Yet More Proof Facebook’s Surveillance Capitalism Is Good at Surveilling — Even Russian Hackers

I’ve long tracked Facebook’s serial admission to having SIGINT visibility that nearly rivals the NSA: knowing that Facebook had intelligence corroborating NSA’s judgment that GRU was behind the DNC hack was one reason I was ultimately convinced of the IC’s claims, in spite of initial questions.

Among all his evasions and questionably correct answers in Senate testimony yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg provided another tidbit about the visibility Facebook had on the 2016 attacks.

One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016. We expected them to do a number of more traditional cyberattacks, which we did identify, and notified the campaigns, that they were trying to hack into them. But we were slow to identifying [sic] the type of new information operations.

Not only did Facebook see GRU’s operations in real time, but they notified “the campaigns” about them.

Note, Zuck didn’t describe the targets in any more detail than “campaigns.” That led Robby Mook to dispute Zuck, eliciting more details from Facebook CISO Alex Stamos.

Aside from illustrating how routinely those involved in and covering the 2016 hacks confuse the possible affected targets (resulting in some real misunderstanding of what happened), Stamos’ clarification provides important new details: these hacks affected both the DNC and RNC’s key employees, and Facebook alerted the FBI (something we’ve previously heard).

The DNC likes to claim they never got any warning they were being hacked. But apparently, in addition to the FBI’s serial attempts to lead them to discover Russia was hacking them, Facebook let them know too.

Elsewhere in his testimony, Zuck got coy about the degree to which Facebook remains involved in the Mueller investigation, a fact that should have been obvious to anyone who has read the Internet Research Agency indictment, but which numerous news outlets treated as news anyway.

Facebook has a lot to answer for (this David Dayen piece on yesterday’s testimony is superb).

But one thing that has continued to trickle out is that Facebook’s surveillance capitalism is good at what it’s designed for: surveillance, including of Russian hackers.

22 replies
  1. TheraP says:

    Facebook equates a “campaign” with a political party?  How early did they notify the party headquarters?    How often?  And why did they fail to notify all the candidates?  ALL the candidates?

    Beyond that, how is it they never considered making that public?  Or notifying millions of their users?

    For the record, again, I am not, nor have I ever been a Facebook “guinea pig.”

    • Bob Conyers says:

      Also, who at Facebook contacted which people at the DNC and RNC? Was it at a Zuckerberg to Wasserman Schultz level, or low level security guy to low level security guy level?

      And what, exactly was communicated? Was it one email like the thousands of other security bulletins, notes, and comments that show up daily on someone’s screen? Or was it something substantial?

      I hope someone presses Facebook for clarification.

      • Rayne says:

        This, so much. Did someone bury this outreach? At the same time it’s also disturbing that if HRC’s Facebook campaign account was being hacked that we’re hearing the DNC was contacted but not HRC’s campaign. Does Facebook’s organization lack basic comprehension about the nature of their clients and about U.S. politics? Or is Facebook compromised within its own ranks by employees who do understand but aren’t acting neutrally?

        • greengiant says:

          Media team members assigned to help Parscale were required to be GOP supporters and were still on salary to the media companies.   Guess they came along with ad buys.

        • Kim Kaufman says:

          I was wondering what happened to that guy but couldn’t remember his name. Just googled him. Not much out there except a bunch of postponed court dates.

      • DMM says:

        Given the way the FBI’s warnings were bungled at the DNC for so long, I don’t cast too much side eye at Facebook yet. Nor is it unreasonable to assume that the parties could coordinate with the campaigns running under their banners. Moreover, anything predicated on Robby Mooks’ competence should be suspect on its face for reasons that should be obvious.

  2. jayedcoins says:

    Thanks, as always, for the excellent coverage and analysis.

    The Dayen report is indeed superb. I don’t like much anything about the man’s politics, but the note of Graham’s tack certainly shows why the guy is where he is, and is a heck of an illustration of the old “strange bedfellows” adage.

