TED 2018: Soul-Searching at the Inspiration Assembly Line

Somewhere between my eighth and eighteenth turmeric lattes, I realized I was dangerously close to falling for TED. The annual conference, which gathers elite technologists, thought leaders, scientists, economists, futurists, visionaries, activists, physicists, poets, enthusiasts, academics, entertainers and billionaires has a binary reputation: For anyone who hasn’t been, it’s an object of easy mockery. For anyone who has, it’s a religion.

After five days in the garden of TED, downing blueberry mint kombucha, champagne gummy bears and green juice described as “good for when you feel like you’re being chased by a cheetah,” I had seen the light. The ideas felt exciting (flying cars! fluid democracies! arousal non-concordance!). The speakers elicited gasps of wonder, un-self-conscious giggles, or heavy sighs of righteous indignation. A workshop on the concept of awe actually inspired awe. At least four talks brought me to tears.

TED has a way of raising the stakes on every topic—no matter how tiny—to transformative, world-changing status. But as the world has begun to question the murky side effects of many of these groundbreaking innovations, the mind-blowing magic TED is known for can feel darker.

“No one is coming to the event in the frame of mind that all is well and easy in the land of technology,” TED Curator Chris Anderson said in a press call before the event. It was a sentiment that echoed throughout the conference. After VR pioneer Jaron Lanier’s wrapped up a talk criticizing Facebook and Google’s advertising-based “behavior modification empires,” Anderson pointed out that the same thing was happening to everyone in the room. On some level, he said, “we’re all in the behavior manipulation business. It’s what human interaction is about.”

It’s a well-honed formula. Try spending a week in a dark room while a river of eloquent speakers, one after another, deploy touching personal anecdotes and surprising revelations in meticulously crafted ten-minute emotional rollercoasters. It’s nearly impossible to avoid getting swept up. Poet Sarah Kay noted in a workshop that a week at TED can feel like “you’re a live wire of thoughts and feelings and emotions.” Singer Luke Sital-Singh, who crooned heartfelt songs Thursday evening, wore a nametag that read, “Ask me about making people cry.” Lanier, who followed a talk by a teacher who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spent the first few minutes of his talk trying to compose himself. “Chris didn’t warn me the talk before me would bring me to tears,” he said, to warm applause.

The posivibes were apparent whenever a presenter lost their place, welled up with tears, or suffered a technical malfunction. Each time, the audience encouragingly applauded the speaker back from the brink. I wondered if there was anything we wouldn’t applaud for. The hiccups? A fart?

Between sessions, I tested out gentle criticisms with attendees. Didn’t some of these standing ovations seem planted by the speaker’s friends? And wasn’t the rush to stand up and applaud less about the brilliance of the speaker more a way of signaling exactly how much we care about [stopping fascists/ethical AI/extreme poverty in India]? Are these talks, and our applause, an empty substitute for real action—the equivalent of an “awareness-raising” ribbon? How many of the power brokers in the room have actually changed the way they do business as a result of something they heard in a TED talk? How many of the attendees cheering along to calls for environmental reform arrived by private jet? Didn’t it sometimes feel like socially conscious theater? Don’t get me wrong, the turmeric lattes were delicious, but wasn’t the preciousness of it all – the “tech playground” filled with robots, virtual statues, short story dispensers, selfies printed onto cookies, soundscape immersions, and Vitagene genetic analyses – a bit much?

A few attendees responded to my criticism with nods of solidarity; others called me a hater and a cynic. It mirrored the tech industry’s range of reactions to any sort of criticism for the last ten years. This is an industry that’s used to being applauded for changing the world, not being picked apart for it.

TED’s organizers have worked to combat knocks that it’s more about giving rich people a cool experience than enlightening the world. Initiatives like The Audacious Project, a $250 million charity fund, and the TED Fellows program, which provides resources to “visionaries” who are creating positive change in the world, deserve kudos. As does the way TED addressed its own #MeToo scandal, by announcing it to the conference, noting two past attendees had been disinvited, and reading a code of conduct aloud.

