Archive for Social Media

12 Russian Intelligence Officers Charged With Election Hacking

Even though, in an interview this week, President Trump appeared to absolve Russia of election interference (since retracted), the US Department of Justice has now charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections.

The Allegations

It is alleged by the US Justice Department that, back in March 2016, on the run-up to the presidential election campaign which saw Republican Donald Trump elected as president, the Russian intelligence officers were responsible for cyber-attacks on the email accounts of staff for Hillary Clinton’s Democrat presidential campaign.

Also, the Justice Department alleges that the accused Russians corresponded with several Americans (but not in a conspiratorial way), used fictitious online personas, released thousands of stolen emails (beginning in June 2016), and even plotted to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and voter software.

No Evidence Says Kremlin

The Kremlin is reported to have said that it believes there is no evidence for the US allegations, describing the story as an “old duck” and a conspiracy theory.

32, So Far

The latest allegations are all part of the investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Meuller, into US intelligence findings that the Russians allegedly conspired in favour of Trump, and that some of his campaign aides may have colluded.
So far, 32 people (mostly Russians) have been indicted. 3 companies and 4 former Trump advisers have also been implicated.

Trump Says…

President Trump has dismissed allegations that the Russians help put him in the White House as a “rigged witch hunt” and “pure stupidity”.

In a press conference after his meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, President Trump, however, caused shock and disbelief when asked whether he thought Russia had been involved in US election interference, he said “I don’t see any reason why it would be”.

He has since appeared to backtrack by saying that he meant to say “wouldn’t” rather than “would”, and that he accepts his own intelligence agency’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and that other players may have been involved too.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Part of the fallout of constant struggle between states and super-powers are the cyber attacks that end up affecting many businesses in the UK. Also, if there has been interference in an election favouring one party, this, in turn, affects the political and economic decisions made in that country, and its foreign policy. These have a knock-on effect on markets, businesses and trade around the world, particularly for those businesses that export to, import from, or have other business interests in the US. Even though, in the US, one of the main results of the alleged electoral interference scandal appears to have been damaged reputations and disrupted politics, the wider effects have been felt in businesses around the world.

These matters and the links to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have also raised awareness among the public about their data security and privacy, whether they can actually trust corporations with it, and how they could be targeted with political messages which could influence their own beliefs.

Cambridge Analytica Re-Born

A new offshoot of Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced data analysis company at the heart of the Facebook personal data sharing scandal, has been set up by former members of staff under the name ‘Auspex’.

Old Version Shut Down

After news of the scandal, which saw the details of an estimated 87 million Facebook users (mostly in the US) being shared with CA, and then used by CA to target people with political messages in relation to the last US presidential elections, CA was shut down by its parent company SCL Elections. CA is widely reported to have ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the scandal.

Ethical This Time

Auspex, which (it should be stressed) is not just another version of CA, but is likely to carry on the same kind of data analysis work, has been set up by Ahmed Al-Khatib, a former director of Emerdata which was also set up after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Mr Al-Khatib has been reported as saying that Auspex will use ethically based, data-driven communications with a focus on improving the lives of people in the developing world.

Middle East and Africa

The markets in the developing world that Auspex will initially be focusing on are the Middle East and Africa, and the kinds of ethical work that it will be doing, according Auspex’s own communications, are health campaigning and tackling the spread of extremist ideology among a disenfranchised youth.

Compliant

Auspex has been quick to state that it has made changes and that it will be fully compliant from the outset, thereby hoping to further distance itself from its murky origins in CA.

Personnel

One thing that is likely to attract the attention of critics is that, not only is Mark Turnbull, the former head of CA’s political division the new Auspex Managing Director, but that the listed directors of the new company include Alastair Harris, who is reported to have worked at CA, and Omar Al-Khatib is listed as a citizen of the Seychelles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal is relatively recent, and the ICO have only just presented their report about the incident. For many people, it may not feel right that personnel from Cambridge Analytica can appear to simply set up under another name and start again. Critics can be forgiven for perhaps not trusting statements about a new ethical approach, especially since Mark Turnbull appeared alongside former CA chief executive Alexander Nix in an undercover film by Channel 4, where Nix gave examples of how his company could discredit politicians e.g. by setting up encounters with prostitutes.

