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FTC may nail Facebook with record fine for privacy abuses

FTC may nail Facebook with record fine for privacy abuses
[Photo: Florian Pérennès/Unsplash]

The Federal Trade Commission is considering slapping a “record-setting” fine on Facebook for the company’s privacy abuses in the case of Cambridge Analytica, reports the Washington Post. And the penalty could be the largest leveled by the agency on a tech company ever before.

The FTC has been investigating Facebook since March over the revelations that the social media giant handed over the personal data of millions of its users to the Trump-connected political data consultancy Cambridge Analytica–without the permission of the users.

The Post’s report cites three people with knowledge of the discussions. The most the FTC has fined a tech company in the past was a $22.5 million penalty on Google in 2012. Some rightly pointed out that amount is a marginal business cost to Google.

Facebook made a promise to the FTC in 2011–in the form of a consent decree–that it would get the explicit permission from users before sharing their personal data with any third party.

The Cambridge Analytica affair turned out to be just the first in a string of privacy scandals involving Facebook. A bombshell New York Times report in November portrayed a company that cared far more about adding users, amassing their data, and more profitably monetizing that data, than respecting the privacy of its customers. And Facebook allowed its users to be subjected to a massive, coordinated Russian campaign to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential race toward Donald Trump by firing up right-wing voters and–most insidiously–persuading likely Hillary Clinton voters to stay home on election day.

More than any other company, Facebook has pushed the issue of personal data privacy to the attention of lawmakers in Washington, who are now circulating bills establishing hard rules on how U.S. companies must protect user data. Some of the bills being circulated give additional powers to FTC to create additional rules and carry out enforcement actions.

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Cozy Bear returns? DNC says it faced targeted Russian phishing attack after 2018 midterms

Cozy Bear returns? DNC says it faced targeted Russian phishing attack after 2018 midterms
[Photo: Soumil Kumar/Pexels]

Just after the 2018 midterm elections, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) saw dozens of its email addresses targeted in a spear-phishing attack, Politico reports the DNC said in a Thursday night court filing.

“The content of these emails and their time stamps were consistent with a spear-phishing campaign that leading cybersecurity experts have tied to Cozy Bear (APT 29),” according to the document. “Therefore, it is probable that Cozy Bear again attempted to unlawfully infiltrate DNC computers in November 2018.”

The document was filed in an ongoing federal lawsuit brought by the DNC against Russia, the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, and various campaign figures, including Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, over alleged Russian hacking and election tampering.

There’s no evidence the phishing attacks were successful, according to the court filing. Since the 2016 election, when DNC servers were allegedly compromised by Russian attackers, the Democrats have taken steps to shore up digital security. Bob Lord, hired as the DNC’s chief security officer, told Fast Company last year that the DNC subjects its employees to regular phishing drills to train them not to engage with fraudulent email messages.

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How to watch Dateline NBC’s The R. Kelly Story online without cable

How to watch Dateline NBC’s The R. Kelly Story online without cable
[Photo: Mike Pont/Getty Images]

The list of R. Kelly’s public accusers is about to get longer. In a surprise special tonight, NBC Dateline says it will reveal new information about the scandal-ridden music artist and his decades-long trail of alleged sexual abuse and predatory behavior.

The hourlong special will also include an exclusive interview with a former intern who will speak out for the first time. NBC News correspondent Andrea Canning sat down with the intern, along with a number of other Kelly accusers, for the special, which comes just weeks after a searing documentary series on Lifetime in which many of Kelly’s accusers and critics spoke out.

Since the series aired, Kelly’s accusers have been applauded for their bravery and strength, but they’ve also been subjected to a torrent of harassment. Last week, Kelly supporters created a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies,” where they posted personal details about the women. Facebook pulled the page down after an inquiry from Fast Company.

NBC’s special, Accused: The R. Kelly Story, airs tonight (Friday, January 18) at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT.

If you’re a cord cutter looking to live-stream Dateline NBC on your smart TV, computer, or phone, I’ve rounded up a few options below:

  • Streaming services: A number of TV streaming services offer live access to NBC, including Sling TVPlayStation VueHulu With Live TVYouTube TVFuboTV, and DirecTV Now. NBC is not offered in all areas on these services, so be sure to check your zip code first before signing up.
  • NBC’s website and mobile apps: You can watch NBC live on its website and mobile apps, but you’ll need login credentials from a cable or satellite TV provider.

