April 14, 2018 - April 20, 2018
Can Facebook restore public trust after privacy scandal?
time a person shops online or at a store, loyalty cards linked to phone
numbers or email addresses can be linked to other databases that may
have location data, home addresses and more. Voting records, job
history, credit scores (remember the Equifax hack?) are constantly
mixed, matched and traded by companies in ways regulators haven’t caught
up with. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
Sharon Cohen &
Chicago (AP) -
It’s a scandal of privacy, politics and an essential ingredient of
business success - public trust.
confronting a costly, embarrassing public relations debacle after
revelations that Cambridge Analytica may have misused data from some 50
million users to try to influence elections. Among its marquee clients:
President Donald Trump’s general election campaign.
Now a company known
as much for reminders of a long-lost friend’s birthday and documentation
of acquaintances’ every whim is grappling with outrage - and the
possible loss of confidence - from users around the globe that have made
the social media site a part of their daily routine.
“I trust somebody
until they give me a reason not to trust them,” said Joseph Holt, who
teaches business ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “And Facebook
has increasingly given me reasons not to trust them.”
Losing that would
be a disaster, not just for Facebook, but for any Silicon Valley company
that relies on users to open up their private lives.
The amount of trust
placed in technology has soared. Cars sync with cell phones.
Refrigerators know when there’s no more milk and reorder it. Virtual
assistants field answers to nearly any inane question.
And with each turn
of the steering wheel, sip of milk or request for dinner reservations, a
trail of digital crumbs is left for companies to collect, analyze and
The public has
largely been willing to accept the trade-off, knowing in exchange for
giving up some data, Netflix will offer spot-on show suggestions, Amazon
will prompt a diaper order and Google will figure out what to search
before a user finishes typing it.
understands the darker side of data brokers in an always-connected
Every time a person
shops online or at a store, loyalty cards linked to phone numbers or
email addresses can be linked to other databases that may have location
data, home addresses and more. Voting records, job history, credit
scores (remember the Equifax hack?) are constantly mixed, matched and
traded by companies in ways regulators haven’t caught up with.
While Facebook let
slip data profiles on millions of people, “it’s much more than that,”
says James Grimmelmann, a professor at Cornell Law School. “Trying to
pin down any one breach as being the source of all the privacy harms out
there is futile.”
For Facebook, whose
power and value are built on being so ever-present in people’s lives,
the impact has been immediate - its share price is down nearly 14
percent since the scandal broke March 16.
Investors fear that
Facebook users will start to think twice before posting the latest
snapshots of their puppy, or clicking “like” on a news story or movie
that’s going to remain in people’s memory,” says Mike Chapple, a
University of Notre Dame professor with expertise in cybersecurity. “I
think it’s changed people’s perceptions.”
After the scandal
broke, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized, admitted his company’s
mistakes and said security needs to be enhanced to protect users’ data.
He noted that this is a major trust issue for the public.
It follows closely
on the heels of the company acknowledging it helped spread fake news and
propaganda from Russian-linked trolls disrupting the 2016 presidential
disenchanted Facebook users have deactivated their accounts, others
point out that breaking up can be hard to do. If a credit card company
or an airline’s data is breached, it’s easy enough to switch
allegiances. But for most of Facebook’s 2 billion users there’s no real
substitute, says Aaron Gordon, a partner at Schwartz Media Strategies, a
Miami-based public relations and crisis management firm.
“It’s a lot harder
to just up and leave,” he says. “So you go to Twitter or Instagram? It’s
not the same.”
is owned by Facebook.)
Holt, the business
ethics professor, loved Facebook, but with all that’s come out, he feels
like he’s in an abusive relationship. He estimates he cut his usage from
about 30 minutes daily to about 10 minutes every other day and would
happily flee altogether if a viable alternative emerged that more
zealously protected data.
“I haven’t left it
yet, but I go less often and I feel less good about it,” he says.
Facebook is not the
only company to deal with misuse of private information that has
weakened public confidence. Equifax, the credit reporting agency, and
Target, the retail giant, both suffered massive data breaches affecting
tens of millions of people. Wells Fargo faced stiff government fines for
a fake accounts scandal.
