Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Cambridge Analytiica scandal is threat to the Facebook Empire

Former Facebook-er: Cambridge Analytica-Style Data-Harvesting Was "Shockingly Routine"

20 March, 2018

The Cambridge Analytica scandal that erupted over the weekend has snowballed into the biggest threat to CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg's rule since the company's 2012 IPO.

But, as we noted earlier, the manner in which Cambridge Analytica allegedly leveraged the data it purportedly "stole" from Facebook (or rather, refused to delete after receiving it from an intermediary who himself had improperly accessed it, according to the company) isn't all that unusual. Case in point, Carol Davidsen, Obama's director of integration and media analytics during his 2012 campaign, revealed that Facebook knowingly helped the Obama campaign collect as much user data as possible - even from the friends of users who may not have explicitly consented to the data collection.

When Facebook found out about the data mining for political purposes - the same thing they just banned Cambridge Analytica for doing - they "didn't stop us," the Obama staffer said. Representatives from Facebook even traveled to Obama campaign headquarters and candidly told campaign workers, including Davidsen, that they were allowing the Obama campaign do things they wouldn't have allowed other developers to do.

Fast forward nearly six years and Facebook Security Chief Alex Stamos is planning to leave the company in August after clashing with executives over their refusal to prioritize policing how user data is accessed and manipulated over ever-expanding advertising profits.

And now, another former Facebook employee has come forward to reveal that, before the company started tightening its data security practices after its IPO, the type of "unauthorized" access that Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica for was routinely carried out by app developers. The reason? Facebook's advertising business can increase profits by offering more data to advertisers and developers. And the more successful games like FarmVille and Candy Crush become, the more money Facebook - which takes a piece of developers' profits - stands to make.
Combined, these factors created a powerful incentive to look the other way.
Asked what kind of control Facebook had over the data given to outside developers, he replied:
"Zero. Absolutely none. Once the data left Facebook servers there was not any control, and there was no insight into what was going on."
The employee, Sandy Parakilas, first accused Facebook of prioritizing data mining of consumer safety in a New York Times op-ed published in November, when the scandal surrounding a "Russian troll farm's" alleged purchases of Facebook ads and promoted posts was still in full swing.
While the company insists that it has strengthened its oversight in the years since Parakilas's departure, the degree of negligence described by Parakilas is staggering nonetheless. If he had to guess, Parakilas would say that, in reality, the majority of Facebook users have probably had their data improperly sold or shared.
Parakilas said he "always assumed there was something of a black market" for Facebook data that had been passed to external developers. However, he said that when he told other executives the company should proactively "audit developers directly and see what’s going on with the data" he was discouraged from the approach.
He said one Facebook executive advised him against looking too deeply at how the data was being used, warning him:"Do you really want to see what you’ll find?" Parakilas said he interpreted the comment to mean that "Facebook was in a stronger legal position if it didn’t know about the abuse that was happening."
He added: "They felt that it was better not to know. I found that utterly shocking and horrifying."
The developer feature that allowed a UK-based psychology professor to access data from 50 million Facebook users is called "Friends Permission".
That feature was a boon to outside software developers who, from 2007 onwards, were allowed to build quizzes and games that were hosted on the platform. Parakilas says the company could've easily disabled this feature - which helped developers sneakily hoover up the data of friends of assenting users - but it chose not to.
The apps proliferated on Facebook in the years leading up to the company’s 2012 initial public offering, an era when most users were still accessing the platform via laptops and computers rather than smartphones.
Facebook took a 30% cut of payments made through apps, but in return enabled their creators to have access to Facebook user data.
Parakilas does not know how many companies sought Friends Permission data before such access was terminated around mid-2014. However, he said he believes tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of developers may have done so.
Parakilas estimates that "a majority of Facebook users" could have had their data harvested by app developers without their knowledge. The company now has stricter protocols around the degree of access third parties have to data.
* * *
Lawmakers and regulators in both the US and UK are demanding investigations and hearings into the lapse, which they are squarely blaming on Facebook. The company said it would meet with the House Judiciary Committee to brief lawmakers on what happened.
However, any attempts at reconciliation or reform might be too little, too late: Lawmakers are demanding a scalp - somebody to blame for President Trump's improbable electoral triumph over the "eminently qualified" Hilary Clinton.
...And Zuckerberg would be a suitable pariah.

Cambridge Analytica Suspends CEO Alexander Nix

Mark Zuckerberg's Net Worth Tumbles - Now 'Only' World's 5th Richest Man

20 March, 2018

While Amazon's Jeff Bezos walks his new dog and remains head and shoulders above everyone else in the world in terms of net worth, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is sliding down the ranks to a lowly 5th on the world's richest person list...