NBC also makes episodes of Dateline NBC available to stream after they air. So if you can wait, just head over to NBC.com/dateline and bookmark the page.

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Why everyone is suddenly interested in the definition of suborning perjury

Why everyone is suddenly interested in the definition of suborning perjury
[Photo: rawpixel/Unsplash]

On Thursday night, the Merriam-Webster Twitter account helpfully tweeted a link to the definition of a relatively obscure legal term: suborn.

The term means to induce someone to commit perjury, meaning to lie under oath. That’s what many people are speculating President Trump may have done, after a BuzzFeed News report held that he told his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

As the old saying goes, it’s often not the crime but the coverup that dooms political figures. President Richard Nixon stepped down as investigators probed his apparent efforts to cover up the Watergate burglary, and President Bill Clinton was impeached on allegations that he lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Democrats, including prominent members of the House of Representatives, have said they intend to investigate the allegations, which Trump’s current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has claimed are false, the Washington Post reports.

So what does it take to establish a case of subornation of perjury? For context, the Department of Justice offers a detailed look at that very subject on its website. Find it here.

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A Garmin smartwatch helped nab a hitman

A Garmin smartwatch helped nab a hitman
Mark Fellows

We know that Alexa is listening and phone carriers are selling your location data. But until now, we didn’t know your fitness tracker was cluing the authorities in about your history of organized crime.

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Runner’s World–a one-stop shop for all things running, and now some things mob-related–writes about a British runner and cyclist named Mark “Iceman” Fellows, who was just found guilty of killing two organized crime associates near Manchester–two incidents that happened three years apart from each other. It seems that Fellows, beyond being a fit bloke, was also a hitman. It’s unclear if his “Iceman” nickname was due to his cold, chiseled abs or for his icy demeanor when he’s wantonly killing people.

According to the report, Fellows was suspected for killing a man named John Kinsella last year. He reportedly biked up to the man last May, shot him four times, and then biked away. Being the avid fitness aficionado he is, Iceman was obviously wearing “both commando gear and a hi-vis safety vest while toting a gun,” notes Runner’s World. Thus, it seems he was pretty easily spotted by witnesses.

But enterprising detectives, while investigating Fellows’s involvement with this 2018 murder, got an idea. They noticed a picture of him wearing a Garmin Forerunner smartwatch and thought to themselves, “Hey, wait a minute, doesn’t that thing track location data?” Indeed, it does and did, and the authorities were able to look at his Garmin device and discover that he was at the very location of an unsolved murder that took place three years ago. This victim, Paul “Mr. Big” Massey, was a gang member associated with Kinsella. All the pieces were coming together–or, I should say, all the pieces of GPS data.

Thanks to these clues from Garmin, the authorities were able to see definitive proof that Fellows did a test run of the escape route from the scene of Massey’s murder back to his house in 2015. He reportedly did this two months before the murder occurred. (It seems Massey’s people perhaps knew Fellows was involved, as he got shot three weeks after Massey; he obviously survived.)

Now Fellows is sentenced to life in prison. He likely won’t be able to bike there, so he may have to find a new athletic outlet–hopefully one less deadly.

You can read the full Runner’s World story here, which was sourced from the Manchester Evening News.

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Twitter oops! Your protected tweets may actually have been public

Twitter oops! Your protected tweets may actually have been public
[Photo: Ake/rawpixel]

If you have been spending time trolling people from your private Twitter account, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, you may have a little ‘splainin’ to do.

Twitter said today that it has discovered a security flaw that made “protected” tweets public when some changes were made to accounts for Twitter for Android users.

Based on the announcement, it sounds like anyone who had a private Twitter account, used Twitter for Android, and updated the email address linked to their account over the last four years or so (specifically, between November 2014 and January 2019) could have had their supposedly protected messages exposed.

Twitter said it fixed the flaw on January 14, but was issuing a public notice about the error because it couldn’t figure out the exact number of accounts that had been affected and wanted to reach out to users who may have experienced the problem. Twitter noted that it had turned the protections back on for Android users who had inadvertently switched them off.

“We’re very sorry this happened, and we’re conducting a full review to help prevent this from happening again,” it said.

