Trump ad because it violated a policy that prohibits ads targeting "personal attributes."

The ad in question featured a crowd of women with the caption, "The Women for Trump Coalition needs the support of strong women like you!"

"We've notified the campaign that the ads violate policy. They cannot continue to run unless fixed," a Facebook spokesperson told The Hill in a statement.


Facebook's ad policy prohibits "content that asserts or implies personal attributes," including, among other things, "direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person's ... gender identity."

Facebook reportedly pulled the ad following an inquiry from Popular Info.

The Hill has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment.

Read more here. 

OMG OMB: The number of cyber incidents targeting federal agencies dropped last year, according to a new report released by the Trump administration.

The congressionally mandated report released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) found more than 31,000 cyberattacks against federal agencies in fiscal 2018, a nearly 12 percent drop from the previous year.

Officials said 2018 also marked the first recorded year with no reported cyber incident that could be considered a "major incident" -- one that could result in significant harm to national security, foreign relations or the economy.


OMB noted that federal agencies still face the risk of attacks such as email phishing, with the number of cyber incidents involving emails totaling almost 7,000 last year. 

Officials said that other causes of cyber incidents reported by federal agencies last year included improper use of systems by authorized users, loss or theft of equipment and attacks from a website or web-based application.

Around 8,200 of the incidents were caused by "unknown" attack methods, a finding that OMB noted "suggests that the government must take additional steps to help agencies identify the sources and vectors of these incidents."

OMB emphasized that despite these improvements, more needs to be done to secure agencies against cyberattacks, stating that "the Federal Government must continue to act to reduce the impact that cybersecurity incidents have on the Federal enterprise."

Read more on the cyberattacks here.

LIGHTER CLICK: Seeing double? You're not the only one.

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Sharing spectrum will close the rural digital divide.


Algorithms are increasingly grading national tests like GRE despite mixed performance reviews. (Motherboard)

YouTube to end ads targeting kids as part of effort to comply with FTC. (Bloomberg)

Research team reveals how porn site Luscious left exposed more than 1 million users' personal data. (ZDNet)

Examining Trump's use of The Epoch Times and its rise via Facebook. (NBC News)