If you were reading the Sunday paper, you may have come across this full-page ad from Facebook with a letter signed by Mark Zuckerberg. Seems like he spent a fortune but needed to for a chance to save his company.
Axios reports the ad ran “inside the front section of today’s N.Y. Times, on the back cover of today’s WashPost, and in The Wall Street Journal. In London, it’s running in The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, The Mail on Sunday, Sunday Mirror and Sunday Express.”
Zuckerberg used part of the letter to say he failed to better control Facebook’s customers’ data, and should’ve allowed more experiments with leaked data like a university professor got away with in 2014, just “to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
But he was far too late.
What happened was a political marketing firm that worked with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — Cambridge Analytica — improperly accessed the data of 50 million Facebook users. This came at a time political campaigns were increasingly looking to sway voters on popular digital platforms. Politico reported “nobody is certain how much” help it was to the campaign but said Trump’s name added to the furor.
It added, “Facebook has always been slipshod about privacy” since Zuckerberg “sins, seeks forgiveness in confession, and then with that naughty boy expression pasted on his face he goes forth and sins again. Zuckerberg’s filibustering apology and promise today to be a better boy is just more of the same.”
Zuckerberg’s ad mentioned what his company has done, what it’s doing and what it will do, before promising “to do better for you.”
But should’ve come about a week earlier and before the social network’s shares tumbled 14 percent.
Mashable reports it also happened after Facebook’s “lawyers threatened to sue the news outlet reporting the story.”
That would be The Guardian.
But Facebook’s head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, tried to make the company’s regret very clear. She noted it was “not our wisest move. … “If it were me I would have probably not threatened to sue The Guardian,” CNET reported her as saying.
Mashable summarized, “In other words, Facebook threatened legal action to prevent accountability and reform. And they definitely think that was a bad idea.”
And Techdirt reports Facebook was one of the companies that helped kill
“some pretty basic but important consumer privacy rules. The protections, which would have taken effect in March of 2017, simply required that ISPs be transparent about what personal data is collected and sold, while mandating that ISPs provide consumers with the ability to opt of said collection. But because informed and empowered consumers damper ad revenues, ISPs moved quickly to have the rules scuttled with the help of cash-compromised lawmakers.”
Now, Deadline magazine reports, “Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that the social network will likely be subject to regulation.”
“It’s not a question of ‘if regulation’ it’s a question of what type,” Sandberg said in an interview Thursday with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. “We are not even waiting around for regulation.”
(Disclosure: Sandberg grew up in North Miami Beach and went to the same schools as me. Her brother David was my senior class valedictorian. I respect both a lot.)
Facebook and other technology companies rely on the tremendous amount of data they gather from billions of their users. That information makes money for their products, services and — most importantly — advertising sales based on user information.
We volunteer some of that information, like email addresses and birthdays. On the other hand, we give Facebook even more by simply using it.
That’s how Facebook knows our likes and friend connections.
Zuckerberg blamed apps that may be leaking user data to third parties and pledged to crack down on them, plus identify them to us.
But the incident raised new questions about Facebook’s ability to protect user data and led to an online movement calling for users to drop their accounts with the social media giant.
Other developers have been working on us keeping all our data on our computers or a cloud storage provider we choose. Think of it like an encrypted phone book. Then, if we want to use an app, we’d simply give “it a key that could decrypt all that personal information” we control. And if we “later decided the app was no good,” we could simply take back the key, so we control the information.
“There’s no company in the middle that’s hosting all the data,” developer Muneeb Ali explained.
Another benefit is our information is spread out across billions of separate machines, making any single breach far less damaging. Think Equifax.
That’s different in a lot of ways than Facebook, which we’ve been trusting to hold our information.
Politico shared on Wednesday about Facebook, “Once celebrated for its all-seeing, all-knowing, all-tracking ways, it’s now damned for those same attributes.”
So should we delete our Facebook accounts?
