Government workers in the UK, US, Canada and European Union (the list will have grown by the time you read this) are banned from installing TikTok on their phones.
On Friday, France joined that list, preventing its civil servants from installing TikTok – and everything else. From the government’s press release (original in French):
After an analysis of the issues, in particular security, the government has decided to ban the downloading and installation of recreational applications on professional telephones provided to public officials from now on.
Recreational applications do not have sufficient levels of cybersecurity and data protection to be deployed on government equipment. This ban applies immediately and uniformly. Exemptions may be granted on an exceptional basis …
From a cybersecurity point of view, there are two reasons to ban TikTok: one is that it gathers a substantial amount of data in its natural course of operation; the other is that it cannot credibly commit to withstanding efforts from the Chinese Communist party to compel TikTok to promote the party’s interests overseas.
But either of those rationales poses awkward questions for those who would ban TikTok, because the app isn’t unique. Plenty of apps and companies are exposed to China to a greater or lesser extent, and even more harvest vast amounts of personal data. So why focus on just one app?
France, at least, appears to have drawn the same conclusion. If TikTok can’t be safely installed on government devices, then how can anything else?
As with everything related to this spat, there is a geopolitical undercurrent: France gets to follow the international crowd, but bloody America’s nose in the process, highlighting the similarities between the data harvesting of TikTok and Facebook and declaring that neither of them is appropriate for a government device.
A world without TikTok?
In the short term, it’s hard not to feel as if everything is falling in Facebook’s favour. Sure, the company loses access to a few French civil servants, but everyone knows the real target here, and the further the bans spread, the more chance that the real ban-hammer drops, and TikTok faces general suppression.
Analysts at Wedbush Securities said on Sunday that such a ban was a matter of “when, not if”, “with the odds of a ban 90%+ in our opinion. We believe now it’s just a matter of time until CFIUS [the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] formally comes out with its recommendations for a US ban.” The legal wrangling would be tricky but the US, at least, probably has the power to do so, with TikTok’s status as a foreign-owned company enabling the government to invoke powers designed to protect national security.
TikTok could stave off a total ban if it secured its independence from Chinese-owned ByteDance, or if it was sold to another – American – owner, but the odds of that happening seem slim. “Project Texas”, an engineering effort to isolate American user data in servers controlled by Oracle, looks to be as big a concession the company was willing to make there, and it’s failed to convince those pushing for a ban.
So what would happen next? It’s hard to say: some of the fallout would depend on TikTok’s own actions.Any technical enforcement of the ban would likely be at the App Store level, as Google and Apple would be compelled to eject the app from their centralised distribution.The company could try to continue offering services to American users in spite of the CFIUS ban, building out its web service, offering Android apps for installation through third-party app stores, and continuing to operate for users who already downloaded the app on their iPhones. It’s not impossible to use a social network in a country that’s banned it: just look at the many, many Twitter and Facebook users posting from mainland China.
That would see a slow death of the site, similar to the constant drain of users from Musk’s Twitter. Without seismic upheaval, the winners would be the obvious places for other users to go: Instagram’s Reels and YouTube Shorts, which have spent years trying to clone TikTok’s appeal (and algorithm) with only moderate success.
More interesting would be if the company decided to push the big red button. Blocking all Americans overnight would cause instant upheaval. Some of the 150 million US users might shrug their shoulders and open another app, but others – many others – wouldn’t. Their dissatisfaction may not be enough to force the state to backtrack, but it could dissuade other governments from following course.
Higgins’s images didn’t quite escape containment in the same way the pope shot did, though, which is why I think the latter has a good case for being the first of a new type of viral image: the AI-generated fake that goes viral despite – not because – it was created by AI.
Midjourney’s fifth iteration is probably the best AI image generator on the market, particularly when trying to generate photorealistic images of humans. It’s even able to generate hands with five fingers (£), something this technology has notoriously struggled with before now.
So expect this to happen more in the future. The immediate future. Now. It’s time to treat photographic evidence as no more reliable than written statements: if @bonerfart420 posted that Rishi Sunak kicked a beggar, you wouldn’t believe them; it’s time to extend that same scepticism if they post a photo of him caught in the act.
Microsoft ahead of the game
It’s looking good for Microsoft’s multibillion takeover of gaming mega publisher Activision Blizzard, after the UK regulator dropped one of its key objections. According to the Competition and Markets Authority, Microsoft has provided sufficient proof that it would continue to make the Call of Duty series available on PlayStation consoles after the purchase was completed, and so that risk should be discounted.
“It would not be commercially beneficial to Microsoft to make CoD exclusive to Xbox following the deal,” the CMA says. “Microsoft will instead still have the incentive to continue to make the game available on PlayStation.”
That means, more broadly, that the CMA has provisionally concluded that the acquisition “will not result in a substantial lessening of competition in relation to console gaming in the UK”.
There’s still the question of “cloud gaming services”: few believe that Microsoft would offer Call of Duty to Sony to add to its PlayStation Plus service, making Xbox Game Pass the only subscription likely to have the series for the foreseeable future, and the CMA could still decide that’s a deal-breaker.
Of course, there are at least two other major regulators to go, with the EU competition commission and the FTC in the US both weighing in. But the former is expected to approve the deal itself. That leaves just the FTC still potentially committing itself to full-throated opposition of the deal. Things might still shake out the way Microsoft hopes.
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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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