Hillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russians over 2018 election meddling | How Facebook fought back on FTC fine | WeWork calls off IPO | Elon Musk unveils Mars rocket

Hillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russians over 2018 election meddling | How Facebook fought back on FTC fine | WeWork calls off IPO | Elon Musk unveils Mars rocket
© Greg Nash

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TREASURY TAKES ACTION: The Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned multiple Russian individuals for their efforts to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

The individuals included Yevgeny Prigozhin, the main financier behind the Russian Internet Research Agency, a group that former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE found to have launched a sustained disinformation campaign “designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States” ahead of the 2016 elections. 

Prigozhin has been dubbed by the Russian media as Putin's "chef" due to his catering company being used by the Kremlin on multiple occasions, and is considered part of Putin's inner circle, according to CNN.

The Treasury Department on Monday alleged that the Internet Research Agency used “fictitious personas on social media and disseminated false information in an effort to attempt to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections and try to undermine faith in U.S. democratic institutions.”

In sanctioning Prigozhin, the Treasury Department targeted his physical assets, including private planes, a yacht and front companies associated with Prigozhin.

The Treasury Department also sanctioned six Russian individuals known to be members of the Internet Research Agency, and who are all accused of having attempted to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. Prigozhin, the Internet Research Agency, and four of the other Russian individuals were previously sanctioned for malicious cyber activity by the Treasury Department in March of 2018.

Not just Russia: The agency also noted that while Russian actors were their target as part of this round of sanctions, the U.S. government was also working to protect U.S. elections against malicious actors in Iran and China that may attempt to interfere in the 2020 elections.

“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of American democracy, and we will use our authorities against anyone seeking to undermine our processes and subversively influence voters,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “This Administration will work tirelessly to safeguard our electoral process, and will aggressively pursue any other foreign actor that attempts to interfere in the 2020 elections."

A first: The decision by the Treasury Department to sanction the Russian individuals was the first time the sanction authority granted by an executive order signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE in 2018 was used.

Read more here.

 

 

 

 

ICYMI...: President Trump reportedly told two senior Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting in 2017 that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s election interference the previous year, saying the U.S. did the same thing to other countries.

Three former officials with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post that Trump’s comments sparked alarm among White House staffers, prompting them to restrict access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people with the highest security clearances to prevent the conversation from being leaked. 

The conversation took place at a now-infamous meeting between Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in which the president revealed highly classified information that exposed an intelligence source on ISIS, The Post reported.

Trump pushed back on the report late Friday, calling it "more fake news" in a tweet and invoking past comments from his former national security adviser H.R. McMaster who said at the time that it was "wholly appropriate" for Trump to discuss the information.

Read more here. 

 

NO HARM, NO FOUL: Facebook argued that none of its users were harmed as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in a memo the company sent to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the months before the agency announced a $5 billion fine over the incident.

The Hill obtained the memo on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for communications between the FTC and Facebook ahead of their $5 billion settlement.

The records show that during the months-long negotiations between the two sides, Facebook’s lawyers at the law firm Gibson Dunn wrote a white paper in response to a proposed fine from agency staff that they considered excessive. Many of the documents were redacted, so it’s unclear how large of a fine the FTC staffers had initially proposed, or whether it was equal to or exceeded the $5 billion amount that ultimately ended up in the settlement.

But the white paper makes it clear that Facebook found the sum to be over the top, arguing that the agency had failed to identify any harms to consumers that would warrant a large fine. Whatever the FTC staff had proposed was “unconstitutional” and wouldn’t stand up in court given the facts of the case, Facebook argued in the February 28 memo.

“In contrast, the proposed complaint does not allege that Facebook's conduct resulted in any concrete consumer harm—neither ‘economic’ nor ‘physical.’” the white paper reads. “And, in fact, there was no consumer harm at all.”

The FTC announced the eventual $5 billion settlement with Facebook in July, settling allegations that the social media platform had violated a previous privacy settlement from 2012 by deceiving users about the extent to which they could shield their personal information.

Read more here.

 

READ IT AND WEEP: Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who revealed that data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from Facebook users’ profiles without permission for political advertising, is reportedly set to publish a book about the scandal through Random House.

The publishing house will release Wylie’s book, “Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America” on Oct. 8, according to The Associated Press. Random House touts it as “both exposé and dire warning” about the potential to manipulate people through online data.

Last year, Wylie, a former research director at the firm, gave the Observer newspaper a number of internal documents and accused Cambridge Analytica of illegally accessing millions of Facebook users’ personal information in support of both President Trump’s and Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz: 'Of course' it's not appropriate to ask China to investigate Bidens Sunday Show Preview: Trump's allies and administration defend decision on Syria O'Rourke raises .5 million in third quarter MORE’s (R-Texas) presidential campaigns.

Read more here.

 

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WEWORK WITHDRAWS IPO: The We Company, parent of workspace-sharing firm WeWork, announced Monday that it will withdraw its initial public offering (IPO), a week after founder Andrew Neumann was removed as CEO.

“We have decided to postpone our IPO to focus on our core business, the fundamentals of which remain strong,” WeWork’s newly appointed co-CEOs Artie Minson and Sebastian Gunningham said in a statement.

"We have every intention to operate WeWork as a public company and look forward to revisiting the public equity markets in the future,” they wrote.

The company had already delayed the scheduled IPO earlier this month following internal turmoil.

Read more here.

 

MISSION TO MARS: Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskHillicon Valley: Google, Reddit to testify on tech industry protections | Trump joins Amazon-owned Twitch | House to vote on bill to combat foreign interference NASA targeting early 2020 for first manned SpaceX mission Hillicon Valley: Senate Intel report urges action to prevent 2020 Russian meddling | Republicans warn Microsoft of 'urgent' Huawei threat | Court rules FBI surveillance violated Americans' rights MORE’s rocket designed to go to Mars is expected to launch its first mission in months, the billionaire tech entrepreneur said last weekend as SpaceX unveiled the Starship rocket. 

Musk showed Starship to reporters at the SpaceX development site in Boca Chica, Texas, according to Reuters

The news outlet reports that animations predicted the rocket’s first orbital flight could happen in months and missions to space with humans aboard could follow the next year.

“The critical breakthrough that’s needed for us to become a space-faring civilization is to make space travel like air travel,” Musk, who is also the chief executive of Tesla, reportedly said.

The 387-foot-tall Starship is designed to carry as many as 100 people for long-duration interplanetary flights.

Read more here.

 

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NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

U.S. steps up scrutiny of airplane cybersecurity (The Wall Street Journal)

There have been 800-plus political cyberattacks in the past year alone (Rolling Stone)

The internet is overrun with images of child sexual abuse. What went wrong? (The New York Times)

Inside the new Uber: Weak coffee, vanishing perks and fast-deflating morale. (The Washington Post)