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Russian trolls are outsourcing to Africa to stoke US racial tensions

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With tech companies wise to many of the tactics that Russia’s now-infamous troll farms used to seed disinformation during the 2016 election, those campaigns are getting creative.

According to a pair of reports out from Facebook and Twitter, a disinformation campaign run by individuals with links to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) is back and focused on the U.S., but this time it’s being run out of Africa.

“This network was in the early stages of building an audience and was operated by local nationals — some wittingly and some unwittingly — in Ghana and Nigeria on behalf of individuals in Russia,” Facebook explained in its blog post.

CNN apparently conducted its own deep investigation into the operations in Ghana and Nigeria, going so far as to even tour one of the houses where a group of Ghanaians worked to craft posts targeting American social issues.

Surprisingly, Graphika, a social analytics firm that specializes in disinformation, observed that these campaign did not focus on the U.S. election or presidential candidates specifically, but when candidates did come up in the content “it was through the lens of human rights, tolerance and racism.”

Graphika Chief Innovation Officer Camille Francois notes that the Russia-based campaign relied on a Ghana-based NGO as a kind of proxy and that at least some of those involved were likely not aware of the true nature of their work.

“That operation shows us the appetite of foreign actors to use proxy groups in increasingly creative way,” Francois told TechCrunch. “It also shows information operations can be based anywhere”

Most of the accounts were created in the second half of 2019 and the content they generated addressed issues around race, particularly tensions between black and white Americans. According to Facebook, the campaign concentrated on topics like black history and black excellence, but also “content about oppression and injustice, including police brutality.”

Facebook detected 49 Facebook accounts, 69 Facebook Pages and 85 Instagram accounts participating in the campaign. On Facebook, the relatively nascent accounts accumulated roughly 13,500 followers. On Instagram, the accounts had a following of around 265,000.

On Twitter, 71 accounts linked to the Russian-run operations in Ghana and Nigeria spread similar messages in an effort to “sow discord by engaging in conversations about social issues, like race and civil rights.”

It’s alarming — if not surprising — that Russian efforts to inflame existing social divides in the U.S. continue, but Twitter offered a useful reminder that most disinformation in the country comes from within, not from without.

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FTC finds GoodRx shared sensitive health data with Facebook, Google

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FTC finds GoodRx shared sensitive health data with Facebook, Google

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The FTC on Wednesday filed a court order against GoodRx for failing to notify users that it shared their personal, identifiable health data with Facebook and Google and said it would permanently ban the company from sharing such information for ads, should the court order be federally approved.

Why it matters: The court order is the first FTC action under the Health Breach Notification Rule, which requires companies to notify users when their health data is infringed upon, and includes several safeguards aimed at protecting consumer data.

  • “We’re making clear that apps violating this rule need to come clean with consumers when they share sensitive data improperly,” an FTC official said during a press briefing about the order.
  • The order must be approved by the federal court to go into effect.

Zoom in: The health data GoodRx shared with tech companies includes individually identifiable data on users’ prescription medications and health conditions. Per the complaint:

  • In August 2019, GoodRx compiled lists of users who’d purchased medications for heart disease and high blood pressure and uploaded their email addresses, phone numbers and mobile advertising IDs to Facebook so it could identify their profiles.
  • GoodRx then used that information to target users with relevant ads.

Details: The court order, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC in California’s Northern District, found GoodRx shared data with companies including Facebook, Google, Criteo, Branch and Twilio. The order found GoodRx:

  • Monetized users’ personal health data to target them with health- and medication-specific ads on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Let third parties it shared data with use the information for research, development or advertising purposes without getting consent.
  • Misrepresented its HIPAA compliance, displaying a seal at the bottom of its telehealth site falsely suggesting it complied with the law.
  • Failed to maintain sufficient policies or procedures to protect its users’ personal health information.

State of play: GoodRx, which offers prescription discount coupons and telehealth services, lets users track their personal health data to save, track and get alerts about prescriptions, refills, pricing and medication purchase history.