The conference allows attendees to voice criticisms in the form of one-minute rebuttals on the main stage. One responder applauded the racial diversity among attendees, but expressed disappointment in the prevalence of imagery and content that depicted the African diaspora as a population in need of help and charity. “If diversity was the invitation that got us here, inclusion is the hard work,” he said. Another criticized video game developer David Cage’s use of “adolescent male fantasies” in a game demo. A male responder criticized actress Tracee Ellis Ross’s impassioned description of female fury, saying it did not invite him into the conversation. A female responder later pointed out that, in fact, Ellis Ross had expressly invited men to the conversation. “He admitted he didn’t hear that part,” the responder said.

Some TED sessions were designed to make attendees uncomfortable. (Setting aside the event’s many creature comforts, like massages, bountiful organic snacks and sleek Steelcase furnishings.) Anderson told the audience to “embrace the discomfort” during the opening session titled “Doom. Gloom. Outrage. Uproar,” in which speakers advocated for feminism, gun rights, an open dialogue around race and free speech for scientists, and deleting our social media accounts. They elicited tears, standing ovations, and whooping cheers from the eager TED audience, except for the man next to me, who played solitaire on his iPad. Ellis Ross described a situation where a friend of hers felt fury toward a man who touched her without her consent. “I feel like this is the point in the room where all the men are getting a little uncomfortable,” she said. Solitaire man got up and walked out. Too much discomfort.

Many of the talks concluded with a host asking follow-up questions about the dangers of the technology demonstrated. Couldn’t the video editing tools shown by Dr. Supasorn Suwajanakornbe of Google Brain be used to spread extremely compelling disinformation, for example? Dolby Labs chief scientist Poppy Crum used tubes that measured carbon dioxide in the air to detect the level of fear in the room, declaring that technology would render the poker face “a thing of the past.” Woa. Couldn’t that be used against us? The presenters all expressed a desire to ensure the technology they were building would have a positive effect on society.

But the programming left some attendees I spoke with feeling depressed. The last two years of headlines have shown us what happens when powerful technology like social media gets abused by nefarious actors. It’s difficult to imagine the same thing won’t keep happening with each new breakthrough. James Bridle, a writer and TED speaker, outlined the difficult challenge the tech industry currently faces: “Any technological problems of any size and scale are political problems as well,” he said. “We can’t fix it just by changing the technology, but also society that is using [it].”

On TED’s final day, Anderson noted that he hoped attendees could embrace discomfort “and maybe occasionally still feel joy in what’s being achieved.”

“I don’t know,” he added. “We’re all still trying to do this.”

The TED Experience

  • This year, the conversation at TED centered on Facebook.

  • An oral history of how TED became a global think-fluencing phenomenon.

  • According to one TED talk, mind-reading technology might be on the horizon. But will that might chip away at what it means to be human.

Exclusive: Amazon in talks with airline Azul for shipping in Brazil – sources

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) is in talks with Brazilian airline Azul SA (AZUL.N) on shipping goods in the country, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, in the latest sign of the retailer’s big plans in Latin America’s largest economy.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon.com Inc is seen in Sao Paulo, Brazil October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo

The talks with Azul, which serves over 50 percent more Brazilian airports than its nearest rival, are the strongest signal yet that Amazon is lining up distribution to sell products directly to consumers throughout the country.

It also shows that the U.S. e-commerce company is serious about overcoming the nation’s notorious logistical challenges, including shoddy roads, security problems and a national territory greater than the continental United States.

Representatives for Azul declined to comment on the talks.

Amazon said it did not comment on “rumors or speculation.”

The Seattle-based online retailer has so far waded slowly into Brazil’s highly competitive e-commerce market, starting with e-book sales in 2012, adding physical books two years later and offering third-party sales of electronics in October.

