Facebook’s photo bug: How to see if you were exposed

Facebook has, yet again, goofed. On Dec. 14, the company announced that it inadvertently exposed 6.8 million users' photos to third-party apps that weren't supposed to have them. If you granted a third-party app access to your Facebook photos from Sept. 13-25, 2018, the bug allowed it access to all of your photos, not just … Continue reading “Facebook’s photo bug: How to see if you were exposed”

Facebook has, yet again, goofed. On Dec. 14, the company announced that it inadvertently exposed 6.8 million users' photos to third-party apps that weren't supposed to have them.

If you granted a third-party app access to your Facebook photos from Sept. 13-25, 2018, the bug allowed it access to all of your photos, not just those posted on your timeline. This means photos you posted privately, or those you didn't finish uploading, might be there.

Facebook promised that it would send a notification to users who were exposed. However, if you don't want to wait around, you can check for yourself.

If you want to be super thorough, you can check any third-party apps that you may have granted photo permissions to during this time. Or, you can follow these steps as a shortcut.

1. Log into your Facebook account. Open Facebook and type your username and password into the text boxes in the top right corner. Or select, your profile picture on the left.

2. Go to this page in Facebook's Help Center. 

3. Scroll to the middle of the page. If your account was impacted, you'll see a list of apps that may have had inadvertent access to your photos. If your account was not impacted, you'll see a message that says "Your Facebook account has not been affected by this issue and the apps you use did not have access to your other photos."

If Facebook says your photos were impacted, make sure to check the apps it lists and delete any photos that shouldn't be there.

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    Facebook blasted by dozens of civil rights groups for ‘generating bigotry’

    A coalition of civil rights organization slammed Facebook for "generating hatred and bigotry" in a Tuesday letter addressed to CEO and chairman Mark Zuckerberg.

    The open letter – signed by 31 different groups, including Muslim Advocates, MoveOn, CREDO, MomsRising, the National LGBTQ Task Force, United We Dream, and Million Hoodies Movement for Justice – hits the tech giant for failing to heed repeated warnings about hate speech and groups that harness the ubiquitous social network to stoke religious, racial or political resentment.

    "We asked you to take immediate action to stop abuse on the platform. Recent news demonstrates, however, that Facebook was not only looking the other way in response to our concerns but also has been actively working to undermine efforts by those who seek to hold the company responsible for abuses on the platform," the letter states.

    The line above is a reference to Facebook's hiring of a GOP-tied firm that, among other things, looked into whether liberal financier George Soros was shorting the company's stock after he labeled the tech giant a "menace" in a speech early this year. According to critics, the firm, Definers Public Affairs, used anti-Semitic tropes to target Soros.

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    "Out of your need to treat those leveling legitimate critiques against Facebook as your enemies, you jeopardized the safety and security of people who have dedicated their lives to the common good," the letter says. "This decision crossed all lines of common decency."

    The letter demands a series of major changes at the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company, including that Zuckerberg and Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg both step down from the board of directors as long as they retain their current titles; that the company expand its board by at least three members to "reflect the diversity" of its 2.2 billion active monthly users; and that the board appoint an independent and permanent civil rights ombudsman, who would also serve as a board member, to "conduct consistent and ongoing reviews of the civil rights implications of Facebook's policies and practices."

    On Tuesday, Sandberg released an update on the tech giant's civil rights audit, which the COO said is one of her top priorities for 2019 and very important to her. The ongoing audit has been helmed by Laura Murphy, a prominent D.C. civil rights and civil liberties leader.

    Video

    The civil rights audit update, which states that Murphy's team has spent hundreds of hours meeting with advocates from communities representing 90 different organizations, is primarily a look back at previously announced policy changes and updates from 2018 to address civil society groups' concerns about voter suppression, content moderation and enforcement, advertising, algorithmic bias, privacy, transparency, accountability and diversity.

    FACEBOOK'S PHOTO BUG: HOW TO SEE IF YOU WERE EXPOSED

    "We have witnessed some progress and tangible results, including policy changes, improvements to enforcement, and greater transparency in certain areas," Murphy, who worked for 17 years as the ACLU's legislative office director, says in the update. "Facebook has sought to deepen its engagement with the civil rights community through this process."

