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Hate speech, collusion, and the constitution

Half an hour into their two-hour testimony on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were asked about collaboration between social media companies. “Our collaboration has greatly increased,” Sandberg stated before turning to Dorsey and adding that Facebook has “always shared information with other companies.” Dorsey nodded in response, and noted for his part that he’s very open to establishing “a regular cadence with our industry peers.”

Social media companies have established extensive policies on what constitutes “hate speech” on their platforms. But discrepancies between these policies open the possibility for propagators of hate to game the platforms and still get their vitriol out to a large audience. Collaboration of the kind Sandberg and Dorsey discussed can lead to a more consistent approach to hate speech that will prevent the gaming of platforms’ policies.

But collaboration between competitors as dominant as Facebook and Twitter are in social media poses an important question: would antitrust or other laws make their coordination illegal?

The short answer is no. Facebook and Twitter are private companies that get to decide what user content stays and what gets deleted off of their platforms. When users sign up for these free services, they agree to abide by their terms. Neither company is under a First Amendment obligation to keep speech up. Nor can it be said that collaboration on platform safety policies amounts to collusion.

This could change based on an investigation into speech policing on social media platforms being considered by the Justice Department. But it’s extremely unlikely that Congress would end up regulating what platforms delete or keep online – not least because it may violate the First Amendment rights of the platforms themselves.

What is hate speech anyway?

Trying to find a universal definition for hate speech would be a fool’s errand, but in the context of private companies hosting user generated content, hate speech for social platforms is what they say is hate speech.

Facebook’s 26-page Community Standards include a whole section on how Facebook defines hate speech. For Facebook, hate speech is “anything that directly attacks people based on . . . their ‘protected characteristics’ — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, or serious disability or disease.” While that might be vague, Facebook then goes on to give specific examples of what would and wouldn’t amount to hate speech, all while making clear that there are cases – depending on the context – where speech will still be tolerated if, for example, it’s intended to raise awareness.

Twitter uses a “hateful conduct” prohibition which they define as promoting “violence against or directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” They also prohibit hateful imagery and display names, meaning it’s not just what you tweet but what you also display on your profile page that can count against you.

Both companies constantly reiterate and supplement their definitions, as new test cases arise and as words take on new meaning. For example, the two common slang words to describe Ukrainians by Russians and Russians by Ukrainians was determined to be hate speech after war erupted in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. An internal review by Facebook found that what used to be common slang had turned into derogatory, hateful language.

Would collaboration on hate speech amount to anticompetitive collusion?

Under U.S. antitrust laws, companies cannot collude to make anticompetitive agreements or try to monopolize a market. A company which becomes a monopoly by having a superior product in the marketplace doesn’t violate antitrust laws. What does violate the law is dominant companies making an agreement – usually in secret – to deceive or mislead competitors or consumers. Examples include price fixing, restricting new market entrants, or misrepresenting the independence of the relationship between competitors.

A Pew survey found that 68% of Americans use Facebook. According to Facebook’s own records, the platform had a whopping 1.47 billion daily active users on average for the month of June and 2.23 billion monthly active users as of the end of June – with over 200 million in the US alone. While Twitter doesn’t disclose its number of daily users, it does publish the number of monthly active users which stood at 330 million at last count, 69 million of which are in the U.S.

There can be no question that Facebook and Twitter are overwhelmingly dominant in the social media market. That kind of dominance has led to calls for breaking up these giants under antitrust laws.

Would those calls hold more credence if the two social giants began coordinating their policies on hate speech?

The answer is probably not, but it does depend on exactly how they coordinated. Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have grown large internal product policy teams that decide the rules for using their platforms, including on hate speech. If these teams were to get together behind closed doors and coordinate policies and enforcement in a way that would preclude smaller competitors from being able to enter the market, then antitrust regulators may get involved.

Antitrust would also come into play if, for example, Facebook and Twitter got together and decided to charge twice as much for advertising that includes hate speech (an obviously absurd scenario) – in other words, using their market power to affect pricing of certain types of speech that advertisers use.

In fact, coordination around hate speech may reduce anti-competitive concerns. Given the high user engagement around hate speech, banning it could lead to reduced profits for the two companies and provide an opening to upstart competitors.

Sandberg and Dorsey’s testimony Wednesday didn’t point to executives hell-bent on keeping competition out through collaboration. Rather, their potential collaboration is probably better seen as an industry deciding on “best practices,” a common occurrence in other industries including those with dominant market players.

What about the First Amendment?

Private companies are not subject to the First Amendment. The Constitution applies to the government, not to corporations. A private company, no matter its size, can ignore your right to free speech.

That’s why Facebook and Twitter already can and do delete posts that contravene their policies. Calling for the extermination of all immigrants, referring to Africans as coming from shithole countries, and even anti-gay protests at military funerals may be protected in public spaces, but social media companies get to decide whether they’ll allow any of that on their platforms. As Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman has stated, “There’s no right to free speech on Twitter. The only rule is that Twitter Inc. gets to decide who speaks and listens–which is its right under the First Amendment.”

