Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional face-off in April was not nearly the grilling that some had anticipated. Up against lawmakers who seemed to have only a passing knowledge of Facebook’s inner workings, the famously uncharismatic C.E.O. managed to turn the hearings on their heads. In the end, he emerged largely unscathed, spouting the usual pledges to do better. But in the past week, new reports have emerged showing that Zuckerberg failed to mention some of Facebook’s more questionable data-sharing practices to Congress, throwing Facebook back into purgatory just as it was beginning to claw its way out.
For the second time in a week, The New York Times has published a report revealing the extent of Facebook’s data-sharing partnerships. While Sunday’s report revealed that the social-media giant shared extensive user data with certain companies, at times without those people’s permission, Wednesday’s zeroes in on four of those companies: Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo, and TCL, all Chinese manufacturers. Huawei’s presence on the list is particularly eyebrow-raising—the Chinese telecommunications-equipment manufacturer has been described by senators attempting to block the U.S. government from using Huawei devices as “effectively an arm of the Chinese government.” The heads of six major U.S. intelligence agencies have warned against buying Huawei phones, and a recently proposed Federal Communications Commission rule could prevent mobile providers from receiving federal money if they allow the company’s devices to be used on their networks.
Facebook’s agreement with Huawei is reportedly not dissimilar to its agreements with American companies like Apple and Amazon—essentially, the tech giant has been helping manufacturers build Facebook functionality into their products, which gives users easy access to Facebook features. To do this successfully, however, Facebook had to give partner companies access to data through private A.P.I.s.; that data reportedly included information about users, their friends, and friends of their friends, including religious and political affiliations and relationship status. In total, Facebook reportedly struck a similar agreement with at least 60 manufacturers, but has been winding down the deals since April, per the Times.
Facebook assured the Times that all data shared with Chinese companies was stored on the devices themselves rather than handed over outright, and Huawei, too, has said it did not collect or store Facebook user data. But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from sounding the alarm. “We need answers from Facebook,” tweeted top Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat Mark Warner on Tuesday. “The whole story, now, not six months from now.” Hours earlier, he had voiced concerns over Facebook’s data-collection practices more generally. “Unfortunately with Facebook, it is a great company, but we’re seeing this pattern repeat itself,” he said at an Axios event. “They’ve got some folks that know politics . . . They should realize: come clean with the whole story in the first 24 hours. Don’t let this dribble out. And I’ve got some very serious questions, particularly because of the ongoing threat that these Chinese telecom companies pose.” Senator John Thune, who leads the Commerce Committee that oversees the Federal Trade Commission, which is assessing whether the company’s data policies violate a 2011 F.T.C. consent decree, is asking Facebook to give Congress more details about its data partnerships. “Facebook is learning hard lessons that meaningful transparency is a high standard to meet,” he told the Times.Even Marco Rubio fired off an ominous tweet. “This could be a very big problem,” he wrote. “If @Facebook granted Huawei special access to social data of Americans this might as well have given it directly to the government of #China.”
In response to these dire warnings, Facebook has argued that doing business with Huawei and other Chinese companies simply made sense. “Huawei is the third largest mobile manufacturer globally and its devices are used by people all around the world, including in the United States. Facebook along with many other U.S. tech companies have worked with them,” Facebook mobile-partnerships exec Francisco Varela told Axios in a statement. “Facebook’s integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo, and TCL were controlled from the get go—and we approved the Facebook experiences these companies built . . . all the information from these integrations with Huawei was stored on the device, not on Huawei’s servers.” But even if Facebook user data didn’t make its way to the Chinese government, or even to Chinese manufacturers on a permanent basis, the company’s failure to disclose the partnership could inflame hostilities on Capitol Hill at a crucial moment. Facebook’s business, after all, depends on trust. And though at first glance its partnership with Chinese manufacturers seems far more benign than its failure to stop Cambridge Analytica from siphoning user data, in the face of regulatory threats and public scrutiny, the situation’s optics, rather than its substance, may prove more important.
I did it.
I descended into the heart of liberal darkness, Berkeley, California and attended the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts & Responses.
As you may have guessed, I’m a climate change skeptic. And while this conference was interesting and gratifying for a number of reasons, it did not change my view as a climate change skeptic, but in fact, reinforced it.
My own presentation (for solving climate change while making a huge profit – i.e., the Republican way) was not widely attended, but the conversation was lively and I gained some allies.