Twitter is now contacting the affected users it knows about, but it’s too late for anyone who was trying to balance social media use while protecting themselves from trolls, stalkers, ogres, and Russian bots.

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You can now install a new designer kitchen with a few clicks

You can now install a new designer kitchen with a few clicks
[Photo: courtesy of remodelmate]

Imagine if home renovations weren’t an absolute, all-consuming nightmare, and instead you could pick a kitchen design you liked, buy it, and have it installed? That’s the vision behind a collaboration between two digitally native home brands, renovation startup remodelmate and interior design startup Havenly.

remodelmate co-founders, Chad Hall and Jonathan Amar [Photo: courtesy of remodelmate]
Havenly’s team designed a Parisian-inspired kitchen, with gold fixtures, marble backsplashes, and white cabinets. Remodelmate customers can now install this exact kitchen in their own homes for $24,530, a fraction of what a typical designer home renovation costs. But this is way more complicated than it seems at first blush: Remodelmate will take care of ordering supplies, managing logistics (including any necessary permits and insurance), installation, and payment. The customer will not need to find or manage contractors or workers.

This is part of a growing trend in the world of renovations. Block Renovations, a startup recently launched by a former Casper executive, allows customers to pick a bathroom design from a catalog and essentially just buy it the way you might buy a book on Amazon. This approach works best for homeowners who don’t want to spend a lot of time making design decisions and picking fixtures, but want the process to be quick and easy. These renovations can also be less expensive, because the company can buy supplies in bulk, lowering the cost of each individual cabinet or faucet.

However, remodelmate says that a portion of its client base actually enjoys the decision-making, so the company wants to create a wide range of services, including the option for homeowners to be more involved with the renovation. “We have many customers who are avid HGTV watchers, and love getting in the weeds with their home renovation,” says Jon Amar, remodelmate’s co-founder and head of growth. “This Havenly partnership is for the portion of our customers who prefer to be hands-off.”

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It’s weird, but $140 house slippers are now big business

It’s weird, but $140 house slippers are now big business
[Photo: courtesy of Birdies]

Birdies, the $140 slipper originally designed to be worn at home, just landed $8 million in funding. That’s right. Consumers can’t get enough of these fancy shoes that nobody except your immediate family, and maybe your postman, will see.

[Photo: courtesy of Birdies]
The brand was founded by Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey, who shrewdly observed that as more millennials work from home–and also enter full-blown nesting mode–they want to look polished. So they decided to create sophisticated house shoes with cozy satin or faux fur linings, so women can feel trendy even when they are sitting at their home desks in their pajamas. And over time, they noticed that customers themselves began wearing them outside the home, and into everyday life. While the inside of the shoes are cosy, the sole is sturdy, so women started wearing them to get a coffee, or even into their offices.

They were clearly onto something. In 2015, Birdies launched its direct-to-consumer brand online, and through its flagship store in San Francisco. Four years later, women are desperate to get their hands on Birdies slippers. The brand currently has a waitlist of 30,000. Its sales were up 400% in 2018, and it is on track to reach five times year-over-year growth in 2019. This upcoming year, it hopes to expand its retail presence with a limited partnership with Nordstrom.

So yes, the luxury household slipper is now a thing, so don’t be shocked when your girlfriend or mom asks for a pair for her birthday. We warned you.

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Get ready for the electric Ford F-150

Get ready for the electric Ford F-150
[Photo: ArtisticOperations/Pixabay]

The revolution is finally hitting dirt roads.

Ford just announced that it plans to make an all-electric version of its F-150 truck. At a conference on Wednesday, the company’s president of global markets, Jim Farley, made the announcement, but didn’t provide many more details.

As CNN Business writes, the F-150 has been the most popular truck in the United States for 40 years. The vehicle’s popularity is what helps keep Ford afloat–and the company has built numerous versions of the truck to keep up demand. This electric version will likely be one more way Ford tries to woo truck buyers.

Ford, of course, isn’t the only car company looking into electric trucks. Tesla has been looking into electric trucks for years, along with other companies. But it is certainly a big deal that the automotive giant keeping pickup trucks relevant is finally realizing that electric is a viable way forward.

You can read the full CNN Business story here.