Instead, when it comes to social media and the First Amendment, courts have been more focused on not allowing the government to keep citizens off of social media. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that made it a crime for a registered sex offender to access social media if children use that platform. During the hearing, judges asked the government probing questions about the rights of citizens to free speech on social media from Facebook, to Snapchat, to Twitter and even LinkedIn.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made clear during the hearing that restricting access to social media would mean “being cut off from a very large part of the marketplace of ideas [a]nd [that] the First Amendment includes not only the right to speak, but the right to receive information.”

The Court ended up deciding that the law violated the fundamental First Amendment principle that “all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen,” noting that social media has become one of the most important forums for expression of our day.

Lower courts have also ruled that public officials who block users off their profiles are violating the First Amendment rights of those users. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the Southern District of New York, decided in May that Trump’s Twitter feed is a public forum. As a result, she ruled that when Trump blocks citizens from viewing and replying to his posts, he violates their First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment doesn’t mean Facebook and Twitter are under any obligation to keep up whatever you post, but it does mean that the government can’t just ban you from accessing your Facebook or Twitter accounts – and probably can’t block you off of their own public accounts either.

Collaboration is Coming?

Sandberg made clear in her testimony on Wednesday that collaboration is already happening when it comes to keeping bad actors off of platforms. “We [already] get tips from each other. The faster we collaborate, the faster we share these tips with each other, the stronger our collective defenses will be.”

Dorsey for his part stressed that keeping bad actors off of social media “is not something we want to compete on.” Twitter is here “to contribute to a healthy public square, not compete to have the only one, we know that’s the only way our business thrives and helps us all defend against these new threats.”

He even went further. When it comes to the drafting of their policies, beyond collaborating with Facebook, he said he would be open to a public consultation. “We have real openness to this. . . . We have an opportunity to create more transparency with an eye to more accountability but also a more open way of working – a way of working for instance that allows for a review period by the public about how we think about our policies.”

I’ve already argued why tech firms should collaborate on hate speech policies, the question that remains is if that would be legal. The First Amendment does not apply to social media companies. Antitrust laws don’t seem to stand in their way either. And based on how Senator Burr, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chose to close the hearing, government seems supportive of social media companies collaborating. Addressing Sandberg and Dorsey, he said, “I would ask both of you. If there are any rules, such as any antitrust, FTC, regulations or guidelines that are obstacles to collaboration between you, I hope you’ll submit for the record where those obstacles are so we can look at the appropriate steps we can take as a committee to open those avenues up.”

Geoffrey Starks nominated as FCC Commissioner to fill Democratic gap left by Clyburn

The President has officially named Geoffrey Starks as his pick to fill the FCC Commissioner role left open by Mignon Clyburn’s departure. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed the news, rumored over the past few weeks, in a statement.

“I congratulate Geoffrey Starks on his forthcoming nomination to serve as a Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission,” said Pai. “He has a distinguished record of public service, including in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, and I wish him all the best during the confirmation process.”

Starks isn’t exactly a well known figure, but in public service that’s actually something of a compliment. He has worked in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau for three years and is currently one of several assistant bureau chiefs. Previously he was at the Justice Department, which makes sense, as the Enforcement Bureau’s responsibility is “to investigate and respond quickly to potential unlawful conduct.”

It’s unclear as yet what his position is on the various measures currently being addressed by the FCC, from net neutrality to the revamping of media regulations.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly settled on Starks as long as a couple months ago, the interim no doubt being spent on due diligence, cultivating endorsements, and so on. The Senate will have to confirm Starks, but there’s no timeline on that yet. Commissioners generally serve five-year terms.

The FCC is kept at an uneven split between the two parties, ideally 3:2 in favor of the current administration. At the moment it has three Republican Commissioners and one Democrat, Commissioner Clyburn having left just a few weeks ago.

I’ve asked the FCC for more information on Starks and no doubt his nomination will trigger considerable scrutiny by press and politicians alike.

Twitter will give political candidates a special badge during US midterm elections

Ahead of 2018 U.S. midterm elections, Twitter is taking a visible step to combat the spread of misinformation on its famously chaotic platform. In a blog post this week, the company explained how it would be adding “election labels” to the profiles of candidates running for political office.

“Twitter has become the first place voters go to seek accurate information, resources, and breaking news from journalists, political candidates, and elected officials,” the company wrote in its announcement. “We understand the significance of this responsibility and our teams are building new ways for people who use Twitter to identify original sources and authentic information.”

These labels feature a small government building icon and text identifying the position a candidate is running for and the state or district where the race is taking place. The label information included in the profile will also appear elsewhere on Twitter, even when tweets are embedded off-site.

The labels will start popping up after May 30 and will apply to candidates in state governor races as well as those campaigning for a seat in the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Twitter will partner with nonpartisan political nonprofit Ballotpedia to create the candidate labels. In a statement announcing its partnership, Ballotpedia explains how that process will work:

Ballotpedia covers all candidates in every upcoming election occurring within the 100 most-populated cities in the U.S., plus all federal and statewide elections, including ballot measures. After each state primary, Ballotpedia will provide Twitter with information on gubernatorial and Congressional candidates who will appear on the November ballot. After receiving consent from each candidate, Twitter will apply the labels to each candidate profile.

The decision to create a dedicated process to verify political profiles is a step in the right direction for Twitter. With major social platforms still in upheaval over revelations around foreign misinformation campaigns during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Twitter and Facebook need to take decisive action now if they intend to inoculate their users against a repeat threat in 2018.