    For 2019, Facebook plans to focus first on making more progress in the areas of content moderation, which the company has said will be an area that is always being worked on, and creating a "civil rights accountability infrastructure" to "ensure that the changes it is making are systemic" so that civil rights issues are considered on the front end as Facebook rolls out new products, features and policies.

    Still, civil rights advocates pushed back hard on the audit update and said they expect much more from Zuckerberg's social network.

    "Muslim Advocates and our partners demanded this audit in 2017. Laura Murphy's thorough preliminary report makes clear that Facebook has done little to meaningfully address the bigotry and discrimination that pervades its platform. Sheryl Sandberg's introduction indicates a lack of understanding that, after years and years of abuse, significant reforms are urgently needed now," said Muslim Advocates' special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry, Madihha Ahussain, in a statement.

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    Ahussain continued: "We stand by our letter demanding serious changes to Facebook's board. The board is not in a position to hold its management accountable, it doesn't match the demographics of its user community, and it doesn't understand civil rights and serious reforms to it are necessary to protect vulnerable communities."

    "This report is long on excuses and short on meaningful progress. It is not enough to merely identify the many challenges that we have explained to Facebook. It is hard to take seriously a paper-thin promise without a timeline, benchmarks or accountability mechanism," said a statement from Color of Change, a racial justice organization that met with Sandberg amidst the Definers controversy.

    Color of Change continues to demand a C-Suite level "Chief User Advocate" who would work in close consultation with civil rights groups, a public report with recommendations and a timeline for implementation, the creation of a public-facing board committee or task force that has all the resources needed to implement any changes from the audit, and the release of all documents produced by Definers Public Affairs and other firms used to undermine the credibility of civil rights organizations.

    In a pair of reports released this week and prepared for the U.S. Senate, Facebook was faulted for allowing a massive Russia-led campaign that sowed racial and political discord in the U.S., systematically targeted African-Americans and tried to recruit them as "assets" in the years before the 2016 presidential election.

    At the conclusion of the post, Murphy notes that Facebook plans to issue another civil rights audit update in 2019.

    Separately, the NAACP returned on monetary donation from Facebook and called on users to log out of the social network and the other platforms it owns on Tuesday because of the company's "engagement with partisan firms, its targeting of political opponents, the spread misinformation and the utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community."

    Christopher Carbone covers technology and science for Fox News Digital. Tips or story leads: christopher.carbone@foxnews.com. Follow @christocarbone.

    Shocking scale of Russia’s sinister social media campaign against US revealed

    Russia's influence campaign during the 2016 presidential election was a sophisticated and multifaceted effort to target the African-American community and sow political division among the public across social media platforms, according to new reports produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    One report, which is 100-pages long, provides new context and details regarding the large scope of the multi-year Russian operation and the nefarious tactics it employed to exploit divisions along race and political ideology in the U.S. on a range of social media platforms, including Google-owned YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and on Facebook-owned Instagram. The shadowy effort aimed to support the Trump campaign, denigrate Hillary Clinton, suppress the vote, sow discord and attack various public figures.

    According to the report released on Monday, the massive operation reached 126 million people on Facebook, posted 10.4 million tweets on Twitter, uploaded over 1,000 videos to YouTube, and reached over 20 million users on Instagram. The report states that roughly 6 percent of tweets, 18 percent of Instagram posts and 7 percent of Facebook posts mentioned Trump or Clinton by name. However, Trump was mentioned roughly twice as often as Clinton on most platforms. The report, titled "The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency," warns that the manipulation of U.S. political discourse continues in 2018.

    The report, which was commissioned by cybersecurity firm New Knowledge, Canfield Research and Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism, reveals that the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company owned by a businessman who is reportedly a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, hit on a range of themes and social issues over and over again across multiple online platforms, including Muslim culture, black culture, gun rights, LGBT issues, patriotism, Tea Party issues, veterans' rights, pro-Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein content, Christian culture and Southern culture and American separatist movements.

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    However, the report says the most prolific, intense efforts centered on targeting black Americans and appear to have focused on developing audiences in that community and recruiting black Americans as "assets".

