Some Republicans in 2020 criticized election officials nationwide for accepting grants linked to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. A new round of grants is drawing similar criticism, although Zuckerberg didn’t give money this time.
Georgia’s DeKalb County expects to receive $2 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit that offered grants in 2020.
The Federalist, a conservative website, published a Feb. 21 story headlined, “How Georgia Became Democrats’ Test Site For Their 2024 Private Takeover Of Election Offices.” Although the headline says “Georgia,” the story is about only one county, DeKalb.
The statement appeared on Facebook and it was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook.)
Does the $2 million grant for DeKalb County represent a “private takeover of election offices”?
When we’ve fact-checked claims that a bill in Congress equals a “federal takeover” of an industry (such as health care), we’ve considered whether the measure calls for the government to assume total control of the sector.
The Facebook post’s claim of a “takeover” of an elections office suggests that the nonprofit would control crucial tasks, such as in-person or mail-in voting operations. But we found no evidence of such a takeover in DeKalb, a left-leaning county. Local officials will continue to run elections based on state law requirements.
How DeKalb County applied for the grant
In 2020, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave about $400 million to nonprofits (a spokesperson for the couple told PolitiFact they’re no longer funding election grants). Those nonprofits distributed the money to state and local election offices to help them cover the costs of running an election during the coronavirus pandemic.
After the 2020 general election, about half the states passed bans on private election funding, including Georgia.
Some Republicans have decried DeKalb’s application for a new grant. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in 2021 that Georgia’s ban has “a big loophole.”
“The law doesn’t ban outside donations to county governments, which could then allocate resources to their election boards. The law only affects direct payments to election offices,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Georgia’s State Election Board is investigating a complaint about the donation. The Senate voted in March in favor of a bill that bans outside funding and penalizes violations as a felony punishable by jail time. The bill also would retroactively require any county to return outside funding received in 2023 — a provision that targets DeKalb.
DeKalb hasn’t provided details about how it will use the grant money
Funds from the Center for Tech and Civic Life may be used to buy election equipment and technology, to run voting sites or offices and pay personnel.
We found no details about how DeKalb plans to use the grant; county officials may not have decided how to spend the money in 2023-24.
PolitiFact submitted a public records request to get more information from the county. A document by DeKalb states that it was seeking an “increase in operating budget, and upgrade & enhancements” of facilities.
Documents provided to PolitiFact do not suggest that the nonprofit will take over elections in DeKalb.
Anagreement states that the nonprofit “will never attempt to influence the outcome of any election. Period.” It also states that partners will never touch “live ballots” — ballots that haven’t yet been counted or a ballot in a current election — or tabulating equipment, give legal advice or require the county to follow specific advice or recommendations.
DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry told PolitiFact that he would like the money to be used to launch a civic engagement office focused on voter education and communications on how and where to vote.
We asked Terry whether the Center for Tech and Civic Life will have any say over hiring election workers, buying equipment, operating in person voting sites or managing voting by mail.
Those tasks are “wholly in the discretion” of the elected commissioners and election administrators, Terry said.
A Center for Tech and Civic Life spokesperson told PolitiFact that the agency won’t run DeKalb’s elections.
Grants beyond DeKalb County
Communities in California, Illinois and Nevada have also been approved for grants.
Private funding for elections is only necessary because local and state governments and the federal government have failed to provide adequate funding for decades, said Rachel Orey, an election expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank.
The grant to DeKalb County “is limited to covering core election infrastructure needs that benefit all voters, like election security improvements and new personnel, and in no way functions as a ‘takeover’ of the election office,” Orey said.
The Federalist article links to a report by the Honest Elections Project and the John Locke Foundation, two conservative groups that have criticized the grants. The report said jurisdictions are expected to submit an improvement plan for office operations and that members can receive guidance on staff recruitment and training. The report authors drew from records they obtained from two North Carolina counties.
A Facebook post claimed that a $2 million grant for DeKalb County amounts to a “private takeover of election offices.”
DeKalb documents do not show exactly how the county plans to use the Center for Tech and Civic Life’s grant. But the county can use the money for equipment; voting and office sites; and personnel.
A “takeover” suggests that the center will be in charge of elections in DeKalb; we found no evidence to back that up. Local election officials will continue to administer elections based on state laws.
NHS trusts are sharing intimate details about patients’ medical conditions, appointments and treatments with Facebook without consent and despite promising never to do so.
An Observer investigation has uncovered a covert tracking tool in the websites of 20 NHS trusts which has for years collected browsing information and shared it with the tech giant in a major breach of privacy.
The data includes granular details of pages viewed, buttons clicked and keywords searched. It is matched to the user’s IP address – an identifier linked to an individual or household – and in many cases details of their Facebook account.
Information extracted by Meta Pixel can be used by Facebook’s parent company, Meta, for its own business purposes – including improving its targeted advertising services.