FBI reportedly overestimated inaccessible encrypted phones by thousands

The FBI seems to have been caught fibbing again on the topic of encrypted phones. FBI director Christopher Wray estimated in December that it had almost 7,800 phones from 2017 alone that investigators were unable to access. The real number is likely less than a quarter of that, The Washington Post reports.

Internal records cited by sources put the actual number of encrypted phones at perhaps 1,200 but perhaps as many as 2,000, and the FBI told the paper in a statement that “initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported.” Supposedly having three databases tracking the phones led to devices being counted multiple times.

Such a mistake would be so elementary that it’s hard to conceive of how it would be possible. These aren’t court notes, memos or unimportant random pieces of evidence, they’re physical devices with serial numbers and names attached. The idea that no one thought to check for duplicates before giving a number to the director for testimony in Congress suggests either conspiracy or gross incompetence.

The latter seems more likely after a report by the Office of the Inspector General that found the FBI had failed to utilize its own resources to access locked phones, instead suing Apple and then hastily withdrawing the case when its basis (a locked phone from a terror attack) was removed. It seems to have chosen to downplay or ignore its own capabilities in order to pursue the narrative that widespread encryption is dangerous without a backdoor for law enforcement.

An audit is underway at the Bureau to figure out just how many phones it actually has that it can’t access, and hopefully how this all happened.

It is unmistakably among the FBI’s goals to emphasize the problem of devices being fully encrypted and inaccessible to authorities, a trend known as “going dark.” That much it has said publicly, and it is a serious problem for law enforcement. But it seems equally unmistakable that the Bureau is happy to be sloppy, deceptive or both in its advancement of a tailored narrative.

NSA triples metadata collection numbers, sucking up over 500 million call records in 2017

The National Security Agency revealed a huge increase in the amount of call metadata collected, from about 151 million call records in 2016 to more than 530 million last year — despite having fewer targets. But officials say nothing is different about the year but the numbers.

A transparency report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence shows numerous other fluctuations in the volume of surveillance conducted. Foreign surveillance-related, warrantless Section 702 content queries involving U.S. persons jumped from 5,288 to 7,512, for instance, and more citizens were “unmasked,” indicating a general increase in quantity.

On the other hand, the number of more invasive pen register/trace and tap orders dropped by nearly half, to 33, with even fewer targets — far less than the peak in 2014, when 135 orders targeted 516 people.

The biggest increase by far is the number of “call detail records” collected from service providers. Although the number of targets actually decreased from the previous year, from 42 to 40, the number of call records jumped from 151 million to 534 million, and search terms from 22,360 to 31,196.

Call detail records are things like which numbers were called and when, the duration of the call and so on — metadata, no content. But metadata can be just as revealing as content, since it can, for example, place a person near the scene of a crime, or establish that two people were connected even if the conversation they had was benign.

What do these increases mean? It’s hard to say. A spokesperson for the ODNI told Reuters that the government “has not altered the manner in which it uses its authority to obtain call detail records,” and that they “expect this number to fluctuate from year to year.” So according to them, it’s just a matter of quantity.

Because one target can yield hundreds or thousands of incidental sub-targets — people connected to the target whose call records will be requested and stored — it’s possible that 2017’s targets just had fatter, longer contact lists and deeper networks than 2016’s. Needless to say this explanation is unsatisfying.

Although the NSA’s surveillance apparatus was dealt a check with the 2013 Snowden leaks and subsequent half-hearted crackdowns by lawmakers, it clearly is getting back into its stride.

Backpage pleads guilty to sex trafficking, CEO faces up to 5 years for money laundering

Backpage .com, for years the primary online platform for the sex trade, has pleaded guilty as a company to charges of sex trafficking in Texas, the state’s attorney general announced today. Its CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering, for which he may be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.

The site was seized last week and a 93-count indictment issued days later.

Ferrer was arrested back in 2016, and will be sentenced “once he’s fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement.”

The Texas AG’s office does not elaborate beyond the charges mentioned in the press release, except to say that Ferrer’s cooperation could lead to new ones. Considering the site was an international and popular platform for all kinds of sex-related commerce — allegedly including child trafficking — it seems likely there’s far more yet to come, including pleas for similar crimes in different jurisdictions.

The execution of this strike against Backpage, the culmination of an 18-month investigation (beginning around the arrest of Ferrer), is coincident but not directly related to the passage and signing of FOSTA. The bill, just this week signed into law, effectively removes the “safe harbor” enjoyed by internet companies protecting them from having liability for the actions of their users. Under FOSTA, a company like Craigslist would be responsible if, for example, a prostitute listed their services on the site.

Unsurprisingly Craigslist and other sites have removed listings or services that may put them at risk under FOSTA, prompting criticism from the more legitimate sides of the sex industry that relied on them.

Highlights and audio from Zuckerberg’s emotional Q&A on scandals

“This is going to be a never-ending battle” said Mark Zuckerberg . He just gave the most candid look yet into his thoughts about Cambridge Analytica, data privacy, and Facebook’s sweeping developer platform changes today during a conference call with reporters. Sounding alternately vulnerable about his past negligence and confident about Facebook’s strategy going forward, Zuckerberg took nearly an hour of tough questions.