    "The IRA created an expansive cross-platform media mirage targeting the Black community, which shared and cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem," the report states. "The IRA exploited the trust of their Page audiences to develop human assets, at least some of whom were not aware of the role they played. This tactic was substantially more pronounced on Black-targeted accounts."

    The report also reveals the shocking scale of the disinformation campaign on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. “Instagram was a significant front in the IRA’s influence operation, something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in Congressional testimony,” it says. “There were 187 million engagements on Instagram. Facebook estimated that this was across 20 million affected users. There were 76.5 million engagements on Facebook; Facebook estimated that the Facebook operation reached 126 million people.”

    Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to chair a meeting to discuss preparation to mark the anniversary of the allied victory in the World War II in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018.  (AP)

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    Researchers also note that in 2017, as the media covered their Facebook and Twitter operations, IRA shifted much of its activity to Instagram. “Instagram engagement outperformed Facebook, which may indicate its strength as a tool in image-centric memetic (meme) warfare. Alternately, it is possible that the IRA’s Instagram engagement was the result of click farms; a few of the provided accounts reference what appears to be a live engagement farm.”

    Set against this backdrop, the study warns that Instagram is likely to be a key battleground in the future.

    The themes selected by the IRA were "deployed to create and reinforce tribalism within each targeted community," according to the report, which notes that a majority of posts created by a given Facebook page reinforced in-group camaraderie. Partisan content was also presented to targeted groups in on-brand ways: for example, one meme featured Jesus in a Trump campaign hat on an account targeting Christians.

    Additionally, the report notes that the IRA co-opted the names of real groups with existing reputations among the targeted communities, including "United Muslims of America," "Cop Block, Black Guns Matter," and "L for Life." Researchers said this was possibly an attempt to loosely backstop an identity if a curious individual did a Google Search, or to piggyback on an established brand.

    TWITTER'S RELEASE OF RUSSIAN, IRANIAN INFLUENCE CAMPAIGN TWEETS SHOWS US VULNERABILITY 

    The influence campaign began on certain platforms several years ago. The IRA was active on Twitter as early as 2014, prior to their efforts on Facebook and Instagram. However, since the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence only requested data from January 1, 2015, it's possible that some IRA content that appeared on Facebook or Instagram was simply not included in the data provided. The IRA also produced videos across 17 channels on YouTube beginning in September 2015, with most content related to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Meanwhile, a second report produced for the Senate Committee also paints a worrying picture of Russia’s influence campaign.

    The study by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and social media analysis specialist Graphika notes the scale of the social media onslaught. “Between 2013 and 2018, the IRA’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter campaigns reached tens of millions of users in the United States,” it says. “IRA activities focused on the U.S. began on Twitter in 2013 but quickly evolved into a multi-platform strategy involving Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube amongst other platforms.”

    Russia’s attempts to sow discord in society have continued long after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to the researchers. “IRA posts on Instagram and Facebook increased substantially after the election, with Instagram seeing the greatest increase in IRA activity.”

    Video

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    A Facebook spokesperson provided Fox News with the following statement:

    “Congress and the intelligence community are best placed to use the information we and others provide to determine the political motivations of actors like the Internet Research Agency. We continue to fully cooperate with officials investigating the IRA's activity on Facebook and Instagram around the 2016 election. We've provided thousands of ads and pieces of content to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for review and shared information with the public about what we found. Since then, we've made progress in helping prevent interference on our platforms during elections, strengthened our policies against voter suppression ahead of the 2018 midterms, and funded independent research on the impact of social media on democracy.”

    A spokesperson from Twitter released the following statement to Fox News:

    "Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform, and protecting the integrity of elections is an important aspect of that mission. We’ve made significant strides since 2016 to counter manipulation of our service, including our release of additional data in October related to previously disclosed activities to enable further independent academic research and investigation.”

    A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the reports, although the company has previously described preventing misuse of its platform as a major focus.

    "This newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions," Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-NC, said in a statement. "Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped."

    The committee's vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., released a statement that read in part:

    "These attacks against our country were much more comprehensive, calculating and widespread than previously revealed. That is going to require some much-needed and long-overdue guardrails when it comes to social media.  I hope these reports will spur legislative action in the Congress and provide additional clarity to the American public about Russia’s assault on our democracy.”