E-commerce accounts for around 5 percent of Brazil’s roughly $300 billion retail market, about half its share in the United States. Yet Brazil’s online sales have doubled in four years and are expected to grow at a double-digit pace in coming years.

Currently, Amazon relies on third-party vendors to ship their own goods sold on its Brazilian website, but that appears to be changing.

In February, Reuters reported that Amazon was looking to lease a 50,000-square-meter warehouse just outside Sao Paulo, in a sign the retailer may bring storage and distribution in-house.

In March, Reuters reported that the company met with an array of manufacturers in Sao Paulo to discuss plans to stock and sell products directly.

Both developments drove down shares in Brazilian e-commerce competitors, such as Magazine Luiza SA (MGLU3.SA) and B2W Companhia Digital SA (BTOW3.SA). MercadoLibre Inc (MELI.O) has also fought Amazon tooth-and-nail in Mexico and Brazil.

By partnering with Azul, Amazon would immediately gain access to a network of more than 100 airports in Brazil, implying its ambitions go far beyond metropolitan Sao Paulo.

Azul has built up an 18 percent share of Brazil’s domestic air travel market over the past decade by flying regional jets and turboprop planes into second- and third-tier cities underserved by other carriers.

Azul’s cargo unit, Azul Cargo Express, takes advantage of excess cargo capacity in its passenger flights to offer rapid delivery to locations ranging from far-flung Amazonian outposts to Brazil’s major metropolitan centers.

The company offers shipping to more than 3,200 municipalities, as well as a specialized e-commerce service known as Azul Cargo E-Commerce. Azul’s hub, Viracopos International Airport, is about a 45-minute drive from the warehouse Amazon has been eyeing northwest of Sao Paulo.

The sources, who requested anonymity as the negotiations are confidential, did not specify how advanced conversations were, nor did they say if the retailer has also engaged Azul’s rivals.

Competing airlines with Brazilian cargo operations include Latam Airlines Group SA LTM.SN and Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA (GOLL4.SA). Neither responded immediately to requests for comment.

Last week, Azul announced it has leased two Boeing Co (BA.N) freight aircraft “to support the rapid growth of its cargo business unit.”

Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Flavia Bohone, Gabriela Mello, and Tatiana Bautzer in Sao Paulo and Felipe Iturrieta in Santiago; Editing by Brad Haynes and Cynthia Osterman

Mapping startup Mapbox hires head of product from Google

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Digital maps startup Mapbox Inc told Reuters on Tuesday that it has hired a lead product manager from the local search unit of Alphabet Inc’s Google to serve as head of product for maps and search.

Andrew Chen is charged with helping engineers at Mapbox, which licenses maps to software developers, better understand consumer desires, Mapbox Chief Executive Officer Eric Gundersen said.

“Any engineering-heavy company is constantly wanting the perspective of the users, and we’re looking to people who can help illustrate how maps are being used,” Gundersen said.

Mapbox competes with Google, OpenStreetMap and other firms to license maps to software makers. The data have become a bedrock of thousands of mobile apps, with Mapbox customers including social media company Snap Inc, food delivery service DoorDash and credit card giant MasterCard Inc.

Mapbox has less live traffic information and fewer details on “social” places such as bars than Google, Gundersen said.

But Mapbox’s system, an amalgamation of 130 data sources, is appealing to some developers because it allows greater customization, Chen said. Google’s emphasis remains on its consumer Maps app, he said, while Mapbox exclusively focuses on developer tools.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Chen said he spent more than five years at Google overseeing development of Google Maps features including estimated wait times at restaurants and a question-and-answer system for users to learn more about businesses.

SoftBank Vision Fund led a $164 million financing of Mapbox in October.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Leslie Adler

Philippines complains Facebook fact-checkers are biased

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines government criticized on Monday Facebook’s (FB.O) choice of two independent online news platforms to help fight the spread of fake news, saying they are biased against President Rodrigo Duterte.

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration photo, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Facebook said last week it would partner with VERA Files and Rappler IQ to launch a third-party, fact-checking program aimed at preventing the spread of false news on the social media platform in the Philippines.