Without further ado here are my stories:
As an engineer and formerly a developer of analytical systems for the CIA, my instinct is to follow information backward to its source. In several instances, I’ve followed the rabbit hole, examined data from important climate science claims and discovered gaping holes in their logic, making them misleading or just incorrect.
The conference had some of the same. The most blatant example presented at the conference was from Roberta Atzori from the University of California with a study of the Florida tourism industry. Since I am a long time resident of Florida, I took an interest.
Her method was to ask questions of tourists like (paraphrasing) “if the sun on the beach became too hot, would you stop traveling to Florida or would you vacation somewhere else?” and “if all of the beaches disappeared in Florida would you stop going there?” Needless to say, with those kinds of questions (look up “pre-suasion”) she got the results she desired, she did the math and claimed billions in damages due to Climate Change.
I, of course, as an interested party pointed out that in Florida we know how to re-sand beaches, and we do it often and enthusiastically (e.g., the Boca beach last fall after hurricane Irma). Beaches in Florida are not likely to disappear over the next 80 years no matter the weather change. And if Florida floods to 10 miles inland? We will install a new beach right there. I also pointed out that even the most pessimistic climate change projects only estimate about 4 degrees of change by 2100, not enough to roast our tourist population and force them away from the beach (nor interrupt the patterns of sun, beer, sun, beer, sun …).
Tell me you can’t guess what happened next.
She immediately called me the “D-word.” I had to be a climate change “denier” to challenge her work, so of course, the obvious move was ad hominem.
What she did not do was defend her scenarios (which would have been impossible anyway), which were the basis of the questions she was asking, and the response to which was the basis of her conclusions.
This kind of shoddy work is why I am a skeptic of climate science. Someone with zero knowledge of the practical side of her topic has submitted to the academic community a worthless, baseless calculation of cause-effect, that someone else will likely use to build another house of cards study. And in a room with 12-15 people, no one questioned it except me.
Dr. Max Platzer of the University of California Davis was an Apollo scientist back in the 1960’s. His presentation featured a fleet of boats that used wind power and an underwater generator in perpetual motion in the southern seas, to produce hydrogen fuel on a global scale. At first, this seemed to be very much in the science fiction realm. But to my great surprise and pleasure, Dr. Platzer, in true engineering form, proceeded to convince us layer by layer that his design was feasible and practical (albeit expensive!).
Dr. Platzer was perhaps the most inspiring speaker at the conference, his passion and appeal to implement an Apollo-like “moonshot” were compelling. He said at the advanced age of 85, his future was limited, but he was willing and indeed anxious to help future generations solve this problem. His passion was perhaps the closest phenomenon in this conference to breaking my own skepticism on climate change.
Matthew Moore of California State University positively ranted at the lack of coordination between the different levels of government, saying the government was a disorganized mess and was not preparing for the massive number of people that would certainly be displaced during global warming.
When he included Houston and Florida in his rant I took exception. Noting that I had just experienced Hurricane Irma, I told him that in our state, coordination between federal, state and local, was near perfect. We have some of the best emergency planners in the world who had the streets cleared, the public informed, and everyone in shelters who wanted to go (with designated shelters accepting pets). The Governor had toured the area and coordinated operations, and FEMA had pre-positioned supplies all over the state.
We didn’t have housing prepared for 300,000 people (per Moore’s lament) because our experts decided we would not need it (and we didn’t). Moore’s universal condemnation of FEMA and the emergency management strategy in America was offensive and, of course, wrong. Does he have a point that we need more emergency housing? I don’t know, I’m way too lazy and uninterested to re-do his work for him. But considering his lack of research and/or candor on his other statements, why would I believe anything else he said? And yet his presentation was accepted as scientific work.
At the conference dinner, I had a discussion with Alex Ellery from Carleton University, who was proposing a satellite-based solution for providing power to supplant electricity. This is not a new idea, its been around since at least the 1970’s when my high school debate team was focused on the energy shortage of the day. They were also the subject of Ben Bova’s “Powersat” from 2005.
His new idea, however, was fascinating.
Since it is very expensive to lift materials in space from earth, he was proposing that the power satellites be built on the moon using SELF REPLICATING ROBOTS! And using only materials from the moon’s surface. I was thinking, “Wow, forget the satellites, I want the robots.” And this is a serious engineer with a serious design. He is close to having the design ready, complete with neural network style computing power made from lunar materials rather than straight silicon. He still needs an additional $12 Million in funding to complete the research. Any takers? (If so, I want to be on the deployment team!).