After the carnage in Facebook's shares, CEO Zuckerberg lost $5 billion yesterday and another $4 billion today (and is down around $14 billion from his highs)...
Which knocked him back below Amancio Ortega into just 5th place on the "world's richest" list...

And after today's bloodbath, Zuck may end up in 6th place... or even 7th place!!!

Still, Bezos (and his new pet dog) remain uber alles...

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth decline by more than $5 billion since Monday, but it could have been worse.

Ahead of Facebook’s worst one-day decline since 2012, prompted by news that data affecting 51.3 million members was improperly shared with a political consulting firm, Zuckerberg had been busy selling stock. So far this year, he has sold more than 5 million shares.

Disposing of those Facebook shares FB, -2.56% before Tuesday ended up saving about $70 million, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings and some arithmetic by MarketWatch. At Tuesday’s close, the 5.4 million shares Zuckerberg has sold this year under a predetermined plan would be worth $910 million. Zuckerberg made about $980 million selling those shares, according to calculations using average weighted prices reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Facebook spokeswoman Vanessa Chan said in an email that the stock sales are intended to fund the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic investment organization the Facebook founder set up with his wife in 2015. In an SEC filing in September, Zuckerberg said that he plans to sell at least $6 billion in Facebook stock over the next 18 months to fund the organization’s efforts.

Last year, Facebook abandoned its plan to create a new class of nonvoting shares that was concocted to allow Zuckerberg to retain voting control of the company.Zuckerberg said at the time that the stock’s gains over the past couple of years would allow him to retain control of the enterprise and still sell enough stock to fund his philanthropy without the new stock structure.

Over the past year and a half, Facebook’s business has performed well and the value of our stock has grown to the point that I can fully fund our philanthropy and retain voting control of Facebook for 20 years or more,” Zuckerberg wrote at the time. “As a result, I’ve asked our board to withdraw the proposal to reclassify our stock — and the board has agreed"

'They were on our side': Obama campaign director reveals Facebook ALLOWED them to mine American users' profiles in 2012 because they were supportive of the Democrats

  • Carol Davidsen, who worked as the media director at Obama for America, claimed Obama campaign mined millions of people's information from Facebook
  • She said that Facebook was surprised at the ease with which they were able to 'suck out the whole social graph'
  • But the firm never tried to stop them when they realized what was doing, and even told them they'd made a special exception for them
  • They 'were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn't have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side,' she tweeted
  • Davidsen said that she felt the project was 'creepy' - 'even though we played by the rules, and didn't do anything I felt was ugly, with the data'
  • Davidsen posted this in the wake of the uproar over Cambridge Analytica, and their mining of information for the Trump campaign

The Cambridge Analytica Scandal Could Provide Hard Evidence of “Israeli” Meddling in Trump Election

The Cambridge Analytica scandal isn’t a scandal: this is how Facebook works

Three key parts of Facebook’s model come into play: gathering data from people in order to profile them, designing systems that allow that data to be used to target people, then allowing third parties to use the data and those targeting systems for their own purposes

Mercer's Cambridge Analytica 'Utterly Sleazy'

the Real News

Britain's Channel 4 details the dirty tricks that Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining company owned by billionaire Robert Mercer, uses to sway elections around the world. If the story is true, it would mean the company is not only sleazy, but also blatantly criminal, says white-collar criminologist Bill Black

Obomber in New Zealand

I will not even bother to comment

Former leader of the free world touches down in Aotearoa

21 March, 2018

Barack Obama has touched down in New Zealand.

The 44th president of the United States of America landed in Auckland International Airport at 12.13am on Wednesday after spending two days in Singapore.

Before his arrival a police presence was noted at Air Centre One, a designated area for corporate private jets. An access road was being blocked by police.

Police on motorcycles and in mufti-uniform were also there.

A motorcade with Obama left the airport about 12.30am with police in front and behind.

Obama, understood to be flying in a Gulfstream jet, was expected to spend the night in Auckland before heading north this morning to play golf with former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir John Key.

Key would not reveal where they would play but they are set to visit more than one course - possibly Kauri Cliffs at Matauri Bay, owned by Julian Robertson, and the Carrington golf course on the Karikari Peninsula.

Obama is tipped to stay at The Landing luxury home in Northland tonight before returning to Auckland tomorrow for an official welcome at Government House.

