Amid Promises to Share Ads with Congress, Some Other Interesting Promises

DC is atwitter with Facebook’s announcement that it can, after all, voluntarily share the same information it shared with Robert Mueller with Congress. As part of that announcement, it released a statement from their General Counsel, a Q&A addressing some of the questions that had been generating bad PR, and some promises of additional things Facebook will do to support democracy from Mark Zuckerberg.

I’m most interested in two details in Zuck’s statement. For example, this paragraph says Facebook will continue to look at what happened closely.

 We will continue our investigation into what happened on Facebook in this election. We may find more, and if we do, we will continue to work with the government. We are looking into foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states, as well as organizations like the campaigns, to further our understanding of how they used our tools. These investigations will take some time, but we will continue our thorough review. [my emphasis]

While the frenzy responding to this announcement has focused on Russian ads, Zuck just revealed that Facebook is also looking at what the campaigns did.

That would permit Facebook to look for any apparently similar activity from campaigns and Russian actors, as we have reason to believe there was. It also might suggest Facebook is reviewing to see whether Republican dark marketing served to suppress turnout, and if so in coordination with what other actors.

I’d really love to have this information, but note that it is a substantially different thing for Facebook to review Russian actions and for Facebook to review Democratic or Republican actions.

Then there’s the promise to work even more closely with other tech companies.

We will increase sharing of threat information with other tech and security companies. We already share information on bad actors on the internet through programs like ThreatExchange, and now we’re exploring ways we can share more information about anyone attempting to interfere with elections. It is important that tech companies collaborate on this because it’s almost certain that any actor trying to misuse Facebook will also be trying to abuse other internet platforms too.

I think I’m okay with this (and they’re legally permitted to do this in any case). But given my newfound obsession with the fact that with any of these global tech companies, you’re dealing with intelligence resources that might rival nation-state intelligence, I’m interested in Facebook’s efforts to expand the sharing.

Facebook, by itself, may not rival the NSA. But when you put together Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and others, then you’re beginning to talk really powerful intelligence capabilities.

It’s good, I suppose, that that much technical power is going to hunt down Russians. But it might be worth pausing to imagine what else they might cooperate to hunt down.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

25 replies
  1. maybe ryan says:

    Is it your understanding that today’s “3,000 ads” relates directly to the previous “$100,000 ad buy”?

    If so, are the 3,000 ads mostly 1-word tweaks or repeats of the same ad?  I don’t understand the decision-making behind creating 3,000 separate ads only to put a mere $33 behind each.  What goes into creating an ad?

    • Willis Warren says:

      If you buy a Facebook ad, it targets a finite set of people.  I would imagine the tweaks are for different audiences, not any changes within the individual ads.  You’d almost have to set up bot networks within a target group, which is consistent with the Mises, FreeThoughtProject, AnonHQ, etc… facebook followings I know.  You could exponentially expand your ad dollars with the bots.

  2. SpaceLifeForm says:

    It will be interesting to see who whines about this Facebook decision.

    I have a list that most likely will *NOT* complain.
    There are no TLAs in the list.

    They were targeted by a *very recent* attack.

    (you can find if you research, but at this point, best kept quiet for DFIR reasons)

      • orionATL says:

        look folks, this seems an effort not just to prove one can get into some big, important corporate sysyems as a hacker challenge, but an effort to create anarchy; to incite complete distrust in systems we would normally trust.

        this looks like an effort to destroy the existing world wide web trust relationship.

        now who would have an incentive to do that? how about an international pariah?

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          “how about an international pariah?”

          Which one?

          Another reason for this attack may have been an attempt to sell something. The fact that it was discovered fairly quickly may have foiled the end-goal.

          The end-goal may have been two-pronged.

          Sell need for 702 renewal, and sell need for encryption backdoors.

          I believe the attack has failed with regard to those two possible hidden motives, because it was caught quickly.

  3. greengiant says:

    Note that such an actor from a single account can just share and reshare a post across the 200,000 friends and bots without even buying an advert.  Consider how the click bait #fakenews dealers worked.  Increasing share counts and likes to imply integrity.  On the twitter battlefield bots are said to not just reply, retweet, and like to gain twitter placement as first reply,  they are said to auto delete the replies and/or retweets within seconds.   https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/910992971620864004   Note the twitter investments by KSA actor,  and by Yuri Milner via mail.ru and Digital Sky Technologies.   Other battlefields include the 4chan, reddit, instagram, dark net,  and so on.

