Facebook admits being warned of alleged Russian meddling back in 2014

A still image taken from video footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) on November 27, 2018 shows Richard Allan (L), Vice President of Policy Solutions, Facebook, seated next to a vacant seat for Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who declined the invitation to attend. (AFP)
Updated 27 November 2018
0

Facebook admits being warned of alleged Russian meddling back in 2014

LONDON: Facebook acknowledged on Tuesday that its engineers had flagged suspicious Russian activity as early as 2014 — long before it became public — but did not confirm evidence of a coordinated campaign.
The revelation came as the British Parliament held hearings featuring lawmakers from nine countries into how the social media behemoth was being used to manipulate major election results.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg refused to attend the meeting and organizers pulled up an empty chair in front of a spot with his nameplate at the shoehorn-shaped table in the House of Commons committee room in London.
Zuckerberg’s company is reeling from a series of crises linked to its handling of alleged Russian meddling in both the 2016 US presidential election and that year’s British referendum on leaving the European Union.
Committee chief Damian Collins said he reviewed internal Facebook emails showing the company’s engineers telling management in October 2014 that Russian IP addresses were accessing “three billion data points a day” on the network.
The emails were seized from the now-defunct US software provider Six4Three under a rarely used UK parliamentary enforcement procedure.
Six4Three is suing Facebook and the emails cited by Collins have been sealed by a California court. He did not release their content on Tuesday.
Facebook argued on Tuesday that the emails referred to by Collins were taken out of context.
“The engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity,” Facebook said in a statement provided to AFP.
It was unclear from the company’s wording if its engineers found no evidence of suspicious activity or whether that activity could not be linked directly to Russia.
Collins appeared flustered as he tried to get Facebook’s attending vice president Richard Allan to explain what exactly happened in 2014.
“If Russian IP addresses were pulling down a huge amount of data from the platform was that reported or was that just kept, as so often seems to be the case, within the family and not talked about?” Collins asked.
Allan responded by saying: “Any information you have seen... is at best partial and at worst potentially misleading.”
The Facebook executive added that the emails were “unverified partial accounts.”
An investigative piece published last week by The New York Times said Facebook misled the public about what it knew about Russia’s meddling in the US campaign.
The story added that Facebook executives then used a PR firm to spread negative stories about other Silicon Valley companies and deflect anger away from itself.
Facebook ended its contract with the PR company days after the article’s publication.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has cited Russian campaign interference as one of the factors that helped tip the presidential race in Donald Trump’s favor.
Facebook’s Allan disagreed.
“We did spot this activity that was wrong, shouldn’t have happened, was political activity directed from Russia,” said Allan.
But he added that the crux of the problem was campaign spending.
“If you say to me was the election won because of this mass of (campaign spending) activity here, or because of this small amount of activity over here, I think it’s reasonable to say let’s start by looking — if we think there is a problem — at campaign spending generally.”
He also appeared unable to placate committee members’ anger at Zuckerberg’s refusal to show up.
“Who advised Mr. Zuckerberg?” asked Canadian politician Charlie Angus. “Was that his decision or did Facebook say — to protect Mr. Zuckerberg — to stay away from this meeting?“
“I will take responsibility for decision-making around appearances,” Allan replied.


Lost stars and World Cup hot topics on Google in 2018

Updated 49 min 44 sec ago
0

Lost stars and World Cup hot topics on Google in 2018

  • An annual summary of “top trending searches” released Tuesday by the world’s most popular online search engine was meant to reflect fresh subjects or names in which interest rocketed this year

SAN FRANCISCO: The World Cup topped a list of this year’s hottest Google search topics that turned quickly to lost stars such as Avicii, Mac Miller and Stan Lee.
An annual summary of “top trending searches” released Tuesday by the world’s most popular online search engine was meant to reflect fresh subjects or names in which interest rocketed this year.
The top term for general search as well as in a news category was “World Cup” football.
But, seven of the 10 most keenly pursued new searches for the year globally centered on rising stars or established icons who passed, among them Anthony Bourdain, Stephen Hawking and Kate Spade.
The list of top trending searches globally included US actress Meghan Markle, who married British Prince Harry, and a “Black Panther” film that debuted this year.
The Royal Wedding was ranked the fourth hottest trending topic in news, after the World Cup, Hurricane Florence, and the results of a Mega Millions lottery.
Sizzling general search topics in the United States to a large degree reflected global trends at Google this year, but the Top 10 list here included “election results” from keenly watched midterm elections.