The Californa Highway Patrol is now using decoy buses to try and locate the shooter — or shooters — firing pellet guns at shuttles carrying workers to Apple and Google campuses. AppleInsider – Frontpage News
Documents recently aired in an ongoing investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton probe show texts between two agency officials discussing 2016’s encryption debate, offering a revealing look at government sentiment at the time. AppleInsider – Frontpage News
Read early testimony from Facebook, Google and Twitter before they appear at hearings on Capitol Hill this week.
Facebook, Google and Twitter plan to tell congressional investigators this week that the scope of Russia’s campaign to spread disinformation on their sites — and to potentially disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential race — is much broader than the companies initially reported.
At Facebook, roughly 126 million users in the United States may have seen posts, stories or other content created by Russian government-backed trolls around Election Day, according to a source familiar with the company’s forthcoming testimony to Congress. Previously, Facebook had only shared information on ads purchased by Kremlin-tied accounts, revealing that they reached more than 10 million U.S. users.
Google, which previously had not commented on its internal investigation, will break its silence: In a forthcoming blog post, the search giant confirmed that it discovered about $ 4,700 worth of search-and-display ads with dubious Russian ties. It also reported 18 YouTube channels associated with the Kremlin’s disinformation efforts, as well as a number of Gmail addresses that “were used to open accounts on other platforms.”
And Twitter will tell Congress that it found more than 2,700 accounts tied to a known Russian-sponsored organization called the Internet Research Agency, according to sources familiar with its testimony. Twitter initially informed lawmakers about just 200 known accounts. The company will also release a new study that shows the extent to which Russian-based automated accounts, or bots, of all sorts tweet on its platform.
In sharing these findings with congressional investigators, the three tech giants plan to emphasize that Russian-fostered disinformation — while troubling — amounted to only a small portion of the ads and other content published regularly on their platforms. Facebook, for example, hopes to highlight that its U.S. users are served more than 200 stories in their News Feeds each day, according to a source familiar with its thinking.
Still, the companies’ explanations may not satisfy an ever-expanding chorus of critics on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are increasingly demanding that Facebook, Google and Twitter step up their efforts to counter the Kremlin’s attempts to sow political and social discord — or else face more regulation by the U.S. government.
For the tech industry, the first test comes on Tuesday: A crime- and terrorism-focused committee led by Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham will grill Colin Stretch, the general counsel of Facebook; Richard Salgado, the director of law enforcement and information security at Google; and Sean Edgett, the acting general counsel of Twitter.
On Wednesday, Facebook’s Stretch and Twitter’s Edgett will return to the Capitol and submit to two back-to-back sessions before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. There, they’ll be joined by Kent Walker, the general counsel of Google.
Upon entering the hearings, these tech giants each pledged to improve their handling of political advertising — seemingly in a bid to stave off congressional scrutiny. Facebook and Twitter, for example, in October promised more manual review of those ads, along with greater disclosure as to who is paying for them in the first place.
And Google newly revealed on Monday that it would do the same. The company announced that it sought to create a new database for election ads purchased on AdWords and YouTube, along with stronger disclosure rules and a new ad transparency report due in 2018. Google said it would also put in place new procedures to verify that advertisers running political ads are based in the U.S.
But lawmakers’ concerns aren’t limited to ads. Members of Congress are likely to press some tech executives on their handling of organic posts — the stories, status updates or other content published and shared on social media sites without cost. In many ways, this content is harder to identify, and at times it is impossible to regulate in a way that doesn’t trigger free-speech concerns.
At Facebook, for example, Russian trolls created 80,000 pieces of organic content between January 2015 and August 2017, the company plans to tell lawmakers at the hearing. About 29 million Americans saw those posts directly in their News Feed over that two-year period. And those users also liked, shared and followed these posts and pages, exposing them to their friends — meaning 126 million U.S. users in total might have seen at least some Russian-generated content, according to a source familiar with the findings.
On Instagram, meanwhile, Facebook deleted roughly 170 accounts tied to Russian trolls that posted about 120,000 pieces of content, the company plans to reveal in its testimony.
Taken together, those organic posts had a much greater reach than the 3,000 ads purchased by Russian agents on Facebook around Election Day. In October, the company provided key congressional committees with copies of the ads, which sought to sow social and political unrest around contentious topics, including immigration and Black Lives Matter.
Muck like its peers, though, Facebook plans to stress to U.S. lawmakers that the activity represents only a fraction of what happens daily on its site. Russian-generated disinformation during the election amounted to four-thousandths (0.004) of one percent of content in the News Feed, according to a source familiar with the company’s findings.
Google, meanwhile, plans to tell Congress that it “found only limited activity on our services,” wrote general counsel Walker and Salgado, a company security executive, in a blog post published before the hearing.
