By Aaron Kesel
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden wants to fight back against corporate surveillance by Instagram and its parent company Facebook, as well as YouTube, which is owned by Google.
In a tweet rant posted on Twitter, Snowden expressed that both social media giants owned by Mark Zuckerberg were involved in spying on their users, as well as YouTube. Snowden also announced that he has created new accounts on the platforms and that he will explain how the sites spy on users. He added, that he would “explain methods to limit how much they know about you,” if you choose to use them.
These are my new accounts on other platforms. In the weeks ahead, I aim to explain how each of these site spies on you, and methods to limit how much they know about you. If you use them, keep an eye out.https://t.co/kbyQQe95oNhttps://t.co/6Jvkgu9zyPhttps://t.co/VU7jL8qV9r
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) August 1, 2019
Earlier in the day Snowden announced a new forthcoming memoir called Permanent Record, due out in September, which will tell all his secrets. Snowden has also released a YouTube ad for the book.
Snowden quickly rose to prominence in 2013, after leaking classified information on widespread warrantless NSA surveillance programs like XKeyscore and PRISM to The Guardian and The Washington Post. In fact, the first Snowden leak was a FISC order issued to Verizon under Section 702 that required the company to turn over all of its calling records to the NSA.
FISA was enacted in 1978 as a response to illegal domestic surveillance operations revealed by two Senate committees in the 1970s, including President Richard Nixon’s use of federal intelligence agencies to monitor his political opponents. It was brought into law “to authorize electronic surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence information.”
The law requires the government to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before setting up an electronic or physical wiretap targeted at foreigners and foreign agents.
Congress amended FISA in 2007 to let the government wiretap communications that either begin or end outside the United States jurisdiction without Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approval; in a stronger 2008 overhaul, they further limited that power to non-U.S. persons. The last reauthorization of the Act was in 2012, which set the current expiration date of Dec. 31, 2017.
The FISA law has long been criticized by privacy and civil liberties advocates like the EFF who say the order allows broad, intrusive spying without oversight. The section first gained renewed attention following the 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the agency carried out widespread monitoring of emails and other electronic communications through PRISM, XKeyscore, Upstream and other NSA surveillance programs.
Activist Post covered XKeyscore and PRISM in extensive detail when the revelations happened. XKeyscore, which in 2008 was on 750 servers on 150 sites around the globe, served as the point of entry for most of the information that was collected by the NSA.
NSA agents would easily be able to gather information using XKeyscore’s system the operator could then trawl through billions of emails and online chat sessions, or check sites visited by specific computers by using IP addresses.
It’s worth noting that this author recently wrote an article on Palantir, the company that was accused of providing the technology that enables NSA’s mass surveillance PRISM. In that article, we went into extensive detail about Palantir’s history as a company and the development of software used at Fusion Centers across the U.S.
Palantir’s software in many ways is similar to the Prosecutor’s Management Information System (PROMIS) stolen software Main Core and may be the next evolution in that code, which allegedly predated PRISM. In 2008, Salon.com published details about a top-secret government database that might have been at the heart of the Bush administration’s domestic spying operations. The database known as “Main Core” reportedly collected and stored vast amounts of personal and financial data about millions of Americans in event of an emergency like Martial Law.
Snowden’s documents made no mention of Main Core to this writer’s knowledge, and according to sources only a small amount of people even know that the domestic database exists. Some of the programs that Snowden did leak include the following – MUSCULAR, CO-TRAVELER, Dishfire, and Tailored Access Operations.
Ironically, this plan by Edward Snowden to expose social media spying actually comes as Facebook has admitted that it wants to “begin” spying on users of its encrypted chat app WhatsApp using A.I. scanning of messages. Although many have long suspected that Facebook was already involved in this practice. This proves Edward Snowden’s point that Facebook and its subsidiary companies are spying on their users.
Facebook itself was caught data mining its users emails – “harvesting the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their knowledge or consent when they opened their accounts,” as Activist Post reported.
Further, although Facebook contends that it didn’t use the data, it openly admits that it scanned/scans all user data that is sent and received on the Messenger app and will review text you send if something is flagged, as Activist Post reported last year.
Facebook also got caught for years giving tech giants access to user data as well, so it’s not just Cambridge Analytica and numerous other analytics companies.
The New York Times reported a bombshell in December of last year detailing the secret relationship that Facebook had with the tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify, and Yahoo just to name a few. The Times report was backed by 50 former employees of the company and its partners, as well as documents for the deals.