Records of information sent to the firm by NHS websites reveal it includes data which – when linked to an individual – could reveal personal medical details.
It was collected from patients who visited hundreds of NHS webpages about HIV, self-harm, gender identity services, sexual health, cancer, children’s treatment and more.
It also includes details of when web users clicked buttons to book an appointment, order a repeat prescription, request a referral or to complete an online counselling course. Millions of patients are potentially affected.
This weekend, 17 of the 20 NHS trusts that were using Meta Pixel confirmed they had pulled the tracking tool from their websites.
Eight issued apologies to patients. Multiple trusts said they had originally installed the tracking pixels to monitor recruitment or charity campaigns and were not aware that they were sending patient data to Facebook. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is investigating.
The Observer can reveal:
In one case, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust shared when a user viewed a patient handbook for HIV medication. The name of the drug and the NHS trust were sent to the company along with the user’s IP address and details of their Facebook user ID.
Alder Hey Children’s trust in Liverpool, sent Facebook details when users visited webpages for sexual development problems, crisis mental health services and eating disorders. It also shared data when users clicked to order repeat prescriptions.
The Tavistock and Portman NHS foundation trust in London shared data with Facebook when users clicked the information page for its gender identity service, which specialises in working with children who have gender dysphoria. Data was also shared when users viewed the webpage for the Portman Clinic, which “offers specialist help with disturbing sexual behaviours”, and clicked for details on how to be referred to the service.
Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS trust shared data with Facebook when a patient clicked buttons indicating they were under 18, lived in Brighton and wanted to access mental health services.
Other NHS trusts sent detailed receipts to Facebook when users accessed pages for appointment bookings or completed online self-help courses. Barts Health NHS trust, which serves a population of 2.5 million in London, shared data with Facebook when a user clicked to “cancel or change an appointment” or added a visit to a particular hospital to their itinerary.
The Royal Marsden, a specialist cancer centre, sent data on patients requesting referrals, viewing information about private care and browsing pages for particular cancer types.
Information sent to the company is likely to include special category health data, which has extra protection in law and is defined as information “about an individual’s past, current or future health status”, including medical conditions, tests and treatment and “any related data which reveals anything about the state of someone’s health”. Using or sharing it without explicit consent or another lawful basis is illegal.
Once the data reaches Facebook’s servers, it is not possible to track exactly how it is used. The company says it prohibits organisations from sending it sensitive health information and has filters to weed such data out when it is received by mistake.
Professor David Leslie, director of ethics at the Alan Turing Institute, said the transfer of data to third parties by the NHS risked damaging the “delicate relationship of trust” with patients. “Our reasonable expectation when we’re accessing an NHS website is that our data won’t be extracted and shared with third-party commercial entities that could [use it] for targeting ads or linking our personal identities to health conditions,” he said.
He accused Meta of doing too little to monitor what information it was being sent. “Meta says we don’t permit certain types of data being sent to us but they haven’t spent enough on resources to audit this,” Christl said.
In most cases, the information sent to Facebook during a test by the Observer was transferred automatically upon loading a website – before the user had selected to “accept” or “decline” cookies – and without explicit consent. Only three of the 20 trusts mentioned Facebook or Meta in their privacy policies at all. Several of the trusts had previously promised patients that their information would not be shared or used for marketing.
Collectively, the 20 NHS trusts found using the tracking tool serve a population of more than 22 million people in England, stretching from Devon to the Pennines. Some had been using it for several years.
In a statement, the trust apologised to patients and said the Meta Pixel had been active on its website in error. “It was installed in relation to a recruitment campaign, and we were not aware that Meta was using this information for marketing purposes,” a spokesperson said. “Immediate action has been taken to remove it.”
The Royal Marsden said it regularly reviewed its privacy policies but did not say whether it planned to remove the pixel. Barts said it was removing trackers from its website “following the disclosure that they were being used to extract personal information beyond the purpose for which they were originally installed, which was to measure responses to recruitment advertising campaigns.”
Several said they were unaware of how data would be used and apologised to patients for failing to get consent. Aside from the 17 who pulled or are pulling the tool, Hertfordshire Partnership trust and Royal Marsden said they were investigating the issues internally and only the Tavistock and Portman did not respond to requests for comment.
The ICO said it had “noted the findings” and was considering the matter. “People have the right to expect that organisations will handle their information securely and that it will only be used for the purpose they are told,” a spokesperson said.
Several leading US hospitals are currently being sued by their patients over their use of the pixels, which are tiny pieces of code that are invisible during normal browsing.
Meta is also facing legal action over accusations of knowingly receiving sensitive health information – including from pages within patient portals – and not taking steps to stop it. The plaintiffs claim Meta violated their medical privacy by intercepting “individually identifiable health information” from its partner websites and “monetising” it.
