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European parliament’s NationBuilder contract under investigation by data regulator


Europe’s lead data regulator has issued its first ever sanction of an EU institution — taking enforcement action against the European parliament over its use of US-based digital campaign company, NationBuilder, to process citizens’ voter data ahead of the spring elections.

Software provider NationBuilder is a veteran of the digital campaign space — indeed, we first covered the company back in 2011— which has become nearly ubiquitous tool for digital campaigns in some markets.

But in recent years European privacy regulators have raised questions over whether all its data processing activities comply with regional data protection rules, responding to growing concern around election integrity and data-fuelled online manipulation of voters.

The European parliament had used NationBuilder as a data processor for a public engagement campaign to promote voting in the spring election, which was run via a website called thistimeimvoting.eu.

The website collected personal data from more than 329,000 people interested in the EU election campaign — data that was processed on behalf of the parliament by NationBuilder.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), which started an investigation in February 2019, acting on its own initiative — and “taking into account previous controversy surrounding this company” as its press release puts it — found the parliament had contravened regulations governing how EU institutions can use personal data related to the selection and approval of sub-processors used by NationBuilder.

The sub-processors in question are not named. (We’ve asked for more details.)

“The issue EDPS had was with the Parliament’s lack of awareness of the extent of the processing being carried out by third parties and the lack of prior authorisation, by Parliament as data controller, provided in advance of the processing,” an EDPS spokesman told us.

The parliament received a second reprimand from the EDPS after it failed to publish a compliant Privacy Policy for the thistimeimvoting website within the deadline set by the EDPS. Although the regulator says it acted in line with its recommendations in the case of both sanctions.

The EDPS also has an ongoing investigation into whether the Parliament’s use of the voter mobilization website, and related processing operations of personal data, were in accordance with rules applicable to EU institutions (as set out in Regulation (EU) 2018/1725).

The enforcement actions had not been made public until a hearing earlier this week — when assistant data protection supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiórowski, mentioned the matter during a Q&A session in front of MEPs.

He referred to the investigation as “one of the most important cases we did this year”, without naming the data processor. “Parliament was not able to create the real auditing actions at the processor,” he told MEPs. “Neither control the way the contract has been done.”

“Fortunately nothing bad happened with the data but we had to make this contract terminated the data being erased,” he added.

When TechCrunch asked the EDPS for more details about this case on Tuesday a spokesperson told us the matter is “still ongoing” and “being finalized” and that it would communicate about it soon.

Today’s press release looks to be the upshot.

Provided canned commentary in the release Wiewiórowski writes:

The EU parliamentary elections came in the wake of a series of electoral controversies, both within the EU Member States and abroad, which centred on the the threat posed by online manipulation. Strong data protection rules are essential for democracy, especially in the digital age. They help to foster trust in our institutions and the democratic process, through promoting the responsible use of personal data and respect for individual rights. With this in mind, starting in February 2019, the EDPS acted proactively and decisively in the interest of all individuals in the EU to ensure that the European Parliament upholds the highest of standards when collecting and using personal data. It has been encouraging to see a good level of cooperation developing between the EDPS and the European Parliament over the course of this investigation.

One question that arises is why no firmer sanction has been issued to the European parliament — beyond a (now public) reprimand, some nine months after the investigation began.

The EDPS spokesman told us the decision was taken not to impose an administrative fine because the parliament complied with its recommendations.

Another question is why the matter was not more transparently communicated to EU citizens. On that the spokesman said it was because part of the investigation is ongoing.

“The EDPS is still investigating with the European Parliament, and received additional evidence. We are now completing our analysis of that evidence, and we anticipate closing the investigation in the near future,” he added.

The EDPS’ PR says it will “continue to check the parliament’s data protection processes” — revealing that the European Parliament has finished informing individuals of a revised intention to retain personal data collected by the thistimeimvoting website until 2024.

“The outcome of these checks could lead to additional findings,” it also warns, adding that it intends to finalise the investigation by the end of this year.

Asked about the case, a spokeswoman for the European parliament told us that the thistimeimvoting campaign had been intended to motivate EU citizens to participate in the democratic process, and that it used a mix of digital tools and traditional campaigning techniques in order to try to reach as many potential voters as possible.

