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Zuckerberg tucks tail and returns to Capitol Hill as Facebook comes under increased scrutiny

Senator Richard Blumenthal described Zuckerberg’s engagement during a pre-hearing dinner as “strong” and “constructive”.  

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Is Facebook a publisher?  Are they in the public domain?  Are they secretly working to undermine American democracy?  These are all questions that the American people deserve answers to, and with Mark Zuckerberg back on Capitol Hill this week, there is hope that there are revelations forthcoming.

Facebook has come under heavy criticism in 2019 as the enormously powerful internet site continues to grow unwieldy.  CEO Mark Zuckerberg, sensing that perhaps the political tide is turning against Facebook, has returned to Congress this week in a possible bid to avoid anti-trust investigations into his site’s monopolistic behavior.  With his tail thoroughly tucked, Zuckerberg could find himself divulging quite a bit of compelling information.

A person briefed on the matter said Zuckerberg was also expected to hold meetings with the Trump administration. Facebook and the White House both declined to say if Zuckerberg would meet with President Donald Trump.

Facebook has spent the last several years under fire for a string of lapses ranging from inappropriately sharing information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which triggered a $5 billion fine, to being slow to block the livestream of a New Zealand mass murder.

Trending: Quid Pro Quo Claim ‘Destroyed’ in Hearings But Democrats Won’t Release ‘Secret’ Testimony

The social media giant, which is an advertising powerhouse, faces antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and a number of state attorneys general, as well as numerous legislative proposals that seek to restrict how it operates.

The site’s ability to sway the opinions of the general population was high on the list of topics to be discussed.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat and vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, helped organize a dinner for Zuckerberg with other senators at the company’s request, Warner spokeswoman Rachel Cohen said Wednesday evening.

At an unnamed restaurant, the senators and Zuckerberg discussed “the role and responsibility of social media platforms in protecting our democracy, and what steps Congress should take to defend our elections, protect consumer data, and encourage competition in the social media space,” she said.

On the agenda at that dinner was the issue of privacy, as Facebook is one of the world’s preeminent online data harvesters.

Senator Richard Blumenthal described Zuckerberg’s engagement during this pre-hearing dinner as “strong” and “constructive”.

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Opinion

Friday Google Outages Reignite Concerns Over Consolidation of Power Online

All of our eggs are in Google’s basket…and you know what they say about that sort of thing.

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Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

It’s a saying that we’ve heard time and time again throughout our lives, from any number of sources.  It’s the sort of cliché that has a place in almost any workplace or strategic planning session.  It’s simple to understand, and it cuts to the core of individual responsibility.

Heck, we’ve even used this principle in our legislative efforts, particularly in the realm of avoiding monopolies and taking up anti-trust efforts against those who look to consolidate any market into submission.

One place where we’ve failed to keep all of our eggs out of one basket is on the internet.  Part of the reason for this is that the world wide web itself boomed swiftly and uncontrollably, much like the early days of the California gold rush, where shrewd businessman understood the value of lawlessness and greed.  Get your fortunes while the gettin’s good, because soon, the law will come to town and button up the easy money, and make things fair.

Google is just that baron of bandwidth, soaking up an inordinate amount of the traffic online and redirecting it wherever they please.  Looking for a home assistant?  They’re not likely to steer you toward an Amazon Alexa.  Searching for a new cellular device?  You can bet that the iPhone doesn’t get the same algorithmic advantages as Android devices do.

And, of course, when exploring the wide world of news, Google is only going to give you what they want you to see.

This manipulation of our assumed freedom online is a travesty, and is indoctrinating those too naive to recognize the biases into believing that Google is a fair reputation of the world at large.  Worse still is the fact that Google is nearly inescapable.

Case in point:  This afternoon, a worrisome email chain began coursing throughout the workplace here at The Washington Sentinel.  We, along with our allies in the fight for alternative media’s rights, noticed that Google Analytics was behaving strangely.  Across the board, and across a number of websites in and outside of our purview, an 80% drop in traffic took place at precisely the same time.

Were we being throttled?  Not likely, (at least in this instance), as the reporting parties had no real common denominator other than their conservative roots.

No, Google Analytics was simply FUBAR, and for some time.  The folks at DownDetector.com reported several issues with the world’s most powerful online corporation, starting on the 17th and continuing through today.

And while the search engine leviathan was eventually able to bring its services back up to speed, the fact that this minor hiccup had such wide-ranging ramifications should, in and of itself, be cause for concern.  What if the next glitch at Google comes in the form of a Maps outage during rush hour, or a Google Pay fiasco on the first of the month?  What happens if a terror group decides to annihilate Google’s server farms one afternoon?

All of our eggs are in Google’s basket…and you know what they say about that sort of thing.

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Science/Tech

Snopes Will Abandon Facts for ‘Lived Experiences’ When It Comes to Debunking Trump

This eliminates and disqualifies Snopes as a source for “fact checking” henceforth, despite what we can only assume will be their continued meddling in the political realm. 

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The entire idea of a “fact checking” industry is a falsehood in and of itself.