But Duterte has accused Rappler, which has a reputation for its investigative reporting and its tough questioning, of trying to undermine his government, perhaps with the help of U.S. spies, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has rescinded its operating license for violating foreign ownership rules.

Rappler continues to operate pending an appeal.

“We would also like to register our protest at the choice of fact-checkers by Facebook and this will be on the agenda when we finally get to sit with them soon,” Loraine Badoy, assistant secretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office, said in a statement.

Research has shown Filipinos to be among the most active social media users in the world, spending on average more than four hours a day on platforms like Facebook.

Duterte, a former mayor from outside of the sphere of national politics, tapped into social media to help him win a 2016 election by a huge margin.

Last year, lawmakers began an inquiry into the proliferation of what they saw as fake news on the internet.

Duterte spokesman Harry Roque welcomed Facebook’s desire to counter fake news, but he noted some people had complained that “the chosen police of the truth are sometimes partisan themselves”.

A Facebook spokeswoman did not comment on the government’s protest and referred Reuters to a statement last week announcing the partnership with Rappler and VERA Files.

“Partnering with third-party fact-checking organizations, is one of the ways we hope to better identify and reduce the reach of false news that people share on our platform,” Clair Deevy, Facebook’s director for community affairs for Asia Pacific, said last week.

There was no immediate comment from Rappler.

Ellen Tordesillas, president of VERA Files, said “non-partisanship and fairness are among the requirements for an international fact-checking network accreditation”.

VERA Files and Rappler IQ are the only two Philippine-based members of an international fact-checking network at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in the United States.

Privacy concerns have swamped Facebook since it acknowledged last month that information about millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, a firm that has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign among its clients.

Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Darren Schuettler

Facebook fuels broad privacy debate by tracking non-users

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Concern about Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) respect for data privacy is widening to include the information it collects about non-users, after Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said the world’s largest social network tracks people whether they have accounts or not.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

Privacy concerns have swamped Facebook since it acknowledged last month that information about millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, a firm that has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign among its clients.

Zuckerberg said on Wednesday under questioning by U.S. Representative Ben Luján that, for security reasons, Facebook also collects “data of people who have not signed up for Facebook.”

Lawmakers and privacy advocates immediately protested the practice, with many saying Facebook needed to develop a way for non-users to find out what the company knows about them.

“We’ve got to fix that,” Representative Luján, a Democrat, told Zuckerberg, calling for such disclosure, a move that would have unclear effects on the company’s ability to target ads. Zuckerberg did not respond. On Friday Facebook said it had no plans to build such a tool.

Critics said that Zuckerberg has not said enough about the extent and use of the data. “It’s not clear what Facebook is doing with that information,” said Chris Calabrese, vice president for policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington advocacy group.

COOKIES EVERYWHERE

Facebook gets some data on non-users from people on its network, such as when a user uploads email addresses of friends. Other information comes from “cookies,” small files stored via a browser and used by Facebook and others to track people on the internet, sometimes to target them with ads.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

“This kind of data collection is fundamental to how the internet works,” Facebook said in a statement to Reuters.

Asked if people could opt out, Facebook added, “There are basic things you can do to limit the use of this information for advertising, like using browser or device settings to delete cookies. This would apply to other services beyond Facebook because, as mentioned, it is standard to how the internet works.”

Facebook often installs cookies on non-users’ browsers if they visit sites with Facebook “like” and “share” buttons, whether or not a person pushes a button. Facebook said it uses browsing data to create analytics reports, including about traffic to a site.

The company said it does not use the data to target ads, except those inviting people to join Facebook.

TARGETING FACEBOOK

Advocates and lawmakers say they are singling out Facebook because of its size, rivaled outside China only by Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, and because they allege Zuckerberg was not forthcoming about the extent and reasons for the tracking.

