Technology

Congress Guts Internet Privacy Rules

“The House of Representatives voted to repeal rules preventing internet service providers from selling their customers’ web browsing and app usage data without explicit consent,” Gizmodo reports.

“The Senate passed the same bill last week, which means the only obstacle that remains is a signature from President Trump—and the White House has already signaled he will do so.”

How Big Data Broke Politics

NBC News: “Polarization is no longer just polluting the system — it’s paralyzing it. The deepening divide between the right and the left has largely hollowed out the center of American politics, from the politicians who once occupied the large ‘middle’ to the voters who once gravitated to them.”

“Here’s our theory: The reason our lawmakers aren’t responding to the center of the electorate is because they’ve concluded (with ample electoral evidence) that they don’t need centrist or swing voters to win.”

“Why? Big Data — a combination of massive technological power and endlessly detailed voter information — now allows campaigns to pinpoint their most likely supporters. These tools make mobilizing supporters easier, faster and far less expensive than persuading their neighbors.”

Russian Hackers Target Liberal Groups

Bloomberg: “Russian hackers are targeting U.S. progressive groups in a new wave of attacks, scouring the organizations’ emails for embarrassing details and attempting to extract hush money, according to two people familiar with probes being conducted by the FBI and private security firms.”

“At least a dozen groups have faced extortion attempts since the U.S. presidential election, said the people, who provided broad outlines of the campaign. The ransom demands are accompanied by samples of sensitive data in the hackers’ possession.”

Pennsylvania Democrats Locked Out of Computer Network

“The Pennsylvania Senate Democrats have been hit by a ransomware attack that has locked senators and employees out of their computer network since the early morning hours of Friday,” state officials told NBC News.

“In a ransomware attack, hackers inject a network with malware that typically encrypts important data, and then demand payment in exchange for a key that releases the data. They threaten to destroy the data if they aren’t paid.”

Court Rules Personal Email Can’t Shield Public Business

“California’s highest court decided unanimously that government officials may be required to make public what they said about public business on their private telephones and personal computers,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“In a decision… the California Supreme Court said the state’s Public Records Act requires public officials to disclose emails, texts and voicemails from private devices if the communications involved government affairs.”

Trump’s Twitter Numbers Boosted by Bots

“President Trump’s first congressional address — widely celebrated as the most-tweeted presidential address to Congress ever — appears to have been boosted by pro-Trump ‘bot’ accounts,” Politico reports.

“Even before they started trending yesterday, the official hashtags — #JointAddress and #JointSession — accumulated decidedly inorganic traffic, including from some accounts that had never tweeted about any other topic. Telltale signs of automated traffic include lack of a profile picture and prolific output.”

Trump Owns 3,643 Domain Names

“Before he reached the White House, Trump’s company had laid claim to at least 3,643 website domains,” according to internet records gathered by CNNMoney.

Washington Post: “The bulk of the names are not surprising. DonaldTrumpRoomFragrance.com, CelebrityApprenticePoker.com and Trump.cheap are the sort of sites you’d want to reserve if you, too, owned an octopus-like consortium of restaurants, casinos, real estate, perfumes, steaks, wines, companies and brands of every kind. But what’s TrumpArmy.com about?”

GOP Operatives Using Encrypted Messaging App

Confide — an encrypted messaging app that deletes chats after they’re read — is fast becoming a tool of choice for Republicans in Washington,” according to Axios.

“Numerous senior GOP operatives and several members of the Trump administration have downloaded the app, spurred by the airing of hacked Democratic e-mails.”

“We spoke with one influential GOP operative who is using the app. He told us he especially likes that Confide makes it harder to take a screenshot—you have to slide your fingers over text and it only captures a portion of the screen. He also likes the integration with iMessage, allowing him to write self-destructing encrypted messages within the confines of the iPhone’s standard-issue messaging platform.”

Trump’s Phone Is a Massive Security Risk

Nicholas Weaver: “Lost amid the swirling insanity of the Trump administration’s first week, are the reports of the President’s continued insistence on using his Android phone (a Galaxy S3 or perhaps S4). This is, to put it bluntly, asking for a disaster. President Trump’s continued use of a dangerously insecure, out-of-date Android device should cause real panic. And in a normal White House, it would.”

“A Galaxy S3 does not meet the security requirements of the average teenager, let alone the purported leader of the free world. The best available Android OS on this phone (4.4) is a woefully out-of-date and unsupported. The S4, running 5.0.1, is only marginally better. Without exaggerating, hacking a Galaxy S3 or S4 is the type of project I would assign as homework for my advanced undergraduate classes. It’d be as simple as downloading a suitable exploit—depending on the version, Stagefright will do—and then entice Trump to clicking on a link. Alternatively, one could advertise malware on Breitbart and just wait for Trump to visit.”

Arizona Lawmakers Get Hacked

“Arizona lawmakers got hacked last week. And when they clicked the link to change their password, a screen with Russian writing popped up,” the Arizona Republic reports.

“Arizona Chief Information Security Officer Mike Lettman sent an email to legislative staff Friday night alerting them to the issue. According to the email, multiple senators or staff received an email that appeared to be from the state’s human resources and payroll system asking them to reset their password. When some clicked on the link, they received a screen in Russian.”

The Real Problem Behind Fake News

Matt Bai: “The emergence of ‘fake news’ is a searing hot topic these days, as you’ve probably heard — a new, truth-free media to go with our new, truth-free politics…And the problem with cracking down on social media sites is that it’s a little like the war on drugs. You can try to stamp out the supply of garbage news, but the Web is a vast place, and as long as someone can make money off misinformation, it will always find a crack through which to seep…The answer doesn’t lie in hectoring tech companies into policing content, but rather in teaching our kids how to consume it.”

“Here’s a radical thought: If President Trump is looking for a bold and useful education initiative that might serve the incidental purpose of redeeming what’s left of his soul, media literacy would be a pretty good place to start.”

It All Started In 2007

Thomas Friedman: “Steve Jobs and Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, starting the smartphone revolution that is now putting an internet-connected computer in the palm of everyone on the planet. In late 2006, Facebook, which had been confined to universities and high schools, opened itself to anyone with an email address and exploded globally. Twitter was created in 2006, but took off in 2007… In time, 2007 may be seen as one of the greatest technological inflection points in history. And we completely missed it.”

“Why? 2008.”

“Yes, right when our physical technologies leapt ahead, many of what the Oxford economist Eric Beinhocker calls our ‘social technologies’ — all of the rules, regulations, institutions and social tools people needed to get the most out of this technological acceleration and cushion the worst — froze or lagged. In the best of times social technologies have a hard time keeping up with physical technologies, but with the Great Recession of 2008 and the political paralysis it engendered, this gap turned into a chasm. A lot of people got dislocated in the process.”

Pro-Trump Misinformation Is Big Business

BuzzFeed News identified more than 100 pro-Trump websites being run from a single Macedonian town.

The young Macedonians who run these sites don’t care about Donald Trump. They are responding to straightforward economic incentives: As Facebook regularly reveals in earnings reports, a US Facebook user is worth about four times a user outside the US. The fraction-of-a-penny-per-click of U.S. display advertising — a declining market for American publishers — goes a long way in Veles. Several teens and young men who run these sites told BuzzFeed News that they learned the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.