She said NationBuilder had been used as a customer relations management platform to support staying in touch with potential voters — via an offer to interested citizens to sign up to receive information from the parliament about the elections (including events and general info).

Subscribers were also asked about their interests — which allowed the parliament to send personalized information to people who had signed up.

Some of the regulatory concerns around NationBuilder have centered on how it allows campaigns to match data held in their databases (from people who have signed up) with social media data that’s publicly available, such as an unlocked Twitter account or public Facebook profile.

TechCrunch understands the European parliament was not using this feature.

In 2017 in France, after an intervention by the national data watchdog, NationBuilder suspended the data matching tool in the market.

The same feature has attracted attention from the UK’s Information Commissioner — which warned last year that political parties should be providing a privacy notice to individuals whose data is collected from public sources such as social media and matched. Yet aren’t.

“The ICO is concerned about political parties using this functionality without adequate information being provided to the people affected,” the ICO said in the report, while stopping short of ordering a ban on the use of the matching feature.

Its investigation confirmed that up to 200 political parties or campaign groups used NationBuilder during the 2017 UK general election.

NationBuilder has now sent us a statement in response to the news of the regulator’s action. In it a spokesperson said:

NationBuilder exists to help people participate in the democratic process. Our software is designed to scale authentic, one-to-one relationships. As the European Parliament has explained, they used NationBuilder’s software for customer relationship management to motivate democratic participation among EU citizens in the 2019 European Parliament elections. We are incredibly proud to have helped power that effort.

NationBuilder was founded on the belief that everyone should own their own data and, as such, our software incorporates advanced privacy and consent tools that enable our customers to comply with relevant data protection laws. The sanctity of customer data is core to our company — we do not share or sell our customers’ data, and every NationBuilder customer has a self-contained database.

We agree with the EDPS that strong data protection rules are essential for democracy, especially in the digital age. NationBuilder is — and always has been — committed to the highest standards of privacy and data protection.

The company also disputes that its contract with the EU parliament was terminated — saying it came to a natural end at the conclusion of the spring election.

This report was updated with additional comment



Is This the Real Reason Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft Are Having Layoffs?


Is This the Real Reason Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft Are Having Layoffs?

Are 51,000 people losing their jobs because their employers want to shift the balance of power? Is the current wave of big-tech layoffs really intended as a way of weakening tech employees’ confidence and gaining a stronger negotiating position for their employers? That’s what several tech industry …

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Fake Facebook profile leaves Nelson auctioneer stressed and worried


Fake Facebook profile leaves Nelson auctioneer stressed and worried

Lipscombe Auction House owner Warwick Savage with a fake Facebook account using his name he is trying to get taken down.

Martin De Ruyter/Stuff

Lipscombe Auction House owner Warwick Savage with a fake Facebook account using his name he is trying to get taken down.

Auctioneer Warwick Savage didn’t have a personal Facebook profile.

But someone pretending to be him set one up, and that person, or persons stole his identity and amassed 1500 friend by Friday – the vast majority of whom were none the wiser the man on the screen was not who they thought he was.

The profile first came to the attention of the Nelson auctioneer late last week, when a friend of his stepdaughter’s commented that she had accepted Savage’s friend request: “and she said ‘he doesn’t have a Facebook page. He doesn’t have a Facebook profile’. So all of a sudden it came to the forefront.”

What was bizarre about the fake profile is how sophisticated it was: few of Savage’s close friends twigged when sent a friend request.

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The photos had been taken off the website of his business, Lipscombe Auction House, and the posts, promoting auctions, appeared legitimate. Lipscombe Auction House has a genuine Facebook page for the business and the fake and genuine pages looked similar.

On Friday after queries from Stuff meta removed the Facebook page for “for violating our policies”.

A spokesperson said it was “committed to safeguarding the integrity of our services, and worked hard to protect our community from fake accounts and other inauthentic behaviour.”

It continued to invest in AI to improve its enforcement and strengthen its review systems it said.

Someone has set up a fake account of auctioneer Warwick Savage and despite people contacting Facebook and telling them it was fake the social media company won’t take it down.

SUPPLIED/Nelson Mail

Someone has set up a fake account of auctioneer Warwick Savage and despite people contacting Facebook and telling them it was fake the social media company won’t take it down.

