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The Facebook data breach is a scandal of our own making. Legally, there’s nothing we can do about it.

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I’ve spent 15 years researching and litigating privacy laws, and I’m still baffled by Facebook’s ever-changing privacy settings.

Facebook users angered by recent privacy scandals involving the social media giant and various consulting firms like Cambridge Analytica may be wondering what legal recourse they have to reclaim their data or protect themselves from data manipulation. Unfortunately, while Facebook’s actions may have been unethical, Facebook has little legal liability when it comes to its users.

Remember those “Terms and Policies” notices from Facebook that we never read, but always clicked yes on? With those clicks, we consented to binding legal contracts that explain how the cost of using Facebook is the ubiquitous collection of our personal details, purchasing habits, and location information for everything we do on Facebook, many things we do on the internet, and an increasing number of things we do in real life.

If Cambridge Analytica was able to harvest your profile data, Facebook essentially blames you and your friends for not properly configuring your privacy settings.

The Facebook user privacy setting to “restrict access to a specific network or friend group” provides less protection than many may have assumed.

In announcing its suspension of Cambridge Analytica from the platform, Facebook stated that, “The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

But users can’t be fully faulted for the confusion. That’s because the Facebook user privacy setting to “restrict access to a specific network or friend group” provides less protection than many may have assumed.

In Facebook’s mystifying privacy dashboard, “profile privacy” settings are different than “application privacy” settings. When you select “Use Now” or “Play Now” on Facebook Apps and Games, you grant the application full access to your public profile information and email address. Prior to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the default privacy setting for Apps and Games was “Friends”. Thus, the default application privacy settings enabled your friends to give away your profile information (without your knowledge) to the Apps and Games they used.

By analyzing only your Facebook “Likes,” your data can be manipulated to predict your fundamental qualities, including your intelligence and relationship status.

Data taken from Facebook profiles and friends by such apps can include the following information: name, email, gender, birthday, current city, profile picture, and content (e.g., Likes, status updates, events, and public photos). By analyzing only your Facebook “Likes,” your data can be manipulated to predict your fundamental qualities, including your intelligence, personality type, satisfaction with life, gender, age, sexual preference, interests, religion, political views, and relationship status.

On the basis of ten “Likes,” researchers from Cambridge have demonstrated that Facebook knows you better than your work colleagues. After 70 “Likes,” Facebook knows you better than your friends. Accumulate 150 “Likes,” researchers showed, and Facebook knows you better than your parents. Complete 300 “Likes” and Facebook knows you better than your spouse or partner. Record more than 500 honest “Likes” and Facebook can even know you better than you know yourself.

Voter privacy is a legal gray area. Key to Cambridge Analytica’s work with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is the fact that there are no privacy laws in the United States that directly prohibit political campaigns from buying, selling, or manipulating voter data and personally identifiable information. Without any privacy protections for individuals in the United States, companies such as Cambridge Analytica are able to exploit trillions of bits of personal information about individual voters. And while Facebook has offered a plethora of apologies and suspended the company from its platform, there’s not much you can do about it after the fact.

The Facebook Platform Policy​ clearly prohibits this type of data harvesting, instructing developers, “don’t confuse, deceive, defraud, mislead, spam or surprise anyone.” Facebook’s ​Platform Policy​ also says developers must, “obtain adequate consent from people before using any Facebook technology that allows us to collect and process data about them.”

Users whose data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica may have viable legal claims against the company. Yet, Facebook users ultimately have little recourse against Facebook itself. Third-party developers like Cambridge Analytica agree to Facebook’s Platform Policy​ and thereby, “agree to indemnify and hold us [Facebook] harmless from and against all damages, losses, and expenses of any kind (including reasonable legal fees and costs) related to any claim against us related to your service, actions, content or information.”

The Facebook privacy debacle involving Cambridge Analytica is bad, but its really only the tip of a very big iceberg.

In short, Facebook is contractually off the hook for any improper actions taken by outside companies. This includes if companies want to use all that data to manipulate Facebook users, making the question no longer “how can I protect my own data,” but rather “how can I protect my own data from being used against me?” Again, federal and state privacy laws offer very little protection. Boycotting or deleting Facebook may prevent you from being manipulated on Facebook, but it won’t protect your data elsewhere.

It’s not just Facebook. If you exist in society, your data is collected. All the biggest technology companies track you around the web (i.e., Amazon A9, Google DoubleClick, and Verizon Oath), collect data about your life (i.e., Oracle Data Cloud (Datalogix), IBM Universal Behavior Exchange, and Adobe Audience Manager), and report your credit and financial wherewithal (i.e., Experian, Equifax Workforce Solutions, and CoreLogic SafeRent).

The Facebook privacy debacle involving Cambridge Analytica is bad, but its really only the tip of a very big iceberg. Americans are desperate for meaningful privacy laws to protect their personal information. And these laws should be stringently applied not just to Facebook, but to personal data in all commercial contexts.

Joel Winston (@joelwinston) is a Pittsburgh-based attorney who specializes in privacy and cybersecurity law. He formerly served as a Deputy Attorney General for the State of New Jersey and currently provides global legal and regulatory counsel to technology companies.



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Taiwan invasion unlikely for now – but there are other ways China can turn the screw | World News

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The good news is that there are only five months when weather conditions are good enough to mount an invasion of Taiwan, according to Ian Easton, the author of The Chinese Invasion Threat. 

The bad news is that two of them are April and May.

So when Taiwan reported that 25 Chinese air force aircraft, including nuclear-capable bombers, entered its air defence identification zone (ADIZ) this week, fears of attack are front of mind.

It was the largest incursion by the Chinese military to date.

US Admiral Philip Davidson – Washington’s top military officer in the Asia-Pacific region – recently said he was worried China could invade Taiwan in the next six years.

Chiu Kuo-cheng, Taiwan’s new defence minister, responded: “His evaluation says six years, but my concerns include six hours.”

The foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said this month that in the event of an attack Taiwan would fight “to the very last day”.

The famous Taipei 101 in the capital
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It’s unclear how far the US would go if the threat to Taiwan reaches a new level

There is belligerence from the Chinese side. A defence ministry spokesperson said that a declaration by Taiwan of independence “means war”.

Hu Xijin, the editor of a nationalistic Chinese tabloid, said that the Chinese military could fly directly over the island of Taiwan itself, and if Taiwan fired at those planes, China would attack.

Hu’s attention-seeking provocations should always be taken with a pinch of salt but they show how the conversation around Taiwan is evolving.

But although the intensity is increasing, in many ways we are still in the status quo that has existed for decades.

China’s constitution, adopted in 1949, says Taiwan is part of its “sacred territory” and details the “inviolable duty” of “reunifying the motherland”.

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On the question of “Taiwan independence”, China as far back as 2005 passed a law that formally authorised military force if Taiwan was “separated” from China.

Taiwan has its own constitution and a highly functioning democracy – rated above Japan and South Korea by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 led to an escalation in pressure from China. What we’re seeing now is best viewed as the latest development in that continuous period.

A pilot prepares to take off on a F-CK-1 Ching-kuo IDF at an Air Force base in Tainan
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Taiwan spent $900m scrambling jets to intercept Chinese planes last year

And as China has increased its attrition strategy, the US has increased its ties with the island, which in turn leads to more Chinese pressure.

That pressure is designed to take a psychological and logistical toll on Taiwan.

In 2020, Taiwan spent some $900m scrambling fighters to meet Chinese sorties and said it would no longer dispatch jets to meet every incursion, instead tracking Chinese aircraft with land-based missiles. Expect that pressure to continue.

But a full-scale invasion by China remains unlikely in the short term. That would require a massive build up of forces, easily detectable by US and Taiwanese monitoring.

There are options short of invasion that are still worrying.

China could blockade the island economically, or seize some of its outlying territory. The Kinmen Islands, administered by Taiwan, are barely a mile from China.

Any such move would be a test of the US resolve to defend Taiwan, perhaps analogous to Russia’s seizing of the Crimean Peninsula.

Would an aggressive Chinese move, short of full invasion, prompt the US to respond militarily?

Right now, no one knows. That means it would be hugely destabilising.

For all the pressures of the current moment, it at least fits a known, established pattern – and is far preferable to an escalation, the consequences of which would be difficult to predict.

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COVID-19: World Health Organisation calls for ban on sale of live wild mammals in food markets | World News

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The sale of live wild mammals at food markets should be suspended as an emergency measure, the World Health Organisation has said.

The statement comes after a WHO team visited Wuhan in China to investigate the origins of COVID-19.

The most likely scenario is that the virus originated in bats, was spread to another unidentified animal, and then passed on to humans, a WHO report said in March.

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The organisation said in a separate report on Tuesday that animals, “particularly wild animals”, are the source of more than 70% of emerging infectious diseases in humans.

They added many of these are caused by novel viruses – a virus that has not previously been recorded.

The report states: “Wild mammals, in particular, pose a risk for the emergence of new diseases. They come into markets without any way to check if they carry dangerous viruses.

“There is a risk of direct transmission to humans from coming into contact with the saliva, blood, urine, mucus, faeces, or other body fluids of an infected animal, and an additional risk of picking up the infection from contact with areas where animals are housed in markets or objects or surfaces that could have been contaminated with such viruses.”

The WHO said “traditional markets play a central role in providing food and livelihoods ” around the world.

It added that banning the sale of live wild animals would help to protect the health of both shoppers and workers.

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WHO: Lab leak COVID origin ‘unlikely’

The closest-related viruses to COVID-19 have been found in bats in southwest China.

The intermediate host is more elusive: mink, pangolins, rabbits, raccoon dogs and domesticated cats have all been cited as a possibility.

The WHO team said that a theory the virus was leaked from a lab was “extremely unlikely” but it has not been ruled out.

The call for a ban of the sale of wild animals comes as the the WHO said the global coronavirus pandemic is at a “critical point”.

It added that people need a “reality check” as restrictions are eased.

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Dr Maria van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s technical response, told a news conference vaccinations alone are not enough to combat COVID-19.

Coronavirus restrictions were eased in parts of the UK on Monday, with shoppers returning to high streets and drinkers visiting pub gardens in England, and non-essential retailers reopening in Wales.

Dr van Kerkhove, speaking on Monday afternoon, urged caution, saying: “We need headlines around these public health and social measures, we need headlines around the tools that we have right now that can prevent infections and save lives.

“We are in a critical point of the pandemic right now, the trajectory of this pandemic is growing.”

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Facebook takes down official page for French town called Bitche | Science & Tech News

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Facebook has been criticised after taking down the official page for the French town of Bitche.

Local broadcaster Radio Melodie reported that the page was taken down, forcing the municipal communications officer to create a new one under another name.

Ms Valerie Degouy said the new page was named after the town’s post code, Mairie 57230, as reported by Politico.

Ms Degouy said: “I tried to reach out to Facebook in every possible way, through different forms, but there’s nothing [I could] do,” she said, adding she had “already had issues when I first created the page”.

Another of the commune’s towns, Rohrbach-les-Bitches, renamed its page Ville de Rohrbach out of caution.

In a post explaining the change, the account holder said: “Far from us the idea of denying the name of our beautiful village… [but] Facebook seems to be hunting the term associated with Rohrbach…

“We let you imagine the reason,” they added with a winking and laughing emoji.

As Politico reports, this is not the first time that the town’s name has caused upset for Americans.

Back in 1881, the US embassy was located on the Place de Bitche in Paris, named in honour of the town.

The then ambassador, Levi Parsons Morton, complained about the name as it appeared to be embarrassing on the embassy’s letterhead and Parisian authorities renamed the square Place des Etats-Unis.

A spokesperson for Facebook confirmed to Sky News that the page was removed in error, and had since been “swiftly restored this morning, when we because aware of the issue”.

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