The Washington Post reports Elon Musk followed through on a promise to many of his Twitter followers. The automaker and aerospace innovator — and chief executive — deleted the Facebook pages of both companies he runs, Tesla and SpaceX. Now, go to them and you’ll see pages with a generic Facebook message, “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now.” Along with not being able use Facebook to provide information on his companies, he also lost 5 million combined users’ “likes.”
What led to Musk’s big decision was personal. The Post reports he saw a tweet Brian Acton, co-founder of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, wrote Tuesday.
The message could hardly be more simple: The sentence “It is time.” And the hashtag #deletefacebook.
Then, some sarcasm. Musk claimed not to know SpaceX even had a Facebook page.
Shortly after, it became a dare.
Musk deleted Tesla’s Facebook page, writing it “looks lame anyway.”
Saturday, Bloomberg reported Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called for stronger privacy regulations that prevent the misuse of data.
Bloomberg said, “Cook called for ‘well-crafted’ regulations that prevent the information of users being put together and applied in new ways without their knowledge.”
Also according to the report, “Cook said his company had long worried that people around the world were giving up information without knowing how it could be used.”
“The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life,” Cook said, “from my own point of view it shouldn’t exist.”
But according to Mashable,
“Deleting Facebook won’t fix the data privacy nightmare we’re only just waking up to” and “there is no way to undo the damage that’s been done. Scores of developers could still be hoarding our old Facebook data and there’s nothing we can do about it. Moreover, it’s not just Facebook you should be worried about. Almost everything you touch in your digital life is tracking you in more ways than you know. … We, as digital citizens, need to take more responsibility for our data and who we let have it. And companies (likely with the help of some good, old-fashioned government regulation) need to fundamentally change as well. It’s the only way our privacy nightmare ends.”
Mirror Online interviewed leading privacy advocate and CEO of MeWe, Mark Weinstein: Is there any way to use Facebook without giving up all your data?
He said no:
“There is no way to use FB without giving up all your data. People forget or don’t understand that Facebook is a ‘data’ company and that is their true business. So even the facade of ‘privacy’ settings on FB have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to spy on you and track everything you and your friends do. Facebook creates a data packet on you that may include 2,000+ points of information. And Facebook tracks their members across the Web — not just at Facebook but at thousands of sites. If a person wants privacy and data ownership — then Facebook is the wrong company to use.”
USA Today columnist Jefferson Graham has an idea if you choose to keep it:
“Review what apps have access to your Facebook data, then start deleting. … Facebook says it has stricter controls than it used to, and will now take a good, hard look at all its app developers to weed out abuses. You can take that at face value and either believe them, or be highly skeptical. (I’m in the latter camp.) … While you wait for Facebook to (hopefully) change, you can take action. Get rid of as many apps as you can now.”
He also says users “grant sign-on access via Facebook with one click, and in turn, those app developers can get personal data” so “It’s smarter to register for access with the app itself, instead of using the Facebook sign-in.”
“Check your Facebook setting to see how many apps have been granted access. … To delete the apps, click the checkmark next to the question mark at the top right of the News Feed, select Settings, then Apps on the left-side menu, and then Apps, Websites and Plug-ins. From there, take a look at who you’ve granted access to, and start deleting those apps you don’t use.” But Facebook makes it difficult since there’s “no Select All button, or even a way to select multiple apps at once. You’ll have to delete each one, one by one.”
Jordan Crook of Tech Crunch says it’s easier. Have a copy of all your Facebook information. Click here for directions on downloading “an archive of your account, which includes your Timeline info, posts you have shared, messages and photos, as well as more hidden information like ads you have clicked on, the IP addresses that are logged when you log into or out of Facebook, and more.”
But he adds, “Oddly, finding the button to delete your Facebook account isn’t available in the settings or menu. It lives on an outside page, which you can find by clicking right here.”
Then, you’ll come up with this:
Business Insider has an article “10 reasons to delete your Facebook account.” They include “Facebook’s Terms of Service are completely one-sided,” “Facebook is pulling a classic bait-and-switch,” and “The Facebook application itself sucks.” I’ve discussed several of them. Click here to get the rest and more details.
