We are all victims of Facebook manipulation

Facebook has taken a battering recently, and what many users have spotted is that there is a massive gap between how the company operates and the PR messages it sends to the world.

Look at some of the messages that Mark Zuckerberg sent out in 2012, the year it acquired Instagram and brought Sheryl Sandberg to its boardroom table:

“Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life.”

“I am committed to working every day to make Facebook better for you, and hopefully together we will be able to connect the rest of the world too.”

“At Facebook we believe that the need to open up and connect is what makes us human. It’s what brings us together. It’s what brings meaning to our lives.”

It all sounds very warm and worthy. Yet there were other things going on behind the scenes that were not so ethical, as revealed in a collection of internal Facebook emails published online by Damian Collins, a UK Member of Parliament. As Motherboard points out, the content includes exchanges between Zuckerberg and Sandberg discussing the company’s business model and how it leverages our data to make money.

Collins wrote in his summary of the documents, “Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial,” adding, “To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app.”

He then tweeted: “I believe there is considerable public interest in releasing these documents. They raise important questions about how Facebook treats users data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market.”

Essentially, the internal emails include details on the distribution of Facebook’s various apps. They reveal how the company worked very closely with some app developers to give them access to user data, and how the company specifically incentivizes sharing on the platform in order to feed that data back to advertisers. The emails also include information about how the company tried to hide and downplay the amount of data that it collected from the Android version of the Facebook app.

Needless to say, Facebook has responded by saying that the emails “are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context.”

Of course, we can’t blame Facebook for wanting to make a profit, but as Colin Horgan writes, “These emails, however, reveal a core dissonance between the idea Facebook sought to market to its billion-plus users for years, and how those users were leveraged in a business sense.”

Facebook users thought they were part of an idealistic project, when in fact they were being used for much darker purposes, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed. The fact that the UK’s parliament is exposing the media giant on its website indicates the extent of the distaste for how Facebook conducts its affairs.

One thing is for sure, as Facebook users we do not have an equal relationship with the company, as it has promoted; instead it is entirely based on inequality, because, ultimately, Facebook has benefited a lot more than its users have.

Every search you make…is being watched

That moment when we all went out and bought smartphones was a game changer for our personal privacy as Tyler Elliott Bettilyon discusses on Medium.

We never imagined at the time how these expensive gadgets would impact on our lives; all we could see that they made our lives easier, but at what cost?

In China, surveillance apparatus is increasingly sophisticated. There is facial recognition technology connected to CCTV cameras and police officers will soon have cameras inside their sunglasses. There may also be drones disguised as birds. Worse still, Chinese citizens are being asked (demanded) to install software in their phones that tracks their downloads and if you’re Chinese and visit a site banned by the government, you lose points from your “social credit score.”

But that’s China, you’re probably thinking. This is a Communist regime that has always controlled how people act and think. It isn’t like that in more democratic countries. Unfortunately the response to that is, “Don’t be so sure.”

Take a look at the surveillance tools the USA has. The NSA’s PRISMprogramme collects masses of data about internet traffic — including yours! That’s why Edward Snowdon blew the whistle on it and revealed how the NSA might be breaking the rules of privacy.

And Europe is no more private. It also has an array of online surveillance tools that it uses in the name of ‘security’. And if you keep sending out the message that we are all in danger, then the citizens of Europe give governments a free pass to collect whatever data they want. They don’t consciously allow it; they passively accept it.

And, online censorship is on the rise as the world becomes more authoritarian. A 2017 report Freedom on the Net details how our freedoms are being curbed year after year. It says: “Nearly half of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net 2017 experienced declines during the coverage period, while just 13 made gains, most of them minor. Less than one-quarter of users reside in countries where the internet is designated Free, meaning there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech.”

But it isn’t just governments that are watching you; it’s Facebook, Google and the like who are analysing your every move in order to push adverts at you. The Cambridge Analytica scandal showed us how the data they collect can be ‘weaponised’ for political ends.

Perhaps you are very security conscious about your personal data and take all the recommended steps (and more) to protect yourself. But, the web has many vulnerable points you may pass through without your knowledge and that leaves you exposed. These include your friends keeping texts from you, photos of you taken by friends stored on Facebook and Google keeping track of your search history. Yes, you can turn Google tracking off — if you can actually find where to do that. However, ultimately the only way to stay secure is never to send your data via the internet. Or, get yourself a Tor browser. This is a system that attempts to hide source and destination IP addresses by using several proxies. And even then there are still vulnerabilities.