    The report by New Knowledge, Canfield Research and Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism, also notes that the efforts by social media platforms to crack down on bots may not be enough.

    "Now that automation techniques (e.g. bots) are better policed, the near future will be a return to the past: we’ll see increased human-exploitation tradecraft and narrative laundering," the report states in its conclusion. "We should certainly expect to see recruitment, manipulation, and influence attempts targeting the 2020 election, including the inauthentic amplification of otherwise legitimate American narratives, as well as a focus on smaller/secondary platforms and peer-to-peer messaging services."

    Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

    Christopher Carbone covers technology and science for Fox News Digital. Tips or story leads: christopher.carbone@foxnews.com. Follow @christocarbone.

    Facebook locks National Weather Service out of dozens of accounts

    Dozens of National Weather Service Facebook accounts were recently locked as the social media giant continued its crackdown of fake profiles.

    Approximately 70 NWS Facebook accounts were locked, and 13 remain affected, NWS spokeswoman Susan Buchanan confirmed to Fox News. Of those 13, some had been previously restored but eventually locked again.

    “We continue to work with Facebook to resolve the problem,” Buchanan said.

    The National Weather Service (NWS) of Columbia said its account had been disabled since late November. It was eventually restored on the morning of Dec. 14 because of Facebook’s “newly implemented security requirements.”

    On Nov. 13, the NWS of Seattle warned several other accounts “have been experiencing periods of being locked out.”

    Facebook can disable an account for a variety of reasons, including the use of a fake name, harassing another user or otherwise violating its terms of service. The social media site allows users to complete a form if an account is locked.

    FACEBOOK 'SORRY' FOR BUG THAT MAY HAVE EXPOSED THE PHOTOS OF 6.8M USERS

    A Facebook representative did not immediately return a request for comment from Fox News.

    The NWS of Columbia’s had its Facebook account locked during the massive snowstorm that slammed the South, leaving thousands without power, earlier this month. While the snow mostly hit North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, the NWS of Columbia still warned followers of potential flooding on its Twitter account.

    In announcing its return to Facebook, NWS of Columbia reminded its followers that “Facebook is not always the most timely source of weather information” and encouraged people to check advisories on its website.

    Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn.

    Israeli PM Netanyahu’s son booted from Facebook after post calling for Muslims to leave Israel

    The son of the Israeli prime minister was temporarily blocked from Facebook after he criticized the social media platform for removing an earlier post in which he called for “avenging the deaths” of two Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinian gunmen.

    In another post, Yair Netanyahu – the 27-year-old son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – also wrote he would prefer if “all Muslims leave the land of Israel.”

    Both posts were taken down, prompting Yair to denounce Facebook as being the “thought police.”

    “It’s just unbelievable,” he said in a Twitter post Sunday criticizing Facebook's actions and including a screenshot of a deleted post.

    “The thought police of the radical progressives at Facebook have reached me as well!” Yair said in the deleted Facebook post, according to the BBC. “Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime have official pages on Facebook. There are also endless pages calling for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews.”

    He continued: “Thousands of violent and extreme left-wing posts against me and my family, including threats of physical violence and immoral murder threats. All of these do not violate Facebook’s community rules.”

    Facebook deleted the post last week. The social media platform had no immediate comment.

    Netanyahu's son has previously drawn media criticism for his posts on social media, including last year when he posted a meme mocking some of his father’s critics, including American billionaire George Soros.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

    Facebook ‘sorry’ for bug that may have exposed the photos of 6.8M users

    A Facebook software flaw may have exposed the photos of 6.8 million users to a much wider audience than intended, the social network confirmed Friday.

    “Our internal team discovered a photo API bug that may have affected people who used Facebook Login and granted permission to third-party apps to access their photos,” said Facebook’s Tomer Bar, in a blog post. “We have fixed the issue but, because of this bug, some third-party apps may have had access to a broader set of photos than usual for 12 days between September 13 to September 25, 2018.”

    Bar said the bug may have affected up to 1,500 apps built by 876 developers.