But Business Insider has another article called “I can’t bring myself to break up with Facebook — and it’s because I used the login to sign into all of my other accounts.” It’s pretty much for app lovers.
“I know why I’d used Facebook to log into all these things: It was quick, convenient and secure, or so I thought. But I didn’t foresee the consequences of linking so many applications to one account.”
So how did it happen?
Tuesday, CNN reported Aleksandr Kogan said “he gathered information on 30 million Americans through his Facebook personality test app in 2014 — data he then passed to Cambridge Analytica, which later worked on the Trump campaign.”
Then, “When Facebook learned in 2015 that Kogan had shared the information with Cambridge Analytica, it demanded the data be deleted, saying that transferring or selling it was against its company guidelines.”
But the 32-year-old claimed he’s not alone and “suspects thousands of other developers and data scientists had used similar methods to gather information on Facebook users.”
Kogan also claims Facebook is making him a scapegoat, since
“Christopher Wylie, then a Cambridge Analytica staffer, assured him he was doing everything in accordance with Facebook policy. Wylie’s revelations about his former company, reported by The New York Times and The Observer, sparked the current crisis facing Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.”
Wylie, a 28-year-old Canadian with red hair, “came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica,” according to The Guardian. The data analytics firm helped the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK to get out of the European Union.
Steve Bannon — the Breitbart executive chairman-turned Trump campaign CEO-turned White House chief strategist — was Wylie’s boss in 2014. Plus, Republican donor Robert Mercer was Cambridge Analytica’s investor.
On top of that, Mediaite reports,
“A former staffer at Cambridge Analytica … is now a member of his (Trump’s) administration. Records obtained by watchdog group American Oversight show Kelly Rzendzian served as a political affairs manager for the firm starting in March 2016, the same time during which it was hired by the Trump campaign. Her LinkedIn profile says she worked as a senior advisor for SCL Group, which is affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, from that time to February 2017. As of February 2017, Rzendzian has worked as a special assistant for the Department of Commerce secretary. According to her resume, her time with Cambridge Analytica involved engaging in ‘Collaborate Across Teams to Execute Targeted Engagement and Outreach Strategies, including Oversight of Audience Segmentation and Message Planning for Presidential Campaign.’ … Before she joined Cambridge Analytica, Rzendzian worked on the election campaigns of Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).”
But Wylie reportedly also came up with the idea “to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology — ‘information operations’ — then turn it on the US electorate.”
For what it’s worth, Kogan told CNN when he started looking into what can be predicted about a person based on what their Facebook “likes,” he was relying on research done by others like Wylie. Then, he found it wasn’t effective.
“What we found ourselves was that the data isn’t very accurate at the individual level at all,” Kogan said.
And that would mean Cambridge Analytica was selling a “myth” to political campaigns because it really couldn’t offer a more sophisticated method of targeting voters by determining their personality types through social media.
Does that make you feel better?
Kogan told CNN he would be happy to testify before Congress and speak to authorities, but he hopes there’s a discussion about how social media companies like Facebook use personal information to sell ads.
He said, in exchange for free services like Facebook, users become the product that’s sold to advertisers.
“Are we concerned with being the product?” he asked.
The Guardian reports Cambridge Analytica is being investigated “in the US, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump-Russia collusion,” but it’s also the key subject of two inquiries in the UK. The Electoral Commission wants to know the firm’s possible role in the EU referendum and the Information Commissioner’s Office is looking into data analytics for political purposes.
As for Wylie, “Going public involves an enormous amount of risk” since he’s “breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.”
That’s his problem.
Plus, Mashable reports an FEC filing shows Facebook board member Peter Thiel, “who infamously supported the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, also happened to donate $1,000,000 in October of 2016 to the Super PAC Make America Number 1 — an organization that paid Cambridge Analytica $231,352 toward the end of the same year.”
