Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Your Facebook Data Can Be Used Against You

It turns out that Facebook keeps a shipload of data about you.  That stands to reason, since Facebook's business model is to snarf up as much data as possible so you can be targeted for ads that Facebook and its real customers (i.e., the advertisers) hope you click on.  And Facebook would want to keep every scrap of data it has about you (subject to your ability to delete it under Facebook's terms and conditions), no matter how old or seemingly trivial it may be because the more Facebook knows, the greater its ability to target you.  So the information it keeps is pretty extensive, including among other things your facial image (kept through its facial recognition software), all contacts in your phone book, all your Facebook friends (including those that were unfriended), location data (as in where you were at a particular time on a particular day), all the videos you watched, your timeline, all photos you uploaded to Facebook, message traffic, and life events (such as your birth date, graduations, marriages, and so on).  (See

But all that information can be used against you.  There are probably quite a few possible ways.  Here are a few.  Let's say you have a job that doesn't require you to show up at the office all the time.  Your employer thinks you haven't been putting in a full 40 hours a week and demands that you download and hand over a copy of your Facebook data, so they can check up on what you've doing during the workweek.  You refuse, saying that would be an outrageous invasion of your privacy.  Your employer then tells you to pursue your career elsewhere.  And if you sue?  Your employer might try to use court rules called "discovery" to get a copy of your Facebook data to prove you were goofing off.

So you lost your job and apply for another.  Your prospective new employer says, "we really like you but we'd like to see a copy of your Facebook data, just as part of our due diligence on job applicants."  You suddenly remember all those videos you watched ten years ago, when you were younger and more impulsive and watched a lot of weird stuff, which you wouldn't want a future employer to know about.  You decline to provide your Facebook data, and all of a sudden the prospective job evaporates.  

So you try again with another potential employer, this time a contractor for the federal government.  But this job requires a security clearance, and you are asked to provide a copy of your Facebook data so the contractor can evaluate whether or not you'd get a clearance.  You then recall those stupid videos that you uploaded in college during Spring Break--you know, the ones in which you and your pals were rip-roaring drunk and . . .  well, the streaking was the least of it.  WTF do you do now?  How do you respond to this request?

Let's say you're involved in a divorce--half of all married people get divorced, so this sadly is a pretty common event.  Your spouse suspects you've cheated and tries to use those court discovery rules to get a copy of your Facebook data to see where you've been and who you were with.  What if your spouse succeeds?  What will he or she find out?

Perhaps you're a stock market aficionado, and want to get as much information about a company as you can.  You have a friend who works at the company and you traded the company's stock very profitably.  A government official investigating whether or not you got illegal inside information could subpoena your Facebook data to see if you met with or communicated with your friend who works at the company at a time when your friend might have tipped you off.

Let's assume you've been lucky in life and make a gratifying income.   But you find the demands of the IRS insufferable.  So you take a flight to Panama or some other place that has banking secrecy laws you think might keep the Feds at bay.  The IRS gets nosy and subpoenas your Facebook data.  Would they find out you were in Panama or some other place not mentioned in your tax returns?

There are some people who have lived entirely blameless lives--they hewed to the straight and narrow, never told a lie, never smoked, drank, or took illegal drugs, never had dinner alone with anyone other than their spouses, always helped old ladies across the street, and never said a cuss word.   All three of these people have nothing to worry about.  As for the rest of us, that vast pool of data Facebook may have on you is something to bear in mind.  It ain't going nowhere, and you'll have to live with its consequences.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Your Facebook Data Will Never Be Safe

Unless you've been locked into a backyard bunker waiting for President Trump to start a nuclear war, you know that Facebook is having some rather serious problems with the confidentiality of its users' data.  Data for some 50 million users somehow wound up in the hands of a UK data analysis firm called Cambridge Analytica, which then reportedly used it to assist Donald Trump get elected President of the United States.  Needless to say, the 50 or so million users weren't aware this happened.  Government investigations have started.  A search warrant was executed at Cambridge Analytica and calls have been made for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, to testify before Congress.  But, no matter what happens--Facebook takes more protective measures, government regulation increases, people are tossed in jail--your Facebook data will never be safe.

According to an apocryphal story, bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks and replied, "Because that's where the money is." Facebook's problem is it is where the data is.  Facebook has the best data on the Internet.  It insists on users using their true identities, and it operates a social forum, where it learns who is in a user's social circles, what they think, what they like, what they do, what they want, what they own, where they live, where they work, where they play, with whom they play, what illness and injuries they have, what medications they take, what treatments they get, what music they like, what television and video entertainment they like, where they go on vacation and with whom, what they eat, where they eat, who they like, who they dislike, who they date, who they want to date, who they marry, who they divorce, maybe even who they cheat on their spouses with, how they vote, who they vote for, why they vote a particular way, what their political views are, what their cultural values are, what their religious views are, where they worship, what prejudices and biases they have, what ethnic and racial groups they like or dislike, how they feel about gays, lesbians, transgender people or anyone else, how they feel about this sexual activity or that, etc., etc., etc., so on and so forth.  In other words, Facebook knows AN AWFUL LOT about its users, more than any other website or Internet company. 