One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Michel Gueldrey, from the University of Toulouse. I had had some brief conversations with him the day before and he is a thoughtful, intelligent and gracious man. However his presentation on “engaging climate skeptics” was disappointing and a bit insulting to American conservatives. His presentation featured such thoughts as “the superiority of Europe over America,” (hard to swallow from a Frenchman) a number of fringe books with insulting titles, and a presentation of methods to persuade skeptics that were worthy of any religion, political campaign, or fraternity rush chairman. In fact, I got a distinct feeling I could substitute “Disciples of Christ” for “Climate Change” in most of the slides and they would be equally functional. But frankly, this is what a conservative would expect at a climate change conference so I took it with a grain of salt. I do have faith that Dr. Gueldry will improve his content over time, but it was cringe-worthy in its current form.
Several presentations were very well done, even if the link to global climate change was not firmly established in my own mind. Claire Brunel, from American University, had a very well constructed study of internal migration in Brazil (I know what your thinking, but yes, it was good!). In the same session, Justin Udie from De Montfort University talked about the effects of climate change on oil and gas equipment near the Niger Delta. Again, I’m not sure about the link to climate change but it was an impressive work of risk analysis on oil and gas equipment. It took quite a bit for me to not go into full nerd mode and dig in with questions.
Marlene Payva Almonte from the University of Liverpool attended several of the same sessions that I did, and her comments were always thoughtful and cogent. In her own session, she presented an insightful presentation on the relationship between climate change and human rights. I’m not sure I agree with her premise that the Paris Accords are a good thing, but it certainly pushed some buttons for my own research.
Sally Graves Machlis from the University of Idaho sought to increase understanding of climate change through art. I’m not sure I fully grasp the magnitude of her work, but I had fun in her workshop cutting paper brains from clip art, gluing them to the canvass and painting in the background in watercolors.
One last feature was a gentleman Greg Poole from Industrial Tests, Inc. A degreed engineer, but non-academic, I could feel that Mr. Pool was avoiding using the common engineering jargon to be better understood, a common practice of engineers when speaking to laymen.
He described the Earth as an electric motor with influence from the Sun, Moon and other planets. Do you think this is silly?
The electrical character of the Earth and the solar system have long been known, and it accounts for a great many important characteristics, like the magnetic poles and the magnetosphere. His framework is brilliant and all-encompassing (but according to Pool, not quite complete). He predicted response characteristics of the molten core that will keep experimental scientists busy for decades.
His engineering skills are first-rate, his analysis was spot on. This was perhaps the most important lecture of the conference, although I don’t expect anyone to realize it. Any analysis of our solar system or any solar system we discover in the future will be incomplete without it. And as for avoiding jargon, I did manage to ask a question that let him know I was an engineer, and he answered in full technical and engineering terms entirely unintelligible to the rest of the room.
Yes, a real engineer.
One has to ask just what world do our politicians and news media folks live in?
The news industry is largely a one-way communication. They report what they consider the most important events of the day and tell us how we should think about those events – the latter of which takes up the vast majority of the radio/television time and most of the column inches in the print media.
If I considered media to be an accurate reflection of our American culture and society, I would not like us very much. According to the politicians and the media that reports on them, we are a racist nation – hardly improved from the days of Democrat slavery and segregation. We are a nation that oppresses women into second-class citizenship. We have heartless immigration policies because we hate foreigners. We have no compassion for the poor, the infirm, the elderly and, at the other end of the life cycle, the children.
We are a warring nation that occupies foreign lands to steal their treasure – most often oil. Our desire to own guns makes us insensitive to mass killings, unwarranted police shootings and the safety of the unarmed. The character of the American masses is described as ignorant, hateful, immoral, cowardly, and prejudiced – a veritable basket of deplorables.
For the most part, however, that terrible place is mostly a fictional world – almost like a computer game in which we play out fantasy conflicts created by media programmers – or more accurately by editors and producers. It is a pretend world based on concocted narratives that supplant the larger reality.
But then there is the real world. The one we wake up to in the morning and travel throughout the day. For most of us, it is a bright sunny world with dozens – maybe hundreds – of interactions with real people in real time – people of diverse backgrounds, different income brackets, different careers, different ethnicity, gender, age and lifestyle.
