Connect with us

Business

Zuckerberg Used Facebook User Data to Help Friends and Hurt Competitors

Published

on

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered 100 deals with app developers to potentially sell user data in an attempt to learn the “real market value” of the information, according to an NBC News report.
  • The report cites around 4,000 pages of leaked internal Facebook documents that show that the company instead opted to use the data as a bargaining chip to reward apps that purchased ads, were close friends of executives, or shared data with them in return.

The Report

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered selling the company’s user data to third-party app developers to find out just how much the user’s data is worth, all while publically claiming to be protecting that same data.

NBC News released a report Tuesday, saying it had obtained around 4,000 pages of leaked company documents spanning from 2011 to 2015. The documents contained emails, web chats, presentations, spreadsheets, and meeting summaries which reportedly showed that Zuckerberg and his team found ways to leverage Facebook user data to companies it partnered with.

It’s not uncommon for companies to work together to share information about customers, however, Facebook has access to sensitive data that many other companies don’t have access to, like information about friends, relationships, photos, and more.

In some cases, NBC News said that Facebook would reward favored companies by giving them access to the data of its users. It would then deny that same data to rival companies or apps that were not considered “strategic partners.”

For instance, Facebook gave Amazon extended access to user data because Amazon had invested heavily in Facebook advertising and partnered with the company for the launch of the Fire smartphone.

By contrast, Facebook reportedly discussed cutting the app, MessageMe, off from user data access. Facebook’s reasoning was that the app had grown too popular and was now a competitor.

Protecting User Data

All the while, Facebook was publically creating a narrative around its concern for user trust, promising to prioritizer data protections.

Private communication between users is “increasingly important,” Zuckerberg said in a 2014 New York Times interview. “Anything we can do that makes people feel more comfortable is really good.”

However, the documents show that behind the scenes, the company was formulating ways to require third-party applications to compensate them for access to user data, through direct payment, spending on advertising, or data sharing agreements.

Facebook Wants to Maintain Its Dominance

Zuckerberg reportedly talked about pursuing 100 deals to sell data access to developers, “as a path to figuring out the real market value” of Facebook user data and then “setting a public rate” for developers, NBC reported.

“The goal here wouldn’t be the deals themselves, but that through the process of negotiating with them we’d learn what developers would actually pay (which might be different from what they’d say if we just asked them about the value), and then we’d be better informed on our path to set a public rate,” Zuckerberg wrote in a message.

In the end, Facebook decided against selling data directly and instead opted to share it with app developers who were considered “friends” of Zuckerberg, or who invested heavily on Facebook and shared their own valuable data in return.

According to NBC, Zuckerberg “noted that though Facebook could charge developers to access user data, the company stood to benefit more from requiring developers to compensate Facebook in kind — with their own data — and by pushing those developers to pay for advertising on Facebook’s platform.”

The companies ultimate goal was to ensure that Facebook held onto its dominant position in the market.

Facebook Calls Documents Cherry-Picked

Facebook has denied giving any developers or partners preferential treatment because of their spending or personal relationships with executives. Instead, the company told NBC News that its focus on “full reciprocity” was to enable users to share their experiences within outside apps with their Facebook friends.

The company also did not question the authenticity of the documents, which stem from a California court case between Facebook and Six4Three.

Six4Three developed an app called Pikinis, which let people pay to find pictures of users in swimsuits. Six4Three’s app was shut down in 2015 after Facebook changed its policies around the sharing of user data with third-party app developers.

Facebook said the documents are “cherry-picked” and misleading.

“As we’ve said many times, Six4Three — creators of the Pikinis app — cherry picked these documents from years ago as part of a lawsuit to force Facebook to share information on friends of the app’s users,” Paul Grewal, vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement released by the company.

“The set of documents, by design, tells only one side of the story and omits important context. We still stand by the platform changes we made in 2014/2015 to prevent people from sharing their friends’ information with developers like the creators of Pikinis. The documents were selectively leaked as part of what the court found was evidence of a crime or fraud to publish some, but not all, of the internal discussions at Facebook at the time of our platform changes. But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”

See what others are saying (NBC News) (CNBC) (The Street)

Business

U.S. Gas Prices Hit $3 Per Gallon, a 7-year High, as Buyers Panicked During the Colonial Pipeline Shutdown

Published

on

  • The national average gas price has climbed above $3 for the first time in seven years.
  • The increase comes as the country’s largest fuel pipeline remains largely shuttered for the sixth day in a row following a ransomware attack, leading to panic buying and massive gas shortages in some cities. 
  • Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the company behind the pipeline should be able to make a decision on a full restart of the system by the end of Wednesday.
  • Still, she cautioned that it will take several days for fuel supplies to go back to normal. 