Initially, sources had flagged $ 4,700 in ad spending by Russia’s so-called Internet Research Agency, and Google finally confirmed the number Monday. In doing so, it said search and display ads were not targeted based on users’ geography or political preferences.
Its audit of YouTube, meanwhile, turned up 18 channels tied to Russian trolls, which had uploaded 1,108 videos. In total, they had been viewed roughly 309,000 times between June 2015 and November 2017; about 3 percent of those videos had more than 3,000 views. The channels have been suspended.
Yet one of Google’s biggest challenges — much like Facebook and Twitter — is its handling of organic content, including videos uploaded by RT, a Russian government-funded news network. Called a propaganda arm of the Kremlin, RT videos have millions of views on YouTube. In Google’s investigation, however, the tech giant said it “found no evidence of manipulation of our platform or policy violations.” As a result, Google said that RT and other state-sponsored media outlets are still “subject to our standard rules.”
Twitter, for its part, recently banned RT from advertising on its platform, though the publication is still allowed to tweet there. Facebook has announced no change.
For its part, Twitter plans to unveil two new key findings during its testimony to Congress, sources told Recode on Monday. Chief among them: The company’s acting general counsel, Edgett, will note that the company had discovered — and suspended — roughly 2,752 accounts tied to known Kremlin trolls.
Initially, Twitter pegged this number at about 200 accounts. And while the company at the time described it as an early estimate, it still faced sharp criticism from lawmakers like Sen. Mark Warner, who charged that the company hadn’t done an exhaustive investigation.
Twitter also sought to study election-related tweets sent between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, 2016. Among a pool of 189 million tweets, the company identified about 1.4 million sent by automated Russian-affiliated accounts.
In Twitter’s estimation, that’s less than three-quarters of a percent of all of the election-sampled tweets sent using its service over a roughly two-month window — and Edgett will stress they “underperformed” in generating impressions on the site when compared to an average, normal tweet. In contrast, Twitter also noted that tweets from accounts including WikiLeaks tended to benefit from significantly more engagement by Russian bots.
That’s according to David Marcus, Facebook’s messaging VP.
A top Facebook executive admitted Wednesday that Russian agents had used the social network’s popular Messenger platform to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook Messenger boss David Marcus disclosed that a “very small” number of the 470 accounts active in the Russian interference campaign were using Messenger to communicate with their users.
Marcus cautioned that the company was still determining, alongside federal investigators, how Russia-linked accounts may have tried to influence the U.S. political discourse last year. But he said inquiries “at this stage” showed that these accounts were not prolifically using his product.
“My understanding is that it’s a very small number,” Marcus said at The Wall Street Journal’s D.Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif. “The way that the platform was used is still being investigated right now on the Messenger side of things, but traditionally if you’re a page, for instance, you cannot message people. So people have to message you.”
Messenger was reportedly used by some pages with ties to Russian operatives. Marcus, like other Facebook executives, argued that the work done by Facebook around the world was being wrongly “overshadowed” by the Russia “narrative.”
“Clearly, when you design a platform that reaches 2 billion people every month, sometimes bad things happen and we shouldn’t tolerate those things,” Marcus said.
“My personal advice is that we will do that as quick as we can,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, the top GOP lawmaker leading the probe, when asked if the committee plans to release the ads.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, added that lawmakers have “asked for Facebook’s help to help scrub any personally identifiable information, but it’s our hope that when they conclude, then we can release them publicly.”
On Facebook’s part, Sandberg expressed during her meeting with lawmakers a “very strong desire on their own to get any assistance they can from the intelligence community when they identify foreign bad actors,” Schiff said.
“I think we should seek to facilitate when the intelligence community identifies the Russians are using this platform in the same way that when the intelligence community finds that ISIS or Al Qaeda is using the platform for recruitment, there ought to be a dialogue through FBI or DHS,” he explained, per a transcript shared with Recode on Wednesday.
In September, Facebook revealed that it found 470 profiles tied to agents of the Russian government, which purchased 3,000 ads around Election Day. The ads — viewed by 10 million U.S. users — in many instances sought to stir political unrest, often by riling viewers on divisive issues related to race, religion, immigration and gun control.
After initially resisting, Facebook shared copies of those ads in October with lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which are more broadly investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Both panels plan to grill Facebook — as well as its peers, Google and Twitter — at back-to-back public hearings on Nov. 1.
Otherwise, though, Facebook has not released copies of the ads for public viewing. If the House Intelligence Committee is able to release the ads, Conaway predicted on Wednesday that it would not happen before the scheduled hearing.
Sandberg’s meeting with panel leaders is part of a full-court blitz of Washington, D.C., this week. On Wednesday, she also met with other top Democratic and Republican lawmakers — including a session with House majority leader Kevin McCarthy and another meeting with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
The aide did not further elaborate, but did confirm that Russia and misinformation came up during the private conversation.
The company met with House and Senate investigators who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Twitter has found roughly 200 accounts believed to be tied to some of the same Russian-linked sources that purchased ads on Facebook in an attempt to provoke political tensions during the 2016 presidential election.