In my case, it might be a stop for breakfast at a favorite Jewish deli where everyone is greeted like old friends. We pass people of all sizes, shapes and appearances as we walk down the street or through the mall. Some smile and nod. For lunch, it may be a black-owned rib joint where the sauce is hot and the conversation is cool. I may need to stop by the auto shop for a small repair or oil change performed by a couple of young Hispanics. If my son is with me, he will speak them in Spanish thanks to the Mexican lady who helped raise him as a second mother.
If I stumble, the hands of strangers reach down to help me up – white hands, black hands, brown hands. Just a bunch of good people. I may drive a very liberal older woman to the grocery or drug store and will joke about our political differences. I might bring her to my favorite pizza parlor for a classic Chicago-style treat. If there are other Chicagoans in the eatery, we may very well end up in a conversation about the Windy City.
On Wednesday, I bowl with friends. As I look over the other lanes, I see people of all kinds bowling together. A black homeless fellow we befriended will stop by to watch. One of my bowling partners will bring him home for a meal, a shower and to have his clothes washed. Occasionally, she will buy him clothes, reading glasses or other needs. During the summer, we might find scores of young kids on a bowling outing — again of all backgrounds. They goof around, laugh a lot and make a lot of noise – but none of us adults are bothered.
My neighbors include blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Arabs and virtually every nationality you can name. And they are all quite neighborly. What is not remarkable – but rather common – are the number of people who will offer a helping hand without being asked. There is the lady down the way who drops off cake every now and then – and for no reason other than kindness.
No matter where I go within my community or even when I travel to other locations, 99.9 percent of the people I meet and interact with are friendly, often with a good sense of humor. Oh yeah, there are a few jerks out there, but they are few and far between.
This sort of day is not unusual in America. I suspect most Americans have similar experiences. It is the way we live. We are overwhelmingly good, kind and moral people who care about our families, our friends, our neighbors and even strangers when an opportunity presents itself. We tend to be more tolerant and respectful than intolerant and disrespectful. We do know or even recognize those terrible masses of Americans we hear about on the news. They are not us.
Sadly, I fear that our media outlets give a false impression of the United States to all those who live beyond our borders. Led by the concentration of negativism and conflict that appears on the nightly news, those folks in foreign lands come to believe in the fictional ugly America.
It would do us all a lot of good if we were to occasionally look away from the America on the television screen and look out the window. Yes, we have differences of opinion and can play them out according to the rules in the ugly America cyber game the media produces, or we can look at the real America and feel good about this nation – and about ourselves.
Late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government officials have to obtain a warrant in order to track an individual’s location data via cell phone records over an extended period of time.
“In the 5-4 ruling, the court said police generally need a court-approved warrant to get access to the data, setting a higher legal hurdle than previously existed under federal law. The court said obtaining such data without a warrant from wireless carriers, as police routinely do, amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment,” writes Newsmax.
In the case named Carpenter v. United States, the court ruled in Timothy Carpenter’s favor after he filed the suit after police connected him to several armed robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Ohio and Michigan. His location data was tracked by police for 127 days back in 2011.
Carpenter’s lawyers argued that the police violated the Fourth Amendment because they needed “probable cause” to get Carpenter’s digital records from third-party carriers, therefore should have gotten a warrant.
“We hold that an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through CSLI (cell-site location information),” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the court’s ruling. “Although such (cell phone) records are generated for commercial purposes, that distinction does not negate Carpenter’s anticipation of privacy in his physical location.”
Roberts also pointed out that technology is both a blessing and a curse, along with playing a “pervasive and insistent part of daily life.”
“Virtually any activity on the phone generates, including incoming calls, texts, or e-mails and countless other data connections that a phone automatically makes when checking for news, weather, or social media updates,” said Roberts. “Here the progress of science has afforded law enforcement a powerful new tool to carry out its important responsibilities. This tool risks Government encroachment of the sort the Framers after consulting the lessons of history, drafted the Fourth Amendment to prevent.”
This is the latest case where the court has boost privacy rights in the digital realm, but government officials can still get access to real-time location information.
This is still a step in the right direction and a victory for privacy advocates.