“He’s either deliberately misunderstanding some of the questions, or he’s not clear about what’s actually happening inside Facebook’s operation,” said Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a senior staff technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Zuckerberg, for instance, said the collection was done for security purposes, without explaining further or saying whether it was also used for measurement or analytics, Gillmor said, adding that Facebook had a business incentive to use the non-user data to target ads.

Facebook declined to comment on why Zuckerberg referred to security only.

Gillmor said Facebook could build databases on non-users by combining web browsing history with uploaded contacts. Facebook said on Friday that it does not do so.

The ACLU is pushing U.S. lawmakers to enact broad privacy legislation including a requirement for consent prior to data collection.

The first regulatory challenge to Facebook’s practices for non-users may come next month when a new European Union law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), takes effect and requires notice and consent prior to data collection.

At a minimum, “Facebook is going to have to think about ways to structure their technology to give that proper notice,” said Woodrow Hartzog, a Northeastern University professor of law and computer science.

Facebook said in its statement on Friday, “Our products and services comply with applicable law and will comply with GDPR.”

The social network would be wise to recognize at least a right to know, said Michael Froomkin, a University of Miami law professor.

“If I’m not a Facebook user, I ought to have a right to know what data Facebook has about me,” Froomkin said.

Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Peter Henderson and Richard Chang

Weibo to ban gay, violent content from platform

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s Sina Weibo will remove gay and violent content, including pictures, cartoons and text posts, during a three-month clean-up campaign, the microblogging platform said.

FILE PHOTO – A man holds an iPhone as he visits Sina’s Weibo microblogging site in Shanghai May 29, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Friday’s announcement comes amid a clampdown targeting content across social media platforms as China’s leaders look to tighten their grip on a huge and diverse cultural scene popular with the young.

Weibo announced the move on its official administrator’s account, saying the action aimed to comply with China’s new cyber security law that calls for strict data surveillance.

The post drew more than 24,000 comments, was forwarded more than 110,000 times, and prompted users to protest against the decision, using the hashtag “I am gay”.

“I am gay and I’m proud, even if I get taken down there are tens of millions like me!,” said one poster, who used the handle “rou wan xiong xiong xiong xiong” and posted a photo of himself.

Some posts were quickly blocked by the platform, with the message displayed that they contained “illegal content”.

This week, news and online content portal Toutiao, which is luring investors, was forced to pull a joke sharing app after a watchdog denounced its “vulgar and improper content”.

Award-winning gay romance “Call Me By Your Name” was also dropped from a Chinese film festival last month. Homosexuality is not illegal in China, but activists say the conservative attitudes of some parts of society have prompted occasional government clampdowns.

Weibo has so far cleared 56,243 pieces of content, shut 108 user accounts and removed 62 topics considered to have violated its standards, it added.

Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

Yahoo Japan to buy minority stake in cryptocurrency exchange

TOKYO (Reuters) – Yahoo Japan Corp (4689.T) said on Friday it would buy a minority stake in a Tokyo-based cryptocurrency exchange, becoming the latest major Japanese financial services provider to shrug off security concerns and join the digital money industry.

FILE PHOTO: A website of Yahoo Japan Corp is seen on a computer screen in Tokyo August 19, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

Yahoo Japan, which is also the country’s biggest online auction site, said in a statement it would buy through a subsidiary a 40 percent stake in BitARG Exchange Tokyo, with services planned for launch in the autumn.

Yahoo Japan did not give details of the value of the investment. But a person familiar with the matter said it would likely total 2 billion to 3 billion yen ($18.6 million to $27.9 million).

Shares in Yahoo Japan closed down 0.2 percent, against a 0.6 gain for the benchmark Nikkei average .N225.

The deal comes after Japanese online brokerage firm Monex Group Inc (8698.T) said last week it would buy hacked cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc for $34 million.

That saw Monex join other mainstream financial services providers such as larger peer SBI Holdings Inc (8473.T) and messaging app operator Line Corp (3938.T) in looking to enter the cryptocurrency industry.

