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Testimony to US Congress

Mark Zuckerberg’s Testimony to US Congress: What We Know so Far

In the wake of the data scandal that involved millions of people’s personal data being potentially shared with Cambridge Analytica, Mark Zuckerberg—CEO and co-founder of Facebook—faced US Congress to answer for the company’s involvement. Here’s what we know so far.

The scandal

The lid was lifted on Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica after the Observer published an account from a former worker from the firm. The academic, Aleksandr Kogan, had apparently used a personality quiz to harvest personal data from users of the social network and, through a company called Global Science Research (GSR), shared that information with Cambridge Analytica. At present, it is believed that 87 million people may have been affected (this figure includes both those who took the test as well as their friends, whose personal records the app also had access to).

In the US, Cambridge Analytica is backed by the Mercer family, whose heavy influence was thrown into championing Donald Trump during the presidential election in 2016. It is this association that has sparked allegations of election manipulation. Further revelations surfaced after Channel 4 News in the UK revealed a separate undercover investigation in which Alexander Nix, head of Cambridge Analytica, was filmed boasting of using dirty tactics in order to successfully swing elections. The incident saw Nix speak about an opportunity in Sri Lanka where he mentioned the creation of sex scandals and the use of fake news to swing votes.

Zuckerberg’s testimony to US Congress

This Tuesday, Zuckerberg faced US Congress for the first time since the scandal hit the headlines. Questions from the senate commerce and judiciary committees were fired at Zuckerberg on a number of pressing topics including privacy, regulations, data mining and Cambridge Analytica during the five-hour long hearing. Bombarded with cameras, Zuckerberg’s countenance was collected yet alert.

On rights to privacy

When asked in detail about user rights to privacy, Zuckerberg said the following:

“I believe it’s important to tell people exactly how the information that they share on Facebook is going to be used.

“To your broader point about the privacy policy […] long privacy policies are very confusing. And if you make it long and spell out all the detail, then you’re probably going to reduce the percent of people who read it and make it accessible to them.”

Senator Jon Tester then asked him: “You said multiple times during this hearing that I own the data. I’m going to tell you that I think that sounds good, but in practice you’re making $40 billion a year, I’m not making money on it. It feels like you own the data […] could you give me some idea on how you can honestly say it’s my data?”

Zuckerberg responded with, “When I say it’s your data, what we mean is that you have control over how it’s used on Facebook. You clearly need to give Facebook a license to use it otherwise the system doesn’t work.”

Tester countered with: “The fact is the license is very thick, maybe intentionally so.”

Cambridge Analytica

When probed on Facebook’s relationship and dealings with Cambridge Analytica, he said: “[From] what my understanding was … they were not on the platform, [they] were not an app developer or advertiser. When I went back and met with my team afterwards, they let me know that Cambridge Analytica actually did start as an advertiser later in 2015.

“So we could have in theory banned them then. We made a mistake by not doing so.

“When we heard back from Cambridge Analytica they had told us that they weren’t using the data and deleted it, we considered it a closed case. In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it. We’ve updated our policy to make sure we don’t make that mistake again.”

Storing and selling data

“Yes, we store data… some of that content with people’s permission,” said the Facebook CEO.

When Senator Tammy Baldwin asked whether the neuroscientist Kogan had shared the data with any other users aside from Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg replied: “Yes, he did.”

Senator Cory Gardner read out parts of the terms of service offered by Facebook relating to account deletion—which mentions that backup copies of the profile may persist after an account is deleted for some amount of time—and questioned Zuckerberg about it. Zuckerberg said that he doesn’t really know how long those backup copies are kept, but generally expressed his belief that they are actually deleted.

Rules and regulations

Senator John Kennedy: “I don’t want to regulate Facebook but god help you I will […] I say this gently: your user agreement sucks. You can spot me 75 IQ points. The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end; it’s not to inform your users about their rights. You know that and I know that. I’m going to suggest that you go home and rewrite it.”

Zuckerberg’s testimony to US Congress continued: “I think the real question, as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation, not whether there should be or not.