There he will experience his first powhiri and hongi - it is understood officials have been asked to send detailed information about the process and meaning of the hongi for him.

He will hold a private meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The only event open to media is the official powhiri at Government House.

Actor Sam Neill has now revealed on Twitter that he is the moderator for Obama's speaking event tomororw night.

Despite the secrecy surrounding the trip and lack of public opportunities, the Government is providing some support for the visit because of Obama's status.

Austin, TX Rocked By Sixth Explosion

Texas bombings: Person injured in new Austin 'incident'
FBI agents collect evidence at a FedEx Office facility following an explosion at a nearby sorting center in Sunset Valley, Texas.

FBI agents collect evidence at a FedEx Office facility following an explosion at a nearby sorting center in Sunset Valley, Texas.FBI agents secure evidence from a FedEx depot earlier in the day. Photo: AFP

21 March, 2018

The reported explosion on Tuesday evening that injured one man in Austin, Texas, was an incendiary device, not a package bomb, police say.

They say that at this time they have no reason to believe "this incident" is related to recent package bombs in the area that killed two people.

President Donald Trump said "sick people" carried out those blasts.

The authorities said the earlier blasts - involving package bombs and a tripwire - were related.

Another package bomb "was disrupted by law enforcement", police said.

On Tuesday evening, the Austin fire department said a man in his thirties received "potentially serious" injuries in the explosion at the Goodwill charity shop on Brodie Lane.

Austin Rocked By Sixth Explosion; Police Say "May Not Be Linked To Others"

Unofficial report of nuclear drill in southern Russia

Russia Holds Sudden "Nuclear Attack Drill" in Rostov-On-Don near Ukraine Border

20 March, 2018
From a Hal Turner Show listener: 
"The authorities here in Rostov-On-Don, Russia, have just now done a massive nuclear attack drill. They not warn us about drill just suddenly there is massive military and helicopters and some type vehicles not seen before."
"They give us leaflets and tell us to prepare for nuclear attack. The leaflet not give much instruction just say to stay in if attack happen"

The end of the proxy war in Syria

US Planning to Launch Attack Against Syrian Army 'Very Soon' – Source
20 March, 2018

In late 2017, troops from the Syrian Army and other allied ground forces liberated parts of the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, effectively reestablishing a land route stretching from Iran to Syria and Lebanon, where the formidable Hezbollah political party and militia is based.

Speaking to Sputnik reporter Suliman Mulhem, a Syrian analyst reported that a largescale US military operation is set to be launched against the Syrian Army near the Syria-Iraq border "very soon."

"The US is planning a large attack against the Syrian Army very soon to capture Syria's border with Iraq, especially near al-Tanf and perhaps even parts further inland," the analyst told Sputnik, citing informed military sources stationed near the al-Tanf US military base.

Reports of an upcoming escalation with the US are also circulating on social media

US-led coalition is planing for an all in attack against the SAA very soon, the attack will be very large and aimed at capturing the border with Iraq and even possible positions near Homs-Damascus highway ... almost full invasion like Iraq 2003

This military operation would strengthen the US' position in Syria and, depending on the scale of the attack, could result in US-backed forces seizing more oil fields in eastern and central Syria. US-backed militants already control around 70-80 percent of Syria's proven oil reserves.

Perhaps more importantly, this escalation could sever the strategic Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon land route, which will not only diminish Iran's ability to funnel funds and armaments to Hezbollah, but will also adversely affect Syria's ability to trade with Iraq and Iran, and could complicate Syria's post-war reconstruction plans.

Backed by the Russian Air Force (RuAF), the Syrian Army has made significant progress against hardline Islamist militants across the country, and is currently in the process of ousting militants from Damascus.

A military escalation by the US would undermine Syria's sovereignty, and threaten the progress the Syrian Army has made in stabilizing many parts of the country.

Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq. As the country has been plagued by violence and instability ever since, it's not surprising that most Syrians are dreading the prospect of further US military involvement in Syria.

Will Syria be the Battleground for All-Out War Between Russia and America?

Elijah J. Magnier

20 March, 2018

Today, Ghouta and tomorrow Daraa…

This is not about Syria nor about the war on its soil : it is all about an open war between the axis led by United States of America, Europe and their allies in the Middle East against the axis led by Russia and its allies. It’s a war about control, influence and dominance in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

It is natural for the US to resist the loss of its unilateral dominant status that has held since the collapse of the Soviet Union, from 1991 until 2015. September 2015 is the date when Moscow decided to send its air force, navy and some ground special forces to the Levant to announce its presence to the world there and give birth to its superpower capability after decades of absence.