The official corporate partnerships with Facebook totaled more than 150 companies; The Times notes that the oldest deal dates back to 2010, one year prior to Facebook’s brokered deal with the FTC for its privacy practices. One has to wonder if the social giant disclosed these type of deals to the FTC one year later when it was under scrutiny — more than likely, probably not.
“For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.” The Times wrote.
“The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond,” The Times added.
The New York Times goes on to detail the level of access that a few companies were given to users’ profiles; and it’s quite shocking, including the ability to read and delete messages, as the Huffington Post highlighted.
Again, from The New York Times:
Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.
The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.
Besides the 150 tech companies, Facebook gave 60 device makers themselves — including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Samsung — special access to Facebook data, according to another report by The Times. This special access allowed a reporter using a BlackBerry device (old model) to view private details of Facebook users despite their privacy settings, a shocking contention.
To make it clear, Facebook never asked for every specific user’s consent to send over their personal data to these other companies. Facebook claims that it didn’t need user consent since it considered these companies “service providers,” and “integration partners” which were acting in the interests of the social network.
Facebook was embroiled in data scandal after scandal. To refresh the reader’s memory, in 2010 Facebook got caught giving advertisers its users’ names, ages, hometowns, and occupations simply from clicking an ad, Business Insider reported.
One year prior, in 2009, protests ensued against Facebook when the company decided to change its data retention policy for its users, ABC reported.
Two years before, in 2007, Facebook faced another scandal with its forced Beacon advertising software. Beacon would share users’ shopping experiences online or what websites a Facebook user was visiting if they were logged in.
It turns out that Beacon was tracking people’s Web activities outside the popular social networking site to other websites, PC World reported. Facebook was then sued in 2008 for violating the federal wiretap law when it began monitoring and publishing what Facebook users were doing on participating sites of Beacon.
Mark Zuckerberg himself even apologized for Beacon, explaining his thought process behind the system — of course, leaving out that it was profiting from this data. Nonetheless, Facebook finally allowed users to opt out of the system a month later.
“We were excited about Beacon because we believe a lot of information people want to share isn’t on Facebook, and if we found the right balance, Beacon would give people an easy and controlled way to share more of that information with their friends,” Zuckerberg wrote.
In 2009, Facebook finally shut down Beacon in an effort to settle the class action lawsuit against the social-networking site and donated $9.5 million to a foundation dedicated to exploring issues around online privacy and security, Telegraph reported.
Facebook said that it learned a great deal from Beacon in 2009, but then continued these type of deceptive marketing practices selling its users’ data years later. So how much did the company actually learn? Not much, as the company started partnering with data broker firms in 2013.
For those unfamiliar, data brokers earn money by selling your consumer habits and monitoring your online and offline spending. Facebook’s partnership allows them to measure the correlation between the ads you see on Facebook and the purchases you make in-store — and determine whether you’re actually buying the things you’re seeing digitally while using Facebook.
“We learned a great deal from the Beacon experience,” said Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for Facebook. “For one, it underscored how critical it is to provide extensive user control over how information is shared. We also learned how to effectively communicate changes that we make to the user experience.”
Edward Snowden once highlighted Mark Zuckerberg’s interview in 2009 in which Facebook is grilled by a BBC reporter.
The revealing exchange is from 2009, two years after Beacon advertising software successfully launched on the platform in 2007, and 1 year before Facebook gifted its advertisers its users’ names, ages, hometowns, and occupations simply from clicking on ads, selling their information. Something that Zuckerberg said he would never do to the BBC reporter.
One year later in 2010, a story in The New York Times reveals that Mark Zuckerberg had flip-flopped and changed his view against an individual’s privacy in a penned headline, “Facebook’s Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy Is Over.”
Then the Zuck Zucked us by changing everyone’s default privacy settings.
Facebook: "This is their information. They own it"
BBC: "And you won’t sell it?"
FB: "No! Of course not."
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 27, 2018
Further, although Facebook claims they do not listen in on conversations, the catch here is that Facebook does have access to your phone’s microphone — as giving permission to access your microphone is a requirement to be able to download the site’s mobile app – thus giving the company the ability to access your phone’s mic at any time.
The app itself can listen to audio and collect audio information from users – while the two aren’t combined, and that no audio data is stored or correlated with advertising according to Facebook, after all these other lies one has to wonder.
Facebook admits it has a public feature that started in 2014 which will try to recognize any audio in the background, like music or TV— however, it’s only while you’re entering a status update, and only if you’ve opted in. So don’t worry they have required consent for everything else!
Forbes has also reported on the potential that Facebook was using its users’ audio information to target them with ads.
