Trump-Linked Firm Mined 50M Facebook Profiles

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A data analysis firm employed by President Trump’s 2016 campaign tapped the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, allowing it to capitalize on the private social media activity of a large portion of the US electorate, reports the AP. One of the largest data leaks in Facebook history let Cambridge Analytica, which had ties to Trump strategist Steve Bannon, to develop techniques that formed the basis of its work on the campaign, the New York Times and the Guardian reported. Facebook said it suspended Cambridge Analytica over allegations it kept the improperly obtained user data after telling Facebook it had been deleted. In a blog post, Facebook explained that Cambridge Analytica had years ago received user data from a Facebook app that purported to be a psychological research tool, though the firm was not authorized. Roughly 270,000 people downloaded and shared details with the app.

Cambridge Analytica certified in 2015 that it had destroyed the information, although Facebook received reports “several days ago” that not all data was deleted. Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories; University of Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan, who created the app; and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, who also allegedly received user data. Wylie is a former Cambridge Analytics employee who is a primary source for the Times report. Trump’s campaign denied using the firm’s data, saying it relied on the RNC for its data. Cambridge Analytica is backed by billionaire donor Robert Mercer. The firm had wooed Bannon with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence behavior, but lacked data to make its products work. It has surfaced in US probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, disclosed an advisory role with Cambridge Analytica in August.

Stephen Hawking Submitted Paper Days Before His Death

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Stephen Hawking submitted a final paper in the days before his death that could potentially one day lead to a major breakthrough. The paper, titled “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation,“ was submitted about 10 days before the death of the world famous physicist, who is listed among its co-authors. The paper lays the groundwork for how a future space probe could be used to test the existence of the so-called “multiverse,“ or the notion that the universe we know is only one of many. According to the Sunday Times, Hawking completed his work on his deathbed and it will be published by a leading scientific journal after it is reviewed. The Times reports that, should evidence of the multiverse be found using the methods laid out in the paper, the authors would likely become candidates for the Nobel prize.

Unfortunately for Hawking, the awards are not given posthumously. While Hawking will never receive the honor, he came to be known over the course of his incredible career as one of the most brilliant thinkers of his, or any, day. He was also a pop culture darling, having appeared on shows including The Simpsons and Star Trek: The Next Generation. “His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring,“ NASA tweeted following his death on Wednesday at the age of 76, some half a century after doctors told him he had just two years to live. “May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014.“

Trump Consultant Behind Massive Facebook Data Leak

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A voter-profiling company used by the 2016 Trump campaign collected the private data of over 50 million Facebook users without their permission—one of the biggest data leaks in Facebook history, the New York Times reports. According to the Guardian, it started with researchers concluding they could form complex personality profiles of people by what they “like” on Facebook, determining intelligence, history of trauma, and more based on responses to posts on innocuous subjects like curly fries and Hello Kitty. Researcher Aleksandr Kogan signed a deal with Cambridge Analytica—which had Stephen Bannon in a leading role—and in 2014 developed a personality quiz that would not only harvest the data of the Facebook users who took it but also all of their friends.

Around 270,000 Facebook users took the quiz—agreeing to allow their data to be used for academic purposes; their friends didn’t even agree to that—which allowed Kogan to harvest the data of over 50 million Facebook users and pass it along to Cambridge Analytica in violation of Facebook policies. The company used it to create psychographic profiles of about 30 million US voters and target political ads toward them. Facebook found out in 2015 and demanded the data be deleted, Quartz reports. But Facebook didn’t publicly acknowledge the leak until Friday and, despite claims to the contrary, it appears Cambridge Analyitica still has a good portion of the data. Cambridge Analytica, which has now been banned by Facebook, is also facing the possibility of having run afoul of US election laws and is being looked into by the Mueller investigation.

Appeals court nixes some FCC rules on robocalls

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A federal appeals court rolled back rules intended to deter irritating telemarketing robocalls, saying they were too broad.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that 2015 regulations from the Federal Communications Commission could wrongly classify every smartphone as an autodialing device subject to anti-robocall fines. Those 2015 rules attempted to graft modern definitions onto a 1991 law that predated the iPhone by more than 15 years.

The court also struck down rules that could levy fines on telemarketers who repeatedly call phone numbers reassigned to people who have opted out of such calls.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a tweet the ruling was “not good.” In a statement, she said, “robocalls will continue to increase unless the FCC does something about it.”

The court said the FCC’s Obama-era rules were “unreasonably expansive” and could have swept up just about anyone. Its ruling offered the example of someone organizing a get-together and texting 10 people without obtaining their prior consent, which under the rules could subject her to a potential fine of $500 per person.

While it agreed smartphones could be used as autodialers by installing an app, the court said the FCC’s rules did not make a clear enough distinction between phones that had downloaded such software and those that hadn’t.

In voiding a one-strike rule intended to prevent telemarketers from dialing reassigned numbers more than once, the court found it would be difficult for companies to avoid calling a second time even if they were acting in good faith. It also said the current rule was being abused, citing reports of a new phone customer who waited to receive 900 text alerts intended for a previous subscriber in order to rack up potential penalties before filing a lawsuit.

Lawyer Megan Brown, whose firm Wiley Rein represents Fortune 500 companies sued for such violations, said the court’s ruling will “stop the litigation harassment of a bunch of regular companies for crippling damages” when the worst actors behind scams and spoof calls are overseas.

Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that the ruling would not deter the FCC’s stepped up crackdown against illegal robocalls. He cited $200 million in fines the FCC initiated last year against two U.S. firms in so-called “spoofing” scams, in which they disguised their caller IDs in order to sell vacation packages and health insurance.

The FCC is also working to require telecoms companies to report when numbers have been reassigned, and passed rules last year that allow phone companies to proactively block calls that are likely to be fraudulent.

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