LAPD partnered with tech firm that enables secretive online spying

The Los Angeles police department pursued a contract with a controversial technology company that could enable police to use fake social media accounts to surveil civilians and claimed its algorithms can identify people who may commit crimes in the future.

A cache of internal LAPD documents obtained through public records requests by the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-profit organization, and shared with the Guardian, reveal that LAPD in 2019 trialed social media surveillance software from the analytics company Voyager Labs.

Like many companies in this industry, Voyager Labs’ software allows law enforcement to collect and analyze large troves of social media data to investigate crimes or monitor potential threats.

But documents reveal the company takes this surveillance a step further. In its sales pitch to LAPD about a potential long-term contract, Voyager said its software could collect data on a suspect’s online network and surveil the accounts of thousands of the suspect’s “friends”. It said its artificial intelligence could discern people’s motives and

— source | Sam Levin, Johana Bhuiyan | 17 Nov 2021

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Do Online Forums Act as “Radicalization Machines” for White Supremacists

Saturday’s massacre by the 18-year-old white supremacist, which killed 10, has been called a made-for-the-internet massacre, the shooter streaming the massacre on Twitch for about two minutes — as Rashad pointed out, it’s owned by Amazon — before Twitch took it down. Users of hate-filled online message boards like 4chan soon shared the video. It was being watched by 22 people, and now it’s been watched by millions.

For more, we’re joined by journalist and author Talia Lavin, who spent nearly a year impersonating right-wing white supremacists online, assuming false identities to infiltrate their groups as she worked on her book Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy.

Talia, welcome to Democracy Now! In the process of writing your book, you also explored the relationship between the extreme right and conservatives in the United States in the mainstream, which you write about in your new piece for Rolling Stone headlined “The Buffalo Shooter Isn’t a ‘Lone Wolf.’ He’s a Mainstream Republican.” Take us through your response to what happened and your journey through the dark web. But as you said, it doesn’t just exist there, in 4chan, in 8chan, in the Dylann Roof groups, those who praise the

— source | May 17, 2022

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Racist Manifesto Fuel Push to Regulate Social Media Platforms Where Hate Flourishes

for all of us, this is both incredibly sad, but it also makes us deeply angry, because of all the things that could be and should have been done to deal with the climate that fuels this type of violence. At the end of the day, a whole incentive structure, a whole profit incentive structure, which has both incentivized the type of content and disinformation and hate-filled rhetoric that we see online, we have watched social media platforms refuse to deal with this, because self-regulated companies are unregulated companies. I have went before Congress to try to push members of Congress to actually deal with the immunity that these platforms have over this type of content. And it’s not simply about freedom of speech, Amy. This is about what they amplify. This is what they — this is about the content that they serve up to users as they sign on. This is about all the ways in which their product is designed in order to create people to have more time on these platforms, more engagement on these platforms, to be engaged in more hate-filled rhetoric. And at the end of the day, we are watching, we are seeing firsthand the impact of it. We should not have to go to billionaires to beg them to protect our civil rights. Our government should be doing the work to hold corporations accountable. And right now they are not doing it.

And at the end of the day, we live, exist in a climate. It’s not just the social media platforms. It’s also Fox News. It’s also the ways in which the big carriers, cable carriers, the Verizons and Comcasts

— source | May 17, 2022

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How Facebook Programmed Our Relatives

Three years ago, on his birthday, a law professor watched his e-mail inbox fill with Facebook notifications indicating that friends had posted messages on his wall. The messages made him sad. The clogged inbox was annoying, but what really upset him was having disclosed his birth date to Facebook in the first place. It’s not necessary for social networking or to comply with privacy laws, as some people mistakenly believe. He hadn’t paid much attention when he signed up—as with most electronic contracts, there was no room for negotiation or deliberation about terms. He complied with Facebook’s instructions, entered the data and clicked a button.

A few days later, the law professor decided to change the birth date on his Facebook profile to avoid the same situation next year. But when the fake date rolled around, his inbox again flooded with Facebook notifications. Two of the messages were from close relatives, one of whom he had spoken with on the phone on his actual birthday!

How could she not realize that the date was fake?

Our hypothesis: she’d been programmed!

