Hillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon

Hillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon
© Getty Images

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, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).

 

ADVERTISEMENT

TAKE 'EM DOWN: A group of NATO-affiliated researchers have found that Facebook, Google and Twitter are failing to detect and take down fake accounts and bot-driven engagement despite the industry's efforts to clamp down on the issue. 

The report comes several years after the 2016 presidential election, which drew new attention to the issue of inauthentic activity online as Russian trolls flooded U.S. networks to manipulate political discourse.

Now, the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence has found that it's still fairly easy for bad actors to buy fake accounts and "engagement" -- meaning likes, retweets, views and more -- on the world's top social media platforms.

"We assess that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are still failing to adequately counter inauthentic behavior on their platforms," the report reads. 

The researchers spent 300 euros, or roughly $330, on batches of fake online engagement: 3,530 comments, 25,750 likes, 20,000 views and 5,100 followers. They identified 18,739 accounts manipulating social platforms. 

Within four weeks, they found that 80 percent of the fake activity was still online. Even after they reported much of the inauthentic behavior to the platforms, they found that 95 percent of the reported content remained active several weeks later.

Read more here.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a unanimous ruling against Cambridge Analytica on Friday, saying the company engaged in "deceptive practices" by harvesting personal data from millions of Facebook users leading up to the 2016 election.

In its official opinion, approved by FTC commissioners in a 5-0 vote, the agency determined that Cambridge Analytica violated federal law by deceiving Facebook users about what data would be collected and how it would be used. The data was collected via an app built by the company to survey U.S.-based Facebook users.

The FTC ordered the company to stop making "misrepresentations" about how data is collected and said it needs to delete the personal data it gathered through the app.

FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips, a Republican, tweeted on Friday that "this enforcement action reflects our ongoing commitment to hold firms accountable to their privacy promises to American consumers."

But the practical impact of the FTC's order is unclear given that Cambridge Analytica closed its doors in 2018 shortly after filing for bankruptcy.

The New York Times and The Guardian first reported in early 2018 that Cambridge Analytica had mined the data of around 50 million Facebook users without their permission to build profiles to pinpoint voters, part of the firm's role as consultants for President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' Bolton told Barr he was concerned Trump did favors for autocrats: report Dershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense MORE's 2016 campaign.

The data collection ended up becoming one of the largest data breaches of customer information in Facebook's history.

Read more here.

 

NEW WORRIES ABOUT HUAWEI: A bipartisan group of senators on Friday sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) urging the agency to protect itself against threats created by using technology from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. 

"As you know, the Intelligence Community has issued repeated warnings to regulators and political leaders about the dangers associated with using Huawei equipment on the nation's telecommunications network," the 10 lawmakers, lead by Sens. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Senators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses MSNBC's Chris Hayes knocks senators for ducking out of impeachment trial: 'You can resign' MORE (R-Idaho) and Angus KingAngus KingSenators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Collins walks impeachment tightrope The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two MORE (I-Maine), wrote to FERC Chairman Neil ChatterjeeIndranil (Neil) ChatterjeeHillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE, who oversees the country's electrical grid.

"Congress and the Trump Administration have taken steps to eliminate Huawei products from national security sensitive applications, citing concerns with the company's links to the Chinese Communist party, including its intelligence services," the letter continues.

Although the majority of Huawei's market is in smartphones, the company also has branches focused on solar power development. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Huawei said in June that it would exit the U.S. solar market, but the senators, who also include Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: US military jet crashes in Afghanistan | Rocket attack hits US embassy in Baghdad | Bolton bombshell rocks impeachment trial Democrats, Republicans tussle over witnesses as vote approaches GOP senator says idea that Ukraine interfered in US election is 'not a conspiracy theory' MORE (R-Ark.), John CornynJohn CornynBolton sparks internal GOP fight over witnesses Trump legal team begins second day of arguments under Bolton furor Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE (R-Texas) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill MORE (D-Va.), warned that FERC should not take the Chinese company's word on the issue.

"While Huawei announced earlier this year that it intended to exit the U.S. solar market, there are no guarantees," the senators wrote.

Read more here.

 

BREAK 'EM UP: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP Iowa senator suggests Trump impeachment defense could hurt Biden at caucuses On The Money: Stocks close with steep losses driven by coronavirus fears | Tax season could bring more refund confusion | Trump's new wins for farmers may not undo trade damage Sanders launches first TV ads in Nevada MORE (I-Vt.) is calling to break up the largest internet and cable companies in the country, a proposal that would limit the power of corporations like Comcast and Verizon.

In a sweeping "High-Speed Internet for All" plan released Thursday night, Sanders accused the massive internet service providers of exploiting their dominance to "gouge customers and lobby government at all levels."

His proposal emerges weeks after Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' On The Money: Stocks close with steep losses driven by coronavirus fears | Tax season could bring more refund confusion | Trump's new wins for farmers may not undo trade damage Overnight Energy: Sanders scores highest on green group's voter guide | Trump's latest wins for farmers may not undo trade damage | Amazon employees defy company to speak on climate change MORE (D-Mass.), another top presidential contender, released her own plan to expand internet access in rural areas, often the parts of the country with the worst coverage.

ADVERTISEMENT

Warren's plan did not specifically call to break up Comcast and Verizon, though it offered proposals that would pare down internet service providers' power and prohibit their "sneaky maneuvers" to "unfairly squeeze out competition."