It is therefore natural that the US defends its world unilateralism and tries to block the awakening of the Russian genie by mobilising all its energies and those of its western and arab allies to push back against the (successful) attempts by Russia to prove its diplomatic skills and military power through the window of the Levant.

So it is indeed natural that the US should try to hit the weakest link (Tehran) in the Russian-Chinese-Iranian alliance by attempting to thwart the nuclear agreement signed by the United Nations and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus one (Germany).

All this is caused by the successful (in Russia’s view) outcome of the war in Syria, in which the US failed in its attempt to redraw the map of the Middle East, divide Iraq and Syria, hit Hezbollah in Lebanon and extract parts of northern Syria for itself and Turkey, and the southern region for Israel.

Washington has benefited from the religious and sectarian slogans circulated by the “Islamic State” (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, insinuating that the conflict in Syria is just “among Muslims of different sects”. The fake message was as follows: ”these Muslim Arabs miss no opportunity to quarrel among themselves and to kill each other in the name of Allah”. Whereas the truth is otherwise: it is a struggle for power, control and dominance. This allows hits under the belt and the use of all kinds of twisted means and excuses, including ”religious extremism,” to prevent the return of Russia to the Middle East and be able to divide the region.

So did the Washington hawks succeed in their quest? The simple answer would be: No, they didn’t.

But these US hawks are still exploring various avenues to accuse Russia of supporting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, discredited for years by the restless hammering of mainstream media (which has become an obvious tool in the hands of decision makers) who painted al-Qaeda as “moderates” for all the seven years of war.

The US aimed to discredit  Moscow’s leadership at the UN to intimidate and to halt the efforts of President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Syria and stop the partition of the Middle East, and to prevent Russia from completely eliminating the bulk of Jihadis In Iraq and Syria.

It required Moscow to use 11 “vetoes” at the UN to reject multiple attempts by Washington and its allies to strike Syria and topple President Assad. Russia played very cleverly its diplomacy in Syria by creating de-escalation and de-confliction areas in the north, around the capital, and in the south to cut Syria into squares and freeze the war in different strategic areas so that it could devote enough forces to striking ISIS first and then al-Qaeda and its allies.

ISIS has been reduced to a small pocket under US protection in north-east Syria. Actually, this area situated east of the Euphrates is today ISIS’s safe haven and it is therefore forbidden for Russia and the Syrian governmental forces to strike the terrorist group. Previous attempts resulted in the US heavily bombing local forces and their allies.

However, Russia has given enough time to the Syrian government to gather its forces, strike al-Qaeda and clear various enclaves, limiting the control of al-Qaeda and its allies to the vicinity and the city of Idlib, around Damascus (al-Ghouta and Yarmouk) and in the south (Daraa and Quneitra).

The Syrian army managed to divide the Ghouta areas despite the frenetic anti-Russian campaign mounted by mainstream media and the failed US attempts at the United Nations to stop the war on al-Ghouta and to keep this enclave as a sore thumb at the back of the main capital Damascus.

The US’s anger at the Syrian-Russian attack on al-Ghouta needs to be made clearer here: the US occupation of al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi borders aimed to create a launching platform for its military operations towards Deir al-Zour in the north and al-Ghouta in the east. The US plan was to occupy the city of Deir al-Zour and al-Qaim north-east and the capital Damascus. But Iran went around the area where the US forces were positioned, isolating these in the al-Tanf pocket, and made a qualitative leap to liberate Deir al-Zour and al-Qaim by defeating ISIS forces, who withdrew towards the US area of influence east of the Euphrates.

Moreover, Al-Ghouta is a clear demonstration of the US’s failed plan to attack Damascus. The strategic military planning and link between al-Tanf and al-Ghouta was possible had the Syrian Army and Russia not intervened on time to surround it and attack jihadists to force these to surrenderer and pull out to Idlib. The US thought to create a real menace against Damascus and at least  prevent the parliamentary and presidential elections due next year. By controlling Ghouta, jihadists were supposed to keep up the pace of bombing to render the Syrian capital “unsafe”.

The US and the International community tried to stop the battles of al-Ghouta to no avail. This prompted Washington to exercise its favourite hobby of imposing sanctions on Russia, without succeeding in stopping the Syrian army (fighting without its allies – except Russia) from recovering its control over Ghouta. The answer came immediately from Moscow by bombing Daraa and hitting al-Qaeda’s area of influence in an indication as to where the future theatre of military operations is expected to be.

