Internet News (April 2018)

The Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook has been weathering scandals to varying degrees almost since its inception, but this one tops them all to date and then some. While many companies over the years have been compromised for various reasons and customer data has been leaked, and most of said companies have survived these events, albeit not unscathed, Facebook’s latest situation is in a whole other league, especially considering that the exploitation of its network data didn’t even originate from an unauthorized hack.

The centre of all this attention is because of Donald Trump and the fact that his political team utilised the services of Cambridge Analytica (CA) during his election campaign. The company profiled people based on their Facebook data, flipping that data into personalised, targeted political messages aimed squarely at those same potential voters.

The data gathered by the company was acquired using Facebook’s Application Programming Interface (API) which surfaces public user data for the purposes of website and app development that integrate with the social media website. However, the data that CA harvested, albeit abusing Facebook’s terms of service while doing so, resulted in the reception of data on over 50 million Facebook users, all data gained via the extra data obtainable by friends that may not be fully public, and without the consent or even knowledge of the users involved.

That in itself would be alarming enough, and is the current situation that bears the name of the analytics and profiling company involved, however since all this news broke it has compelled many users to check on their accounts or delete them entirely. Facebook doesn’t make deleting your account permanently easy though, encouraging users to simply ‘deactivate’ them instead, hiding them away from public view until a user decides to turn it back on again, but you can still do it if you’re persistent.

While going through this deletion process, Facebook suggests downloading a zip file containing a full copy of all the information the company holds on the user, which is setting off all kinds of alarm bells with people after they discover the sheer extent of the information collected about them, including call and text message logs dating back potentially years.

Facebook’s messenger app is the culprit for all this data harvesting, with it requesting permissions to have access to call and text logs as well as contact information in order to improve its friend recommendation algorithm. The even more heinous part of this is that users who had installed the app on older versions of Android, particularly versions prior to Jelly Bean 4.1, could still have had their data collected despite denying the app the permissions to call and create the text logs that it requested simply by having permissions for phone contacts.

Updates following this release of Android fixed the security hole, but apps that already had permissions granted on the phone would still have them after the update until Jelly Bean 4.0 was deprecated back in October 2017. The company has responded stating that they never sold any of this data and that the call and text logging was, and is, an “opt-in feature” of both the Messenger and Facebook Lite apps under the pretence of finding friends and “improving the user experience”.

Following all of this coming to light, many have been quite outspoken about their distaste for Facebook and are actively encouraging users to delete their accounts, spreading this message under the #deletefacebook moniker; among them is WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton.

Many have reached out to Elon Musk about deleting his companies’ official Facebook pages also, and he followed through, although there is a bit of an interesting twist to this story. What began as a sass-filled tweet directed at Sonos about their commitment to pulling adverts from Facebook, but only for a week, Musk tweeted “Wow, a whole week. Risky …” [https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/977209516012986369] to which many were quick to then suggest Musk delete his Tesla and SpaceX Facebook pages, with Musk confusedly not realising, until people told him that he had them at all [https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/977211923719598086]. True to his word, not even half an hour later both of the pages were removed with Musk commenting in reply to one Twitter user calling for the takedowns, “Definitely. Looks lame anyway.” [https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/977216157080993793]

With all the fallout we’ve written about so far, you’d likely think there wouldn’t be anything left to say on the matter currently, but there’s more. Facebook has already received four separate lawsuits in just over a week following the scandal breaking, spanning both San Francisco and San Jose federal courts – lawsuits filed by both company shareholders and users.

One such user, Lauren Price from Maryland, hopes to turn hers into a class-action suit that would represent the 50 million users affected by the scandal, and company shareholders Fan Yuan and Robert Casey are also attempting to turn their own cases into class-action suits. The fourth and final suit on this list has been filed by Jeremiah Hallisey, a San Francisco attorney attempting to file a “Shareholder Derivative Suit” on behalf of the company’s shareholders, directed at the company’s leadership, including, but not limited to, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO and COO respectively, as well as its board members. Watch this space.

Google Chrome Can Now Block Autoplaying Videos

Already previously announced back in September, having been in the works for some time now, Google finally release the version of Chrome that includes the new autoplaying video blocking tech. The company had previously stated this would all be in version 64 of the web browser, however the full functionality didn’t make it into that version. Instead, we had to settle for simply muting entire domains, which in itself is a handy feature.

Now with Chrome 66, Google have revisited that original plan so that now unmuted autoplaying video is only permitted under two main conditions:

♦ The user interacts with the domain,

♦ The Media Engagement Index (MEI) is sufficiently high.

To go into more detail about the MEI, Google explains: “The MEI measures an individual’s propensity to consume media on a site.” So, for example, if you are a Youtube user, you’ve likely already fit the criteria for both parts of this, since you’ve likely clicked on a link on the site at some point and already watched videos on the site unmuted.

There are also numerous smaller criteria designed to prevent websites from attempting to bypass or otherwise circumvent the system, including the video being required to be larger than 200 x 140 pixels in size, so those annoying autoplaying video adverts on the sidebars of many websites don’t contribute towards a higher MEI score.

While Chrome 66 isn’t due to be released until roughly the middle of April, you can try this feature out now if you are using version 64 or 65, by setting an experimental flag in your browser. To do so, simply navigate to this URL in your browser (chrome://flags/#autoplay-policy) and then changing the setting from “Default” to “Document user activation is required”.

While this feature is highly unlikely to cause any issues, remember that it’s still an experimental flag right now and not a “released” front-facing option, so do this knowing full well it may break stuff, however unlikely.

Bitcoin Might Well Be The World’s Only Currency In The Future According To Twitter CEO

Bitcoin has certainly had its ups and downs in the press as well as in its traded value over the past year, but it is a tenacious beast that keeps rearing its head in the public consciousness. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey believes, despite economists predictions that it could fall flat, that in about a decade or so it may be the only currency the world uses anymore.

These revelatory comments came out during a recent interview Dorsey had with The Times, in which he states his belief that “[the] world ultimately will have a single currency, the internet will have a single currency.”

This belief isn’t a new one for Dorsey. He has had firm opinions about Bitcoin and Blockchain, the technology that Bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies are built on for quite some time, including comments made in an interview with The Verge in August last year, which he extols the virtues of the Blockchain technology and its practical applications, not just for finance, though citing that finance is an ‘obvious one’. “[The ability to] distribute and decentralise the ledger enables proof of work, and proof of one entity, in an untrusted network. We can still account for value creation and the transfer of values as well. There are so many problems we can help solve that are not just related to finance, but finance is an obvious one.”

Clearly he strongly believes that the technology is a profound step forward that can affect change on a grand scale, but will just 10 years really be a realistic time frame for the entire planet to convert to a single currency? In a word, doubtful. While many countries accept the currency, such as the EU, Japan, and the United States, there are just as many, if not more countries that either completely ban the currency or at the very least discourage its trade and use. One such example of a halfway compromise is that of China, which allows individuals to hold and trade Bitcoin, but prohibits banks and other financial firms from the same.

Despite the level of resistance to the currency in the world today, Dorsey believes that such challenges will be overcome in the future, given time to saturate and gain acceptance globally.

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Internet News – March 2018

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