You can read a transcript here and listen to a recording of the call below:



The CEO started the call by giving his condolences to those affected by the shooting at YouTube yesterday. He then delivered this mea culpa on privacy:

We’re an idealistic and optimistic company . . . but it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough. We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well . . . We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is and that was a huge mistake. That was my mistake.

It’s not enough to just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive and that they’re bringing people together.  It’s not enough just to give people a voice, we have to make sure that people are not using that voice to hurt people or spread misinformation. And it’s not enough to give people tools to sign into apps, we have to make sure that all those developers protect people’s information too.

It’s not enough to have rules requiring that they protect the information. It’s not enough to believe them when they’re telling us they’re protecting information. We actually have to ensure that everyone in our ecosystem protects people’s information.”

This is Zuckerberg’s strongest statement yet about his and Facebook’s failure to anticipate worst-case scenarios, which has led to a string of scandals that are now decimating the company’s morale. Spelling out how policy means nothing without enforcement, and pairing that with a massive reduction in how much data app developers can request from users makes it seem like Facebook is ready to turn over a new leaf.

Here are the highlights from the rest of the call:

On Zuckerberg calling fake news’ influence “crazy”: “I clearly made a mistake by just dismissing fake news as crazy — as having an impact . . . it was too flippant. I never should have referred to it as crazy.

On deleting Russian trolls: Not only did Facebook delete 135 Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to Russian government-connected election interference troll farm the Internet Research Agency, as Facebook announced yesterday. Zuckerberg said Facebook removed “a Russian news organization that we determined was controlled and operated by the IRA”.

On the 87 million number: Regarding today’s disclosure that up to 87 million people had their data improperly access by Cambridge Analytica, “it very well could be less but we wanted to put out the maximum that we felt it could be as soon as we had that analysis.” Zuckerberg also referred to The New York Times’ report, noting that “We never put out the 50 million number, that was other parties.”

On users having their public info scraped: Facebook announced this morning that “we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped” via its search by phone number or email address feature and account recovery system. Scammers abused these to punch in one piece of info and then pair it to someone’s name and photo . Zuckerberg said search features are useful in languages where it’s hard to type or a lot of people have the same names. But “the methods of react limiting this weren’t able to prevent malicious actors who cycled through hundreds of thousands of IP addresses and did a relatively small number of queries for each one, so given that and what we know to day it just makes sense to shut that down.”

On when Facebook learned about the scraping and why it didn’t inform the public sooner: This was my question, and Zuckerberg dodged, merely saying “We looked into this and understood it more over the last few days as part of the audit of our overall system”, while declining to specify when Facebook first identified the issue.

On implementing GDPR worldwide: Zuckerberg refuted a Reuters story from yesterday saying that Facebook wouldn’t bring GDPR privacy protections to the U.S. and elsewhere. Instead he says, “we’re going to make all the same controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe.”

On if board has discussed him stepping down as chairman: “Not that I’m aware of” Zuckerberg said happily.

On if he still thinks he’s the best person to run Facebook: “Yes. Life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward . . . I think what people should evaluate us on is learning from our mistakes . . .and if we’re building things people like and that make their lives better . . . there are billions of people who love the products we’re building.”

On the Boz memo and prioritizing business over safety: “The things that makes our product challenging to manage and operate are not the tradeoffs between people and the business. I actually think those are quite easy because over the long-term, the business will be better if you serve people. I think it would be near-sighted to focus on short-term revenue over people, and I don’t think we’re that short-sighted. All the hard decisions we have to make are tradeoffs between people. Different people who use Facebook have different needs. Some people want to share political speech that they think is valid, and other people feel like it’s hate speech . . . we don’t always get them right.”

On whether Facebook can audit all app developers: “We’re not going to be able to go out and necessarily find every bad use of data” Zuckerberg said, but confidently said “I actually do think we’re going to be be able to cover a large amount of that activity.

On whether Facebook will sue Cambridge Analytica: “We have stood down temporarily to let the [UK government] do their investigation and their audit. Once that’s done we’ll resume ours … and ultimately to make sure none of the data persists or is being used improperly. And at that point if it makes sense we will take legal action if we need to do that to get people’s information.”

On how Facebook will measure its impact on fixing privacy: Zuckerberg wants to be able to measure “the prevalence of different categories of bad content like fake news, hate speech, bullying, terrorism. . . That’s going to end up being the way we should be held accountable and measured by the public . . .  My hope is that over time the playbook and scorecard we put out will also be followed by other internet platforms so that way there can be a standard measure across the industry.”

On whether Facebook should try to earn less money by using less data for targeting “People tell us if they’re going to see ads they want the ads to be good . . . that the ads are actually relevant to what they care about . . On the one hand people want relevant experiences, and on the other hand I do think there’s some discomfort with how data is used in systems like ads. But I think the feedback is overwhelmingly on the side of wanting a better experience. Maybe it’s 95-5.”

On whether #DeleteFacebook has had an impact on usage or ad revenue: “I don’t think there’s been any meaningful impact that we’ve observed…but it’s not good.”