The public tends to
get numb to this steady drumbeat of bad news, says brand strategist
“People pick their
battles and daily outrage,” she says. “Facebook messed up royally, but
most people are on a daily outrage roller-coaster and aren’t sure if
this is the hill worth dying on.”
April 7, 2018 - April 13, 2018
July 1, 2016, file photo, shows the Facebook Data Center in Prineville,
Ore. Facebook frequently defends its data collection and sharing
with users. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)
New York (AP) - To get an
idea of the data Facebook collects about you, just ask for it. You’ll
get a file with every photo and comment you’ve posted, all the ads
you’ve clicked on, stuff you’ve liked and searched for and everyone
you’ve friended - and unfriended - over the years.
This trove of data is used to
decide which ads to show you. It also makes using Facebook more seamless
and enjoyable - say, by determining which posts to emphasize in your
feed, or reminding you of friends’ birthdays.
Facebook claims to protect all this
relatively clear and concise. But few users bother to read it. You might
Facebook’s privacy practices have
come under fire after a Trump-affiliated political consulting firm,
Cambridge Analytica, got data inappropriately from millions of Facebook
users. While past privacy debacles have centered on what marketers
gather on users, the stakes are higher this time because the firm is
alleged to have created psychological profiles to influence how people
vote or even think about politics and society.
Facebook defends its data
collection and sharing activities by noting that it’s adhering to a
scandals and pressure from users and regulators, Facebook also offers a
complex set of controls that let users limit how their information is
used - to a point.
You can turn off ad targeting and
see generic ads instead, the way you would on television or in a
newspaper. In the ad settings, you’d need to uncheck all your interests,
interactions with companies and websites and other personal information
you don’t want to use in targeting. Of course, if you click on a new
interest after this, you’ll have to go back and uncheck it in your ad
preferences to prevent targeting. It’s a tedious task.
As Facebook explains, it puts you
in target categories based on your activity. So, if you are 35, live in
Seattle and have liked an outdoor adventure page, Facebook may show you
an ad for a mountain bike shop in your area.
But activity isn’t limited to pages
or posts you like, comments you make and your use of outside apps and
“If you start typing something and
change your mind and delete it, Facebook keeps those and analyzes them
too,” Zeynep Tufekci, a prominent techno-sociologist, said in a 2017 TED
And, increasingly, Facebook tries
to match what it knows about you with your offline data, purchased from
data brokers or gathered in other ways. The more information it has, the
fuller the picture of you it can offer to advertisers. It can infer
things about you that you had no intention of sharing - anything from
your ethnicity to personality traits, happiness and use of addictive
substances, Tufekci said.
These types of data collection
aren’t necessarily explicit in privacy policies or settings.
What Facebook does say is that
advertisers don’t get the raw data. They just tell Facebook what kind of
people they want their ads to reach, then Facebook makes the matches and
shows the ads.
Apps can also collect a lot of data
about you, as revealed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The firm got
the data from a researcher who paid 270,000 Facebook users to complete a
psychological profile quiz back in 2014. But the quiz gathered
information on their friends as well, bringing the total number of
people affected to about 50 million.
Facebook says Cambridge Analytica
got the data inappropriately - but only because the app said it
collected data for research rather than political profiling. Gathering
data on friends was permitted at the time, even if they had never
installed the app or given explicit consent.
Ian Bogost, a Georgia Tech
communications professor who built a tongue-in-cheek game called “Cow
Clicker” in 2010, wrote in The Atlantic recently that abusing the
Facebook platform for “deliberately nefarious ends” was easy to do then.
What’s worse, he said, it was hard to avoid extracting private data.
If “you played Cow Clicker, even
just once, I got enough of your personal data that, for years, I could
have assembled a reasonably sophisticated profile of your interests and
behavior,” he wrote. “I might still be able to; all the data is still
there, stored on my private server, where Cow Clicker is still running,
allowing players to keep clicking where a cow once stood.”
Facebook has since restricted the
amount of types of data apps can access. But other types of data
collection are still permitted. For this reason, it’s a good idea to
check all the apps you’ve given permissions to over the years. You can
also do this in your settings.
March 31, 2018 - April 6, 2018
The Samsung S9 has a great camera - just like other phones
In this Feb.