  • Per the complaint, the company collects data from users themselves and from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) that confirm when someone buys a prescription drug using one of its coupons.
  • Since January 2017, more than 55 million consumers have visited or used GoodRx’s website or mobile apps, the complaint says.

What they’re saying: A spokesperson for GoodRx told Axios the company does not agree with the allegations, saying the order “focuses on an old issue that was proactively addressed almost three years ago.”

  • “We admit no wrongdoing,” the spokesperson said. “Entering into the settlement allows us to avoid the time and expense of protracted litigation.”

  • “Health data today isn’t just what your doctor keeps in a file behind a desk,” an FTC official said during the briefing. “And the way we’re enforcing this reflects that new reality.”
  • “We expect this to have a significant impact on the marketplace,” the official added.

Flashback: The FTC in 2021 issued a warning to health apps and others that collect or use consumers’ health information that they must comply with the Health Breach rule.

  • “We are now showing the market that we meant business when we issued that policy statement,” the FTC official said.

What’s next: In addition to charging GoodRx with a $1.5 million civil penalty and banning it from disclosing user health information for ads, the order requires that the company:

  • Direct third parties to delete the consumer health data shared with them and inform users about the breaches and the FTC’s enforcement action.
  • Get users’ consent before sharing health data with third parties for purposes other than ads and detail the types of health information it will disclose to those parties.
  • Limit how long it can retain personal health information.
  • Create a privacy program that includes safeguards to protect such data.

Of note: While the order only binds GoodRx, companies including Facebook who received the data “are on notice that they were in receipt of data that was illegally collected,” another FTC official said.

This story has been updated to include the company’s comment.

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Facebook and Google ad oligopoly is over, fund manager says

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Facebook and Google ad oligopoly is over, fund manager says

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Inge Heydorn, fund manager at GP Bullhound, discusses competition in the digital ad market, what investors will be looking for in Meta’s results, and why it’s “all about TikTok.”

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Mike Lindell Says Jimmy Kimmel Wants to Put Him in a Big Claw Machine

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Mike Lindell Says Jimmy Kimmel Wants to Put Him in a Big Claw Machine
  • Mike Lindell says Jimmy Kimmel is requesting to interview him on his show. 
  • But Kimmel had one request, Lindell said: The pillow CEO has to sit inside a giant claw machine.
  • Lindell said this is because he is unvaccinated. 

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell says late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel had one request of him: The pillow CEO must sit inside a giant claw machine during their interview.

“A lot of you have reached out to me: ‘Mike, don’t do it, he’s going to attack you. Why did you agree to go inside a claw game?'” Lindell said during a Facebook live stream on Tuesday. Lindell is scheduled to appear on Kimmel’s talk show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” on Tuesday.

“Which I did, because they, you can’t go inside the studio if you’re not vaccinated. And of course, I’m not vaccinated,” Lindell added. 

“Maybe I’ll find out that that claw game was rigged, huh, the one that picks up the stuffed animals,” Lindell quipped, seemingly referencing his own baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

The pillow CEO said his appearance on Kimmel “should be very, very interesting.” He also said he was only agreeing to the interview because he thinks it will help “save our country.”

Kimmel appeared to confirm Lindell’s account, tweeting: “MyPillow Mike from a claw machine tonight!” 

 

Kimmel said on Monday that Lindell has “repeatedly” asked to be on the show, and that he’s tried to invite Lindell back many times.

Lindell’s last appearance on Kimmel’s show was in April 2021. During their nearly 20-minute conversation, Kimmel pummeled Lindell with questions about his voter fraud claims.

“A lot of people didn’t want you to come on this show. Liberals and conservatives, told me not to have you on, and they told you don’t go on the show,” Kimmel told Lindell in 2021. “But I think it’s important that we talk to each other.”

Lindell is fresh off a big loss in his race for RNC chair, where he only secured four votes.

Lindell and representatives for Kimmel did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.



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