Again, events are moving very fast: the US response came quickly through its UK ally when Britain took advantage of the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergey Skripal in London to accuse Moscow of being behind his assassination. The message here is clear: all means are legitimate for the control of the Middle East, specifically Syria.

Israel followed by demanding the return of  the UNDOF troops, withdrawn in August 2014 following the abduction of 47 UN peacekeepers by al-Qaeda (the ransom for their liberation was paid by Qatar). The Israeli demand coincided – I have learned from well informed sources –  with the gathering of forces of Syria’s allies, including Hezbollah, in Daraa, in preparation for future wide scale military operations. The US considers that the battle of Daraa is directly against itself and its Israeli ally, especially as it is party, along with Russia and Jordan, to the agreement to reduce the escalation there, to serve Israel and secure its security in southern Syria.

In this tense political climate it requires no imagination to link the issue of the Russian former spy to the aggressive statement of President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials who threatened to use military force against the US and any other country in Syria if necessary.

The Syrian war is far from being a normal one. It is THE war between two superpowers and their allies, where US and Russian soldiers are directly involved on the ground in a war of domination and power. The lack of victory in the US eyes is worse than losing a battle. Even more, the victory of Russia and its allies on Syrian soil in any battle is therefore a direct blow to the heart of Washington and its allies.

Russia understood the US, UK and NATO’s message, including that of the mainstream media, and had no other choice but to escalate the pace of war in Syria as harshly as possible.

The superpowers are on the verge of the abyss, so the danger of falling into a war of cosmic proposition is no longer confined to the imagination or merely a sensational part of unrealistic calculations.

Will Damascus be the door of a major war that destroys everything? Asking the question is very important : but it is a very difficult question to answer.

Extreme weather in the Unitee States

Atmospheric River Pummels West Coast as East is Slammed by Yet Another Nor’Easter

20 March, 2018

Today the alerts were sounding in California. Areas recently denuded by extreme wildfires such as Santa Barbara are threatened by debris flows as rainfall amounts of 1-6 inches (up to ten inches locally) are predicted. Meanwhile, the U.S. East Coast braces for the fourth strong nor’easter in three weeks.
Welcome to your weather screwed up by human-caused climate change.
Atmospheric River Brings Landslide Risk to California

Warmer than normal ocean surfaces in the range of 0.5 to 2.5 C hotter than average are bleeding off an excessive volume of moisture across the Northeastern Pacific today. These elevated moisture levels are, in turn, forming into a train of rain-bearing systems aimed fire-hose like at California. This atmospheric river is expected to produce storm after storm after storm. Systems that are predicted to dump between 1 and locally 10 inches of rain over sections of Southwestern California and parts of the Sierra Nevada Range over the next few days.

(An atmospheric river takes aim at California. Image source: MIMIC-TWP.)

These heavier than normal rains are expected to fall over regions hard hit by last summer’s unusually intense wildfires. These fires were both larger and burned hotter than is typical. And, as a result, they have denuded entire regions of trees that previously anchored the soil. Now, with such heavy rains approaching, California is again facing a serious risk of landslides and debris flows.
Fourth Nor’Easter in Three Weeks

As flood and debris flow alerts pop across California, the fourth strong nor’easter to form in three weeks is gathering off the U.S. East Coast. Like the atmospheric river presently taking aim at the West Coast, the nor’easter is gathering over waters that are much warmer than normal — ranging as warm as 9 C above climatological averages in parts of the Gulf Stream off Maine. And it’s also gathering energy from an upper level pattern that has been in place since a major polar warming event rocked the Arctic during February.

(Extremely warm sea surfaces off the U.S. East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico are providing an extra intensity boost to nor’easters forming across the region. Storms that according to recent science were made two to four times more likely by climate change associated polar warming events. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Yesterday, the building storm sparked severe weather across Alabama, Missippi and Georgia — producing large hail, tornadoes and heavy rains. Today, the system is flinging frozen precipitation across the I 95 corridor even as it prepares the batter the East Coast with yet one more bout of gale force winds and heavy seas.
Conditions in Context — The Increasing influence of Climate Change on U.S. Severe Weather

High sea surface temperatures, high atmospheric moisture levels, and a polar-warming linked procession of nor’easters striking the U.S. East Coast are signature influences of human-caused climate change. And each is playing a role, to one degree or another, in the pair of major weather events that are presently developing or underway across the U.S. To wit, the increasingly frequent large fires across the Western U.S. have deforested many hillsides in California and led to the increased risk of debris flows following heavy precipitation events in parts of the state.