Twitter informed congressional investigators of its findings in a series of briefings in Washington, D.C., on Thursday — and the revelations are sure to stoke further speculation on Capitol Hill that Kremlin agents sought to co-opt social media platforms to stir social and political unrest in the U.S.
Twitter checked its own database for any information related to the 470 profiles and found 22 Twitter accounts that matched. Additionally, those 22 accounts had ties to 179 other Twitter accounts, and those found in violation of Twitter rules have been suspended.
“Neither the original accounts shared by Facebook, nor the additional related accounts we identified, were registered as advertisers on Twitter,” the company said in a blog post. “However, we continue to investigate these issues, and will take action on anything that violates our Terms of Service.”
The company confirmed the details after meeting with staff on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The two panels are investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Twitter’s representatives — led by Colin Crowell, its vice president of global public policy — also handed over copies of all sponsored tweets purchased by the news outletRussia Today. Twitter said that RT spent $ 274,100 on U.S. ads in 2016. The U.S. government has previously identified that network, known as RT, as a Kremlin-backed partner along with WikiLeaks. At the same time, RT and its associated Twitter accounts were not part of the 200 suspended profiles.
In some cases, though, congressional aides appeared disappointed with the information Twitter provided. Some on the Senate Intelligence Committee, for example, fretted Twitter had not done more, and sooner, to patrol its website for Russian misinformation, according to a source familiar with its work. Afterwards, the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner, thrashed the social giant’s presentation as “frankly inadequate.”
That scrutiny presages a much more grueling grilling awaiting Twitter, along with its peers at two public congressional hearings on the horizon. The House Intelligence Committee expects to invite Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify in an open session in October, aides have said, while the Senate Intelligence Committee has officially invited all three companies to appear for a Nov. 1 hearing, sources previously told Recode.
With Facebook, meanwhile, lawmakers are focused on roughly 3,000 ads purchased by Russian sources in the months before Election Day. Some of the advertisements focused on racial, religious and other social issues, and at times they even played on both sides of an issue — advancing and opposing causes including Black Lives Matter and gun control, for example — in a bid to stir potential political unrest
In response, Facebook has pledged to adopt a number of new transparency requirements for political ads. It has pledged to turn over copies to congressional investigators. And the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has admitted that misinformation did affect discussion on Facebook.
Google, meanwhile, has faced similar questions about the ads it sells, and to whom it sells them, as well as content posted on YouTube. It briefed Senate investigators in the spring, sources previously said, and is expected to return to the Hill.
For its part, Twitter entered its meeting Thursday under pressure from the likes of Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had raised concerns that bots helped spread misinformation on its site. In response, Twitter highlighted in its blog post ways that it seeks to tackle these and other spam accounts, but the company noted it’s also contending with human-directed networks that spread falsehoods and fake news.
Going forward, Twitter also said it would make a number of changes to its platform, including “introducing new and escalating enforcements for suspicious logins, Tweets, and engagements, and shortening the amount of time suspicious accounts remain visible on Twitter while pending confirmation.”
But others, like Warner, want to subject Twitter and other social media sites to more political ad transparency requirements. The company did not comment specifically on his legislation, but added: “We welcome the opportunity to work with the FEC and leaders in Congress to review and strengthen guidelines for political advertising on social media.”
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If you’re worried about privacy and government intrusion, take note: U.S. customs and border officials can search your iPhone when entering the country, but not your cloud-stored data, without a warrant or even probable cause.
That fact was revealed in a Custom and Border Protection letter sent in response to an inquiry by Sen. Ron Wyden. The letter explains the Department of Homeland Security’s limitations, specifically that it doesn’t have the authority to search data stored solely on cloud services — which includes email and social media accounts. The letter, which was obtained by NBC News, does state that border officers can search an iPhone without consent, or in some cases, without suspicion.
Ostensibly, they can only search through data saved directly to a device’s hard drive, though that still includes call history, texts, contacts, and media like photos and video. Furthermore, the agency uses the word solely in relation to data stored in iCloud or other services. That could leave the door open for agents to potentially search through data that’s stored both on a device and in the cloud.
Four months ago, Wyden asked Homeland Security to clarify its agents’ practice of pressuring Americans to provide passwords and access to social media accounts, a policy that he called “deeply troubling.” The practice also prompted the Democratic senator to team up with several others in April to introduce bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would completely bar border officers from searching or seizing a device without a warrant.
For its part, CBP says that its search practices help combat child pornography, drug trafficking and terrorism. The letter goes on to state that border officials can “detain” an iPhone if travelers refuse to unlock the device or provide a password. The letter did not include any detailed search guidelines or statistics revealing how many smartphones searches are conducted when requested by other agencies. However, the DHS inspector general is expected to publish an audit of the agency’s practices by the end of summer.