On the timeline for fixing data privacy: “This is going to be a never-ending battle. You never fully solve security. It’s an arms race” Zuckerberg said early in the call. Then to close Q&A, he said “I think this is a multi-year effort. My hope is that by the end of this year we’ll have turned the corner on a lot of these issues and that people will see that things are getting a lot better.”

Overall, this was the moment of humility, candor, and contrition Facebook desperately needed. Users, developers, regulators, and the company’s own employees have felt in the dark this last month, but Zuckerberg did his best to lay out a clear path forward for Facebook. His willingness to endure this question was admirable, even if he deserved the grilling.

The company’s problems won’t disappear, and its past transgressions can’t be apologized away. But Facebook and its leader have finally matured past the incredulous dismissals and paralysis that characterized its response to past scandals. It’s ready to get to work.

Facebook’s latest privacy debacle stirs up more regulatory interest from lawmakers

Facebook’s late Friday disclosure that a data analytics company with ties to the Trump campaign improperly obtained — and then failed to destroy — the private data of 50 million users is generating more unwanted attention from politicians, some of whom were already beating the drums of regulation in the company’s direction.

On Saturday morning, Facebook dove into the semantics of its disclosure, arguing against wording in the New York Times story the company was attempting to get out in front of that referred to the incident as a breach. Most of this happened on the Twitter account of Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos before Stamos took down his tweets and the gist of the conversation made its way into an update to Facebook’s official post.

“People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,” the added language argued.

I have deleted my Tweets on Cambridge Analytica, not because they were factually incorrect but because I should have done a better job weighing in.

— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) March 17, 2018

While the language is up for debate, lawmakers don’t appear to be looking kindly on Facebook’s arguably legitimate effort to sidestep data breach notification laws that, were this a proper hack, could have required the company to disclose that it lost track of the data of 50 million users, only 270,000 of which consented to data sharing to the third party app involved. (In April of 2015, Facebook changed its policy, shutting down the API that shared friends data with third-party Facebook apps that they did not consent to sharing in the first place.)

While most lawmakers and politicians haven’t crafted formal statements yet (expect a landslide of those on Monday), a few are weighing in. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar calling for Facebook’s chief executive — and not just its counsel — to appear before the Senate Judiciary committee.

Facebook breach: This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves. I’ve called for more transparency & accountability for online political ads. They say “trust us.” Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.

— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) March 17, 2018

Senator Mark Warner, a prominent figure in tech’s role in enabling Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, used the incident to call attention to a piece of bipartisan legislation called the Honest Ads Act, designed to “prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.”

“This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West,” Warner said in a statement. “Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.”

That call for transparency was echoed Saturday by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who announced that her office would be launching an investigation into the situation. “Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” Healey tweeted. TechCrunch has reached out to Healey’s office for additional information.

On Cambridge Analytica’s side, it looks possible that the company may have violated Federal Election Commission laws forbidding foreign participation in domestic U.S. elections. The FEC enforces a “broad prohibition on foreign national activity in connection with elections in the United States.”

“Now is a time of reckoning for all tech and internet companies to truly consider their impact on democracies worldwide,” said Nuala O’Connor, President of the Center for Democracy & Technology. “Internet users in the U.S. are left incredibly vulnerable to this sort of abuse because of the lack of comprehensive data protection and privacy laws, which leaves this data unprotected.”

Just what lawmakers intend to do about big tech’s latest privacy debacle will be more clear come Monday, but the chorus calling for regulation is likely to grow louder from here on out.

Trump’s take on gaming and violence was wrong in the ’90s and it’s twice as wrong now

 A cobbled-together meeting at the White House is the latest chapter in the long, misguided crusade against video games. It would be comical if the country were not in a bitter ongoing debate about gun control and the safety of children; but since we are, it’s frustrating that time is still being spent on this long-settled “debate” instead of on practical matters. Read More

Facebook will verify the location of U.S. election ad buyers by mailing them postcards

 Facebook’s global director of policy programs says it will start sending postcards by snail mail to verify buyers of ads related to United States elections. Katie Harbath, who described the plan at a conference held by the National Association of Secretaries of State this weekend, didn’t reveal when the program will start, but told Reuters that it would be before the… Read More

Primer helps governments and corporations monitor and understand the world’s information

 When Google was founded in 1998, its goal was to organize the world’s information. And for the most part, mission accomplished — but in 19 years the goal post has moved forward and indexing and usefully presenting information isn’t enough. As machine learning matures, it’s becoming feasible for the first time to actually summarize and contextualize the world’s… Read More

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Russia targeted election systems in 21 states, successfully hacking some

 On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security notified nearly half of the U.S. states that their election systems were targeted by Russia-affiliated hackers in an attempt to influence the 2016 election. In most of the states targeted, the hackers were engaged in preliminary activities like scanning. In other states hackers attempted to infiltrate systems and failed, but in a small selection… Read More

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New border wall bill draws on Palmer Luckey’s new defense company

 After being ousted from the VR empire he built, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey is wasting no time on his next project: building the wall. As CNN reports, Luckey’s newfound interest in defense is evident in the Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology (SMART) Act, proposed by Texas Representative Will Hurd. Hurd partnered with other Republican representatives from border states… Read More

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Vote now to eliminate your favorite government agency!