Finally, personal actions to protect our personal data will never be enough: it will require collective action to overcome the Big Brother machinations of the large agencies like the NSA. Bringing the issues to the attention of more internet users is vital to achieve this, then perhaps we can start to solve the problem and pack up our paranoia.

BTC thieves stealing in the streets

btc

The whole point of cryptocurrencies is that they only exist online; they’re never going to jangle like small change in your pocket. All of us involved in the crypto world know that online theft is a risk, albeit one that can be mitigated by storing crypto assets in cold storage. Now, with more people taking crypto security more seriously, and better security tools available, we find that the crypto thieves are taking their activities offline. How can they do that?

The answer is: they are targeting those wise investors who store cryptocurrency offline and, in addition to this, they are finding out the identity of these crypto investors and actually attacking them in the street. As Darryn Pollock in Cointelegraph writes: “A number of cases have been reported where Bitcoin owners are being attacked face-to-face by thieves and being forced to deposit huge amounts of digital currency into anonymous wallets.”

He also cites the case of a Russian businessman who was held hostage on the Thai island of Phuket and forced to log in to his BTC account and pay $100,000 for his release.

This is a shocking development, but there are some steps crypto owners can take to avoid a face-to-face mugging. For a start, never brag about your Bitcoin account balance. Don’t post online about how much you have made in an amazingly short period of time. Would you normally tell people how much you have in your bank account? No, we don’t discuss those things, even with close friends. So, why do it with a crypto account?

Another Russian (they seem to be particularly unlucky) called Pavel Rashin was attacked and robbed in his home. They took about $425,000. They didn’t come for his BTC, but he had publicised online that he had recently become a millionaire thanks to his crypto investments. That was enough to make thieves take an interest in him and as he has an online blog, he wasn’t that hard to find.

Of course, if you’re a famous crypto investor, it is impossible to stay out of the news and there have been some high profile kidnappings, including that of the director of a currency exchange in the Ukraine.

Staying safer

So, don’t talk about your crypto assets publicly. Then take a technical step by setting up a multisignatory wallet. Wallets that require confirmation from multiple addresses to make a transaction permit allow the controlling keys to be spread out to different deposit boxes, banks, safes, and other locations. Therefore, even if one key is compromised, you still have control over your funds.

And finally, if you are faced with theft – give them the crypto. Your life is always worth far more.

 

 

Cybercriminals hijack major cryptocurrencies

Cyber Stock

There is a common misconception in the mainstream media that cryptocurrency, especially Bitcoin, is primarily used by criminals as a means of payment. However, the real scenario is that cryptocurrency is a target for criminal hackers. As a result, they have unwittingly created a new market for cyber security firms.

Since cryptcurrencies emerged almost a decade ago, about $1.2 billion of Bitcoin and Ether have been stolen by hackers, according to Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research LLP. And as crypto values keep rising, it is more likely that crypto hacking is an ‘industry’ worth $200 million per annum.

It also costs governments and companies a substantial amount in lost revenues and illegal transactions. Susan Eustis, CEO at WinterGreen Research estimates that this figure is around $11.3 billion and she points out that the blockchain ecosystem is also at risk. Eustis also believes that his criminal activity could skyrocket as more investors and businesses enter the cryptocurrency market, especially if they do so without adequate protection.

Setting up for super security

There is a perception that the blockchain is innately secure because its records are shared and hard to alter. But, blockchain security company Comae Technologies says it is no safer than any other form of software. Indeed, its experts argue that because the blockchain is still in its infancy, it may be even less secure than software that has existed for some time. And when you factor in the issue of there being so many cryptocurrencies, each with its own particular bugs, it is a challenge to make them all secure. The answer to this will be to whittle the sector down to a few key players it seems.

Andras Cser at Forrester Research adds:” So while hacking a blockchain may be harder than breaking into a retailer’s database, the rewards are greater and you have much more information you can steal.”

A business opportunity

The situation is good news for cyber security firms. Quantstamp plans to release an automated tool that searches smart contracts for bugs, and established security firms such as McAfee Inc. may also repurpose their products for the blockchain community.

The market for software, services and hardware to secure blockchain activity was $259 million in 2017 and WinterGreen estimates it will grow to $355 billion as the digital economy expands and banks and financial institutions adopt it.  No doubt they will be keeping those funds secure.