Thursday, 22 March 2018

Cambridge University's Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica alleged roles in perhaps biggest abuse of user data (Facebook); USA elections interference; Zuckerberg CNN interview

I was debating whether I should put up a public post on this super-sensitive matter. Initially my reaction was that I should avoid getting into the political zone on this super-sensitive matter. After a good night's sleep and after seeing so many mainstream media and social media reports on it, I changed my mind and decided to say my two bits in the interests of protecting and preserving democracy.

Note that I am a beneficiary (somebody who benefited), lover and open supporter of democracy. I have lived all of these 55 years of my life in democratic countries ONLY which are India primarily, Belgium, USA, Netherlands and South Korea. Even my short visits to other countries were to democratic countries ONLY which are: UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong (when it was governed by UK) and Japan (I may have missed out a country or two from not recalling those visits now).

So, as a social media writer, I feel obliged to do my two bits for protecting and preserving democracy in various countries in the world by putting up this public post.

The material below has some earlier private thoughts of mine which I had jotted down, over the past one or two days. It also has content which I knew I was putting up as a public post (later part of this post).
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Read these two NYT (New York Times) articles:

1) Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: What You Need to Know as Fallout Widens, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/technology/facebook-cambridge-analytica-explained.html

2) Linked from above article: Cambridge Analytica, Trump-Tied Political Firm, Offered to Entrap Politicians, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/us/cambridge-analytica-alexander-nix.html

While I had read overview info. about this in the media reports, I did not dig in earlier. The above two NYT reports (I trust the NYT in that it won't deliberately lie) are very shocking!

I plan to see the Channel 4 video tomorrow to get a direct feel of what the top CA guys were promising to the sting reporter.

My God! And then there is an academic from a UK university (Cambridge, I think) who provided expertise to this CA company!

This is like the utter lack of ethics that we saw in some top financial guys in USA mega finance companies (and perhaps that trickled down to all the financial guys in those companies) which led to the housing crash and the 2007-08 financial crisis!

What a mess! And that happened to the democratic process of the most powerful country in the world!!!

Zuckerberg (Facebook boss) must be utterly at sea at what is coming at him now, and what one can expect in the future.

Hmm. I am lost for words and thoughts about how dangerous the dark side of the Internet, yes the Internet, has become! On my main spiritual blog (ravisiyer.blogspot.com)  today on the public post where I have recorded the attempts of a Facebook Fake Id called Mervyn Hughes to intimidate me, I got referrer spam with the url name indicating it is a child pornography site (this data is shown as blog traffic data to me as the owner-administrator of the blog). Of course, I did not dare to open that link even in an anonymous window (which I do sometimes for more innocent looking referrer spam to confirm whether it is referrer spam on a genuine reference to my blog). I see that as an attempt to trap me (or just to scare me) because I have captured their Facebook fake Id attacks on me (which they cannot delete).

The Internet dark side is becoming too much now. Perhaps it is time for top tech guys to take a step back, focus on strengthening protections of and on the Internet from being infected by such dark side stuff, and once that goal is achieved, then get back to further development of Internet and its apps.

If not, who knows what sort of calamity the world will face when some dark guys get hold of vital infrastructure stuff like banking and utilities, using dark cyber stuff.

I shudder to think of what damage that will do.
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Saw the video: Cambridge Analytica Uncovered: Secret filming reveals election tricks, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpbeOCKZFfQ, 19 min. 12 secs. I read somewhere that CA says that the video is edited to present a wrong perspective. But I don't think they have denied the meetings shown in the video.

So even if edited to present a false view, what I heard the CA top guys say in this video is very scary in terms of danger to integrity of democracies in the world today.

The introduction to the video said that India was one of the countries where CA claimed to have provided its consultancy services. But I did not catch any reference to India in the sting part of the video.

The sting reporters (one main guy and a lady companion) claimed to represent a Sri Lankan wealthy family (group) and were asking about CA's ability to help them (influence) target Sri Lankan political party opponents of theirs. So the sting clearly showed the willingness of CA top people to do their dirty stuff in Sri Lanka which is India's southern neighbour.

So this stuff has serious implications for Indian democracy as well!

Great sting exposure service to democracy by Britain's Channel4.

I was wondering whether I should share this video on Facebook and blog. But decided to skip doing so as I don't want to add some dangerous political 'consultants' from the dark side of the Internet to my already significant-size list of fake ID (trolls) Facebook enemies related to my truthful exposure and criticism of the Sathya Sai medium group (Muddenahalli) false claims.
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Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: 'We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles', https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXdYSQ6nu-M, around 13 mins, published by the Guardian, dated 17th Mar. 2018

Has an interview with Christopher Wylie, a young guy, who seems to have been a vital brain for the operation that some USA political actors wanted. I find the guy's words to be credible as I have interacted with similar kind of people, both Indian and Western, during my international software career. He seems to be saying it like it is, from his perspective which is a techie perspective.

If senior tech people have not seen this video, I think they must make the time to see it. This is vital ***education*** direct from a techie type guy involved deeply in the operation, which is an ethics wake-up call for the tech. world like the 2007-08 financial crisis was for the finance industry world. I think they will have no problem relating to him as they would have worked, and still would be working, with many guys like him (like I did during my past international software tech. career).

One crucial point, if what Wylie said is true and I tend to believe him, is how the app was able to suck Facebook profile data (Status updates, Likes and even private messages at times) of ***friends*** of the Facebook user who was using the app. The Facebook user would have gone through some page telling him/her that his data is being gathered. But the friends of that person had no idea that their personal data was being picked up.