Savage was happy the page had finally been removed but frustrated it had taken so long for it to have occurred.

Savage had reported the profile to the police, who referred him to Netsafe. Multiple friends also wrote to Facebook asking for the page to be removed, only to receive the message that “ultimately, we decided not to take the profile down”.

“We take action on profiles that pose a danger to other people or that are harmful to the community,” the Facebook Support message read.

Savage said there should be more accountability from social media.

The profile appeared to have been uploaded on November 26, 2022, but the majority of the account activity had been this year, Savage said.

Several people who accepted his friend requests were Nelson City councillors, and other well known people in Nelson.

Someone has set up a fake account of Lipscombe Auction house owner Warwick Savage on facebook that now has over 1100 friends using information from his legitimate website.

SUPPLIED/Nelson Mail

Someone has set up a fake account of Lipscombe Auction house owner Warwick Savage on facebook that now has over 1100 friends using information from his legitimate website.

Before the media got involved Savage said there hadn’t appeared to be much interest from Facebook in doing anything about it.

“And I think it would be a huge worry for anybody. Because basically, they’ve stolen my identity.”

Savage said he was “obviously” concerned about reputational damage. But he was also concerned about having his business targeted.

“It all looks very harmless at the moment, but why would a person bother creating this to not have an end objective? Are messages going out to people there who are friends that aren’t nice messages?”

The situation has left him feeling “stressed”, he said, and particularly worried about the possibility of the person using his name posting something nasty.

“I don’t want to be going around trying to defend myself and Lipscombe’s to 1000 people,” he said.

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George Santos, Who Falsely Claimed His Grandparents Fled Hitler, Reportedly Joked About Killing “Jews and Blacks”


George Santos, Who Falsely Claimed His Grandparents Fled Hitler, Reportedly Joked About Killing “Jews and Blacks”

One of George Santos’s biggest and most offensive lies was the one he told, on multiple occasions, about having grandparents who’d had to run for their lives during the Holocaust. In 2021, the then candidate claimed in a campaign video that his “grandparents survived the Holocaust.” Several months later, he told the Jewish News Syndicate: “I’m very proud of my grandparents’ story,” which he said included “fleeing Hitler.” Perhaps laying the groundwork for his explanation in the event he got caught in this specific fabrication, he told Fox News Digital in February: “For a lot of people who are descendants of World War II refugees or survivors of the Holocaust, a lot of names and paperwork were changed in name of survival.”

Like so many things that have come out of Santos’s mouth, the one about his grandparents and the Holocaust does not, in fact, appear to be true, as multiple genealogy records indicate his grandparents were born in Brazil and, according to one genealogist who spoke to CNN, “There’s no sign of Jewish and/or Ukrainian heritage and no indication of name changes along the way.” Perhaps another sign that Santos does not have family members who were hunted by Adolf Hitler? His alleged willingness to joke about Hitler killing Jews, and Black people too.

Patch reports that in March 2011, Santos commented on a Facebook photo shared by a friend showing “someone making what appears to be a military salute with the caption ‘something like Hitler’.” Commenting below, Santos allegedly wrote: “hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh hiiiiiiiiiiiitlerrrrrrrrrrr (hight hitler) lolololololololololololol sombody kill her!! the jews and black mostly lolllolol!!! Dum.” A former friend told the outlet they recalled seeing the offensive comment, took a screenshot and sent it along. Patch says it also “verified through another former friend, Gregory Morey-Parker, that the original Facebook post under which Santos wrote the Hitler comment existed.” Presumably that will not be the case for very long. Morey-Parker, who was also once roommates with Santos, also told Patch that the newly sworn-in congressman would regularly make offensive jokes, typically about paying the bill for meals, “but he brushed it off saying he was Jewish. He’d always say that it was okay for him to make those jokes because he was Jewish,” Morey-Parker recalled. (Santos has copped to the fact that he is not actually Jewish, by insisting he never said he was. “I never claimed to be Jewish,” he said in an interview with the New York Post shortly after many of his lies initially came to light. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”)

In an email, Santos’s attorney claimed to Patch that the comment was somehow fake, writing: “the Facebook comment that you reference…is completely false, absolutely disgusting — There is absolutely nothing to talk about.”

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