Zuckerberg, Facebook under fire from politicians over data controversy

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic want answers after Facebook’s latest controversy involving the 2016 election.

The growing scrutiny comes after news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign, reportedly gained access to information about 50 million Facebook users.

The data was collected by a professor for academic purposes in accordance with Facebook rules, the company said. But then the information was transferred to third parties, including Cambridge Analytica. The transfer violated Facebook policies.

Facebook on Friday night said it has booted Cambridge Analytica from using its platform.

News of the data transfer sparked renewed questions about whether the social media company does enough to protect its users.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Saturday that her office is opening an investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter Saturday that “Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.”

“It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves,” she said. “They say ‘trust us.’

And Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, called on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The furor began with a blog post Friday from Facebook deputy general counsel Paul Grewal. The post said that in 2015, Facebook learned of the illicit data transfer and “demanded certifications” that the “information had been destroyed.”

But, Grewal added, several days earlier the company “received reports” that not all the data had been deleted, and Facebook suspended all the involved parties from its platform while it investigates. Grenwal also said that Facebook is committed to “vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information.”

But the post did little to quash backlash.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, called on Facebook to explain why it provided the data in question to a professor in the first place and prove the information had been destroyed.

“They must also answer questions about how they have notified users about this breach of their personal data,” he said in a statement.

Schiff added that he thought Facebook made the “right move” by suspending the involved parties from its platform, but said he wants Facebook to explain why it did not suspend the users when the company learned of the data transfer back in 2015.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, said the ordeal provided more evidence that “online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West.”

He urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would “bring transparency and accountability to online political advertisements.”

In Britain, Damian Collins — who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the House of Commons — said his committee has questioned Facebook about its policies for giving user data to companies.

“Their answers have consistently understated this risk, and have also been misleading to the Committee,” Collins said. “I will be writing to Mark Zuckerberg asking that either he, or another senior executive from the company, appear to give evidence in front of the Committee as part our inquiry.”

“It is not acceptable that they have previously sent witnesses who seek to avoid asking difficult questions by claiming not to know the answers,” Collins added.

In a statement Sunday, Facebook doubled down on the promise it made Friday to do a “comprehensive internal and external review.”

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Facebook is again having to account for its role in 2016 election

Facebook’s first black eye was from “fake news.”

The social network’s secretive algorithm enabled hoaxes and lies to reach millions of people during the US presidential campaign in 2016.

Analysts were taken aback by the scope of the problem. Facebook vowed to make changes.

Then investigators found a pipeline of Russian propaganda. A so-called troll farm hijacked Facebook’s platform to sow chaos and, eventually, to try to tip the scale in Donald Trump’s direction.

Lawmakers were outraged. Facebook vowed to make changes.

Now the company is facing another embarrassing discovery. A joint investigation by The New York Times and the UK’s Observer newspaper found possible violations of Facebook policies by Cambridge Analytica, one of the Trump campaign’s data firms.

The violations relate to Facebook user data that was harvested by a professor’s research project and handed over to Cambridge.

On Friday night, after “downplaying” the papers’ findings, according to The Times, Facebook announced that Cambridge Analytica has been suspended from the site.

Facebook said it asked that Cambridge Analytica destroy the data in 2015.

Once again, Facebook is vowing to do better.

But the latest round of stories may embolden politicians and other critics who want to see the company subjected to stricter regulation.

To date most of those calls have come from Democrats, not from the Republicans who wield the most power in Washington.

Robby Mook, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, tweeted on Saturday, “Facebook should own up to how they created a serious strategic imbalance — and, for the sake of both parties and all candidates, make sure this won’t happen again.”

It’s unclear how much political energy is really centered on these issues, however.

James Fallows of The Atlantic wrote on Saturday, “In a normal political environment” Cambridge Analytica and Facebook “would be called in for public questioning.” He added: “Of course, in normal environment, this wouldn’t have occurred.”

For its part, Cambridge Analytica said in a statement that the data set revealed by The Times was not used “as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.”

But some experts have doubts about that. The new investigation reiterates how much happens in Facebook’s dark corners.

The bottom line: It’s 2018, and we’re still talking about how the sprawling social network was used and abused during the 2016 election.

Facebook and its rivals are pledging to be responsible players in the 2018 midterms and future elections both in the United States and around the world.

Facebook, for instance, says it applied lessons from the US election to combat misinformation during campaigns in Europe in 2017.

The company’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, addressed the issue Saturday in a series of tweets.

“There are a lot of big problems that the big tech companies need to be better at fixing. We have collectively been too optimistic about what we build and our impact on the world. Believe it or not, a lot of the people at these companies, from the interns to the CEOs, agree,” he said.

But the challenges are incredibly complex. New kinds of misinformation emerge all the time, and new ways to manipulate the algorithm are a constant threat. It’s like a game of Whac-A-Mole with worldwide consequences.