Reporting by Thomas Wilson and Yoshiyasu Shida

Singapore watchdog sets interim terms for Uber-Grab deal

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s competition watchdog on Friday outlined a number of interim measures as it continued investigation into ride-hailing firm Grab’s deal to buy Uber Technologies’ business in the city-state.

FILE PHOTO: A view of Uber and Grab offices in Singapore March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore said the measures include preventing Grab to take over operational data from Uber to enhance its market position, adding that Uber would continue to operate in Singapore until May 7 to smoothen the transition.

Other measures include ensuring that drivers are not subjected to ‘exclusivity agreements’ and making sure the ride-hailing firms maintain their pre-merger pricing and commission levels.

Uber is selling its Southeast Asian business to bigger local rival Grab, marking the U.S. company’s second retreat from an Asian market. The deal, however, is under regulatory scrutiny.

Reporting by John Geddie, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

The Questions Zuckerberg Should Have Answered About Russia

Over the last two days, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned for more than 10 hours by two different Congressional committees. There was granular focus on privacy definitions and data collection, and quick footwork by Zuckerberg—backed by a phalanx of lawyers, consultants, and coaches—to craft a narrative that users “control” their data. (They don’t.) But the gaping hole at the center of both hearings was the virtual absence of questions on the tactics and purpose of Russian information operations conducted against Americans on Facebook during the 2016 elections.

Here are the five of the biggest questions about Russia that Zuckerberg wasn’t asked or didn’t answer—and why it’s important for Facebook to provide clear information on these issues.

1. What were the tools and tactics used by Russian entities to execute information operations against American citizens, and what were the narratives pursued?

In both hearings, in answering unrelated questions, Zuckerberg began to describe “large networks of fake accounts” established by Russian entities. In both instances, he was cut off. This was a significant missed opportunity to pull back the curtain on the mechanisms of Russian information operations against the American public.

The vast majority of information made available by Facebook—and the focus of questions in response—have been about ads and promoted content from Russian entities like the Internet Research Agency. In fact, this was not the primary means of distributing content, collecting information, identifying potential supporters, and promoting narratives. The main tool for this was fake accounts posting “native” content—plain old Facebook posts—building relationships with real users.

In Wednesday’s hearing before the House Energy & Commerce Committee, for example, Zuckerberg said that tens of thousands of fake accounts were taken down to prevent interference in elections in 2017, implying that this was mostly relating to Russia. But this wholesale removal of accounts obviously went way beyond the 740 accounts that have been identified as buying ads on behalf of the IRA. Zuckerberg focused only on ads bought by Russian accounts, not the regular Facebook posts that were so much more numerous. He testified that the Russian accounts were primarily using “issues ads”—aimed at influencing people’s views on issues rather than promoting specific candidates or political messaging. Asked about the content though, Zuckerberg said he had no specific knowledge.

In the indictment of the IRA, prosecutors highlighted the fact that the agency had used false IDs to verify false personas. So, while Facebook’s announcement that group pages will now require verification with a government ID and a physical address that can be validated, fake IDs and the use of US-registered shell corporations (a point raised by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse) can be used to bypass these security protocols—albeit with a much more significant expenditure of resources.

Zuckerberg said Facebook only identified Russian information operations being conducted on their platform right before the 2016 elections. But in his written testimony, he says they saw and addressed activity relating to Russian intelligence agencies earlier. And from 2014 onward, Facebook was made aware of the aggressive information campaigns being run against Ukraine by Russia.

It wasn’t an accident that Zuckerberg used the term “sophisticated adversaries” in his prepared statement. Facebook, more than anyone, has visibility into what Russia does and why it works. Apparently, no one was interested in hearing what he had to say.

2. What personal data does Facebook make available to the Russian state media monitoring agency Roskomnadzor or other Russian agencies? Is this only from accounts located in or operated from Russia, or does this include Facebook’s global data?