 For every bad idea, there’s a crowdsourcing campaign with a soapbox and a big-ass megaphone, ready to make it even worse. Interested? In case you missed it, it’s not too late to vote to shake up the executive branch — surely the number one priority of every red-blooded American in these mostly ho-hum, sleepy times. As the giant stack of paper behind Office of Management… Read More

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Social media firms facing fresh political pressure after London terror attack

 Yesterday UK government ministers once again called for social media companies to do more to combat terrorism. “There should be no place for terrorists to hide,” said Home Secretary Amber Rudd, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr program. Read More

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Senate debates permanent rollback of FCC’s broadband privacy rules

 Republican Senators led by Arizona’s Jeff Flake proposed a resolution earlier this month that would roll back privacy rules adopted by the FCC last year that prevented ISPs from collecting personal data without asking permission first. Today the Senate was alive with oratory as people spoke for and against the proposal. Read More

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US authorities ban electronics larger than a phone from flights from 13 countries

 According to numerous reports, US authorities today alerted a number of Middle Eastern and African airlines that starting soon, their passengers will have to check any electronic items larger than a cell phone. That means passengers on these flights will have to put their laptops, tablets, Kindles and portable game consoles into their checked baggage for the foreseeable future. There is still… Read More

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Tech takes a softer initial stance on Trump’s latest executive order

 After several courts shot down his executive order that banned travelers from seven nations from entering the United States, President Trump today made another attempt to implement his proposed Muslim immigration ban. Trump signed a new executive order this morning that reduces the list of affected nations to six — it now excludes Iraq — and provides some clarity about the… Read More

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With tech ready to go to bat, Supreme Court puts off transgender rights case

 The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would vacate a lower court’s ruling in the case of Gavin Grimm, sending what was to be a landmark case on transgender rights back to the drawing board.
The previous decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals drew on Obama-era guidance from the Department of Education stating that schools should treat transgender students in a way… Read More

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What Betsy DeVos’ confirmation means for innovation in education

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 15:  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the Magnet Schools Of America Conference on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. DeVos addressed a recent protest at a public school she visited in Washington, DC last week following her controversial nomination to the post by President Donald Trump.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) Following Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education, the American education system could drastically pivot in unexpected ways. It’s difficult to know exactly how. What we do know is that the declining state of education, and historical opposition DeVos has already faced for her views on its privatization, will lead to the development of new technological advancements. Read More

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The FBI’s new online FOIA portal is now live

Fbi_headquarters It’s March, and beyond seasonal allergies and college basketball, that means the FBI’s controversial changes to its FOIA request system are now fully implemented. For reporters and government transparency advocates, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an essential tool. Enacted in 1966, the act requires the government to provide answers to specific requests for information,… Read More

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If Trump wants an easy policy win, he should focus on funding smart cities

cityscape and technology and network connection concept As America’s cities continue to grow, they face mind-boggling challenges: worsening traffic, increasing pollution, expensive housing, aging infrastructure and strained services. These challenges can only be solved by harnessing the power of big data, machine learning and other technology. Read More

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Intel inexplicably makes jobs announcement in round room with very nice curtains

Oval Office replica Intel’s latest press conference was its most well-appointed yet. The chipmaker’s CEO Brian Krzanich announced his company’s newest initiative in a tasteful if traditional space with lavish gold curtains and a stately desk. The room, with notably rounded corners, was nearly 3,000 miles away from the company’s headquarters and many of its manufacturing sites. In lieu of PR… Read More

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Elon Musk says he put travel ban on the agenda as he defends continued Trump council participation

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03:  SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk (L) talks with White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon at the beginning of a policy forum with U.S. President Donald Trump in the State Dining Room at the White House February 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. Leaders from the automotive and manufacturing industries, the financial and retail services and other powerful global businesses were invited to the meeting with Trump, his advisors and family.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Elon Musk only noted very briefly that there had been “progress” on the matter of the immigration order made during his meeting with Donald Trump’s economics advisory council on Friday, but on Saturday the Tesla CEO shared a bit more about what happened at the event. Musk said that he specifically requested inclusion of discussion of the travel ban at the closed meeting, as… Read More

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Elon Musk says he’ll present objections to Trump’s immigration order at Friday advisory council meeting

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23:  White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller (L) and Klaus Kleinfeld of Arconic visit with Elon Musk (C) of SpaceX before a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Business leaders who also attend the meeting included Elon Musk of SpaceX, Mark Sutton of International Paper, Michael Dell of Dell Technologies, Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical and others.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Tesla CEO Elon Musk issued a statement about his participation in Donald Trump’s economic advisory council, and a scheduled meeting of the group tomorrow. Musk said that he and others on the council will take the opportunity to voice their opposition to the president’s executive order on immigration and suggest how it might be changed. Musk took the opportunity to specifically… Read More

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Using tech to fix the criminal justice system

police-use-of-force-data Criminal justice reform at the federal level is kind of up in the air, but local jurisdictions around the country are continuing to step up to ensure that we move in the right direction. And local and state levels are where criminal justice policies and procedures matter the most, with local and state officials in charge of more than 90% of the prison and jail populations. Through the… Read More

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ACLU enrolls in startup school Y Combinator

y-combinator-logo The American Civil Liberties Union will learn how to turn the $24 million it raised over the weekend into growth and progress with help from top Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator. The ACLU will be part of the winter batch of companies in YC, where it will receive mentorship, a network of powerful connections in tech and a chance to present itself to investors on Demo Day.
Y… Read More