Facebook executives are trying to be more proactive — perhaps in an effort to fend off regulation. The company’s representatives have been speaking at conferences and pledging to clean up some of the pollution on the site.

Some of the changes are visible: Facebook is working with third-party fact-checkers to rebut hoaxes and trying to stamp out bad actors like Russian propagandists.

But Alex Hardiman, Facebook’s head of news products, acknowledged at a SXSW event last week that “we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

And that was before the data revelations that involve an entirely different side of the social network.

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Apple hosting education event in Chicago

Apple is holding an education-focused event later this month to “hear creative new ideas for teachers and students.”

The event will take place on Thursday March 27 at 10 a.m. at a Chicago high school, according to an invitation.

Apple is famously secretive about its events. The invitations was light on details, simply saying “Let’s take a field trip.”

An Apple spokesperson declined to provide more information but confirmed this is a keynote event.

The tech giant has worked with schools and colleges in the past. Most recently, it expanded its coding education program and invested in girls’ education.

Earlier this year, Apple announced 70 colleges and universities in Europe have adopted “Everyone Can Code,” its program to help anyone build mobile apps. Apple also has an iPad app called Swift Playgrounds that doesn’t require previous coding knowledge. It’s aimed at students who are starting out and want to learn those skills.

In addition, Apple partnered with activist Malala Yousafzai’s charity to fund girls’ education in January. The company’s investment will double the number of grants to fund secondary education for girls in India and Latin America.

Separately, Apple this week introduced a new page to help parents who are concerned about their kids’ screen time. The page highlights existing parental controls, such as the ability to monitor and limit a child’s purchases and filter what content kids can see on an iOS device.

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Microsoft fired about 20 employees for harassment in one year

Microsoft fired roughly 20 employees for sexual harassment complaints filed in the course of a single year, according to a memo from the company’s top human resources executive.

Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s chief people officer, told employees on Thursday that the company received 83 sexual harassment claims in the United States from July 2016 through June 2017.

“Nearly 50% were found to be supported in part or in full following the investigation, and more than half of these resulted in termination of an employee who engaged in unacceptable behavior,” Hogan wrote in the memo to all employees.

The new details in the memo are an attempt to push back against the idea that Microsoft doesn’t take harassment and discrimination complaints seriously enough, after unflattering claims were made public in a court document this week.

The documents, from a lawsuit filed by a former employee, alleged that women at Microsoft filed 238 complaints about harassment and discrimination with the company’s HR department between 2010 and 2016.

The lawsuit said that only one of the 118 gender discrimination complaints was considered “founded” by Microsoft’s employment relations investigations team.

In her memo, Hogan said reports suggesting Microsoft doesn’t “take these issues seriously and don’t investigate complaints thoroughly” included “inaccurate and misleading data.”

“We want people to be able to raise their concerns. We take these concerns seriously and we investigate them thoroughly. And where we find issues, we take appropriate action,” she wrote.

In addition to the harassment figures, Hogan also said Microsoft received 84 complaints about gender discrimination during the same time period. About 10% of those complaints “were found to be supported in part or in full,” she said.

Hogan stressed that Microsoft has more than 65,000 employees in the United States alone.

The lawsuit and Microsoft’s response come at a time when the tech industry, like much of corporate America, is under scrutiny for its treatment of women in the workplace.

Top venture capitalists have resigned amid charges of harassment. Google has found itself in the crosshairs of the Labor Department over gender pay disparities. And Uber fired 20 employees over a sexual harassment probe last year.

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Google cofounder’s flying taxi takes to the skies in New Zealand

Google cofounder Larry Page’s flying taxi project is cleared for take off.

Kitty Hawk, the Silicon Valley startup backed by Page, said it is building and testing “all-electric vertical take-off and landing products” in New Zealand.

It released footage of one of those vehicles in flight, billing it as a cross between the Delorean from “Back to the Future” and “The Jetsons” hovercar.

Dubbed “Cora,” the vehicle can “take off like a helicopter and transition to flying like a plane,” Kitty Hawk said in a statement on Monday.

Cora is also self-piloting, can fly faster than 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour) and has a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles), according to the company.

“We are offering a pollution free, emissions free vehicle that flies independently,” Fred Reid, head of Kitty Hawk operations in New Zealand, said in a video posted on the company’s website.

Kitty Hawk had previously tested another flying vehicle prototype called the “Flyer” last April. It looked less like a car than a jet ski with wings.

Several other companies, including Uber and Airbus, are also racing to commercialize flying taxis. The vehicles more often look like small planes than flying cars. Like Kitty Hawk’s Cora, many rely on drone technology and vertical takeoff and landing, so they don’t need a runway.

Airbus’ flying car prototype — the Vahana — made its maiden flight in Oregon last month. Executives said they hope to have a marketable version of Vahana ready to sell in 2020.

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