These questions were asked by former fighter pilot and Russia-hawk Rep. Adam Kinzinger—and answered evasively by Zuckerberg, who did not address the fact that the Russian government requires companies like Facebook to store their data in Russia precisely so they can access it (and that the Russians say that Facebook has agreed to comply). Very few companies—including Twitter and YouTube—have provided much transparency on what data they share with the Russian government. This is important because, depending on the scale, Russia doesn’t need to rely on data harvesters if they can just get it themselves. In another instance, a corporate partnership was formed with Uber to force data sharing.

This is also important because Zuckerberg expressed extreme skepticism about sharing data with the US government. Does he feel the same way about foreign entities? When law enforcement or intelligence agencies from more aggressive foreign governments ask for information, does Facebook comply? Is there any instance where they have complied with a foreign government request that they would deny the United States?

In both hearings, Zuckerberg was also asked if Russia or China scrape Facebook data, or used apps like the one used by Aleksandr Kogan, the data scientist who provided Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg responded that he didn’t have specific knowledge of that—but, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky pointed out, there were 9 million apps scraping data, so how can they possibly begin to know where the data and all its derivative copies went?

Zuckerberg called Chinese internet companies a “strategic and technological threat”—and whoever asked the question just moved on. This is a huge admission from one of the people best positioned to understand how AI and data tech can be weaponized by adversaries. Next time, maybe let the man talk about what he sees and the threats we are up against?

3. Did Facebook delete data related to Russian information operations conducted against American citizens? Will it agree to make this material available for researchers?

In the House hearing, there was one question relating to data preservation in connection to the Cambridge Analytica case. But not a single member asked if Facebook has preserved all of the data and content connected to Russian information operations conducted against American citizens, or whether that data and content would be made available to researchers or intelligence agencies for evaluation.

Many accounts have been pulled down and deleted, and while some of the advertising clients have been exposed, many of the fake accounts and false identities are not known to the public. It is vital that this information be analyzed by people who understand what the Russians were trying to achieve so we can evaluate how to limit computational propaganda from hostile entities and assess the impact these operations had on our population. Without this kind of analysis, we will never unravel the damage or build realistic defenses against these capabilities.

Zuckerberg got no questions about mitigating the psychological impact of these operations. There were no questions to about Facebook’s own internal research and evaluation of these tools and tactics. And no one asked what Facebook knows about their broader effectiveness or impact on the public.

4. What assistance do Facebook employees embedded with advertising clients provide? Did any Facebook employees provide support to the Internet Research Agency or any other business or agency in Russia targeting content to American citizens?

Facebook dodged a major bullet because this entire line of questioning was left unexplored. There was one question about Facebook employees embedded in 2016 political campaigns; largely Zuckerberg answered sideways. But there are extremely important questions to be raised about the way in which Facebook employees aided and enabled harvesters of data and the targeting of hostile information operations—not only against the American public, but in other countries as well.

If Facebook employees worked with the Russians to define more effective audience targeting, for example, then they had vastly more knowledge than they admit and are vastly more complicit. The same would be true if Facebook embeds were working with third parties like Cambridge Analytica and other companies that help governments and ruling parties target their oppositions and win elections. For example, Cambridge Analytica/SCL’s work in Africa shows how aggressively Facebook was used in elections. Did Facebook know? Were they involved? Do their employees have direct knowledge of or aid “black PR” and coercive psychological operations?

5. Does Facebook have copies of data uploaded to “custom audiences” by any Russian entity?

In many ways, the data will be the fingerprints of the investigations of the Russian operations in the 2016 elections. As part of Facebook’s “custom audiences” feature, you can upload datasets to target Facebook users. If there is overlapping targeting data or instances in which similar data was used by different advertising clients, you can show potential coordination between separate entities—for example, maybe the IRA and the NRA, or the dark money PACs running ads against Clinton. Does Facebook have any known Russian datasets from 2016 that could be compared to Cambridge Analytica and or Trump campaign data?