The introduction of GDPR has brought the matters of data security and privacy into sharp focus for businesses in the UK, and businesses will be all too aware of the possible penalties if they get on the wrong side of the ICO.

In the case of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, the ICO has recently announced that Facebook will be fined £500,000 for data breaches, and that it is still considering taking legal action against CA’s company’s directors. If successful, a prosecution of this kind could result in convictions and an unlimited fine.

£500,000 Fine For Facebook Data Breaches

Sixteen months after the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) began its investigation into the Facebook’s sharing the personal details of users with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, the ICO has announced that Facebook will be fined £500,000 for data breaches.

Maximum

The amount of the fine is the maximum that can be imposed under GDPR. Although it sounds like a lot, for a corporation valued at around $500 billion, and with $11.97 billion in advertising revenue and $4.98 billion in profit for the past quarter (mostly from mobile advertising), it remains to be seen how much of an effect it will have on Facebook.

Time Before Responding

Facebook has now been given time to respond to the ICO’s verdict before a final decision is made by the ICO.

Facebook have said, however, that it acknowledges that it should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and taken action back in 2015.

Reminder of What Happened

The fine relates to the harvesting of the personal details of 87 million Facebook users without their explicit consent, and the sharing of that personal data with London-based political Consulting Firm Cambridge Analytica, which is alleged to have used that data to target political messages and advertising in the last US presidential election campaign.

Also, harvested Facebook user data was shared with Aggregate IQ, a Data Company which worked with the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign in the run-up to the Brexit Referendum.

The sharing of personal user data with those companies was exposed by former Cambridge Analytica employee and whistleblower Christopher Wylie. The resulting publicity caused public outrage, saw big falls in Facebook’s share value, brought apologies from its founder / owner, and saw insolvency proceedings (back in May) for Cambridge Analytica and its parent SCL Elections.

What About Cambridge Analytica?

Although Facebook has been given a £500,000 fine, Cambridge Analytica no longer exists as a company. The ICO has indicated, however, that it is still considering taking legal action against the company’s directors. If successful, a prosecution of this kind could result in convictions and an unlimited fine.

AggregateIQ

As for Canadian data analytics firm AggregateIQ, the ICO is reported to still be investigating whether UK voters’ personal data provided by the Brexit referendum’s Vote Leave campaign had been transferred and accessed outside the UK and whether this amounted to a breach of the Data Protection Act. Also, the ICO is reported to be investigating to what degree AIQ and SCL Elections had shared UK personal data, and the ICO is reported to have served an enforcement notice forbidding AIQ from continuing to make use of a list of UK citizens’ email addresses and names that it still holds.

Worries About 11 Main Political Parties

The ICO is also reported to have written to the UK’s 11 main political parties, asking them to have their data protection practices audited because it is concerned that the parties may have purchased certain information about members of the public from data brokers, who might not have obtained consent.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When this story originally broke, it was a wake-up call about what can happen to the personal data that we trust companies / corporations with, and it undoubtedly damaged trust between Facebook and its users to a degree. It’s a good job that the ICO is there to follow things up on our behalf because, for example, a Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted back in April found that, even after all the publicity surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, most users remained loyal to the social media giant.

Also, the case has raised questions about how our data is shared and used for political purposes, and how the using and sharing of our data to target messages can influence the outcome of elections, and, therefore, can influence the whole economic and business landscape. This has meant that there has now been a call for the UK government to step-in and introduce a code of practice which should limit how personal information can be used by political campaigns before the next general election.
Facebook has recently been waging a campaign, including heavy television advertising, to convince us that it has changed and is now more focused on protecting our privacy. Unfortunately, this idea has been challenged by the recent ‘Deceived By Design’ report by the government-funded Norwegian Consumer Council, which accused tech giants Microsoft, Facebook and Google of being unethical by leading users into selecting settings that do not actually benefit their privacy.