21, 2018, file photo, the Bixby virtual assistant software of a Samsung
Galaxy S9 Plus mobile phone translates a foreign language sign during a
product preview in New York. But stop signs in Thai, Portuguese and French
were translated as “first,” ‘’shield,” and “crazy.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew,
New York (AP) -
Samsung says its new Galaxy S9 phone features a “reimagined” camera, and it
is indeed pretty darned good. But you might not want to shell out $720 or
more for one just yet unless your current phone is already close to death.
That’s because other
high-end phone cameras - nowadays, one of the major differentiators between
phones - are also pretty darned good. If your phone is recent, it probably
already has a decent camera. Technology has improved to the point that it’s
really hard to tell the difference between them.
In many of our test
shots, the S9 outperformed the best of its rivals - Apple’s iPhone X,
Google’s Pixel 2 XL and Samsung’s own Galaxy Note 8. Photos had more detail
and less distortion. But unless you magnify images for closer inspection,
usually there’s little obvious difference beyond color variation, which
comes down to personal preference. In a few cases, the S9 performed worse
than all three.
The phone came out
March 16 with a U.S. starting price of $720 through Samsung and T-Mobile and
nearly $800 through other major U.S. carriers. Here’s a look at what the S9
In a first for a major
smartphone, the S9 camera has an adjustable aperture, or lens opening, to
let in more or less light. Low-light shots are also improved with software
tricks that automatically take 12 shots in quick succession and blend the
best of each.
These changes produce
small improvements in shots: The evening sky tends to be darker, with less
distortion. A statue of Abraham Lincoln doesn’t look as grainy. Many S9
shots also have better contrast between dark and light areas.
But these differences
are very subtle. What’s more likely to affect picture quality is the
steadiness of your hands.
The most distinctive
feature in Samsung’s new camera is super-slow-mo video. People appear frozen
as they jump. Waterfalls seem at peace as drops trickle down. The feature
offers a fresh perspective on that time-honored prank of having fake snakes
pop out of a can - not so scary when the snakes float in thin air.
It’s a gimmick, but
loads of fun.
The camera can process
only a fifth of a second of video at a time - stretched into six seconds
when viewing - so auto detection is key to capturing the right moment. It’s
fun to see people jump up at this speed, but less so when the super-slow-mo
part doesn’t kick in until they’re almost back on the ground. There’s a lot
of trial and error involved.
And compared with still
images and regular video, super-slow-mo video tends to be darker and
blurrier, particularly with close-ups. The feature is at its best outdoors,
when lighting is good and the subject in motion is far enough away.
Samsung’s Bixby digital
assistant taps the camera for instant translations. Just point the phone at
a sign and see it in English (or your chosen language) with similar fonts
Bixby was more reliable
at picking up text than a similar Google Lens feature on Pixel phones. But
stop signs in Thai, Portuguese and French were translated as “first,”
‘’shield,” and “crazy.” Bixby got Indonesian right, though. And it can deal
with long passages in posters and documents.
are what you eat
Point the camera at
food for nutritional information. It gave me close-enough calorie counts for
a burger and onion rings, but a roast beef sandwich was misidentified as
either a pastrami or a cubano sandwich, depending on the angle.
All counts are based on
single servings, which isn’t as useful as Bixby telling me the mac and
cheese I had was actually three servings, or triple the calories. Unreported
calories don’t contribute to weight gain, right?
The larger S9 Plus
model has a second lens with twice the magnification. Though I didn’t test
this model, a similar feature in other phones is essential for producing
Both S9 models have a
feature for turning selfies into personal emojis for sharing in messages.
Some people will love this; I found no use for it. Next!
The new phone is easier
to unlock by looking at it. Past Samsung phones scan your iris, but they
don’t work reliably in bright sunlight. The S9 supplements that with facial
recognition, which isn’t as secure. For that reason, Samsung won’t let
banking and other sensitive apps use just the face, but it’s OK for
unlocking the phone (you can disable it if you’re concerned). In any case,
glasses can still be challenging, but there’s a fingerprint sensor on the
back as a backup. It’s moved slightly to reduce smudges on the camera lens.
Beyond that, the
phone’s design hasn’t changed much from last year’s S8. But that’s OK. No
need to fix what isn’t broken. What matters is what the phone does - and