That law professor was one of us (Brett Frischmann), and it confirmed his suspicions that most people respond automatically to Facebook’s prompts to provide information or contact a friend without really thinking much about it. That’s because digital networked technologies are engineering humans to behave like simple stimulus-response machines.

— source | Brett Frischmann | Jun 21, 2018

Social media makes it difficult to identify real news

The study found that people viewing a blend of news and entertainment on a social media site tended to pay less attention to the source of content they consumed — meaning they could easily mistake satire or fiction for real news. People who viewed content that was clearly separated into categories — such as current affairs and entertainment — didn’t have the same issues evaluating the source and credibility of content they read.

The findings show the dangers of people getting their news from social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. We are drawn to these social media sites because they are one-stop shops for media content, updates from friends and family, and memes or cat pictures. But that jumbling of content makes everything seem the same to us. It makes it harder for us to distinguish what we need to take seriously from that which is only entertainment.

The study appears online in the journal New Media & Society.

The results showed that when the content was not grouped by distinct topics — in other words, news posts appeared on the same page with entertainment posts — participants

— source Ohio State University | Mar 30, 2020

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How Facebook let fake engagement distort global politics

Shortly before Sophie Zhang lost access to Facebook’s systems, she published one final message on the company’s internal forum, a farewell tradition at Facebook known as a “badge post”.

“Officially, I’m a low-level [data scientist] who’s being fired today for poor performance,” the post began. “In practice, in the 2.5 years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve … found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions.”

Over the course of 7,800 scathing words, Zhang outlined Facebook’s failure to combat political manipulation campaigns akin to what Russia had done in the 2016 US election. “We simply didn’t care enough to stop them,” she wrote. “I know that I have blood on my hands by now.”

Zhang knew that this was not a tale that Facebook wanted her to tell, so when she hit publish, she also launched a password-protected website with a copy of the memo and provided the link and password to Facebook employees. Not only did Facebook temporarily delete the post internally, the company also contacted Zhang’s hosting service and domain registrar and forced her website offline.

Now, with the US election over and a new president inaugurated, Zhang is coming forward to tell the whole story on the record. (Excerpts of her memo were first published in

— source | Julia Carrie Wong | 20 Apr 2021

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Facebook planned to remove fake accounts in India

Facebook allowed a network of fake accounts to artificially inflate the popularity of an MP from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), for months after being alerted to the problem.

The company was preparing to remove the fake accounts but paused when it found evidence that the politician was probably directly involved in the network, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

The company’s decision not to take timely action against the network, which it had already determined violated its policies, is just the latest example of Facebook holding the powerful to lower standards than it does regular users.

“It’s not fair to have one justice system for the rich and important and one for everyone else, but that’s essentially the route that Facebook has carved out,” said Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist for Facebook who uncovered the inauthentic network. Zhang has come forward to expose the company’s failure to address how its platform is being used to manipulate political discourse around the world.

Facebook’s failure to act against the MP will also raise questions about Facebook’s relationship with the Hindu nationalist party. Facebook has repeatedly treated rule violations

— source | Julia Carrie Wong , Hannah Ellis-Petersen | 15 Apr 2021

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Major Media Outlets That Use Invasive User Tracking Are Lobbying Against Regulation

News outlets entrusted with promoting transparency and privacy are also lobbying behind closed doors against proposals to regulate the mass collection of Americans’ data.

In a filing last week, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, reported it was lobbying against a push at the Federal Trade Commission to restrict the collection and sale of personal data for the purpose of delivering advertisements. The IAB represents both data brokers and online media outlets that depend on digital advertising, such as CNN, the New York Times, MSNBC, Time, U.S. News and World Report, the Washington Post, Vox, the Orlando Sentinel, Fox News, and dozens of other media companies.

Under President Joe Biden and FTC Chair Lina Khan, the advertising technology industry is facing its first real challenge of federal regulation. There are several bills in Congress that attempt to define and restrict the types of data collected on users and how that data is monetized. Last July, Biden called for the FTC to promulgate rules over the “surveillance of users” in his landmark executive order on competition, which identified unfair data collection as a challenge to both competition and privacy.

In December, the advocacy group Accountable Tech petitioned the FTC calling for regulation of what it calls “surveillance advertising”: the process of collecting mass data on

— source | Lee Fang | Feb 2 2022

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