Jeffrey Koncius, a partner at Kiesel Law in California and one of the attorneys leading the action, said the data transfer by the NHS websites appeared similar to what was happening in the US. “Imagine if a hospital sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg and said, ‘We want you to know that Jeff Koncius is our patient,’” he said. “That’s exactly what’s happening here. It’s just happening electronically.”
The Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper described the findings as a “shocking discovery” that raised serious questions about the protection of patient information. “The NHS must investigate how this happened and how widespread this alleged data breach is,” she said.
NHS England said individual trusts were responsible for ensuring they followed data protection laws. “The NHS is looking into this issue and will take further action if necessary,” a spokesperson said.
Meta said it had contacted the trusts to remind them of its policies, which prohibited organisations from sending it health data. “We educate advertisers on properly setting up business tools to prevent this from occurring,” the spokesperson said. They added it was website owner’s responsibility to ensure it complied with data protection laws and had obtained consent before sending data.
The company did not answer questions about the effectiveness of its filters designed to weed out “potentially sensitive data”, or which types of information they would block from hospital websites – or say why it permitted NHS trusts to send it data at all, given the high risk it could reveal details about the web user’s health.
“Like any technology, our filters won’t be able to catch everything all of the time. However, we are constantly improving our mechanisms to make sure we catch as much as we can,” a spokesperson said.
The company offers its business tools to advertisers, saying they can help them use health-based advertising to “grow your business”. In one guide, it says data collected through its business tools can improve users’ Facebook experience by showing them ads they “might be interested in”. “You may see ads for hotel deals if you visit travel websites,” it explains.
Sam Smith, at medConfidential, a data privacy campaign group, said it was never appropriate for the tools to be used to collect health information. “There’s no benefit to NHS trusts in giving this information away. It’s like asking a tobacco company to sponsor a cancer ward,” he said. “NHS England is tacitly approving this by not enforcing anything better.”
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Buy 1, Get 1 Offer: Delhi Woman Falls Prey To ‘Free Thali’ Bait on Facebook, Loses Rs 90,000 In cyber Fraud
When the woman clicked on the link and the app was downloaded after which she entered the user ID and password given by the cyber crook. Few seconds later she received messages that her money was debited.
New Delhi: A 40-year-old woman from southwest Delhi lost Rs. 90,000 after downloading an App on Facebook which lured her with “buy one thali (food plate), get another free” offer. The victim, Savita Sharma, who works as a senior executive at a bank, told the police that one of her relatives informed her about the offer on Facebook.
According to Savita, she visited the site on November 27, 2022 and made a call on the given number to make an enquiry about the deal. She did not get any response but received a call back and “the caller asked her to get the offer of Sagar Ratna (a popular restaurant chain)”, Sharma said in her FIR lodged on May 2 this year.
The caller then shared a link and asked her to download an application to avail the offer. The cyber crook also sent the user ID and password to access the app. “He told me that if I want to get the offer, I will have to register on this app first,” Sharma told PTI.
When the woman clicked on the link and the app was downloaded after which she entered the user ID and password given by the man. “The moment I did it, I lost control of my phone. It was hacked and then I received a message that Rs 40,000 was debited from my account,” she added.
Sharma said that a few seconds later she received another message that Rs 50,000 was withdrawn from her account.
“It was very surprising for me that the money went from my credit card to my Paytm account and then moved out to the fraudster’s account. I never shared any of these details with the caller,” Sharma claimed, adding that she immediately blocked her credit card.
Though the cyber police are probing the matter, similar cases of frauds have been reported from other cities where people lost thousands of rupees.
Sagar Ratna’s statement
When contacted, a representative of Sagar Ratna admitted that they received many such complaints from customers.
“We have received many calls where people complained that they were defrauded by someone who advertised lucrative offers in the name of our restaurant. We warned people to remain alert of any such lucrative deal as we never make offers to people through Facebook,” the representative said, adding the cyber police in other cities are also probing the similar matter.
Police officers said they are educating commoners not to download any application or click on any link which comes from unknown sources.
“Cyber criminals are devising new ways to defraud people. People should not click on any link or app which comes from unknown or unidentified sources,” a cybercrime investigator said.
A resident of Sector 43 in Gurgaon, has lost over Rs 70 lakh to scamsters who promised him hefty commissions under the pretext of a part-time job. The man in his complaint said that he eventually landed in a mountain of debt as he had borrowed loans under his house, father’s property and his business.
On February 27, the victim received a message about a part-time job of rating hotels and ‘liking’ videos. “I was promised a commission of Rs 2,000-3,000. They opened a new bank account for me, wherein they deposited Rs 10,000 as a trial bonus. I was given 30 tasks and upon completion of the first level, I got Rs 2,200 credited. After withdrawing the commission, they asked me if I wanted to continue, and when I replied in the affirmative, they wiped the account clean and asked me to deposit Rs 10,000 again,” the complainant said.
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