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Britney denied removal of her conservatorship

The hashtag #FreeBritney has been floating around the internet for quite some time. Since 2009 in fact when concerns around her conservatorship were first raised by a fan site of the same name and reported by Julia Jacobs reported for The New York Times. For nearly 13 years, Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship – otherwise known as a guardianship – by her family that has resulted in her being unable to make her own decisions in her life. Although seemingly first a genuine attempt to aid Britney during a period of mental stress in the late noughties, the conservatorship seems to have quickly grown into a way for those close to Britney to exploit and profit from her stardom. 

As the #FreeBritney movement has for a long time claimed Britney’s affairs have been under (too close-) control by her father Jamie Spears. Now in his late eighties, Spears’ father is currently suffering from his own health problems, suffering an episode at the end of last year that has in part prompted Britney to act in an attempt to free herself from his control. As it stands right now, Britney is unable to make many financial, legal, health and social life choices for herself. 

In the most recent court case, where Britney was able to speak publicly for the first time about her conservatorship, she described decades long emotional abuse and even of punishments from her management when she did not want to comply with their wishes. In one heart-wrenching instance she describes wanting another child but being unable to conceive as a result of the IUD contraceptive that she was not allowed to have removed under the conservatorship. 

Britney spoke freely for the first time ever about her conservatorship for over twenty minutes. Yet despite her passionate speech, the judge has denied her rights to have the conservatorship removed. It is not yet known whether Britney will appeal.

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The birth of cryptocurrency Zcash

Cryptocurrencies have been the subject of great mystery since the first creation of the original digital currency Bitcoin back in 2009. As the legend of Bitcoin goes, the creator Satoshi Nakamoto has still yet to have their identity revealed. The mystery of Bitcoin however stops there, as the simplicity and public openness of its blockchain technology is actually one of the selling and security points in Bitcoin’s favour. 

There is a new cryptocurrency however even more steeped in mystery than its original. Zcash is not a new digital coin, but with renewed interest in online currencies after Bitcoing and fellow coin Ether reached all time highs this year, RadioLab podcast series revisited the birth of Zcash. 

Morgan Peck is the RadioLab journalist who was present at the birth of Zcash, there to witness the myriad and labyrinth-like set up the small team had created to produce the coin. Layers of security were created by the team which involved simple hacks, like moving computers away from the wall to avoid microphones hearing from the other room, to complicated chain series where multiple computers were involved in producing a key only to then be destroyed by their user after completion. 

The drama however occurred when the reporter’s phone began to produce a feedback loop roughly halfway through the ceremony that placed fears into the group they had been hacked. With the multiple security procedures in place however, they decided it was safe enough to continue the procedure and as a result the Zcash coin was born. 

The secret ceremony was constructed with multiple cameras recording the events, with then additional cameras filming the first cameras so as to ensure they had not been tampered with. The extreme measures were put in place to inspire trust in the birth of the currency which positions itself as the full private for users – the opposite to Bitcoin.The birth of cryptocurrency Zcash

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Europe to break up big tech if U.S. can’t

Following antitrust investigations from the U.S. Government into online giants Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple back in July 2020, the EU has now threatened to break up Silicon Valley’s big tech companies if the US can’t.

The argument revolves around monopoly and antitrust laws, put in place to stop companies from engaging in anti competitive behaviour. Whilst the U.S has been conducting investigations this December in an aim to break up Facebook and bringing seemingly incriminating emails sent from its founder to light, the EU has since released two major new drafts of regulations for tech companies. 

The two documents are the Digital Markets Act and a Digital Services Act which seek to hold companies accountable for both unfair competition and the regulation of illegal behaviour on their platforms. The documents come from the EU centre of Brussels and are the first significant revamp of policy from the EU in twenty years. Both proposals for the new acts will first need to be voted on by the Council of Ministers and European Parliament before being able to be made into law. There is, however, no timetable as of yet to when this might occur. 

The proposals include big fines for big tech companies seeking to eat up market competition. Companies will be liable for up to 10% of their worldwide revenue for acts of deliberate anti-competition, while fines for up to 6% of global revenue will be put in place for companies that fail to regulate their platforms for illegal behaviour. 

If the new laws were to come into place they would indicate one of the biggest and most significant shifts in worldwide policy making, as EU law would greatly impact US companies’ working practices. The EU laws are noted to be some of the most strict and stringent big tech companies would have to comply with.

