The Chosen One

Guccifer 2.0's Achilles' heel; a spicy new cryptocurrency; and more.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Kara Swisher of Recode didn’t waste any time asking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg some hard questions when she got 20 minutes with him as part of his whirlwind of press interviews Wednesday. For example, on how wide open Facebook was to letting app develops hoover up user data: “What’s in the mentality of your engineers of Facebook where you didn’t suspect this could be a problem?” Zuck’s answer, eventually, “Frankly, I just got that wrong.” But a little later he says, “we certainly weren’t in a target of nation states trying to influence elections back when we only had 100 million people in the community.” True, but at that stage (roughly circa 2010-11) Facebook was certainly a platform for winning elections in places like the United States.

  • And then there’s this, discussing the hard editorial decisions he struggles with, while insisting that there must be some way for the “community” to govern such choices: “Where is the line on hate speech,” Zuckerberg asks Swisher. “I mean, who chose me to be the person that…I have to, because [I lead Facebook] but I’d rather not.”

  • Barry Lynn and Matt Stoller of the Open Markets Institute offer nine steps the Federal Trade Commission should take to regulate Facebook.

  • Alongside lots of useful journalism on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica mess, there’s also some dreck, like this piece in the Baffler by Yasha Levine, the author of Surveillance Valley. You know the piece is off the rails when he describes the early Internet as being about “surveillance, profiling and targeting.”

  • Israel’s Justice Ministry has opened an investigation into whether the personal information of Israelis was violated by Facebook’s policies, The Times of Israel reports.

  • Digital critic and sometime game developer Ian Bogost explains in The Atlantic how an app he made to poke fun at Farmville (called Cow Clicker) also hoovered up its users data. He points out that while Facebook required third-party app developers to publish a privacy policy, the company didn’t actually review the content of those policies, it just checked to make sure that accessing the URL for said policy didn’t result in a page-not-found error.

  • Bogost also points out that “millions of apps” had been created by 2012 (nine million, according to an amendment to the company’s IPO filing), so the notion that somehow Facebook security auditors are going to track down all of them and figure out if they behaved ethically with user data stretches credibility. (Hence Zuckerberg’s carefully couched statement that they are auditing apps that used “large amounts” of data, whatever that means.)

  • Tamsin Shaw explores the intersection between behavior science research and the military for the New York Review of Books, pointing to some of the darker elements of the Cambridge Analytica story, and warns:

    A science that is oriented toward the development of behavioral technologies is bound to view us narrowly as manipulable subjects rather than rational agents. If these technologies are becoming the core of America’s military and intelligence cyber-operations, it looks as though we will have to work harder to keep these trends from affecting the everyday life of our democratic society. That will mean paying closer attention to the military and civilian boundaries being crossed by the private companies that undertake such cyber-operations.

    (h/t Darshana Narayanan)

  • Russia watch: Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be a “lone hacker” who gave the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, was in fact an agent of Russian’s military intelligence directorate, Spencer Ackerman and Kevin Poulsen report for The Daily Beast. The proof: a single slip-up when Guccifer failed to use a VPN and left a real, Moscow-based IP address in the server logs of an America social media company. If confirmed, this story would also demonstrate that Roger Stone, who was a close adviser to Trump through much of 2015 and early 2016, was by his own admission in contact with Russian intelligence. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, is reported to be investigating further.

  • Tech and politics: A new bipartisan law, HR 1865, will allow prosecutors to go after websites if they knowingly enable sex trafficking through ads, post or other means, and this Politico story by Steven Overly and Ashley Gold dissects how tech lobbyists who once dominated the debate in Washington over such measures lost out.

  • Why don’t campaigns focus more of organizing volunteers instead of spending money on advertising, direct mail, computer targeting and digital media? Harvard professor and veteran community organizer Marshall Ganz has an answer: “No one makes money by organizing volunteers.” He adds, in a trenchant essay in The Nation, that “developing the leadership, organization, and power to take on structural challenges….is a far cry from the political marketing campaigns run by the electoral-industrial complex today.”

  • Kids today: Dave Cullen (who wrote the book on Columbine) reports for Vanity Fair on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students and the “meme lab” they’ve been building to keep the #NeverAgain movement going.

  • (Buried deep in Cullen’s story is this: the kids can’t call their movement #NeverAgain because the Anti-Defamation League owns the name, and they only have permission to use it in their messaging about tomorrow’s marches. Lawyer friends, is this possible?)

  • Tulip mania, anyone? Here’s a cryptocurrency backed by habanero peppers, in Mexico..

  • Your moment of zen: The least-traveled road in each of the fifty states, mapped by Geotab.