“We’re investigating every single app that had access to a large amount of information in the past. And if we find that someone improperly used data, we’re going to ban them from Facebook and tell everyone affected.”

Russian interference

“One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016.

“We have kicked off an investigation … I imagine we’ll find some things,” Zuckerberg continued.

“This is an on-going arms race. As long as there are people sitting in Russia whose job is it to try to interfere in elections around the world, this is going to be an on-going conflict.”

Zuckerberg’s personal privacy

When asked by Senator Dick Durbin if he would be comfortable sharing the name of the hotel he stayed in last night he said: “No. I would probably not choose to do that publicly, here.”

“I think everyone should have control over how their information is used,” he added.

Accountability

In the closing of Zuckerberg’s testimony to US Congress, he took responsibility for the situation, citing his position and interest in making positive changes for the future: “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.

“It was my mistake and I’m sorry.”

Are you convinced by Zuckerberg’s testimony to US Congress? Do you believe regulation will improve or is this the beginning of the end for Facebook? Give us your comments below.

Further reading: Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: All You Need to Know

Black Panther

‘Black Panther’ to Break Saudi Arabia’s 35-year Cinema Ban

 Marvel’s Black Panther (2017) is to break Saudi Arabia’s cinema ban by opening the first cinema in the country for 35 years later this month.

The news comes after a deal was made with the world’s biggest cinema chain, AMC, who have planned to roll over 40 movie theaters throughout the Kingdom throughout the next five years.

Saudi Arabia had cinemas back in the 70s, but its powerful conservative clerics had them shut down for religious reasons.

The move looks to contribute to the Vision 2030 initiative—unveiled by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—to bring entertainment to Saudi Arabia. Vision 2030 aims to help expand the Saudi economy by reducing its current reliance on oil, providing more jobs and encouraging Saudis to spend their money in their native country rather than abroad.

Black Panther will have its own gala premier on April 18 in Riyadh, the country’s capital and will show for five days following the event. The 620-seater cinema theater is a converted symphony hall located in the King Abdullah Financial District.

AMC’s chief executive Adam Aron said of the theater venue: “We think it’s going to be the prettiest movie theater in the world. It’s a dramatic building.”

An inside source told Reuters that the cinemas would also not be segregated by gender as is usual protocol in the nation’s public places. This move demonstrates an exciting time for the country as more liberal policies are being unrolled.

Saudi’s culture minister Awwad Alawwad said, “The restoration of cinemas will… help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation.”

Trump's America

Trump’s America: The Story So Far

His presidency has been without doubt one of the most bizarre and erratic in America’s 241-year history—whether you love or loathe him, Trump is here to stay.

Donald J Trump, self-styled ‘stable genius’ and billionaire businessman, hardly sleeps, loves cable TV’s Fox & Friends, lives in perpetual campaign mode, dines on the finest American fast-food and uses Twitter as the strangest form of diplomacy. He also thrives on controversy, relentlessly seeking out his next target—be it the ‘fake news’ media or his Democratic foes.

College News takes a look at Trump’s America, his administration so far and the legacy it’s likely to leave.

A nation divided?

For his supporters, president Trump is the best thing to happen to the USA for years. He is the standard-bearer of American business, he stands up for the nation and champions the “America first” mantra. Indeed, support from his loyal base is staunch; thousands turn up to his rallies, worshipping their idol with pseudo-religious enthusiasm.

But millions of Americans regard Trump with dismay. For them, he is a divisive figurean egotist who stokes tensions over race, the media and the environment. His approval ratings are low—they linger at around 40 percent, according to Gallupyet if Trump has taught us anything, it’s that he repeatedly defies the pollsters and disproves the naysayers.

In an administration plagued by allegations of Russian collusion, accusations of racism and serial sacking of senior staff, Trump seems invincible. What’s more, the divisions he instils serve only to make him more defiant and eager to remain in power.

The predictability of Trump’s unpredictability

One thing is certain. The most predictable thing about Trump is his unpredictability—making it nigh on impossible for political commentators to foresee his next move. From his inauguration to his state of the nation address, Trump’s tone has fluctuated. He now seems more conciliatory, offering something of an olive branch to the Democrats, though this could change at any time, as appeasement certainly isn’t his style.