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A lawsuit would reveal how the Trump administration spies on social media

A lawsuit would reveal how the Trump administration spies on social media
[Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images]

In the year since President Donald Trump issued his “zero tolerance” and “extreme vetting” policies, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and other government agencies have ramped up social media surveillance of citizens, immigrants, and foreign visitors. How and when the technology is used remains largely unknown.

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On Thursday the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Northern California sued the federal government for information on its social media surveillance activities, including those related to the extreme vetting initiative.

“Social media surveillance has become a major priority for the federal government in recent years,” said Hugh Handeyside, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “The public has a right to know how the federal government monitors social media users and speech, whether agencies are retaining social media content, and whether the government is using surveillance products to label activists and people of color as threats to public safety based on their First Amendment-protected conduct.”

The ACLU and ACLU of Northern California filed suit in the Northern District California after various agencies failed to respond to a May 2018 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. According to the ACLU, the FBI could neither confirm nor deny the existence of records relating to the FOIA request. In addition to the FBI, the defendants are the DOJ, DHS, ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the State Department.

As we reported in November, immigration and homeland security agencies depend upon a number of data mining companies to monitor social media, under contracts that are mostly hidden from public view. Alongside a ramp-up in covert internet surveillance, a growth in domestic monitoring by U.S. agencies after September 11 has laid the groundwork for companies like Palantir, which was seeded with CIA funds and has secured at least $1 billion in federal contracts since 2009.

The company–whose chairman Peter Thiel was a Trump campaign supporter and is a member of Facebook’s board–is one of a number of ICE’s software suppliers. A 2016 Privacy Impact Assessment by DHS noted that personnel within ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations were using Palantir software “to manage immigration cases that are presented for criminal prosecution,” but also for non-criminal situations, “to query the system for information that supports its civil immigration enforcement cases.”

The ACLU lawsuit would require government agencies to provide its guidelines on social media surveillance, as well as their communications with private businesses and social media platforms, and documents related to “the purchasing or building of social media monitoring tools, among other records.”

“Multiple agencies are taking steps to monitor social media users and their speech, activities, and associations,” the complaint reads in its introduction. “According to publicly available information, Defendants are investing in technology and systems that enable the programmatic and sustained tracking of U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike.”


RelatedApple’s inconvenient truth: It’s part of the data surveillance economy


In the lawsuit, the ACLU expresses worry that social media surveillance will chill free speech, but also lead to targeting of racial and religious minorities, as well as those who dissent against official government policies. And any targeting of social media profiles of immigrants or those living in the U.S. under visas would most likely mean the surveillance of these individuals’ communications with other people not targeted for surveillance, including American citizens.

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One of the biggest data brokers said it supports a GDPR for the U.S.

One of the biggest data brokers said it supports a GDPR for the U.S.
[Photo: Thomas Lefebvre/Unsplash]

Yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook published an op-ed in Time advocating for real and strict data privacy protections. In the essay, Cook specifically focused on the invisible parts of the data economy–brokers that buy and sell people’s digital information. These firms include Experian and Oracle.

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Acxiom, one of the largest of these brokers, was asked about Cook’s article. The company, in a statement to Business Insider, said it agreed with his sentiments.

“Acxiom, like Mr. Cook, also supports a national privacy law for the U.S., such as GDPR provides for the European Union. Acxiom is actively participating in discussions with U.S. lawmakers as well as industry trade groups to help ensure U.S. consumers receive the kind of transparency, access, and control Acxiom has been providing voluntarily for years,” the company said. “We believe it would be universally beneficial if we were able to work with Apple and other industry leaders to define the best set of laws that maintain the benefits of data in our economy while giving the necessary protections and rights to all people.”

In its statement, Acxiom said it is working with lawmakers to build a “singular, united set of policies across the U.S.” What it does not want, according to the statement, are “multiple and independent state laws” making it onerous to comply.

Of course, it behooves Acxiom to seem amenable to such legislative moves. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the tide is shifting in the U.S., and more people want better safeguards over their data. Cook called for not just stricter data regulations, but a federally controlled data broker database that would make it possible for citizens to know exactly what information the companies have on them and which companies transacted with these data firms. While Acxiom is saying it’s open to new regulation, it’s unclear what exactly the firm will agree to.