“In other words, a portion of Thiel’s wealth — some of which was derived from his early investment in Facebook — likely made its way into the coffers of Cambridge Analytica via Make America Number 1. … Of course, it’s unclear if Thiel knew that Make America Number 1 was shelling out tons of cash to Cambridge Analytica when he made his donation. But here’s the thing: it most certainly was. Thiel’s contribution was on October 26, 2016. FEC documents show that between October 3 and October 19 of the same year Make America Number 1 paid out $323,908 to Cambridge Analytica — $20,000 of which was for ‘DATA ACQUISITION SERVICES.'”
Unfortunately, Democrats did the same — earlier — and with special permission!
Politico’s Eric Wilson points out,
“And it’s not just Republicans who have taken advantage of Facebook’s invasive features. Far from it: During the 2012 campaign, President Barack Obama’s reelection team built an app that extracted the same types of data in the same fashion as the Cambridge Analytica data in question, with one critical difference: Obama’s team extracted nearly five times the information.
“According to Carol Davidsen, a member of Obama’s data team, ‘Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.’ The social graph is Facebook’s map of relationships between users and brands on its platform. And after the election, she recently acknowledged, Facebook was ‘very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.’ There’s been no word on whether the Obama team was asked to delete its data, nor has it been suspended from Facebook.”
Now, you and I have things to think about:
Were we some of the 50 million affected? We’re supposed to be notified. When? We’ll see.
Is Facebook really back in control?
Will Zuckerberg testify about the situation?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), said in a statement: “They say ‘trust us,’ but Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about what Facebook knew about misusing data from 50 million Americans in order to target political advertising and manipulate voters.”
Vox points out, “For many people, using Facebook regularly is a required part of their job or education.” Find a reporter today who doesn’t have to use Facebook and other social media to break news and tease the product.
And keep in mind, deleting Facebook means we’ll need other ways to find and keep in touch with people we haven’t seen in years. Without it, we won’t be able to send baby (or cat) pictures to many of our contacts with not much more than a click of a button.
Now, here is something that I realized I missed, although I did not read it anywhere — so it’s true, but you’re getting it late. I’m sorry.
I’ve written many times against Sinclair Broadcast Group buying Tribune Media, and how horrible it would be, and how unethically it’s being done — from the Sinclair people to the Federal Communications Commission.
One issue holding up the $3.9 billion deal, though there should officially be many more, is how many TV stations around the country will have to be sold off, since a Sinclair-Tribune combination will own more stations than the government allows. (Don’t forget the feds recently reestablished the UHF discount just before this deal was made, and FCC chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation because of that.) Another question is which stations would be spun off. And a third is whether the new conglomerate would be allowed to own more than one station (duopolies) in certain cities.
Now, there’s something called the Sinclair Divestiture Trust.
Radio + Television Business Report, which I’d never heard of over the years, reported more than a month ago — back on Feb. 21 — the controversial combination got a step closer.
That’s because “A series of Form 314 filings have been made (that day) with the FCC indicating the divestiture of up to 23 broadcast television properties by Sinclair.”
The Sinclair Divestiture Trust is the place where those stations would be listed and trustee RAFAMEDIA LLC, led by veteran media broker Richard A. Foreman, told RBR+TVBR the stations — from both Sinclair and Tribune — were put in the trust “for the purpose of removing them from the licensee” — in other words, to be sold off.
The article listed these stations:
- Tribune’s KCPQ-TV and KZJO-TV in Seattle-Tacoma,
- Tribune’s KPLR-11 in St. Louis,
- Tribune’s FOX-affiliated KSTU-13 in Salt Lake City,
- Sinclair’s KOKH-TV and KOCB-TV, and also Tribune’s KAUT-TV and KFOR-TV, in Oklahoma City,
- Sinclair’s WXLV-TV and WMYV-TV, and Tribune’s WGHP-TV, in Greensboro, NC,
- Sinclair’s WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo, and Tribune’s WXMI-TV in Grand Rapids,
- Sinclair’s WHP-TV in Harrisburg, and Tribune’s WPMT-TV in York, Pa.,
- Sinclair’s WRLH-TV, and Tribune’s WTVR-TV in Richmond, Va.,
- Sinclair’s KDSM-TV, and Tribune’s WHO-TV in Des Moines, and
- Tribune’s WTTV-TV and WXIN-TV in Indianapolis.
