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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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Australia mice plague sees rodents biting people’s feet and crawling over their faces | World News

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A persisting plague of mice in a part of Australia is making life a misery for many with people woken up by the rodents biting their feet – or crawling across their faces.

The infestation in a rural area of New South Wales, triggered after a bumper grain harvest led to a mass breeding season, has caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage and sparked warnings that hard-hit residents face “meltdown”.

The pest invasion comes on the back of one of the worst droughts on record and bushfires.

Residents in the small town of Tottenham have been left exhausted as they struggle to deal with the swarm.

They have spent every morning since February sweeping away thousands of dead mice before laying out fresh bait and traps to kill more.

The onslaught did start to improve a few weeks ago with colder and wetter conditions.

But drier weather has caused the plague to ramp back up.

Tonnes of grain cannot be sold because it’s been contaminated by mice droppings and truckloads of hay will be burnt because of the damage.

The local school has also been inundated.

Principal John Southon said “kids don’t blink” when mice regularly scurry across their desk.

He has told students to bring their lunch in sealed containers.

Mr Southon said: “They are in every aspect of our lives, our homes our cars, washing basket.

“Eventually people are going to have a meltdown because it’s constant and wears you down.”

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Ireland’s health service shuts down IT systems over ‘significant ransomware attack’ | World News

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Ireland’s health service has closed down its computer systems after what it described as a “significant ransomware attack”.

The Republic’s Health Service Executive (HSE) said it had shut down its entire IT network as a “precaution.”

It said COVID-19 vaccinations were not affected by the attack.

“There is a significant ransomware attack on the HSE IT systems,” the HSE said on Twitter.

“We have taken the precaution of shutting down all our IT systems in order to protect them from this attack and to allow us fully assess the situation with our own security partners.”

It added: “We apologise for inconvenience caused to patients and to the public and will give further information as it becomes available.

“Vaccinations not affected are going ahead as planned.”

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Israeli ground forces launch attacks on Gaza as fighting worsens | World News

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Israeli ground forces began launching attacks on Gaza in a widening of hostilities as Israel braced for more internal strife between its Arab and Jewish citizens following Friday prayers.

The Israeli military said air and ground forces were firing at the Hamas-run enclave, though it does not appear to mean the start of a ground invasion, with Sky News witnessing troops launching artillery and tank rounds from Israel’s side of the border.

“I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force.”

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has intercepted many of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

Thousands of Israeli forces along with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery are massing along the frontier with Gaza, preparing to push inside if given the order, in what would be a hugely significant escalation.

Unperturbed, Palestinian militants continued to launch rockets from the strip towards Israel into Friday morning.

At least 109 Palestinians have died since the exchanges began on Monday, including 28 children and 15 women, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Palestinian militants have said 20 of their fighters are among the dead, though Israeli officials said this figure is much higher.

Almost half of the deaths happened on Thursday – the deadliest day so far.

On the Israeli side, seven people have been killed, including two children and a soldier.

But this is a crisis on many fronts, as decades of Israeli-Palestinian trauma erupt into clashes on the streets of many towns and cities inside Israel – with Arabs and Jews, who had lived together peacefully, turning on each other, prompting warnings of a risk of civil war.

Synagogues have been attacked, cars torched and individuals beaten up by mobs in the worst internal violence in decades.

New protests could erupt following Friday prayers, with al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City a potential flashpoint.

It was at this walled compound – one of the most sacred sites in Islam, which is also revered by Jews and Christians – that violence between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on Monday sparked the first volley of rockets from Gaza into Israel that ignited the wider crisis.

A Palestinian boy looks at ruins of buildings which were destroyed in Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. Pic:  Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
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The blockaded strip is home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee. Pic: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

There is of course a regional dimension as well.

On Thursday night, three rockets were fired towards Israel from Lebanon. They landed harmlessly in the Mediterranean Sea in what appears to have been a show of solidarity with Gaza by Palestinian groups in Lebanon rather than the start of a separate offensive.

With so much at stake, frantic diplomatic efforts are underway to try to broker a ceasefire.

Egyptian officials have been speaking with both sides as have officials from the United Nations. The US has dispatched a senior diplomat to the region and Russian President Vladimir Putin has added his voice to those calling for both sides to de-escalate.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction”.

He said the goal is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centres”, and called the effort “a work in progress”.

The UN Security Council is due to hold its first public session on the situation on Sunday after the US objected to an open session on Friday, apparently wanting to give diplomacy a little longer to have an effect.

However, with bombardments between the two sides – unprecedented in their intensity – entering their fifth day, there is no obvious sign that diplomacy is cooling heads.

The Israel Defence Forces has hit close to 1,000 targets in Gaza, including multi-storey buildings, rocket launch sites and individual Hamas military commanders. But this blockaded strip of territory is also home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee.

Overnight, masses of red flames illuminated the skies as deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake.

The strikes were so strong that people inside the city, several miles away, could be heard screaming in fear, according to the AP news agency.

At the same time, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a fellow Palestinian militant group, have fired close to 2,000 rockets towards Israel. Many were shot down by the country’s air defence system but some have penetrated deep into Israeli territory, including the commercial capital of Tel Aviv, sending families racing into shelters.

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