  3. Bob Conyers says:

    I have little doubt that Facebook has a ton of capacity when it comes to some facets of security, such as detecting and identifying attackers.

    When it comes to Dr. Spectre and Russian trolls and fraudulent advertising, however, it’s not surprising how bad they are. Their awfulness is a feature, not a bug.

    Cambridge Analytica and Dr. Spectre collaborated with Facebook because giving app developers enormous access was a major part of Facebook’s business plan. Likewise, cracking down on trolls is antithetical to Facebook’s business because they will can’t afford to knock out fake accounts, which make up an enormous percentage of their bogus claim of having 2.2 billion users. And they are hustling to maximize ad revenue, which means they have huge institutional bias against verifying political ads.

    The Russians figured out that Facebook had built a big wall on their border, but were also happy to let anyone in with crudely forged papers as long as they paid the price for admission.

  4. Domye West says:

    Is it just me or are like the last 3 EW posts not on the front page? The most recent post I see is the F1 post. To see the last few posts, I had to click EW’s name to get her bio, and see the posts she’s written.

    • TheraP says:

      1. Look above (left) – where there’s a box that says:  “e m p t y w h e e l”.

      2. Click on that box.

      3. Scroll down the page.

      4. You will see many photos.

      5. Each photo has words under it.

      6. Click on photo or words or little box saying:  “read more”

      7. But before you do that, look up above (right) – to the box that says “SUPPORT”.

      8. Click on the SUPPORT box.

      9. Choose a method for your SUPPORT!

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I suspect that G**gle, My Soft, Appfle and Amuzin have similar aims, capabilities and need comparable regulation. Adopting the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation would be a start, as would even debating it. For starters, it would reveal that invasive data extraction and digital surveillance are not incidental problems one can simply apologize for not addressing earlier or more aggressively. They are fundamental to their business models, their profitability and their stock valuations.

    The surveillance problem is not limited to the Big Five. Rightwing, authoritarian Trump supporter, Sinclair Broadcasting, whose stations might soon reach 72% of American households, wants to install new chips into telecoms devices that would have Orwellian capabilities, as do those new Samsung televisions.

    As for Zuck, did any Senator think to quote his derisive college-era comments about the fellow Harvardians who foolishly and willingly gave him their data? Zuck is as much PT Barnum as a digital genius. He might be bringing us together, but not for our benefit. To repeat the truism, when a service is free, you’re the product.

    • orionATL says:

      this sums the problem up quite neatly.

      i will add: dissembling about their corporate intent, and dissembling about how they collect and use data are also part of these surveillance corps’ business model.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Does the MSM need a reminder that corporate “self-regulation” is neoliberal nonsense for No regulation?

  7. Watson says:

    Mark Zuckerberg may not really be the inventor of Facebook. The Winklevoss twins claim that Zuck stole their concept for Facebook while they were at Harvard. (But they also claim that Jeremy Lin stole their idea of playing in the NBA.)   /s

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Z*ck*rb*rg is in the position of a lab-coated scientist playing with genetically identical subjects.  He sits among them in their maze, offering incentives.  Pavlov’s reaction erupts around him, as congressional pocketbooks begin to salivate at the prospect of reward for asking deferential questions.  Those not exhibiting the usual reaction are noted and dismissed by grad students as anomalies, and led down the chute by the promise of a bit of cheese.

    Mr. Z*ck*rb*rg is not Daniel in the lions’ den.  Atop his elevated chair, he’s holding the whip, in the manner of any other billionaire monopolist.

    There are options for change.  They begin at home.  Crowd-funding gave a well-to-do former FBI agent more than half a million for his legal defense fund.  It could achieve far more in support of legitimate progressive politicians.  First they have to be legitimately progressive.  They have to run.  They have to perform.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Z*ck*rb*rg asked if he’s willing to change his business model to protect data privacy:

    “I’m not sure what that means,” he responds.

    Mark’s earpiece and bluetooth must have been working overtime the past couple of days.

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