Facebook, Google, Twitter asked to testify on Russian meddling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Executives from Facebook, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter have been asked to testify to the U.S. Congress in coming weeks as lawmakers probe Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election, committee sources said on Wednesday.

A Senate aide said executives from the three firms had been asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee to appear at a public hearing on Nov. 1.

The leaders of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said the panel would hold an open hearing next month with representatives from unnamed technology companies in an effort to “better understand how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election.”

Representatives for Facebook and Google confirmed they had received invitations from the Senate committee but did not say whether the companies would attend. Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The House panel did not immediately identify any companies, but a committee source said lawmakers expected to hear from the same three firms the Senate had asked to testify.

The requests are the latest move by congressional investigators to gain information from internet companies as they probe the extent of Moscow’s alleged efforts to disrupt last year’s U.S. election. Lawmakers in both parties have grown increasingly concerned that social networks may have played a key role in Russia’s influence operation.

Facebook revealed this month that suspected Russian trolls purchased more than $ 100,000 worth of divisive ads on its platform during the 2016 election cycle, a revelation that has prompted calls from some Democrats for new disclosure rules for online political ads.

On Wednesday, Trump attacked Facebook in a tweet and suggested the world’s largest social network had colluded with other media outlets that opposed him. The president has been skeptical of the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election and has denied his campaign colluded with Moscow.

The salvo prompted a lengthy rebuke from Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who said both Trump and liberals were upset about ideas and content on Facebook during the campaign.

“That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like,” Zuckerberg wrote on his personal Facebook page.

Other internet firms besides Facebook are also facing rising scrutiny over how Russia may have leveraged their platforms. Twitter is expected to privately brief the Senate panel on Thursday.

Republican Senator James Lankford, who has received classified information about Russia’s interference as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday that the country’s attempts to sow discord in U.S. domestic affairs had not abated.

Russian internet trolls over the weekend fueled the debate ignited by Trump over whether NFL players should have the right to kneel during the national anthem, Lankford said.

Also on Wednesday, the Daily Beast, citing unnamed sources, reported that a Facebook group named “United Muslims of America” was a fake account linked to the Russian government and that it was used to push false claims about U.S. politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The group bought Facebook ads to reach targeted audiences, promoting political rallies aimed at Muslims, the website reported.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are two of the main congressional panels probing allegations that Russia sought to interfere in the U.S. election to boost Trump’s chances at winning the White House, and possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Dustin Volz, additional reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Peter Cooney and Andrew Hay

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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A Woman Asked Tinder for All Its Data on Her. Their 800-Page Reply Will Terrify You

Think about all the information internet companies have collected about you. Now think about all of it being made public. (This shouldn’t be too hard to imagine given the recent, massive Equifax breach.)

Chances are good that the nightmare scenario which flashed through your mind involved sensitive financial data and hackers making lavish purchases or taking out ruinous loans. That indeed is a horrifying picture. But I have bad news for you, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to personal secrets stored up and poorly guarded by companies you interact with every day.

Imagine 800-pages of your deepest secrets

At least that’s what you’d have to conclude from a chilling, must-read article by Judith Duportail in the UK Guardian recently. “A typical millennial constantly glued to my phone,” Duportail uses European regulations to request all the data dating app Tinder has collected on her. The company’s response will terrify you:

Some 800 pages came back containing information such as my Facebook “likes”, my photos from Instagram (even after I deleted the associated account), my education, the age-rank of men I was interested in, how many times I connected, when and where every online conversation with every single one of my matches happened …

Reading through the 1,700 Tinder messages I’ve sent since 2013, I took a trip into my hopes, fears, sexual preferences and deepest secrets. Tinder knows me so well. It knows the real, inglorious version of me who copy-pasted the same joke to match 567, 568, and 569; who exchanged compulsively with 16 different people simultaneously one New Year’s Day, and then ghosted 16 of them.

Of course, Tinder, being a dating app, is particularly likely to know extremely personal details about you, but don’t be comforted if you don’t use Tinder. If you use Facebook or other social media apps, the trove of data out there on you is probably even bigger.

“I am horrified but absolutely not surprised by this amount of data,” data scientist Olivier Keyes tells Duportail. “Every app you use regularly on your phone owns the same [kinds of information]. Facebook has thousands of pages about you!”

And while this shouldn’t come as a huge shock — Tinder’s privacy policy comes right out and says they’ll be collecting everything and it won’t necessarily be kept secure– seeing all that information printed out physically was still a wake-up call for Duportail.

“Apps such as Tinder are taking advantage of a simple emotional phenomenon; we can’t feel data. This is why seeing everything printed strikes you. We are physical creatures. We need materiality,” Dartmouth sociologist Luke Stark explains to her.

If you’re not a European citizen (and a journalist with the skills and professional inclination to engage a lawyer and internet rights activist to aid your quest) you’re unlikely to ever see the physical manifestation of the mountains of personal data myriad companies are collecting on you right now. Which is why Duportail’s experiment is such a public service.

What should do you do about it?

What should you do about the reality this experiment revealed? As Duportail points out, for many of us, our online and offline lives have grown so entangled it’s basically impossible to share less data without radically overhauling our lifestyles. Though there are, of course, still sensible steps to take to protect important financial data, like setting up fraud alerts, using more secure passwords or a password manager, and enabling two-factor authentication where available.

But the truth is, while these steps might thwart hackers, they won’t prevent businesses from using your data to tailor what they offer you and how much they charge for it, which is completely legal. And that alone worries some.

“Your personal data affects who you see first on Tinder, yes,” privacy activist Paul-Olivier Dehaye tells Duportail. “But also what job offers you have access to on LinkedIn, how much you will pay for insuring your car, which ad you will see in the tube and if you can subscribe to a loan.” Thinking through the implications of this reality and responding appropriately is beyond the scope of any one individual. Instead we’ll have to have society-wide conversations about the dangers and ethics of this sort of ‘big data.

In the meantime though, just visualize that 800-page dossier of secrets to keep you alert to how much you’re really sharing online.

Tech