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Federal Court Approves Facebook’s $5 Billion Privacy Agreement with the FTC Over Cambridge Analytica



Facebook is looking to move on from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, with the Federal Court this week approving its agreement with the FTC, that it made last July, which will see the company pay a $5 billion fine and implement strict new data privacy measures.

As explained by Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Michael Protti:

On Thursday, a federal court officially approved the agreement we reached with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last July. This concludes the FTC’s investigation that began after the events surrounding Cambridge Analytica in 2018. […] With this agreement now in place, executive leaders at the company, including our CEO, will now certify our compliance with it quarterly and annually to the FTC. We are also creating a new Privacy Committee on our Board of Directors that will be comprised solely of independent directors, and we’ll work with a third-party, independent assessor who will regularly and directly report to the Privacy Committee on our privacy program compliance.”

As noted, the agreement was first announced last July, along with a record fine for breaches stemming from the way Cambridge Analytica accessed and utilized Facebook audience data for targeted political campaigning.

The FTC reiterated the significance of the fine at the time: 

“The $5 billion penalty against Facebook is the largest ever imposed on any company for violating consumers’ privacy and almost 20 times greater than the largest privacy or data security penalty ever imposed worldwide. It is one of the largest penalties ever assessed by the U.S. government for any violation.”

After a long investigation into its processes, Facebook agreed that it had failed in its duty to protect user data, and has since committed to improving its systems in line with the FTC agreement.

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Those improvements, thus far, have included:

The agreement will now go into full effect, with Facebook being held to these rulings on various fronts, including additional reporting and transparency requirements, along with the appointment of its Privacy Committee.

Facebook FTC agreement

Facebook has already been working towards the implementation of this strategy already, with the Federal Court’s approval really more of a formality in this respect. 

As noted by Protti:

This agreement has been a catalyst for changing the culture of our company. We’ve changed the process by which we onboard every new employee at Facebook to make sure they think about their role through a privacy lens, design with privacy in mind from the beginning and work proactively to identify potential privacy risks so that mitigations can be implemented.”

Indeed, Facebook has made its data collection processes more transparent, and has provided simplified privacy tools to help people control what data Facebook and partner businesses are able to access. Facebook has also significantly limited access to its API, restricting third-party connection to its graph, including for academic organizations, which is how Cambridge Analytica first gained access to its information.

Definitely, Facebook has improved its systems, but at the same time, it is also worth noting that Facebook is still taking in a lot of data. Facebook is still gathering info on your every action – on Facebook, on Instagram, in WhatsApp and Messenger. And Facebook does still use that information to fuel its all-powerful ad targeting. And there will, at some point, be another significant controversy around Facebook’s data usage practices, because data is where Facebook wins, where it beats out everyone else, and what enables it to provide some of the best ad targeting options available.

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But next time, Facebook will be able to point to its agreements, and show regulators that its users actually agreed to this. Which is where much of the regulatory and enforcement action is limited. Yes, you can force Facebook to make its users more aware of how their data is being used. But if the users themselves choose to accept those processes, and agree to Facebook’s data usage policies, then they’re largely on their own.

And most people do accept such. No one reads the fine print, and people sign up to social platforms because their friends are on them. So what if Facebook uses some of your data for targeted ads? It’s no problem, right?

The scope of potential data usage is difficult to outline in this respect. In isolation, it doesn’t mean a lot, but when you’re dealing with data collected from 2.5 billion people, that data set can provide significant insight. 

Letting it get into the wrong hands is something that Facebook is now increasingly wary of, but Facebook still has it, and its old data sets are still out there. Others can also still utilize Facebook’s systems to target ads in a wide range of ways.

Nevertheless, in a legal sense, Facebook is now closing the book on the Cambridge Analytica debacle.

You can read more about Facebook’s final agreement here.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers

With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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