“For 40 years, the assumption has been that individuals have no expectation of privacy in any information we voluntarily share with third parties — from phone records to bank statements to how and where we buy and sell goods,” said Steve Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court analyst. “Even though today’s ruling argues that cell-site location data is unique, it’s easy to see how it will open the door to countless other contexts in which privacy advocates and criminal defendants will argue for similar privacy protections – and similar warrant requirements.”
ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler expressed similar sentiments and said the case was “a groundbreaking victory for Americans’ privacy rights in the digital age.”
“The Supreme Court has given privacy law an update that it has badly needed for many years, finally bringing it in line with the realities of modern life,” said Wessler.
Author’s note: We still have a long way to go, but this case will likely inspire more rulings that protect individual’s privacy rights and personal data.
Editor’s note: Our privacy rights are the key to all of the rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Are we ever going to reverse this trend?
A majority of voters blame the parents of children who are separated at the border for the current illegal immigration crisis — not the federal government, according to a new survey.
The results give an interesting look into how people feel about who is ultimately responsible for the immigration debacle, which is now playing out on television screens around the world.
When families are arrested and separated after attempting to enter the United States illegally, 54 percent of likely U.S. voters say the parents are more to blame for breaking the law. Just 35 percent of those surveyed believe the federal government is more to blame for enforcing the law. Another 11 percent say they are not sure.
These are the findings of a new Rasmussen Report survey conducted by phone and online interviews from June 19 – 20. Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order to stop the policy of separating families of those caught entering the U.S. illegally along the U.S.–Mexico border.
Further analysis of the survey shows that 82 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of voters not affiliated with either major political party feel the parents are more to blame for breaking the law. But 60 percent of Democrats say the government is more to blame for enforcing the law.
The survey also queried participants about how aggressively the Trump Administration was enforcing the rule to separate children from parents. Once again, the results showed partisan divisions, with 75 percent of Democrats saying the Trump administration is too aggressive. Only 23 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of unaffiliated voters felt the administration was too aggressive.
The Trump Administration this week announced plans to use a 1977 emergency law to block Chinese investment in US tech and to limit tech exports to China.
More specifically, the proposal blocks companies with at least one-quarter Chinese ownership from purchasing US firms involved in “industrially significant technology” and seeks to limit the export of certain technologies to China.
The two-pronged approach is specifically designed to stop China from accomplishing its “Made in China 2025” initiative to become globally dominant in 10 areas of technology by the year 2025.
“The President has made clear his desire to protect American technology,” says Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross. “All possibilities that would better protect American technology, including potential changes to export controls, are under review.”
While the block on Chinese investment isn’t expected to have a huge effect on American businesses, some industries worry the new export controls could harm their businesses by preventing them from taking advantage of their technological edge. Others worry that declaring a national economic emergency will have a negative effect on the stock market and on US companies operating in China.
The proposal, which is still subject to change, would apply only to new deals and would not seek to undo existing ones. The Administration also said US industries would have the opportunity to comment on the proposal before it takes effect.
“There is opportunity for the administration to arrive at a formula for policy that addresses national-security risks in a targeted way and not put a blanket on activities that our companies are involved in every single day,” says Josh Kallmer of the Information Technology Industry Council, adding that he expects several companies to comment on the proposal.
The twin measures against China are among a series of economic actions Trump has justified by claiming a national security threat.
The steel and aluminum tariffs were imposed under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.
The new restrictions on China will be enacted under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 – an emergency law which gives the president certain powers in the case of an “unusual and extraordinary threat” – that threat in this case being China’s spying and theft of intellectual property.
Opponents have criticized Trump for using the security threat rationale to accomplish his trade objectives.
“The administration is saying, ‘if we declare everything a national security issue we can do whatever we want,’” argues China expert Derek Scissors. “It’s a misuse of executive power.”
The new restrictions on China follow threats by Trump to impose tariffs on up to $450 billion of Chinese goods. A 25% tariff on $34 billion of Chinese imports is scheduled to go into effect on July 6th.
Thanks to increased federal scrutiny of foreign deals, Chinese investment in the US has already dropped more than 90% compared to this time last year. And Congress is also considering a separate proposal that would further increase the scrutiny of foreign business deals to determine the risk that “critical technology” will be transferred to other countries.
Editor’s note: This IS a threat and Trump is negotiating fiercely. No other president seems to have ever had the guts to go toe to toe with not only China, but Europe and our other trading partners who have been taking advantage of our good will.