There’s of course the other irony that Apple makes a lot of money by helping propel this shady data-sharing industry. As my colleague Mark Sullivan wrote, “Apple’s business isn’t completely removed from the personal data economy.” For example, Google pays Apple billions of dollars every year so that it can continue to be iOS’s default search engine. And what does Google do when you search with it? Collect your data.

Which is to say that Apple and Acxiom are certainly capitalizing on a moment when businesses should at least seem proactive about data rights. We’ll have to wait and see if their actions match their words.

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Tesla is laying off 7% of its full-time employees

Tesla is laying off 7% of its full-time employees
[Photo: Blomst/Pixabay]

The cuts in its workforce are a move to increase profits at the company while reducing costs, according to a companywide email Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent to all Tesla employees this morning.

In the email, Musk says one of Tesla’s top challenges going forward is “making our cars, batteries, and solar products cost-competitive with fossil fuels” and acknowledging “our products are still too expensive for most people.” Musk went on to explain that the company’s cheapest vehicle is the mid-range Model 3, which costs $44,000–still too much for the average consumer. If it wants to reduce prices, Tesla will need to cut costs in its workforce:

As a result of the above, we unfortunately have no choice but to reduce full-time employee headcount by approximately 7% (we grew by 30% last year, which is more than we can support) and retain only the most critical temps and contractors. Tesla will need to make these cuts while increasing the Model 3 production rate and making many manufacturing engineering improvements in the coming months. Higher volume and manufacturing design improvements are crucial for Tesla to achieve the economies of scale required to manufacture the standard range (220 mile), standard interior Model 3 at $35K and still be a viable company. There isn’t any other way.

As of now, there is no word on which workers in Tesla will be hit the hardest, but laying off 7% of its workforce suggests cuts will come from multiple disciplines, locations, and departments.

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Nuns and other Amazon investors pressure Jeff Bezos over face recognition

Nuns and other Amazon investors pressure Jeff Bezos over face recognition
[Photo: Nathaniel dahan/Unsplash]

Amazon’s face recognition software is under fire from human rights groups, employees, and a growing number of its investors. In a shareholder resolution issued on Thursday, a group of investors is pushing the company to halt government sales of Amazon Web Services’ Rekognition, software that can identify faces and track bodies, citing potential civil and human rights risks.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised concerns of racial bias in Rekognition after conducting tests last year, and hundreds of Amazon employees questioned the sale of the software in a letter and during a staff meeting in November. Amazon has sold Rekognition to law enforcement agencies in at least two states, pitched the software to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and is now testing it with the FBI, according to the investor letter. The company has so far resisted calls to cease its government sales, including another petition signed by the ACLU and dozens of human rights groups earlier this week.

In their resolution, the investors propose that Amazon stop selling to government agencies unless it can use independent evidence to show that the technology doesn’t endanger human rights.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood filed the resolution as shareholders and members of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, which represents a group of investors with over $1.32 billion worth of total assets, according to a statement. The effort was organized by Open Mic, a nonprofit organization focused on corporate accountability. Last June, another group of investors sent Amazon a similar set of demands.

“We filed this proposal because we are concerned that Amazon has pitched facial recognition technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and piloted its Rekognition with police departments, without fully assessing potential human rights impacts,” Sister Patricia Mahoney said in a statement. The sisters hope Amazon will put the resolution to vote at this year’s annual shareholder meeting in May.

A spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment, but pointed to previous blog posts that tout what it says are the many benefits of face recognition software, including fighting child sexual abuse and human trafficking, finding missing children, and improving content moderation. Amazon has also said that the ACLU’s tests relied on a lower confidence threshold for recognizing faces than Amazon recommends “for use cases where highly accurate face similarity matches are important.”

In another letter sent to Amazon this week, the ACLU and more than 85 advocacy groups told Jeff Bezos, “Instead of acting to protect against the very real dangers of face surveillance, your company is ignoring community concerns and further pushing this technology into the hands of government agencies.” The groups also asked Google and Microsoft to cease their government sales.

Calling for Amazon and other large tech companies to stop their sales of facial recognition software to the government may have limited practical impact: The software is already being used by law enforcement around the world, as well as at stores, casinos, and in airports. And governments–and an untold number of private entities–can purchase face recognition and other surveillance tools from dozens of other firms, or can rely on a variety of open-sourced software.