Facebook needs to conduct a transparent investigation and share details with its users and the public. I get the impression from the video that the Cambridge University (or something related to it) researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, was given privileged access to Facebook data. Facebook should tell the world whether that was the case. And it seems that Kogan ***misused*** his academic status to give that data access privilege via his app to Cambridge Analytica who built a database of over 50 million FB profiles and their data, much more than the number of Facebook users using Kogan's App! That data was the vital thing for CA, as per Wylie. An American political actor's multi-million dollars investment ensured that data got used to devastating psy-op effect against one USA political candidate's election campaign!

Hmm. This thing makes one's head reel.

I thank Cambridge Analytica whistle blower, Christopher Wylie, for doing the right thing for society by becoming a whistle-blower on this horrific abuse of Facebook user data, and alleged bad divisive of USA society actions of Cambridge Analytica.
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The info. given below is being shared in a redacted way. I don't want any issues raised for anybody from what I have given below which happened around two decades ago. I am sharing this as it may be of interest to some big tech people who have the very difficult and awesome responsibility to fix these problems. They would know about such cases from elsewhere. But I thought it appropriate to share with them my own experience too.

In the mid 90s or late 90s I was the key technical consultant for the tech. team in an Indian company in Mumbai which was assisting in maintenance and enchancement of an Internet profile information gathering product of a USA company. I think the USA company operated out of California (but I am not sure about my memory here).

The key capture software was a CGI program written in C++ if I recall correctly, which would have to be installed on the web servers (multiple web servers on multiple platforms were supported: Internet Information Server, Apache, Netscape server too if I recall correctly, on Windows and some Unix variants including Sun Solaris). Web pages that contributed and got profile information had to have code that would call the CGI program, if I recall correctly.

Now this profile information (cookies played a vital role in the identification of persons, if I recall correctly) would be then sent out to other servers dedicated to managing such profile information, using TCP/IP socket API calls done by the CGI program. Similarly information requested about a profile via the CGI would be through a socket API call to these servers (all server side programs were also in C++, if I recall correctly, and were quite sophisticated multi-threaded programs), and that information, if available for the user, could help the web page/program produce a customized version of the page to "engage" the user. "Your competition is just a click away" was the marketing slogan in this field then.

And there was sophisticated n-tier architecture for various levels of profile storage and management database and servers!

What was the revenue stream for the product? If I recall correctly, the profile information they collected was the vital data they had which they sold to websites which wanted to customize their webpages (like sales items pages) real-time based on profile information of the user that this company had.

Of course, the back-end technical maintenance and enhancement offshore Indian company, the company I was with (as an independent consultant), would not have had any ethical issues from Indian or, I guess, even American law point of view. The profile data was never with the Indian company, as far as I know. It was only with the USA company customer.

Did the web user whose cookie identified him to all websites that used this service of the USA company know that his/her click behaviour was being recorded and sold by this USA Company? I doubt.
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Zuckerberg FB post on Cambridge Analytica: https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10104712037900071.

My blog post: My comment on Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg post on "update on the Cambridge Analytica situation", http://ravisiyermisc.blogspot.in/2018/03/my-comment-on-facebook-boss-mark.html
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Cambridge University asks Facebook for evidence about role of academic, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/20/cambridge-university-asks-facebook-for-evidence-about-role-of-academic-alex-kogan, 20th March 2018

A small extract from the above article, "Cambridge University has announced it is looking more closely into the activities of Aleksandr Kogan, the academic embroiled in the scandal over the use of Facebook data by the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica."
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Mark Zuckerberg: “I’m really sorry that this happened”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6DOhioBfyY, around 15 mins, published by CNN on 21st March 2018.

The transcript of the main interview by CNN Money, most parts of which seem to have been included in the above CNN video: http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/21/technology/mark-zuckerberg-cnn-interview-transcript/index.html.

A few quotes of Zuckerberg from the above transcript:

So this [Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica's unauthorised usage of Facebook user data] was a major breach of trust and I'm really sorry that this happened. You know we have a basic responsibility to protect people's data and if we can't do that then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people. So our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn't happen again. And there are a few basic things that I think we need to do to ensure that. One is making sure that developers like Aleksandr Kogan, who got access to a lot of information and then improperly used it, just don't get access to as much information going forward.
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I think in general technology is an increasingly important trend in the world and I actually think the question is more, what is the right regulation rather than "Yes or no, should it be regulated?"
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If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV and print, it's just not clear why there should be less on the internet. We should have the same level of transparency required.
--- end few Zuckerberg quotes ---
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Just saw that Zuckerberg has given this interview to New York Times: Mark Zuckerberg’s Reckoning: ‘This Is a Major Trust Issue’, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/21/technology/mark-zuckerberg-q-and-a.html, 21st March 2018.

The above article has Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg saying the following, in response to question about the economic (revenue) model of Facebook where, as per the questioner, Facebook uses users' data to provide advertisers and developers a better way to target potential customers:

[Mark Zuckerberg:] The thing about the ad model that is really important that aligns with our mission is that — our mission is to build a community for everyone in the world and to bring the world closer together. And a really important part of that is making a service that people can afford. A lot of the people, once you get past the first billion people, can’t afford to pay a lot. Therefore, having it be free and have a business model that is ad-supported ends up being really important and aligned.

Now, over time, might there be ways for people who can afford it to pay a different way? That’s certainly something we’ve thought about over time. But I don’t think the ad model is going to go away, because I think fundamentally, it’s important to have a service like this that everyone in the world can use, and the only way to do that is to have it be very cheap or free.
--- end small extract from New York Times article ---

[I thank guardian.com, CNNMoney.com, nytimes.com and Mark Zuckerberg, and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above short extracts from their websites on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever. Please note that this post deals with a vital social matter of protecting democracy and society from bad actors who attempt to create division in countries and their societies.]

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