Update: Colonial Pipeline restarted operations at 5 p.m. EST Wednesday. “Following this restart it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” Colonial said in a statement. “Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period.”

Panic Buying Drives Fuel Shortages

The national average gas price reached $3.008 Wednesday, its highest value in seven years. 

The jump is largely being driven by two factors. The first is that the country’s largest fuel pipeline was forced to shut down last Friday following a ransomware attack by the criminal gang Darkside. That pipeline, owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company, stretches from Texas to New York and supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel.

The second is that panic buying related to the shutdown and fears of fuel scarcity have exacerbated the problem. In fact, Tuesday evening, over 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast ran dry. 

By Wednesday, the situation was even worse. Nearly a quarter of all stations in North Carolina were out of gas, and in urban areas like Charlotte, 71% of stations were empty.  Meanwhile, around 15% percent of stations in both Georgia and Virginia were out of gas, and in the Atlanta metro area, 60% of stations had been depleted. 

Photos and video from affected states show hours-long lines. Some people have reported waiting more than five hours to get to the pump. Others have shared images of “out of fuel” signs. Stretching pumps even thinner are reports that many drivers are simply trying to top off mostly-full tanks or gas cans. 

In one tense situation captured at a gas station near Raleigh, North Carolina, a woman can be seen spitting on a man and hitting a car after she reportedly tried to cut the line. The man fires back a spit of his own, leading to a fight between the two.

When Will the Pipeline Be Back?

On Monday, some (but not most) of the pipeline was brought back manually. Colonial Pipeline officials have also said they hope to restart most operations by the end of the week.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also told reporters Tuesday that Colonial should be in a position to make a decision on a full restart by the end of Wednesday; however, it’s likely going to take several days for fuel supplies to return to normal even after operations recover.

“Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline,” Granholm said. 

Many analysts have echoed that warning, telling people to fuel up only if they need to and asking them to try to conserve as much gas as possible until the pipeline becomes largely operational again. 

The governors of Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia have all declared states of emergency to try to stave off shortages and keep gas prices down. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (MarketWatch)

Continue Reading

Business

GLAAD Report Finds All Top Social Media Platforms “Effectively Unsafe” for LGBTQ+ Users

Published

on

  • The LGBTQ+ media monitoring organization GLAAD said in a Sunday report that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are all “effectively unsafe for LGBTQ users.” 
  • Of the 64% of respondents who told GLAAD they’ve faced anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech or harassment online, 75% said at least some came from Facebook, which performed the most poorly of all five platforms.
  • The report highlights more than just hate speech, as GLAAD notes that “inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms, and discriminatory AI” also negatively affect LGBTQ+ users.
  • “This is about less watchdogging, more partnering with these platforms to get it right,” GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said while calling the report a starting point for how platforms can change.

Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate Speech Rampant on Social Media Sites

The LGBTQ+ media monitoring organization GLAAD has published a report that classifies every top social media platform as “effectively unsafe for LGBTQ users.” 

That includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

“Of special concern, the prevalence and intensity of hate speech and harassment stands out as the most significant problem in urgent need of improvement,” GLAAD said in the report released Sunday.

The organization noted 64% of LGBTQ+ social media users have experienced harassment and hate speech online, which it said is higher than all other identity groups. 

Of the five platforms, Facebook was far and above the worst offender. In fact, GLAAD reported that 75% of the LGBTQ+ respondents who’ve experienced online harassment said at least some of that harassment happened on Facebook.

Meanwhile, 24% percent of respondents said they have faced similar harassment on Twitter and Instagram each. YouTube came in just below those figures at 21%, and TikTok saw the lowest harassment level of the five at 9%.

GLAAD’s president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis said that while the organization was originally going to give each platform a grade, “What we ended up realizing is that if we started grading, they’d all fail, quite frankly.” 