Facts, and the truth that they embody, are binary.  They don’t have grey areas, maybe’s, or malleability.  They are either correct or incorrect – full stop.

So when a glut of fact-checking “companies” arose on the political scene just a few years ago, logical Americans everywhere wondered how it was possible that a need for more than one of these entities could exist?  After all, if they were truly using “facts”, there could be no chance for competition among them, right?

Now, as the fact-checking waters become muddier, the overall impression of the phony industry has become crystal clear:  These are nothing more than propaganda rudders in disguise.

Snopes, one of the foremost fact-checkers on the planet, has been forced to admit this week that facts alone cannot advance their narrative, and they will be turning to “shared stories” and “lived experiences” to counter President Donald Trump.

In a stunning admission (of what we already knew), Snopes announced Thursday that Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are such a unique threat to world that “experts must find new ways to reach people.” Which means that — get this — Trump and Johnson must be “countered by the shared stories, experiences and emotions of real people and how they are affected by the big global issues.”

“Public austerity measures, for example, are not simply about financial facts,” Snopes mewls. “Indeed, when presented merely as economic data, many people can neither identify with nor understand them. Instead, austerity poses problems that compel us to examine how they affect people and families in their daily lives. The experiences of those individuals must be shared.”

This eliminates and disqualifies Snopes as a source for “fact checking” henceforth, despite what we can only assume will be their continued meddling in the political realm.

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Opinion

Democrats Furious with Facebook for Airing Trump Campaign Ad

Really tells you all you need to know about the left’s longterm plans for freedom.

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We have been given a task, America.  This task has been handed down by the Founding Fathers, and we were just sort of carrying it around with us all these years, waiting until it was time to get to work.

Well, guess what time it is.

This task is to protect the First Amendment of these United States unconditionally.  You see, the Founding Fathers had wisdom beyond their years – heck, beyond 240 of their years – in understanding that free speech would come under attack again, as it had before.

This year, 2019, in the 21st Century of all places, is where we will have to face the tyranny again it seems, as the liberal left in the United States turns ever more fascist in their approach to political opposition.

Take, for instance, their outrage that Facebook would choose to air a Donald Trump campaign ad simply because it attacks his political rival.

The 30-second video ad released by the Trump campaign last week is grainy, and the narrator’s voice is foreboding. Former vice president Joe Biden, it says, offered Ukraine $1bn (£820m) in aid if the country pushed out the man investigating a company tied to Mr Biden’s son.

Saying it made false accusations, CNN immediately refused to air the advertisement.

But Facebook did not, and Tuesday, the social network rejected a request from Mr Biden’s presidential campaign to take it down, foreshadowing a continuing fight over misinformation on the service during the 2020 election as well as the impeachment inquiry into president Donald Trump.

In a letter to the Biden campaign, Facebook said the ad, which has been viewed 5 million times on the site, did not violate company policies. Last month, the social network, which has more than 2 billion users, announced that politicians and their campaigns had nearly free rein over content they post there.

It should be noted, of course, that Facebook has had a horrid reputation for bias over the course of the last few years, particularly as it pertains to the censorship of conservative ideologies and alternative media networks.

Now, the moment that they err on the side of free speech, the Democrats pounce.

Really tells you all you need to know about the left’s longterm plans for freedom.

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Science/Tech

Growing Number of Americans Realizing Internet Censorship is Getting Worse

Americans increasingly don’t trust the social media and Big Tech giants that are censoring the news..

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The number of Americans coming to understand the worsening left-wing censorship occurring on the Internet is growing according to a new poll. The poll shows that Americans increasingly don’t trust the social media and Big Tech giants that are censoring the news.

In a recent Pew poll, three quarter of those who claim to be Republican or Republican leaning say that social media companies have too much control over the news that users see on a daily basis.

The survey of 5,107 U.S. adults finds that Independents are also worried about the growing censorship forced onto the Internet by left-wing Big Tech companies.

“As heated debate continues over how social media sites can improve the quality of news on their platforms while enforcing rules fairly,” Pew writes, “most Americans are pessimistic about these efforts and are highly concerned about several issues when it comes to social media and news.”

“Majorities say that social media companies have too much control over the news on their sites,” the poll continues, “and that the role social media companies play in delivering the news on their sites results in a worse mix of news for users. At the same time, social media is now a part of the news diet of an increasingly large share of the U.S. population.”

Naturally, respondents who lean to the right feel the censorship is worse from their point of view (after all, the censorship is in favor of the far left).

75 percent of center-right respondents say it is bad, and 66 percent say that the left’s censorship gives them a “worse mix” of news.

Also, 43 percent of Righties say that censorship is a “very big problem,” while 64 percent say that most of what they see on the Internet is left-wing information because their side’s info is being squelched.

But the number in general is also rising. 43 percent say that things they see on the Internet are mostly left-wing compared to the small number of 14 percent who think most Internet sites skew rightward.

Overall, only 15 percent feel that social media companies are doing a good job of balancing what is seen on their platforms and most everything is leftist. But even 53 percent of Democrats say that the social media giants are failing in their efforts to censor the news.