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We need startups to build democracy tech

i-want-you-to-build-democracy-tech It’s time to actually make the world a better place.
Silicon Valley was birthed from an existential threat to the world. Nazi radar defense technology was decimating the Allied air forces. But American engineers heeded the call, and in a Harvard lab led by Stanford professor Frederick Terman, invented radar jammers that helped win the war.
Terman brought the engineering talent back to… Read More

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai fears impact of Trump immigration order, recalls staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 04: Pichai Sundararajan, known as Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google Inc. speaks during an event to introduce Google Pixel phone and other Google products on October 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The Google Pixel is intended to challenge the Apple iPhone in the premium smartphone category. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images) Google CEO Sundar Pichai has outlined his disapproval of the impact arising from Trump’s dangerous, inhumane and short-sighted sweeping immigration order, which imposes for at least 90 days a block on entry to the U.S. for citizens (including valid visa holders) from seven countries, blocks indefinitely refugee admittance from Syria and also caps the total number of refugees allowed… Read More

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Twitter releases national security letters

twitter-ban-speech-gray Over the last eight months, tech companies have slowly been revealing that they’ve received national security letters from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that force the firms to secretly disclose user data to the government. Today, Twitter joined the ranks of Yahoo, Cloudflare and Google by announcing it had received two national security letters, one in 2015 and one in 2016. The… Read More

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Zuckerberg defends immigrants threatened by Trump

zuckerberg-immigration While other tech leaders glad-hand with The Donald, Mark Zuckerberg is facing him head on. Today the Facebook CEO called out the president for his unAmerican views that demonize immigrants, while also tactfully encouraging the few positive policies and comments Trump has offered on the subject. You should read Zuckerberg’s full Facebook post on the topic embedded at the bottom of this… Read More

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Rogue National Park Service Twitter account says it’s no longer run by government employees…but maybe it never was

national park service badge The rogue government Twitter account, AltUSNatParkService, which claimed it was being run by current park rangers, says it has now handed off control of its Twitter account to “several activists and journalists who believe they can continue in the same spirit.” The move has led some to question if the account was, in fact, ever operated by disgruntled government employees in the… Read More

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How LSD microdosing made a mega difference in one woman's mood, marriage, and life

Ayelet Waldman is a novelist, non fiction author, and former federal public defender. Her latest book is called A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. I interviewed her this morning.

Why did you start microdosing?

I started microdosing because I was profoundly and dangerously depressed. I have a mood disorder and for many, many years my medication worked great. I took it, I did what my doctor told me and everything was fine. But at some point my medication stopped working. I tried all sorts of different things. And nothing helped. I was getting worse and worse and more and more full of despair and more and more full of rage and more and more unstable and I became suicidal. I started doing things like googling the effects of maternal suicide on children and I was so terrified that I was going to do something to myself, that I was going to hurt myself, that I decided to do something drastic and something that some people might think is crazy — I decided to try microdosing with L.S.D.

Did it work?

Oh absolutely. It worked for sure. It’s sub-perceptual. In fact, if I told you right now, “Hey Mark, I slipped a microdose of LSD. in your coffee,” you wouldn’t even know the difference. The effect for me was instantaneous. My depression lifted right away. The book is called A Really Good Day because at the end of that very first day, I looked back and I thought, “that was a really good day.” It wasn’t like everything was perfect. It wasn’t like I was happiness and sunshine. I was still me, I was still cynical, I was still occasionally irritable, I would still sometimes make rash decisions, but I was stable and I was experiencing the kind of contentment and stability that people without mood disorders feel, and that really was quite nearly instantaneous.

My wife and I fought each other over who got to read your book at night. We just tore through it. One thing I noticed was that as time went on, on the days you microdosed, it became a little tougher for you to deal with the physical sensations.

Yeah, I got a little more irritable. I think if I were to continue I would probably take a smaller dose, maybe a five microgram dose every other day, rather than ten micrograms [every three days], because it made me a tiny bit irritable. Nothing like the way I was before I was using it, when I would fly off the handle and send rage-filled tweets and that kind of thing, but it definitely made me a little irritable, a little grumpy, a little agitated sometimes. Once I even told a physical therapist who was treating my frozen shoulder that I was microdosing. That was an impulse control moment. So there’s definitely that side effect.

The best day is the second day, the first day after you microdose. The protocol that Jim Fadiman, who kind of popularized microdosing, came up with is you dose one day, you don’t dose for two days, and then you dose the fourth day. The second day is the day that I (and most people) felt the most positive results. There was less irritability and there was more equilibrium — equilibrium, Mark, that’s what I experienced that was so glorious.

After your 30 day experiment, your supply of LSD was used up and you stopped. Did you look into continuing using something like morning glory seeds or Hawaiian baby woodrose seeds that contain psychedelics similar to LSD but aren’t Schedule 1 substances?

I’m not real chemist by nature. I’m not an experimenter by inclination, though I realize that I did try this experiment. So I’m not really comfortable trying things like that because I don’t know what the effects are. I think that if I sink into that kind of depression I’ll be willing to try anything, including those things.