This is not the first time Facebook was accused of listening to conversations using smartphone microphones. Reddit user NewHoustonian started a discussion last year about whether the Facebook app was listening to conversations for advertising purposes. NewHoustonian started off the discussion with a post — which has since been removed — about how he suspects the Facebook app was listening to him because he started seeing pest control ads after talking to his girlfriend about killing a cockroach. That Reddit thread now has over 1,700 comments in regards to Facebook listening to conversations and several of those comments refer to similar experiences.
Mass communication professor at the University of South Florida, Kelli Burns, believes that Facebook is using the audio it gathers not simply to help out users, but might be doing so to listen in to discussions and serve them with relevant advertising. Burns tested an experiment talking about cat food with her phone out, then loading Facebook — to her surprise she saw cat food ads, The Independent reported.
Last year, Vice reported another bizarre story about Facebook using its microphone to listen in on users. The author wrote they were talking about Japan with a friend, then subsequently received ads for flights to Tokyo.
A couple years ago, something strange happened. A friend and I were sitting at a bar, iPhones in pockets, discussing our recent trips in Japan and how we’d like to go back. The very next day, we both received pop-up ads on Facebook about cheap return flights to Tokyo. It seemed like just a spooky coincidence, but then everyone seems to have a story about their smartphone listening to them.
For a long list of past and recent Facebook scandals see this authors deep dive article entitled: “Deep Dive: FTC Negotiating Multi-Billion Dollar Fine For Facebook’s Privacy Scandals; Violating 2011 Accord.” However, the settlement of the FTC multi-billion dollar fine has already been finalized.
It turns out that arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was right: Facebook is “the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented.” Or, as a CBS report written in 2011 stated, “Social Media Is a Tool of the CIA. Seriously.”
It’s not entirely your fault (although you are responsible for your own data online) — in 2012, Carnegie Mellon researchers determined that it would take the average American 76 work days to read all the privacy policies they agreed to, so who knows how long it would take the average human to read all the privacy policies they agree to on the daily now.
On the subject of the NSA, last month the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) announced it was finally ready to tackle another big review of government surveillance and overreach. The PCLOB, an independent agency in the executive branch, last published a 2014 report on warrantless surveillance of the Internet by the U.S. intelligence community. While EFF welcomes the PCLOB’s efforts to bring oversight and transparency to the most controversial surveillance programs, we’ve disagreed with some of the Board’s findings, particularly on surveillance under FISA Section 702. So while it’s a good sign that the board is turning its attention to other major issues, its mixed history means it may be a little too soon to get your hopes up.
The board, which was created after a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission to look into the violation of civil liberties, released a strategic plan [PDF] that does not shy away from investigating some of the biggest threats to privacy in the U.S. According to the document, they will be looking into the NSA’s collection of phone records, facial recognition and other biometric technologies being used in airport security, the processes that govern terrorist watchlist, what they call “deep dive” investigations into NSA’s XKeyscore tool and the CIA’s counter-terrorism activity, as well as many other government programs and procedures.
As a reminder to readers, then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress when asked directly by Sen. Ron Wyden whether the NSA was gathering any sort of data on millions of Americans.
Facebook did the same thing and lied about spying on users, now the company has been fined $5 billion dollars by the FTC in a settlement for selling its user data. But that settlement is anything but adequate, failing to sufficiently protect user privacy as the EFF expressed.
The FTC settlement stems from whether Facebook’s conduct and lack of protection of users is in breach of an accord in 2011 that Facebook brokered with the FTC to improve its privacy practices. Facebook has stated it did not breach that accord, despite evidence on the contrary showing that the social media giant sold user data to third parties and may have even been recording users’ private messages with its Messenger app.
It seems like Internet users for some reason forget about these massive scandals and just continue using Facebook. I would say it’s high time to “#DeleteFacebook” and join a number of growing alternative social media networks like SoMee.Social, Gab.ai, Minds.com, Steemit.com, where it’s even possible for you the reader and content producer to get paid for your comments and contributions to the platforms thanks to cryptocurrency.
Even a pre-existing option, Twitter, is better than Facebook. Jack Dorsey’s platform may have over-hypersensitive admins, but at least there hasn’t been as many privacy violations as Facebook. Although there have been some, it’s not nearly as much. On the bright side, Dorsey doesn’t seem to have a patent to spy on your current location, to keep track of your location data and predict where you are going next — Facebook does.
Let us move forward into the future to networks that don’t run in tandem with the U.S. government and other governments, and are not fueled by greed and selling harvested user data. But instead, completely decentralized and people-powered, incentive-based networks for sharing data you choose to share, where creators are rewarded rather than snubbed despite bringing value to these social platforms.
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