In the end, this poll finds that there is little trust in the social media companies that are routinely banning conservatives from their public spaces.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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Science/Tech

Facebook Bans Sale of Products Aimed at Veterans, Conservatives, and the Faithful

You’re not going to believe how many articles of clothing Facebook believes are “guns”.

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Facebook has found itself in the midst of a serious identity crisis.

On one hand, the massively popular internet site is populated almost exclusively with content created by others, for which Facebook is merely the conduit.  In many ways, it’s a condensed, narrowly-aimed Internet 2.0 that shows you only what they want you to see.

While this may be a more easily accessible version of the vast world wide web for some users, its overwhelming popularity means that it has become an indelible part of human communication and online commerce.

And, given that the site literally makes money from public input and public data harvesting, their obvious biases are a betrayal to the values of America – particularly in regard to the First Amendment.

Now the site is taking their fight against American conservatism into the consumer realm with inexplicable bans on seemingly innocuous items from the website RepublicanLegion.com.

Here are some of the most egregious examples:

Facebook’s reason for disallowing the sale of a “John 3:16” shirt because is could be used to identify yourself as a Christian.

The same seems to hold true for the product above which would indicate that the wearer is both a Veteran and a supporter of President Trump. Facebook is insinuating that, on their platform, you are not to be yourself.

This Marine Veteran cap is apparently some sort of “gun”.

This book has been flagged as either pornography or an adult toy.

There is simply no explanation for this one.

This t-shirt is apparently also a “gun” or weapon of some sort.

Facebook’s actions against RepublicanLegion.com are not only abhorrent, but they are swiftly eroding their own credibility as a site where Americans can express themselves.

This is simply another instance in which the online leviathan has proven true the accusations of their monopolistic behavior, once again opening themselves up for litigious rebuke.

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Science/Tech

Deep fakes could be ‘undetectable’ within months

Could ‘deep fakes’ influence our 2020 election? One expert says yes.

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The threat that “deep fakes” pose to our civilization cannot be overstated, yet so few media outlets choose to address the issue.

“Deep fakes” are bits of computer-generated video, (and sometimes audio), that depict someone doing something that they have never done.  The technology used to produce these forgeries has become terrifyingly efficient in 2019, raising grave concerns about the future of the truth itself.

In the video below, you’ll see actor Bill Hader’s face transform into the celebrities that he’s impersonating, and you might not even notice the adjustment.

The implications that this technology could have on Hollywood is one thing, but when applied to the world of politics, the possibilities are downright terrifying.

What’s worse; experts believe that these forgeries will be undetectable within months.

Manipulated images and videos that appear “perfectly real” will be accessible to everyday people in “half-a-year to a year,” deepfake pioneer Hao Li said on CNBC on Friday.

“It’s still very easy, you can tell from the naked eye most of the deepfakes,” Li, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Southern California, said on “Power Lunch.”

“But there also are examples that are really, really convincing,” Li said, adding those require “sufficient effort” to create.

This means that our 2020 election could be compromised by deep fakes and, adversely, that candidates caught in compromising footage could claim the they are the victims of such technology.

 

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Science/Tech

Popular hardware store secretly scanning customers with facial recognition tech

The path to resolving this invasive practice runs parallel to the Fourth Amendment.

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There are plenty of guarantees within our nation’s Constitution, but perhaps none is being eroded as violently as our right to privacy.

We as Americans are to be free to pursue our own happiness, whether it be public or private activities that deliver such contentment, and the Fourth Amendment’s protections against illegal search and seizure is at the heart of this right.  The concept is powerfully simple; My sovereignty only comes into question if I am witnessed breaking the law.  I cannot be compelled to do such, I cannot be surveilled without due cause, and I cannot be held legally liable for incidents without evidence.

This surveillance piece is what disturbs us most this week, after it was reported that both Home Depot and Lowe’s hardware stores were using facial recognition technology to spy on their customers.

According to the Cook County Record, two recent class action lawsuits accuse Home Depot and Lowe’s of secretly using facial recognition to identify customers as soon as they enter their stores.

On Sept. 4, 2019, a group of plaintiffs simultaneously filed virtually identical class action complaints in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago against Lowe’s and in federal court in Atlanta against Home Depot, accusing the retailers of violating the Illinois state law by “surreptitiously” scanning customers’ faces as they moved about the chains’ stores.

The legalese is downright damning.

According to Lowe’s lawsuit, home improvement stores are secretly using facial recognition to identify everyone.

Lowe’s has augmented its in-store security cameras with software that tracks individuals’ movements throughout the store using a unique scan of face geometry. Put simply, Defendants surreptitiously attempt to collect the faceprint of every person who appears in front of one of their facial-recognition cameras. (To find out more about Home Depot tracking customers, click here.)

The Home Depot and the Lowe’s case claim that they have failed to inform customers that their biometric data is being collected, and did not obtain written consent for doing so. Home Depot and Lowe’s have also neglected to post a publicly available retention schedule detailing when the data will be destroyed.

As facial recognition technology becomes more powerful and more prevalent, regulation will become ever more necessary – particularly as it pertains to its clandestine use in stores and other semi-pubilc places.

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