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US government investigating how 9 social media companies collect and use data

The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces US antitrust and consumer protection laws, has issued orders to nine social media companies demanding information about how and for what purposes they collect and store user data. The FTC is also wants to know about the companies’ advertising and user engagement practices, specifically as they relate to child and adolescent users.

The list of targeted companies is a rogues gallery of digital malefactors: Amazon, ByteDance (owner of TikTok), Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube. They have 45 days to respond to the order. I’m not sure, but I don’t believe that any of them have 1300 numbers.

On its webpage, the FTC writes that the objective is to gain a fuller understanding of:

  • how social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information;
  • how they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers;
  • whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information;
  • how they measure, promote, and research user engagement; and
  • how their practices affect children and teens.

“The FTC wants to understand how business models influence what Americans hear and see, with whom they talk, and what information they share,” explained the FTC in a press statement. “And the FTC wants to better understand the financial incentives of social media and video streaming services.”

As CNBC reports, there’s a clause in the FTC Act that enables the FTC to conduct wide-reaching probes that are separate from law enforcement. These are known as “6(b) studies.” The FTC carried one out earlier this year in which it reviewed various takeovers by some of the major US monopolies, namely, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

Of course, Bill Gates’ Microsoft was the subject of a major antitrust lawsuit in 2001. In that case, Microsoft was confirmed as a corporate outlaw operating in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Now Facebook finds itself faced with a similar lawsuit filed just this month by the FTC along with 48 attorneys general. In that suit, Facebook is alleged to have taken over Instagram and WhatsApp after determining that, if left alone, they could pose a threat to Facebook’s hegemony.

Thus, Facebook is accused of unlawfully crushing competition and subsequently harming consumers by limiting their range of options, particularly with regard to privacy. Facebook plans to use the fact that the FTC approved its takeovers of Instagram and WhatsApp as the main pillar of its defense.

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Here’s all the data WhatsApp collects from users

Remember when WhatsApp had a reputation for privacy and security? Then it sold out to Facebook, and people who are concerned about privacy and security moved to another app like Signal. Facebook still likes to boast about WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption—which isn’t so end-to-end after all—but the company has very little to say about the app’s data collection in general.

Thanks to Apple (never thought I’d say that; then again, I never thought I’d be shopping for Equipment Hunt: Trucks and Excavators, but that’s what I’m doing these days), we now have a pretty good idea of what WhatsApp is doing with our data. As I wrote in a recent post, Apple is changing its system so that users are better informed about how their private and personal data is being exploited by the apps they download. Facebook is very angry about this, so much so that they’ve waged a public jihad against Apple under the ridiculous pretense of “standing up for small businesses.”

But I digress. We were discussing WhatsApp. If you go to Apple’s App Store and select WhatsApp, you’re shown a notification with a list of data points gathered and stored by the app. “The developer,” the notification reads, “indicated that the app’s privacy practices may include handling of data as described below.”

Under the heading “Data Linked to You” is written “The following data may be collected and linked to your identity.” And below that is a list including:






Financial info

Contact info

User content

Usage data

That’s what WhatsApp collects from your device. That’s a lot of data. Essentially, WhatsApp uses everything except actual text messages to track you and learn about your behavior, preferences, location, etc. In other words, there is really nothing “private” or “secure” about WhatsApp. Which should come as no surprise, given that it’s owned by Facebook, one of the most expansive surveillance operations in human history.

On the other hand, Signal, the app I mentioned before, is not nearly as intrusive. According to Apple, it collects far less data, and any data that it does collect is not linked to the user.

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How will Brexit affect digital privacy in the UK?

Brexit has been one big chaotic mess, but there are some beneficiaries of the madness. Facebook is one of them. It was reported yesterday that the tech corporation—which is currently getting hammered from all directions by major lawsuits—is going to move all of its UK users into agreements with its corporate headquarters in California.

Previously, users in Britain were set up with the company’s Euro headquarters in Ireland, which meant they were under the purview of the European Union and its robust privacy laws. As Ireland is still a member of the EU, many of the legal agreements it had with the UK are changing or ending altogether, and Facebook is taking advantage of that. (So is Google, for that matter. I haven’t used Google in ages. There are plenty of alternatives. For instance, when I’m looking for an NDIS provider finder, I use DuckDuckGo.)

In a statement to Reuters, Facebook’s UK branch confirmed that it was shifting British users to the California framework, but insisted rather unconvincingly that user privacy would not be affected.