I’m hoping that we have a dramatic change in the law. My hopes for that are somewhat less than they were before November 8. But I think that as microdosing becomes more popular, and people start experimenting with those kinds of legal substances, then I might feel comfortable trying them.

You know, anytime people come up with a medication regimen or a drug regimen that makes him feel better, the government tends to quickly criminalize it. So don’t say “morning glory” too many times or the next thing you’ll know you’ll find it on Schedule 1.

Yes, and you’re speaking as a former federal public defender.

And as someone who taught a class for seven years at the University of California Law School on the legal and social implications of the War on Drugs, and I was a consultant for the Drug Policy Alliance so when it comes to drug policy and drug law I know my stuff.

You also did a great job sharing anecdotes about drug policy and harm reduction in your book. One of the most infuriating and heartbreaking anecdotes you included was about defending a woman who’d been entrapped by a Drug Enforcement Administration informant.

This was a mother who never committed a crime in her life. She thought she had fallen in love with someone, and he was this vicious, vile person. He had been found not guilty by reason of insanity for the attempted murder of his wife. He’d escaped from prison. He became a CIA informant in Central America afterwards, and then the DEA hired him. He had stolen money from the DEA and failed a lie detector test. So they shifted him over to work in a different jurisdiction and that was the person who was busily setting up first time offenders. It was madness.

The institutional sociopathy of the DEA and the CIA is really horrible and it makes me wish that, especially where we are right now, that you’d go back to being a federal public defender. We need people like you.

A few months ago I thought, “What am I going to do next? Maybe I’ll write a nice light hearted novel about something.” Now I realize that what I’m going to do next is a book that is more policy focused. I think that the times call out for social activism, and I’m really glad that I have this book out now because this book isn’t just about an experiment with LSD. It’s about the drug war and the racist underpinnings of the drug war. And about the history of psychedelic drugs and other drugs and the problems with mass incarceration and the neurochemistry of psychedelics. It is a kind of social activism, and I feel like that’s where we all need to spend our time in any way that we can, especially those of us who come from a place of privilege. An African-American who lives in Detroit and who is suffering the way I was suffering wouldn’t be able to write this book and be so public because the risks to him would be so great. So people like me who benefit from white privilege have an obligation to use that privilege to help others, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

Image of LSD Blotters: Wikipedia

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Jack Dorsey apologizes for Twitter glitch forcing some users to follow Trump’s @POTUS

jack dorsey alt angle code conference Twitter chief Jack Dorsey today apologized for what he says were technical problems causing some Twitter users to involuntarily follow the @POTUS account as it was handed over to Donald Trump. As Sarah Perez reported here yesterday, Twitter users were bewildered as to why they were forced to follow the Trump @POTUS account, and many accused Twitter of doing the new administration’s… Read More

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Jack Dorsey apologizes for Twitter glitch forcing some users to follow Trump’s @POTUS

jack dorsey alt angle code conference Twitter chief Jack Dorsey today apologized for what he says were technical problems causing some Twitter users to involuntarily follow the @POTUS account as it was handed over to Donald Trump. As Sarah Perez reported here yesterday, Twitter users were bewildered as to why they were forced to follow the Trump @POTUS account, and many accused Twitter of doing the new administration’s… Read More

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Jack Dorsey apologizes for Twitter glitch forcing some users to follow Trump’s @POTUS

jack dorsey alt angle code conference Twitter chief Jack Dorsey today apologized for what he says were technical problems causing some Twitter users to involuntarily follow the @POTUS account as it was handed over to Donald Trump. As Sarah Perez reported here yesterday, Twitter users were bewildered as to why they were forced to follow the Trump @POTUS account, and many accused Twitter of doing the new administration’s… Read More

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The inauguration is happening tomorrow; here’s where you can stream it

American flags hang at the United States Capitol, in preparation for President Obama's second term inauguration ceremony in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images) If, say, the presidential inauguration is a thing you’d like to watch on Friday morning, then great news, friend, there are plenty of options. The bad news is that you’ve missed the musical stylings of Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood and 3 Doors Down.
The good news is that the real, good-old-fashioned inauguratin’ doesn’t really get started until 11:30AM ET tomorrow. Read More

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SF District Attorney lawsuit against Lily may have prompted refund

lily_hand_d After raking in tens of millions in preorders and venture capital, the drone maker Lily — if it can really be called that — is shutting down. But its problems won’t end there: San Francisco’s District Attorney filed a lawsuit today alleging false advertising and unfair business practices by the company. Read More

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Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt heads to Trump Tower (again)

lobby After their much-publicized meeting with President-elect Trump last month, many prominent figures in tech appear to be circling back to Trump tower. Eric Schmidt is the latest to be spotted at Trump’s Manhattan outpost, stopping by a few hours after AT&T’s Randall Stephenson met with Trump. Around the time of his visit, Schmidt, a former close Hillary Clinton supporter,… Read More

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Trump refuses to divest, admits that Russia may be behind hacks

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09:  Republican president-elect Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) At his first proper press conference as President-elect, Trump and team provided answers for a number of long-burning questions, sort of. Trump held his last full press conference on July 27 and months later canceled plans for a December 15 press event at which he was expected to assuage concerns about his myriad conflicts of interest. In an unconventional opening at Wednesday’s… Read More

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