What we will see of the president over the next years is anyone’s guess. All we can do is sit back and enjoy the show—because that’s what Trump does best: he entertains. (Though some may question the sustainability of an entertainer at the political helm of the free world.)

A businessman in the White House

Trump is not a politician. Rather, he is a ruthless businessman who will stop at nothing to get the job done. As such, his cutthroat approach to business has permeated the White House, with the hiring and firing of senior staff as commonplace as his scolding of the mainstream media.

Perhaps this is what the American political system needs: someone who takes no prisoners to push an agenda through. Trump has signed 33 percent more executive orders than Obama in his first year. Which is awkward, given he criticised Obama on at least six occasions for making them. In January 2016, he said: “We have a president who can’t get things done so he keeps signing executive orders all over the place.” Nonetheless, you can’t deny Trump’s got guts; and this appeals to his unswerving devotees. They love the fact that, finally, someone is strong for America, asserting the country’s place on the capricious world stage.

The ‘Trump Bump’

Much has been made of the so-called Trump Bumpthe positive the effect the president has supposedly had on the U.S. economy since his election in 2016. However, the real question is how much of this positive sentiment can be rightly attributed to the policy plans of the new administration?

Since Trump’s election, the S&P 500 is up 20.4 percent. Only George H.W. Bush (23.7 percent), Lyndon Johnson (22.4 percent), John F Kennedy (24 percent) and Franklin D Roosevelt (23.8 percent) have beaten Trump. Yet, we must be careful not to take this arbitrary yardstick as gospel. Indeed, there are warning signs markets may be in imminent decline. The alleged ‘Trump Bump’, it seems, may well be short lived.

Race

The successor of Obama, America’s first ever black commander-in-chief, has proved to be one of the most contentious figures in U.S. history and, more often than not, race is at the center of the controversy.

From his refusal to condemn white supremacists after a march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a civil rights activist was killed, to which he said: “I think there is blame on both sides”, to the condemnation of American football players who “take the knee” during the national anthem to make a statement against racial injustice, Trump has done little to heal America’s endemic during social malaise around race.

The majority of Americans (60 percent) say Trump’s election has led to worse race relations in the U.S., while just eight percent say it has led to better relations, according to a national survey by Pew Research Center.

If African American turnout at the next general election is high, the Republicans could pay the price.

Russia

Trump’s first year in office has been dogged by charges of collusion between his election campaign and Russia. The steady drip of revelations may hit fever pitch in 2018, with Robert Mueller’s appointment last May threatening to bring matters to a climax.

Should Mueller accuse Trump of collusion, there will be calls for impeachment, but Republicans on Capitol Hill are unlikely to heed them. Meanwhile the world waits for Trump to utter anything vaguely critical about Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s legacy

While most people have vehement feelings about Trump, a few inevitably haven’t made up their minds, preferring to let the results of his administration speak for themselves. Regardless of your opinion, Trump will go down in history as one of the most colourful, yet deeply notorious, presidents of all time. He is the product of an era of political populism and has ridden the wave spectacularly well.

Trump—a deft maneuverer—may not be a bona fide politician, but he has read and played America’s political pulse with enviable skill. For this, he will always be remembered.

Further reading: Donald Trump’s First Days as President

Net Neutrality

Why Does Net Neutrality Matter?

The US Federal Communications Federation (FCC) has proposed a vote to repeal the net neutrality guidelines on December 14 of this year. The FFC is a government agency overseen by Congress that regulates communications throughout the US by television, radio, satellite and wire. The agency, headed by Ajit Pai who issued the proposal, has just five commissioners who will be voting—three of which are set to approve the repeal.

What is net neutrality?

The landmark guidelines by the Obama administration back in 2015 were put in place to ensure that internet users can read, watch and play whatever they choose online without hindrances or restrictions by internet service providers (ISPs).