Senator Amy Klobuchar highlighted the fact that 126 million people saw IRA content and asked if these people overlapped with the 87 million who had their data scraped by Cambridge. Zuckerberg said it was “entirely possible” that they overlapped. If this can be documented, it would make it likely that the Cambridge Analytica data was used by the Russians and by the Trump campaign—and this would mean coordination between the two entities. The question then would be who knew about the shared data?

American privacy is important. But gaining a more expansive understanding of the information operations being targeted against our population by hostile foreign actors like Russia is also critical. In that respect, the Zuckerberg hearings were a huge missed opportunity. We do not have a lot of time to assess and evaluate what happened in 2016 before the 2018 elections are upon us. This is not merely a cybersecurity challenge; it’s not just about protecting voting machines or email servers. There is an information component that is not being addressed, and doing so gets harder when companies like Facebook are erasing and suppressing the data that can help us become more informed and help us develop a new kind of human-led deterrence that will prevent these campaigns from being as effective in the future.

Zuckerberg repeatedly referred to the idea of data “control” that was completely nonsensical to anybody who actually speaks English as a first language. We don’t control our data. Especially not when Facebook is aggressively harvesting data on everyone, not just their 2 billion users, and building internet access globally so they can get even more data. It doesn’t matter that Facebook isn’t “selling data”—an oft-repeated theme. They are using psychographics to profile you and selling advertisers access to the products of those algorithms. This is why there was evasion on questions about predictive profiling—the entire backend of adtech. Facebook knows it works. They use it every day—and they understand exactly how effective it can be for hostile actors like Russia.


Mr. Zuck Goes to Washington


Molly K. McKew (@MollyMcKew) is an expert on information warfare and the narrative architect at New Media Frontier. She advised Georgian President from 2009-2013 and former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat in 2014-15.

Here’s Why Facebook Just Gained $21 Billion in Value

Facebook[/f500link] CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced off with a room full of senators on Tuesday in what many believed would be a tough grilling about privacy in the wake of news that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had obtained data about 87 million Facebook users.

But investors concluded that Zuckerberg responded to the challenge better than expected, sending the company’s shares up 4.5% to $165, their biggest one-day gain in nearly two years.

With the gain, Facebook added $21.3 billion in market value to $479.4 billion. That reverses some of the company’s 15% in lost valuation since reports emerged in March, when the news about Cambridge Analytica first erupted.

Of course, some of the rise could be also be attributable to the general market optimism on Tuesday after China appeared more conciliatory about a potential trade war. The Nasdaq Composite rose 2%.

Rather than squirming in his seat during the questions about data privacy and Russian-backed political ads, Zuckerberg appeared poised and in control on Tuesday. Instead, it was the lawmakers who appeared to have forgotten their homework.

“How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) asked Zuckerberg, apparently unaware how Facebook made money. Zuckerberg deadpanned, “Senator, we run ads,” eliciting responses like the following on Twitter:

Facebook’s stock gains came despite lawmakers having plenty of ammunition against the company in addition to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The honeymoon period between Silicon Valley and Washington D.C. has been fading quickly over the past year and a half, with lawmakers questioning to what extent Facebook had influenced the outcome of the presidential election by allowing fake news and Russian-backed political ads onto its platform. Critics also question whether Facebook had censored some conservative content in favor of content more favorable to liberals.

Shares of Twitter also received a boost on Tuesday, rising as much as 7%, or $878.6 million in value for a total market capitalization of $22.2 billion.

Still, Facebook isn’t out of the woods yet. Shares of the company are still about 11% below their pre-Cambridge Analytica price.

Meanwhile, it still remains to be seen whether lawmakers may seek to impose new regulations on tech firms. Both Twitter and Facebook said Tuesday ahead of the hearing that they would support the Honest Ads Act, a proposed piece of legislation that would require tech firms that sell ads to disclose how much they are paid for placing political ads on their platform.

Senators have also urged Google to support the act, although the tech giant has yet to comment. Shares of Google were up 1.5% on Tuesday, roughly in line with the wider market.