In his plan, Sanders called out Verizon, Comcast and AT&T specifically over their billions of dollars in profits.

"With no incentive to innovate or invest, these conglomerates charge sky-high internet prices to reap profits from consumers, and they collect government subsidies to provide service to rural households while still leaving millions of Americans unconnected," Sanders wrote.

Read more here.

 

ANSWERS, PLEASE: Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders says it's 'disappointing' he's not on campaign trail in Iowa MORE (D-Wash.) on Friday pressed Google executives for answers on how the company is collecting and protecting sensitive consumer health data as part of a special project with a healthcare group.

Jayapal sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, former Alphabet CEO Larry Page, and Google Cloud senior official Tariq Shaukat to express her "concern" about how Google would protect personal health data collected. Google is part of Alphabet.

ADVERTISEMENT

Jayapal's concerns stemmed from a Wall Street Journal article last month, which found that Google was partnering with health care group Ascension to gather and analyze the personal health data of millions of American's as part of a program known as "Project Nightingale."

"Through Project Nightingale, your companies are likely to acquire over 50 million patient records and gain access to patient data from over 2,600 health care facilities," Jayapal wrote to the executives.

The House Democrat noted that as Google and Alphabet "have engaged in an ever-widening acquisition of the highly personal health-related information of millions of people, Americans now face the prospect of having their sensitive health information handled by corporations who may misuse it."

Jayapal asked that the officials send her information on what type of confidential health data Google collects, how the company plans to protect this data against cyber attacks, and whether Alphabet would commit to creating an "opt-in regime" in which users would have to give their consent to their data being collected and used before Alphabet could do so. 

Read more here.

 

YIKES: Uber disclosed more than 3,000 sexual assaults took place while riders used its service last year in a new safety report released Thursday.

The ride sharing service reported 235 cases of rape and 3,045 more cases of sexual assault. The number of incidents represented 0.0003 percent of Uber's 1.3 billion rides in the U.S. in 2018.

"Our commitment to you is that we will continuously work to reduce these incident rates, work to make Uber the safest platform on earth, and work to make rideshare an even safer way to travel," Uber said in the report's conclusion.

"At its core, this report is about more than Uber. It's about taking a new, better approach to an age-old problem that too many in our society normalize and may live with every day. It's about improving safety for women and everyone else. It's about accountability--to riders, drivers, and the entire industry." 

The company said it would continue to release a safety report every two years. It also called on airline, taxi, ridesharing, home-sharing and hotel companies to conduct and release their own safety reports.

Read more here.

 

GOOGLE LABOR FIGHT HEATS UP: The union Communications Workers of America (CWA) filed a federal labor charge against Google Thursday, accusing the tech giant of unlawfully terminating employees in order to prevent them from participating in union activities.

The complaint states that Google fired four workers -- Paul Duke, Laurence Berland, Sophie Waldman and Rebecca Rivers on Nov. 25 "to discourage and chill employees from engaging in protected concerted and union activities," Reuters reports.

The filing will bring a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigation into Google and whether the company violated the employees' right to voice collective concerns about working conditions.

A Google spokeswoman told The Hill in a statement: "We dismissed four individuals who were engaged in intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies, including systematically accessing and disseminating other employees’ materials and work. No one has been dismissed for raising concerns or debating the company’s activities."

Read more here.

 

HELLO, NEIGHBOR: Tech giant Facebook is seeking to lease a historic Manhattan building that would make the company one of New York's largest corporate tenants.

People close to the situation told The Wall Street Journal that the company wants to lease the 700,000 square feet of space at the Farley Building, the main U.S. Postal Service building in the city, that is undergoing significant mixed-use redevelopment.

The space at the Farley Building would be in addition to the 1.5 million square feet that Facebook agreed to lease at the city's new Hudson Yards area last month. 

Between Hudson Yards, the Farley Building and Facebook's existing offices in New York, the company would have a combined space of more than three million square feet, the Journal reports. That amount of office space would only be rivaled by New York mainstays like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.

The pair of new leases would give Facebook room for 14,000 new employees, according to the Journal.

Read more here.

 

THE GIFT THAT [DOES NOT] GIVE BACK: In-home fitness equipment company Peloton's stock has dropped 15 percent this week amid controversy surrounding a recently released ad.

In the process, the company has lost more than $1.5 billion in market value, Business Insider reports.

The ad, titled "The Gift that Gives Back," features a woman showing a video diary to her male partner detailing the year she spent using the Peloton that he gave her.

The ad has gone viral since its Nov. 4 release, getting more than 4 million views on YouTube.

However, the response from consumers has been overwhelmingly negative, with many critics calling the ad sexist and dystopian.

Critics of the ad who called it sexist argued the ad gives the impression that the male partner wanted the woman to lose weight.

Other critics cited that the woman in the ad looks fearful and that the ad, as a whole, gives off horror film vibes.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Don't try to educate the expert

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Top U.S. cybersecurity officials to depart as election season enters full swing (The Wall Street Journal)

Phone logs in impeachment report renew concern about security of Trump communications (The Washington Post) 

Big data may not be enough to predict injuries in the NFL (The Verge) 

Chinese residents worry about the rise of facial recognition (BBC News)