“Like other companies, Facebook has had to make changes to respond to Brexit and will be transferring legal responsibilities and obligations for UK users from Facebook Ireland to Facebook Inc,” Facebook said. “There will be no change to the privacy controls or the services Facebook offers to people in the UK.”

Users in the UK will still be governed by that country’s privacy regime, which is similar to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But “people familiar with the company” told Reuters that Facebook is motivated by a desire to get out from under the GDPR’s restrictions. Among other things, the GDPR places limitations on how much data can be shared between Europe and the US.

The concern now is that London, in order to secure an attractive trade deal with Washington, will relax its own privacy laws to enable a freer exchange of information, opening up users to all manner of violations. Jim Killock, executive director of the UK-based Open Rights Group, remarked upon the danger inherent in such a development. “The bigger the company,” he explained, “the more personal data they hold, the more they are likely to be subject to surveillance duties or requirements to hand over data to the US government.”

The shift goes into effect next year; shortly after, Facebook will notify users via an update to its terms of service.

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Australia sues Facebook for spying on users sans consent

Facebook has been sued by a regulatory body in Australia for allegedly (but we all know it’s true) gathering personal data from users without their knowledge or consent. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says Zuckerberg’s corporation used the Onavo Protect VPN app to spy on Australian users in 2016 and 2017, collecting and storing their data in order to boost Facebook’s profits. Facebook did this, the filing asserts, while telling users that the app would protect their data and keep it safe.

That is what a VPN (virtual private network) is meant to do: keep your data secure and prevent you from being monitored by nefarious actors like Facebook. But you really can’t trust any digital technology these days, especially if it’s being promoted by Facebook. If you want privacy you’d better just stick to face-to-face conversations, or maybe 2 way radios.

“Through Onavo Protect, Facebook was collecting and using the very detailed and valuable personal activity data of thousands of Australian consumers for its own commercial purposes, which we believe is completely contrary to the promise of protection, secrecy and privacy that was central to Facebook’s promotion of this app,” said a statement from ACCC chair Rod Sims.

He added:

“Consumers often use VPN services because they care about their online privacy, and that is what this Facebook product claimed to offer. In fact, Onavo Protect channelled significant volumes of their personal activity data straight back to Facebook.

“We believe that the conduct deprived Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice about the collection and use of their personal activity data by Facebook and Onavo.”

The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, though it did not specify how much.

Whether Facebook did what the ACCC accuses it of doing isn’t really up for debate. In 2018 the British parliament published internal Facebook documents that detailed how the company used data from the Onavo app to gather valuable information about user activity—as well as valuable information about competitors. For example, the app allowed Facebook to identify WhatsApp as a competitive threat, at which point Facebook moved to take it over. Classic predatory monopolistic behavior, and a clear violation of US antitrust legislation.

Where’s Ted Roosevelt when you need him?

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Facebook doesn’t like that Apple is going to inform its users that they’re being spied on by Facebook

Few things are more tiresome than a squabble between miscreant corporations, especially when they’re as scummy as Facebook and Apple. But here we are. Facebook—the surveillance/data-stealing monopoly—is lashing out at Apple for changing its operating system in a way that Facebook says will make it harder for businesses to assault users with targeted advertisements.

In a blog post, Facebook asserts that Apple’s new transparency policy is “about profit, not privacy.” As though Facebook isn’t motivated exclusively and pathologically by profit. Facebook accusing another predatory corporation of greed is like the US government condemning one of its enemies for war crimes. It’s just hypocrisy of the worst sort. All this garbage does make me tired; if only I had an electric adjustable bed to tumble into right now.

“Facebook is speaking up for small businesses,” writes Dan Levy, VP of Ads and Business Products, and Apple is “hurting small businesses and publishers who are already struggling in a pandemic.” Pretty rich coming from the company that, according to a lawsuit filed recently by the federal government, is actually a predatory trust that systematically crushes or takes over any business that it fears might eventually become a competitor and threaten its absolute domination of the social media and digital advertising markets. That company cares about small businesses. Sure.

What Apple will do is this: Whenever an iPhone user opens an app, the system will alert them to the fact that their data is being tracked for advertising purposes. The user can then opt out of the surveillance program if they wish.

That’s what has Facebook all steamed up right now. The company is so vexed that it took out full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. The ad reads in part: “Without personalised ads, Facebook data shows that the average small business advertiser stands to see a cut of over 60% in their sales for every dollar they spend.”