Content Moderation and AI

It’s not just hate speech. “Inadequate content moderation, polarizing algorithms, and discriminatory AI” were also listed among the specific problems that GLAAD hopes these social media platforms will address. 

The organization even listed several “urgent recommendations,” which read:

  • “Stop allowing algorithms to fuel extremism and hate. Similarly, confront the problem of bias in AI.”
  • “Make it easier for users to report problematic content, be transparent in content moderation, and use more human moderators.”
  • “Employ a dedicated LGBTQ policy lead.”
  • “Respect data privacy, especially where LGBTQ people are vulnerable to serious harms and violence.”

It also called for platforms to more strongly enforce misinformation labels and restrict hashtags/shares of anti-LGBTQ content.

“This is about less watchdogging, more partnering with these platforms to get it right,” Ellis said, summing up the purpose of the report as a “roadmap” for platforms to begin implementing change.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (NPR) (The Hill)

Continue Reading

Business

FBI Names Hacking Group Behind the Shut Down of the Nation’s Largest Fuel Pipeline

Published

on

  • The United States’ largest pipeline, which supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel, was forced to shut down Friday following a ransomware attack.
  • The company that owns it — Colonial Pipeline — said it hopes to restore service by the end of the week. Only some smaller lines are currently operational.
  • On Monday, the FBI officially linked the attack to criminal hackers known as Darkside, which operates along a “ransomware as a service” business scheme.
  • On Sunday, the Transportation Department issued emergency declarations in 17 states and D.C. in an attempt to keep supply lines open through the “immediate transportation” of fuel.

What Is Darkside?

The hackers who forced the Colonial Pipeline Company to shut down the country’s largest fuel pipeline on Friday are part of a criminal gang known as Darkside, according to the FBI.

Darkside is a relatively new group that operates along a “ransomware as a service” business model, according to CNBC. 

“We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for our motives,” Darkside said on its website. “Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society.” 

It added that targeting institutions like hospitals, schools, nonprofits, and government agencies violates its code of ethics. It also claimed it would donate some of the ransom money it’s demanding from Colonial to charity, though some charities have reportedly turned down these offers of dirty money.

Pipeline Shuts Down

When the Colonial Pipeline shut down Friday following the initial reports of a ransomware attack, it was unclear at the time if the hackers had directly crippled the line themselves or if Colonial had voluntarily taken it offline.

Colonial announced Saturday that its own executives had made the decision to take systems offline, with the company saying it did so as a precautionary measure out of fear that the hackers had gained enough information to attack vulnerable parts of the pipeline. 

As of Monday morning, that pipeline is still mostly shut down, and only some smaller lines are currently operational as of Sunday night.

“Segments of our pipeline are being brought back online in a stepwise fashion, in compliance with relevant federal regulations and in close consultation with the Department of Energy, which is leading and coordinating the Federal Government’s response,” the company said Monday, adding that it hopes to restore service by the end of the week.

What This Could Mean for Gas Prices

The continued closure of the pipeline could be detrimental if it extends several more days. Not only does it run from Texas to New York, but it also supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel. That’s 2.5 million barrels of refined gas, diesel, and jet fuel every day. 

“It’s the most significant, successful attack on energy infrastructure we know of in the United States,” energy analyst Amy Myers Jaffe told Politico.

As Wells Fargo analyst Roger Read told CNBC, there are main scenarios that could occur depending on how long Colonial remains dark. 

If there is a partial restart by Wednesday, Read beleives there will be “no significant or lasting impacts.”

If the outage lasts 6-10 days, “Refiners may need to reduce the amount of crude oil they process… Inventories will rise in the U.S. Gulf Coast, causing prices to fall, while prices in the East Coast would jump.”

Reede added that if the outage lasts more than 10 days, “Refiners in the Gulf Coast will almost definitely have to reduce their runs,” leading to potentially significant fuel shortages in the Southeast. 

In an attempt to avoid those last two outcomes, the Transportation Department issued emergency declarations in 17 states and D.C. on Sunday. Those declarations are meant to keep supply lines open through the “immediate transportation” of fuel; however, these increased supplies aren’t near enough to match the pipeline’s capacity, according to an expert cited in the BBC. 

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Politico) (BBC)

Continue Reading