Facebook is where the data is--the absolutely best data.  That's why hackers, unscrupulous foreign governments, shady political operators, and all manner of scoundrels and riff raff will continue to swarm around Facebook like a pack of hyenas, snatching whatever data they can get.  As we repeatedly learn just about every week, no repository of data is safe.  Neither governments, military or intelligence organizations, the most sophisticated Internet companies, nor anyone else can keep data safe.  Everyone who has valuable data has been hacked or probably will be hacked some day.  The architecture of the Internet is open, not closed, and true security is simply impossible.  Because Facebook has the crown jewels when it comes to data, the wolves will perennially attack and hack.  And even as Facebook puts up more defenses, the jackals will relentlessly prowl and find new ways to slip through and feed. 

Don't be naive when Facebook tells you they'll find ways to fix the problem.  They've been hoodwinked before, and, being human, they'll be hoodwinked again.  If you're on Facebook, you have a choice to make--have no expectation of privacy at all, or get the hell off of Facebook.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Donald Trump's Great Weakness

Under pressure from President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions just fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.  On the heels of this announcement, Trump's attorney, John Dowd, called on the Justice Department's Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, to close Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Donald Trump's potential collusion with Russia during and after the 2016 Presidential campaign.  (See  This seemingly heavy-handed announcement could be read to imply that if Rosenstein doesn't close the investigation, he'll be fired. 

But so what?  What if Trump fires Rosenstein, and later engineers the firing of Mueller?  Rosenstein and Mueller could easily become martyrs in the eyes of large numbers of people, and end up making big money at prestigious law firms.  They might also get lucrative book deals and become featured commentators on network television.  Look at what happened when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey:  Comey got a multi-million dollar book deal and a position teaching law (which probably would give him time to write the book). 

But what would happen to Trump if he fired Rosenstein and Mueller?  He would look like a demagogue trying to undermine the rule of law.  He could easily trigger a constitutional crisis, in which there would be considerable pressure on members of his own party to impeach him.  If the Republicans in Congress failed to impeach Trump, they would look weak and ineffectual--just as they usually appear.  Thus weakened, their ability to deliver further on the Republican agenda would diminish.  Trump and his Republican cohorts in Congress would end up flailing around futilely even more than they do now.

Donald Trump's great weakness is he doesn't understand people like Rosenstein and Mueller.  They proceed on the basis of law, truth, principle and integrity.  These concepts are utterly foreign to Trump, who seems to believe that he can use money to solve any problem he has (although the Stormy Daniels contract doesn't seem to be working out so well).  Trump can't effectively deal with Mueller's investigation because he doesn't even begin to understand the rules--in this case, the rule of law.  He threatens, like a fascist dictator, to fire anyone who gets in his way.  But in a nation of law, as America is, Trump can't win because he doesn't want to comply with the law.   He's like a player in a basketball game who wants to move the ball without dribbling and tackle opposing players without being called for a foul.  That's not the way to win the game, and Trump won't win, either.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Russia's Nuclear Missile Defeat

When Vladimir Putin, Russia's President, recently announced an array of new Russian nuclear weapons (see, he unwittingly acknowledged another strategic defeat for Russia.  To be an effective threat, these weapons will have to produced in significant numbers.  Russia is relatively poor nation with a falling life expectancy.  The price of petroleum, its primary export, has fallen sharply in recent years, causing economic contraction.  It has massive environmental problems and a slow birth rate that will lead to the same demographic time bomb that bedevils many nations today. By any reasonable estimation, Russia doesn't have the money for these new weapons.

Putin, like a bad general, is fighting the last war.  For understandable reasons, Russians are paranoid about being attacked militarily by other nations.  They suffered terribly at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, losing 20 million or more people.  But generals who prepare for the next war, not the last one, are the ones headed for victory.  Whether or not Putin believes it, America won't attack Russia militarily.  It will only defend itself, as it did recently when Russian mercenaries attacked U.S. troops in Syria.  The lopsided American victory in that instance should give Putin pause about further military engagement with the United States.  But who knows what goes on in his head.

By diverting large sums of money into weapons technology and the building of a new, large nuclear arsenal, Putin guarantees that his nation will be economically crippled for decades.  The United States won the Cold War because its economy vastly outgrew the Soviet economy, and the Soviet Union no longer had the wealth to maintain its Eurasian empire.  It had to break up and it did.  China is far more powerful than Russia today, not because it has better weapons but because it has a far stronger economy.  America, too, is far more powerful because it is economically way ahead of Russia and widening the gap.  By designing and building more nuclear weapons, Putin has put Russia on the path to another defeat.