Some companies like Axon have established ethics boards to self-police new products like face recognition, but privacy advocates insist that only stronger regulation and more transparency can limit the risks to the public. As the Amazon investors note, even Microsoft’s vice president has joined the calls for new face recognition laws.

Read the full resolution below:


Risks of Sales of Facial Recognition Software Amazon.com, Inc. – 2019

Whereas, shareholders are concerned Amazon’s facial recognition technology (“Rekognition”) poses risk to civil and human rights and shareholder value.

Civil liberties organizations, academics, and shareholders have demanded Amazon halt sales of Rekognition to government, concerned that our Company is enabling a surveillance system “readily available to violate rights and target communities of color.” Four hundred fifty Amazon employees echoed this demand, posing a talent and retention risk.

Brian Brackeen, former Chief Executive Officer of facial recognition company Kairos, said, “Any company in this space that willingly hands [facial recognition] software over to a government, be it America or another nation’s, is willfully endangering people’s lives.”

In Florida and Oregon, police have piloted Rekognition.

Amazon Web Services already provides cloud computing services to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is reportedly marketing Rekognition to ICE, despite concerns Rekognition could facilitate immigrant surveillance and racial profiling.

Rekognition contradicts Amazon’s opposition to facilitating surveillance. In 2016, Amazon supported a lawsuit against government “gag orders,” stating: “the fear of secret surveillance could limit the adoption and use of cloud services … Users should not be put to a choice between reaping the benefits of technological innovation and maintaining the privacy rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Shareholders have little evidence our Company is effectively restricting the use of Rekognition to protect privacy and civil rights. In July 2018, a reporter asked Amazon executive Teresa Carlson whether Amazon has “drawn any red lines, any standards, guidelines, on what you will and you will not do in terms of defense work.” Carlson responded: “We have not drawn any lines there…We are unwaveringly in support of our law enforcement, defense, and intelligence community.”

In July 2018, lawmakers asked the Government Accountability Office to study whether “commercial entities selling facial recognition adequately audit use of their technology to ensure that use is not unlawful, inconsistent with terms of service, or otherwise raise privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties concerns.”

Microsoft has called for government regulation of facial recognition technology, saying, “if we move too fast, we may find that people’s fundamental rights are being broken.”

Resolved, shareholders request that the Board of Directors prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies unless the Board concludes, after an evaluation using independent evidence, that the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights.

Supporting Statement: Proponents recommend the Board consult with technology and civil liberties experts and civil and human rights advocates to assess:

• The extent to which such technology may endanger or violate privacy or civil rights, and disproportionately impact people of color, immigrants, and activists, and how Amazon would mitigate these risks.

• The extent to which such technologies may be marketed and sold to repressive governments, identified by the United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.


RelatedA New York City lawmaker is taking on companies that mine your face

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Netflix stock tanks despite record Q4 subscriber growth

Netflix stock tanks despite record Q4 subscriber growth
[Photo: Pexels/Pixabay]

Netflix might want to go back in time a few months and choose a different adventure.

Shares of the company fell in after-hours trading this afternoon after it posted its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2018. While Netflix added a record 8.8 million subscribers during the period (1.5 million in the United States and 7.3 million internationally), revenue was slightly below consensus estimates.

Here are the key numbers:

  • Domestic subscribers: 1.5 million
  • International subscribers: 7.3 million
  • Earnings Per Share: 30 cents
  • Revenue: $4.2 billion

The report comes at a dicey time for the company, which just raised its prices on some subscription plans, a move that will likely be the tipping point for many users. At the same time, the company is spending hand over fist to keep its library flush with new content.

That said, the market tends to overreact a bit to Netflix earnings reports—positive or negative—so it’s possible that the stock will rebound after the earnings call with CEO Reed Hastings later today. Stay tuned!

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Are Facebook employees writing positive Portal reviews on Amazon?

Are Facebook employees writing positive Portal reviews on Amazon?
[Photos: Agence Olloweb/Unsplash; Jilbert Ebrahimi/Unsplash]

Earlier today, New York Times tech reporter Kevin Roose took to Twitter with a funny story. It looked like Facebook employees were writing positive reviews for Facebook’s video chat device Portal on Amazon.