  4. orionATL says:

    zuckerberg sez:

    “…  We will continue our investigation into what happened on Facebook in this election. We may find more, and if we do, we will continue to work with the government. We are looking into foreign actors,….”

    facebook has the computer storage capacity to store and re-examine its previous ads or posts? from its 2 billion customers?

    man, to do that wouldn’t they need more storage capacity than nsa has at beefhollow road?

    exactly in what form and with what detail extant does facebook have data retained from past customer activity?

    would it just be compressed metadata from messages together with eula agreements and payment data?

    would original text and photos have been retained?

  5. lefty665 says:

    OMG political campaigns may have used social media! Think I’m going to faint.  If Zuckerberg does not find that the Repubs and Dems were a couple of orders of magnitude more active than the Ruskies it’s domestic political malfeasance. Also worthwhile remembering is that so far the $100k Facebook attributed to “Russia” was not well vetted. Perhaps half had a likely connection to Russia. It will be interesting to see what they come up with after more research. Maybe more, but perhaps less too. With $1.4B in campaign expenditures we have to keep Facebook bucks in perspective.

    EW, You touched on an interesting issue the other day. If it turns out the Florida, or other Facebook ads were targeted using what looks like VAN data that’s interesting. OTOH, we will to have to filter who was using VAN data to do the targeting. Was it Ruskies, Dems or maybe the as yet unidentified Dems behind the Steele bullshit. How forthcoming will Facebook be with its customer list for targeted ads?

    It would be a surprise if Cambridge Analytica was the only one exploiting Facebook for political gain. But, a measure of the validity of Facebook’s investigation will be how specifically they quantify Cambridge Analytica data driven targeting. How we distinguish that from internal party data like VAN is an interesting question.  Cambridge Analytica’s data resembles party accumulated data in a number of ways. It might be hard to tell them apart if all we have is the targeting criteria. Again, Facebook’s willingness to name customers is crucial.

  6. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: Kudos to CAFC

    https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/09/appeals-court-east-texas-cant-keep-patent-case-because-of-one-local-salesman/

    [Would have to assume that based on the courts reasoning, a post-office box will no longer be sufficient to determine venue. Which has historically been a major issue in East Texas cases in this court]

    For a court to have jurisdiction over a patent defendant, the defendant must either “reside” in the district—in other words, must be incorporated there—or have a “regular and established place of business” in the area.

  7. M. says:

    Why would anyone assume it’s not already happening — specially at Peter Thiel-controlled Facebook?
    Why would anyone assume that these companies haven’t been penetrated IC agents?

  8. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: Will Governments overreact like 9-11?

    Suspect sooner than years. Try next two months.

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/22/major-cyber-attack-happen-soon-warns-uks-online-security-boss

    A “category one” cyber-attack, the most serious tier possible, will happen “sometime in the next few years”, a director of the National Cybersecurity Centre has warned.

    [Wonder if his intel is sound or was he explicitly told it will happen]

    According to the agency, which reports to GCHQ and has responsibly for ensuring the UK’s information security, a category one cybersecurity incident requires a national government response.

    “Then what will really come out is that it was entirely preventable… It will turn out that the organisation that has been breached didn’t really understand what data they had, what value it had or the impact it could have outside that organisation.”

    • orionATL says:

      would you like to know why the senatorial republicans are in such a swivet to pass an anti-aca bill said to be worse than the last ones that failed 2 months ago?

      because they are political whores, whores of the worst sort – whores of the republican oligarchs:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/us/politics/republican-donors-obamacare-repeal.html?hp&action=?

      got that? they will fuck over 10 of millions of their fellow citizens because the money to run their deeply dishonest campaigns about freedom and choice and jobs and a new day in america are in danger of being defunded because the oligarchs want the affordable care act and, most particularly, medicare, destroyed.

      fucking sociopaths! self-serving, self-dealing lying sociopaths.!

      well, dems, here is the opportunity you have been praying – to make a real difference in the world of the under-educated white american. are you smart enough to take advantage of the opportunity?

    • orionATL says:

      tx.

      seems to give the lie to the notion that facebook and cambridge were not important to the trump campaign.

      the childcare bit was too short. would like to have seen more of the actual ad since that was the clinton program that would have drastically changed the lives of working class mothers, the poorer the more the positive change.

      facebook is a great medium for buying then hiding/burying negative political ads, and very carefully targeted ads at that. its time for re-institution of the “fairness rule”.

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