“Facebook data,” eh? I’m sure that’s completely reliable. Definitely not skewed to Facebook’s advantage. My personal internal data shows that Facebook is full of shit. I trust that yours shows the same.

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Facebook extends more tentacles into UK economy

Facebook is reportedly going to bring in 1,000 employees from London, mostly for product development and safety purposes, bringing the tech/surveillance/censorship company’s UK workforce to more than 4,000. According to Reuters, most of the new jobs will be tech-related—e.g. software engineering and data science. The rest will be part of Facebook’s “community integrity” squad, whose job it is to “remove harmful content from platforms like Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.” “Community integrity” is an interesting euphemism for censorship. (See here.)

Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the company was satisfied with Prime Minister Boorish Johnson’s attempts to address its Brexit-related concerns.

“The Johnson government has been very clear about what that looks like,” Mendelsohn said, “and so we will continue to invest here in London.”

Boorish is happy about it:

“We are committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, alongside being one of the best places for technology companies to be based.”

As Reuters reports, Facebook is taking measures to rehabilitate itself after the Cambridge Analytica mess, in which a third party company was able to collect private information from millions of Facebook users without their consent. Facebook didn’t address, or even divulge, the massive breach until it was called out by several news outlets. Zuckerberg eventually agreed to testify about the scandal in front of the US Congress, giving a decidedly robotic performance.

“We also understand that this [securing user data] is an ongoing important conversation—we want to be part of that conversation,” Mendelsohn said in a boilerplate statement. “We want to be working with policymakers in this area to get to thoughtful policy.”

She proceeded to boast, based on Facebook’s own reading of a study by Copenhagen Economics, that the company has created more than 3 million jobs in Europe.

Given less attention is Facebook’s ability to eliminate jobs. Here’s an example. In 2016, Inc. Magazine named Render Media the second fastest-growing media company in the United States. Two years later Render Media announced that it was going out of business.

“In a note to clients, Render Media blamed changes to Facebook’s branded content guidelines, which led it to no longer support its partner publishing network with articles,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “The spokeswoman for the company also said that the social media site’s recent news feed algorithm tweak contributed to the decision, among other factors.”

Render isn’t the only casualty:

“The branded content changes, along with a related tweak to Facebook’s news feed algorithm that reduces the amount of content from publishers in favor of posts from friends and family, have stymied companies that rely heavily on traffic from Facebook to prop up their businesses. Earlier this year, the female-focused digital publisher LittleThings closed its doors, after the news feed change caused its traffic to plummet by 75%.”

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Facebook, of Cambridge Analytica fame, angry that app lets Instagram users spy on each other

And for the most ironic news of the week, Facebook is appalled that an app allowed people to view the profiles of Instagram users, even if the profiles are set to private. The app, aptly called Ghosty, has been downloaded more than 500,000 times via the Google Play Store. Ghosty is advertised in the following terms:

“You can view all the profiles you want to view including hidden profiles on Instagram. You can download or share photos or videos from your Instagram profiles to your gallery.”

The folks over at Facebook have caught wind of this, and they’re not happy. “This app violates our terms,” Zuckerberg’s company said in a statement. “We will be sending a cease and desist letter to Ghosty ordering them to immediately stop their activities on Instagram, among other requests. We are investigating and planning further enforcement relating to this developer.”

Meanwhile, in a sly attempt to appear to be concerned about the privacy and well-being of its users, Facebook-owned Instagram has begun testing an update to its app that reportedly makes it so that the “like”-count on a given post is only visible to the author of the post.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said the idea is to eliminate the competitive aspect of Instagram, whereby users desperately try to attract as many “likes” as possible to feel popular and boost their fragile self-esteem. After all, everyone knows a person is only as likable and successful as their last Instagram post.

“It’s about young people,” Mosseri said. “The idea is to try and depressurise Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them and it’s really focused around young people. We get to see how it makes people feel about the platform, how they use the platform and how it affects the creator ecosystem but I’ve been spending a lot of time on this personally.”

As for Facebook attacking Ghosty, that’s a laugh. Facebook is one of the most invasive institutions in the world. Its whole business model is based on the bulk collection of user data—which legally belongs to them, not you, and which it can store forever—which it then shares with other corporations who exploit it to target you with personalized advertisements.

Your information is not safe with Facebook and it never will be.