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BuzzFeed News reporter Ryan Mac chimed in after catching the fact that one of the reviewers listed their name as “Tim Chappell,” who is on LinkedIn as Facebook’s “Head Of Supply-Chain & Strategic Sourcing AR/VR Products.”

It sounded like an elaborate prank by some bored person on the internet who had decided it would be good for laffs to write Portal reviews in the names of Facebook employees. After all, why would the Facebook employees write the reviews in their own names? If someone caught on to the scheme, what would that say about Portal as a product? Plus, as Roose pointed out, reviewing your own product violates Amazon’s rules. It had to be a joke, right? Nope!

Facebook executive Andrew “Boz” Bosworth replied to Roose, not denying it was true, but denying that it was a concerted effort issued from on high at FB HQ. He also quoted an internal post from the Portal launch that said the company “unequivocally” did not “want Facebook employees to engage in leaving reviews for the products that we sell to Amazon.” He said the reviews would be taken down.

Now it’s up to a prankster to put them back up.

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Stunning data dump leaks 773M email addresses and passwords

Stunning data dump leaks 773M email addresses and passwords
[Photo: Courtney Corlew/Unsplash]

A new trove of data that had been shared on the cloud service MEGA included roughly 773 million sets of email addresses and passwords, apparently stolen amid numerous earlier data breaches, security researcher Troy Hunt wrote in a blog post Thursday.

The dataset, known simply as “Collection #1,” included more than 87 gigabytes of data, spanning more than 12,000 files in a variety of formats, Hunt writes. It’s since been removed from MEGA, but it’s believed to have been posted for use in so-called credential stuffing attacks, where hackers will try to use leaked usernames and passwords from one site on other popular digital services in the hopes that people have reused their passwords.

The passwords are stored in plain text, meaning anyone who has a copy of Collection #1 can read them or use a bot to automate trying them on different sites.

If you’re curious whether your email address is included in the collection, or other known data dumps, you can check at Hunt’s website haveibeenpwned.com. If you find your address, you may want to consider resetting your passwords at various services. For security reasons, Hunt doesn’t disclose the passwords found with any email address, even to the address’s owner.

Since credential stuffing attacks are pretty prevalent, it’s best to avoid reusing passwords from site to site. A password manager can help you generate random secure passwords and store them securely on your devices.

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DHS separated thousands more children than previously reported

DHS separated thousands more children than previously reported
Immigrant families separated by immigration status, lack of visas, or deportations, are briefly reunited in no man’s land on the U.S.-Mexico border on May 12, 2018, in the dry Rio Grande riverbed in-between Mexico and the United States. [Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images]

The Trump administration’s heartless policy of separating migrant children from their parents after crossing the border may have been even more widespread—and may have begun much earlier—than previously reported. According to a federal audit released Thursday morning, thousands more migrant children were taken from their parents than the government previously acknowledged, and the separations began months before the policy was announced.

How many more children were separated is unknown, by us and HHS” because of failures to track families as they were being separated, an investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office told reporters Thursday morning, Politico reports.

While the so-called “zero tolerance” policy was announced by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May 2018, the audit reveals that the first child was taken from parents back in 2017 as a trial for further rolling out the vicious policy, which violates the UN’s guidelines for human rights at international borders.

Per Politico, the inspector general’s office has more self-analyses lined up, including reports investigating how the separated children were housed, who cared for them, the effects on the children’s health, and the administration’s approach to reunifying families. While the administration has reversed its policy, as of December, The Guardian estimated that some 15,000 children were still being held in DHS detention camps and two children have died in DHS custody.

To help migrant children, head here or just take five minutes here.

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Square business owners get a debit card

Square business owners get a debit card
[Photo: courtesy of Square]

In 2017, Square debuted its pre-paid debit card for its mobile payment app, Cash, so people could use the money in their accounts out in the real world. Now it’s doing the same thing for business owners.

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Merchants that use the Square card reader and business ecosystem can now get a debit card that accesses the cash that accumulates in it. The card is white and can be emblazoned with a specific signature, business name, or logo.

[Photo: courtesy of Square]
Traditionally, Square businesses would have to transfer their balance to a regular bank account in order to use it. Often transfers take days. Square also had a paid feature called Instant Deposit, which deposited the funds as advertised. The new debit card gives Square merchants the ability to use the money that comes into their Square account immediately without having to pay extra.