I mentioned many of these stations in my last post, and also a Sinclair-Tribune combination would own four stations in Seattle, three in St. Louis, four in Oklahoma City, three in Greensboro and two in Richmond.
Don’t forget Sinclair wants all of America to be able to watch local stations it owns. That can’t happen because the limit is 39 percent of the American population. (However, the reinstated UHF discount I mentioned early only counts UHF stations as covering half the people in the market, so the percentage is actually higher. Of course, technology these days means it’s just as easy for you and me to watch a UHF station as a VHF station, so reinstating UHF discount is both controversial and unnecessary, except for large station owners like Sinclair to get even larger.)
Sinclair has gotten around the rules, especially while the UHF discount was not enforced from 1985 to April 2017, with shell corporations either owned by the family that owns Sinclair, or others that let Sinclair program them through local marketing agreements. Sinclair doesn’t technically own all those stations, but operates them as if they do.
According to RBR+TVBR, Sinclair noted stations were placed in the divestiture trust “in order to retain flexibility, based on the outcome of Sinclair’s request to own two top-four stations in this market, to determine which station, if any, will be placed in the Trust.”
That’s because the proposed combination can’t simply decide to hold onto the two highest-rated stations in a city. There are FCC rules, detailed in the last post. They include the population of the market, and also not owning two of the top four rated stations. Sinclair asked the FCC for waivers to that in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro.
So the trust is flexible.
With that in mind, Divestiture Trust Applications were reportedly being filed on Tribune’s WPIX in New York and KSWB in San Diego, so they may go into the trust but not necessarily.
WPIX, a CW affiliate, was reportedly going to be sold for just $15 million — rather than hundreds of millions — to Cunningham Broadcasting, owned by Sinclair’s founder’s survivors. Then, Sinclair will run it and possibly buy it back within eight years, if the ownership rules are relaxed further by then.
KSWB, a Fox affiliate, was reportedly going to be sold.
Not listed in the trust means Sinclair intends to keep KOMO-TV and KUNS-TV in Seattle; KDNL-TV in St. Louis; and KJZZ-TV and KUTV-TV in Salt Lake City.
RBR+TVBR reported Sinclair “intends to keep one of the stations being placed into trust in Indianapolis, Des Moines, Richmond, Harrisburg, Grand Rapids, Greensboro, and Oklahoma City.”
Without selling any stations, RBR+TVBR noted, “The combined company would reach 72% of U.S. television households, and would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.”
Also, there was a 180-day timeline for the merger to happen, but it was stopped at Day 167 way back on Oct. 18, 2017, for additional comment and revised divestment applications. That means if this really happens, it will have taken much longer than originally thought. If not, then a whole lot of time and money were wasted.
And while I’m at it, and Sinclair has so much clout, here are some questions for those who run it:
- How about putting local news back on the air in Pittsburgh? Isn’t the Steel City big enough for four local news stations, especially when you do news in much smaller places?
- How about having local news anchors in local towns, like Toledo OH (where it owns the NBC affiliate) and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre PA (where it owns the Fox affiliate)? Instead, Sinclair’s anchors at its CBS affiliate in South Bend IN do news for all three places, even though they don’t know the other cities. Tell me why this isn’t a money-saver, in the best interest of shareholders rather than the public.
- Why do you really use companies like Cunningham Broadcasting, in which you already own 90 percent, and what would happen if you sold its stations to an outsider with no connection to you?
- How about selling the rest of the TV stations you don’t own the licenses for, using sharing services or local marketing agreements to get by FCC regulations?
- How about letting your local stations program their newscasts locally, rather than making time for your slanted must-carry stories you require them to air daily? You do use localism as a reason the deal with Tribune should go through.
Please, if you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish.