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Facebook data harvesting scandal widens to 87 million people

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“In total, we believe the Facebook information of up to 87 million people — mostly in the US — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica,” wrote Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer of Facebook, in a blog post announcing new rules for how the company plans to handle user data.

The data was harvested by Cambridge University researchers through a quiz app that users downloaded and then used their Facebook accounts to access. Cambridge Analytica, a private company not affiliated with the university, was allegedly then able to build a system off that data to target U.S. citizens with political ads based on personality traits.

In addition to changing how it works with connected apps, Facebook has also changed how its “search account and recovery” feature works, which lets people search for users by phone number or email address. Schroepfer wrote that this allowed for accounts to be found and then have their public info “scraped” — an issue that could have affected all of Facebook’s 2.13 billion users. The feature has now been disabled.

“Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way,” Schroepfer wrote. “So we have now disabled this feature. We’re also making changes to account recovery to reduce the risk of scraping as well.

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Facebook said it will begin notifying users at the top of their News Feeds on Monday, April 9, if their information may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook’s 2.13 billion users will also be provided with a link at the top of their feeds to see the apps they use, review the information they share with those apps and steps to remove them, if they choose.

In a statement on Wednesday, Cambridge Analytica said it “licensed data for no more than 30 million people” from GSR, a research company. They said that data was not used to target voters in the 2016 presidential election.

“Our contract with GSR stated that all data must be obtained legally, and this contract is now a matter of public record,” the statement said. “We took legal action against GSR when we found out they had breached this contract.”

When Facebook contacted Cambridge Analytica to say the data was improperly gathered, the company said it “immediately deleted the raw data from our file server, and began the process of searching for and removing any of its derivatives in our system.”

“When Facebook sought further assurances a year ago, we carried out an internal audit to make sure that all the data, all derivatives, and all backups had been deleted, and gave Facebook a certificate to this effect,” the statement said. “We are now undertaking an independent third-party audit to demonstrate that no GSR data remains in our systems.”

The disclosure comes one week before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify for the first time before Congress. The billionaire CEO is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11, where he’ll discuss how the company protects user data.

During a rare hour-long call with reporters, Zuckerberg answered questions about the latest disclosures and how Facebook plans to correct course after the biggest scandal of its 14-year existence.

Throughout the call, Zuckerberg acknowledged several times that he has made mistakes, but when asked by NBC News whether he was the best person to continue running Facebook, he said: “Yes.”

“I think life is about learning from mistakes and figuring out what to do to move forward. A lot of people ask what I’d do differently,” he said. “The reality of this is when you’re building something like Facebook, there are going to be things you mess up. I don’t think anyone is going to be perfect, but I think everyone should learn from mistakes and continuing to be better.”

Zuckerberg said that includes “building things people like and make their lives better.”

“I’m the first to admit I didn’t take a broad enough view,” he said. “Billions of people do love our service, build relationships on a day to day basis. I’m proud of our company.”

With strict data privacy regulations taking effect in Europe next month, Zuckerberg pledged that the same settings will be available to everyone around the world – but said the settings pages may look different.

He also said it is “not enough to just give people a voice” and that Facebook has a duty to make sure “people aren’t using that voice to hurt or spread misinformation.”

Zuckerberg also said he wanted to clear up any misperceptions about what Facebook actually does with user data.

“People put the information there themselves,” he said. “We haven’t been able to quit this notion for years that we sell data to advertisers. We don’t.”

“Even if we wanted to, it wouldn’t make sense to,” he said. “[We] could do a better job to make these things understandable: The way we run this service, we share information and use that to help people connect and we run ads to make it a service that everyone can afford.”

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China’s president Xi Jinping says the world must co-operate on climate change | World News

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China’s president has said the world needs to work together to balance economic development and the destruction of the natural world.

It comes just a week after Xi Jinping promised China – the world’s worst polluter and an economic super power – would be carbon neutral by 2060.

In another landmark speech, he told the UN biodiversity summit: “At present there exists an acceleration of the global extinction of species.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is pictured in his pre-recorded UN address
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It was the president’s second recent pre-recorded UN address

“The loss of biodiversity and degradation of the ecosystem pose a major risk to human survival and development.

“It falls to all of us to act together. We need to respect nature, follow its laws and protect it. We need to find a way for man and nature to live in harmony and balance and coordinate economic development and ecological protection.”

It came as a new study by the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London collated the findings of 210 scientists from 42 countries.

They estimated forty per cent of plant species are at risk of extinction, hundreds of medicinal plants are threatened and only a tiny fraction of plants are being used for food and fuel.

Professor Phil Stevenson told Sky News: “The attention that is being drawn to biodiversity loss at high levels around the world I think is a really positive thing.

“This report will provide those decision makers, and also individuals at home, with new information and more information on making better decisions about conserving the diversity of plants and funghi.”

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It seems hard to re-imagine China as a champion of climate change and biodiversity given the environmental devastation caused by its break-neck speed of economic transformation. So has China really turned over a new leaf?

Isabel Hilton, CEO of China Dialogue, said: “On the analogy of the prodigal son, isn’t it better that China has got to the point of understanding how damaging its previous policies were, and is now exerting leadership in a number of ways.”

It’s easy to make promises but the world will be watching to see whether those with the power actually make a difference on biodiversity and climate change.

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US presidential debate: ‘A wild ride’ for Pennsylvania viewers | World News

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Much of America stayed at home to watch the big debate.

“The home schooling’s keeping them in,” explained Mike McCloskey, owner of the Railroad Street Bar & Grill in Linfield, Pennsylvania. “Teaching kids in the morning is even harder after a hard night.”









First US presidential debate – highlights

It didn’t prevent a sprinkling of the politically-attuned gathering in this self-styled “upbeat hub for brews,” by the Norfolk Southern rail line that runs freight through their swing state.

In the United States, they say if you don’t win Pennsylvania, you don’t win the country.

After an hour and a half of watching the debate, the verdict in Linfield favoured Donald Trump, albeit not unanimously.

Colleen Dougherty said Mr Trump 'owned' the debate
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Colleen Dougherty said Mr Trump ‘owned’ the debate
John Lappin said Mr Trump 'is a leader of our country. It really isn't much more difficult than that'
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John Lappin said Mr Trump ‘is a leader of our country. It really isn’t much more difficult than that’

Colleen Dougherty told Sky News: “I think that Donald Trump owned this. I don’t think that Joe Biden really had anything to really bring to the table. I was really hoping that he would. And we didn’t really have anything.”

John Lappin saw Mr Trump as the victor. He said: “One came with a piece of paper in front of them that can only read from that. The other one is a leader of our country. It really isn’t much more difficult than that.

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Others didn’t declare a clear winner, but did see a loser – the voting public.

Meredith Warren said: “This is terrible, all around. This is very upsetting to watch, but this is the best representation for our country right now. I think they’re both little kids going back and forth to each other. They didn’t answer any questions.”

Meredith Warren called it 'terrible, all around' and 'very upsetting to watch'
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Meredith Warren called it ‘terrible, all around’ and ‘very upsetting to watch’
Watching the presidential debate in Pennsylvania
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Pennsylvania is seen by many as an election bellwether

Mr McCloskey added: “It was a wild ride, it went right, it went left. There was a lot going on, there was a lot of interruption.

“Right now, watching that, I would feel really bad for the American people. Because there was no order. It was all over the place. And I understand why people look at us as a laughing stock. I don’t believe anybody won that debate.”

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Democratic Republic of Congo: More than 50 women allege abuse by Ebola aid workers | UK News

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More than 50 women have alleged that they have been sexually abused or exploited in the Democratic Republic of Congo by Ebola aid workers who said they were from some of the world’s top humanitarian organisations.

The allegations centre around the town of Beni, one of the epicentres of the country’s 10th and most deadly Ebola outbreak which started in 2018.

In an interview, 51 women recounted multiple incidents of abuse and claimed the men who exploited them identified themselves as being with the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières, World Vision, medical charity Alima and the UN’s migration agency, IOM.

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. File pic
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The Ebola outbreak badly affected eastern areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. File pic

The allegations follow a joint investigation by The New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The majority of women said they were plied with drinks, others ambushed in offices and hospitals, and some locked in rooms by men who promised jobs or threatened to fire them if they did not comply.

“So many women were affected by this,” said one 44-year-old woman, who explained that to get a job she had to have sex with a man who said he was a WHO worker.

She and the other women spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

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“I can’t think of someone who worked in the response who didn’t have to offer something,” she added.

Some women were cooks, cleaners and community outreach workers hired on short-term contracts, earning $50 to $100 (£40 to £80) a month – more than twice the normal wage.

At least two women said they became pregnant and others said the abuse occurred as recently as March.

The number and similarity of many of the accounts from women in the eastern city of Beni suggest the practice was widespread, with three organisations vowing to investigate the accusations.

UN secretary-general António Guterres called for the allegations to be “investigated fully”.

The WHO said it was investigating the allegations, affirming that it had a “zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse”.

“The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated,” it said in a statement.

“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible and we do not tolerate such behaviour in any of our staff, contractors or partners.

“Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal.”

Following the allegations against WHO, a Foreign Office spokesperson, said: “Sexual exploitation and abuse are completely abhorrent. We regularly assess all of our partners against the highest safeguarding standards and expect thorough investigations whenever allegations are made.

“The World Health Organisation has confirmed it is urgently investigating these allegations. We will scrutinise their findings closely.”

Spokespeople for IOM, MSF, UNICEF and DRC’s health ministry told both agencies in mid-September they did not know about the accusations before they were presented to them and several said they would need more information to take action.

Oxfam said it does “everything in our power to prevent misconduct and to investigate and act on allegations when they arise, including supporting survivors”.

Meanwhile, an Alima spokesperson said that after investigations earlier this year, two employees were dismissed for sexual harassment and that they had launched a new investigation after the recent reporting.

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