As soon as a customer makes a purchase, merchants with Square debit accounts can use that money to buy supplies or whatever other items they need. Business owners will also be able to withdraw cash at ATMs, thanks to a partnership with Sutton Bank. The Square app will have an interface for reviewing the balance, as well as credits and expenditures. It will also allow users to mark whether purchases they’ve made were for personal or business expenses, making it easier to delineate tax write-offs at the end of the year.

Unfortunately, there’s no current link between Square Balance and Square Capital, though Square’s seller lead, Alyssa Henry, said there is potential for a future integration.

Another bonus: Square merchants that shop with one another get a 2.75% discount on their purchases.

It is worth noting that the money that accumulates in the debit accounts are cash balances that are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. “We take security very seriously. We have done a lot of work in that area,” said Henry on a phone call with press Tuesday. “That said, it’s not an FDIC-insured bank account; this is a stored balance.”

She didn’t provide further information on what happens in the event merchant accounts are compromised.

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Michael Cohen paid someone to make a fake Twitter account that called him sexy

Michael Cohen paid someone to make a fake Twitter account that called him sexy
[Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images]

For all you people out there who think Michael Cohen, President Trump’s now-disgraced former lawyer, has sex appeal, do I have a Twitter account for you. It’s called “WomenForCohen,” and when it’s not retweeting Michael Cohen, it’s posting its own messages about how attractive the 52-year-old is. Or at least that’s what the account did for a period of time, until it stopped tweeting in December 2016. Another thing you should know about this account is that Michael Cohen paid to have it created.

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You may be asking yourself: Why Cohen would do such a thing? It’s not entirely clear. But a Wall Street Journal report divulges details about an IT firm Cohen worked with when he was Trump’s right-hand man during the campaign. Cohen enlisted this firm, RedFinch Solutions, to do a few digital tasks. For one, RedFinch was asked to rig two online polls to make Trump look like the victor. And two, the company was asked to make the “WomenForCohen” account.

For all this work, Cohen reportedly owed RedFinch and its owner John Gauger $50,000; Gauger said Cohen only paid about $12,000 of it. The WSJ adds that Cohen reportedly invoiced Trump for Gauger’s services, yet never paid him the full amount.

There’s of course a backstory to this. Gauger isn’t just the owner of RedFinch, but also the CIO at Liberty University–the school founded by evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell. Cohen met Gauger in 2012 when Trump went to the university to give a speech, according to WSJ. From there, Gauger helped Cohen with a few vanity technical projects–including setting up his Instagram account. And then, years later, RedFinch would be behind the bizarre twitter account.

It’s not entirely clear what the point of “WomenForCohen” was beyond boosting Cohen’s ego. One tweet shows a Cohen selfie with, of course, the hashtag #selfie:

Other tweets went to bat to defend Cohen or criticize Hillary Clinton.

It’s unclear if RedFinch just set up the account or also sent the tweets. Some do seem like they may have come from Cohen himself.

Whatever the truth, this is certainly a bizarre update to the Michael Cohen saga. He recently pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations. It should be noted that this plea didn’t have to do with his dealings with Geiger.

All the same, “WomenForCohen” sure make it seem like Cohen had some issues he needed to work through. Perhaps his time in jail will help with that.

You can read the full WSJ article here. 

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The Tinder for coffee wants to hook you on specialty roasts with a subscription

The Tinder for coffee wants to hook you on specialty roasts with a subscription
[Photo: courtesy of Trade]

Last April, New York-based coffee startup Trade entered the market with an interesting premise. It wanted to make the complex world of specialty coffee more accessible to everyday coffee drinkers, the kind who are happy with whatever they find on the grocery store shelf. Trade serves as a matchmaking service, using data science coupled with the expertise of a taster, to help people discover what roasts might be most palatable to them.

[Photo: courtesy of Trade]
This week, Trade takes its business model to a new level with a subscription service. The program, called The Classics, costs $25 for two bags every two, three, or four weeks. Subscribers first receive a single bag of coffee that they will taste and rate, to calibrate their personal taste. From then on, Trade will send shipments of curated coffee roasts from different brands based on the user’s tastes, at their preferred frequency. (Customers can also snooze the subscription if they like.)

So basically, the service allows you to be a little promiscuous with coffee brands. As we’ve said, it’s like Tinder, but for coffee.

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