ISPs including mobile giants AT&T and Verizon are hugely opposed to the restrictions set out by the net neutrality law. They have argued that the regulations stifle innovation in the current competitive consumer environment.  

Why this could be bad news for you

ISPs could slow traffic and connection to websites of their choice—such as Netflix—that compete with their own personal-brand services. Further, unregulated ISPs may charge extra to consumers who wish to visit certain websites. This means that they could technically control what consumers can or cannot access on the internet.

Weak laws on net neutrality can already be observed in Europe. Portuguese mobile carrier MEO offers a variety of data packages to its customers—all of which divides internet usage. For €4.99, users can get 10GB exclusive data for Netflix, Periscope, Twitch and YouTube. Another package allows usage rights to messaging apps like WhatsApp and FaceTime for a fee, too.

The current regulations give all, including start-ups and billion-dollar companies alike, equal access to the internet. Consumerreports.org has said that a successful repeal by the FCC may mean that “your service provider could block or slow down some websites and give special treatment to others. That would limit your choices, hurt competition, and cost you more money.” So if you are a start-up or a blogger just beginning your career, this could affect not just your visibility, but your business and your message.

The news was received well by ISPs including AT&T, who, back in 2007-2009, blocked the use of Skype to their users to limit competition with their own services.

Gutting the current rules may also mean that ISPs would not be required to disclose cases of extra fees and data limits; ultimately catching the consumer out with nasty surprises. 

Who’s saying what

Major companies including Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft have opposed the proposal. Taking to Twitter, Netflix, which may face fees from ISPs if the proposal is passed, said “Netflix supports strong #NetNeutrality. We oppose the FCC’s proposal to roll back these core protections.”

Mignon Clyburn, one of the FCC commissioners who disagrees with the plan to gut net neutrality, said, “It eliminates all prohibitions against blocking and throttling applications by broadband providers, and enables them to engage in paid prioritization and unreasonable discrimination at the point of interconnection.” She continued, “It ignores thousands of consumer complaints and millions of individual comments that ask the FCC to save net neutrality and uphold the principles that all traffic should be created equal.”

In favor of the proposal, Joan Marsh, a vice president at AT&T claimed that the “action will return broadband in the US to a regulatory regime that emphasizes private investment and innovation over lumbering government intervention.”

The American public have gathered in droves on the internet imploring others to act before it’s too late. If you want to join in the fight to protect net neutrality, organisations such as battleforthenet.com suggest writing to Congress or protesting.

Further reading: Do Millennials Trust Trump with Gun Control?

Trump Lifts Import Ban on Elephant Trophies

Trump Lifts Import Ban on Elephant Trophies

Donald Trump is to lift the import ban on African elephant trophies into the US, overturning regulations previously made by the Obama-administration.

The new administration has reversed regulations made in 2014 which forbid big game hunters to bring elephant body parts—or “trophies”—back to the US from Zimbabwe or Zambia. The Obama-administration found that hunting did not “enhance the survival of the African elephant in the wild.”

A new statement released by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) November 16 stated: “The US Fish & Wildlife Service will begin issuing permits to allow the import of sport-hunted trophies from elephants hunted in Zimbabwe.” The statement advocated the sport saying, “Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.”

The elephant has been listed as a “threatened species” since 1978 under the Endangered Species Act.  Much of Africa’s megafauna is rapidly declining as a result of poaching.

This decision to lift the ban on elephant trophies has been championed by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said that the decision supported “sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting.” Conservation groups fear that lobbying by these kinds of organisations will have a detrimental effect on big game species in the wild.

The chief executive of the Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle, condemned the “reprehensible” plans to lift the import ban on elephant trophies. “Let’s be clear: elephants are on the list of threatened species; the global community had rallied to stem the ivory trade; and now, the US government is giving American trophy hunters the green light to kill them.”

President Trump’s sons faced backlash in 2012 when they published photos on social media with game they had just hunted. Donald Trump Jr posted an image of himself next to a deceased elephant, holding up its severed tail.

Trump told TMZ in 2012, “My sons love hunting. They’re hunters and they’ve become good at it… I am not a believer in hunting and I’m surprised they like it.”