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    “We're sorry this happened,” he added. “Early next week we will be rolling out tools for app developers that will allow them to determine which people using their app might be impacted by this bug. We will be working with those developers to delete the photos from impacted users.”

    News of the embarrassing software flaw comes just a day after Facebook opened a pop-up kiosk in Midtown Manhattan to teach users about privacy.

    It's not yet known whether anyone actually saw the photos, but the revelation of the now-fixed problem served as another reminder of just how much data Facebook has on its 2.27 billion users, as well as how frequently these slip-ups are recurring.

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    Bryan Becker, an application security researcher at WhiteHat Security, said that Facebook should look at its internal procedures for handling code. “If we take Facebook at their word that the exposure only ran for 12 days, I think it’s best to assume this was caused by a bug in a code update (rather than, say, a poorly thought out security policy),” he said, in a statement emailed to Fox News. “Preventing bugs like this from making it to production takes an organized effort across the team. Secure code review, automated testing, and auditing are all needed to help defend against insecure code pushes.”

    The bug is the latest in a series of privacy lapses that continue to crop up, despite Facebook's repeated pledges to batten down its hatches and do a better job preventing unauthorized access to the pictures, thoughts and other personal information its users intend to share only with friends and family.

    Facebook and its leadership are coming under intense scrutiny at the moment amid ongoing concern about the tech giant’s handling of user data.

    The Associated Press contributed to this article.

    Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

    Facebook, Amazon struggle in fight against fake reviews

    First, we had fake news, now it’s fake reviews.

    A Fox News investigation has found that Facebook is a breeding ground for groups where reviews for products on Amazon, among other online platforms, are bought and sold. And small businesses competing in the online marketplace may already be suffering because of a lack of controls, or a lack of efficiency, on behalf of two of the world’s most valuable brands.

    Reviews can be critical for businesses that operate in online marketplaces like Amazon, not only because of the impact a 1-star review can have but because sellers and products with the greatest number of reviews typically appear higher in search results.

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    Beyond the fact that reviews are critical for a company's existence, the practice of compensating someone in exchange for a customer review is something that violates both Amazon and Facebook policies. It could also put you at odds with the Federal Trade Commission.

    That hasn't stopped the practice from flourishing on Facebook, Fox News has found. Groups like "Amazon review club" can be joined with the click of a button, and with no apparent background check.

    Members of groups like "Amazon review club" are not just buying and selling positive reviews. They’re targeting sellers with negative reviews, as well. (Facebook/Fox News)

    Fox started tracking that group, and others like it, just before the Black Friday shopping rush in early November. Since then, its membership has grown by thousands, standing at more than 82,000 members as of this writing. That group was created in 2016, and there are plenty of others like it where reviews are solicited for everything from Google Maps to Yelp.

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    Over the course of a few weeks, Fox News witnessed members of these groups offering to sell hundreds of reviews at a time, promising commissions in exchange for praise and soliciting 1-star reviews that seemed destined for some unlucky online competitor.

    Some of the Facebook accounts associated with these postings used profile pictures that could be traced back to Hollywood actresses through Google image searches. One person was brazen enough to use the name “John Conner,” the name of a character in the movie "Terminator 2: Judgement Day," complete with a profile picture showing a scene from the film.

    A Facebook user by the name of "John Conner," a member of the "Amazon review club" group, looks a lot like the character "John Connor" from the film Terminator 2: Judgement Day. (Facebook/Fox News)

    Fox News was able to connect with one U.S.-based business that appears to have suffered as a direct result of the “Amazon review club” group, and they claim Amazon hasn't been of much help since they reported the problem.

    The seller, who has operated on Amazon for years and requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from competitors, filed multiple complaints with Amazon after noticing that their product had been bumped down in search results. A new product appeared on the marketplace over the summer, and it was rapidly gaining reviews – many of them written in broken English and with little or no relevant details.

    After poking around Facebook, the seller discovered that competing product was being advertised on "Amazon review club," and to this day they say “the onslaught continues.”

    “Previously, we had always been able to reinvent our marketing to keep an upper edge,” the seller explained over e-mail. “But the fake reviews are intensifying, resulting in significant losses for our business,” they added.

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    It was more than a full month before the holiday shopping rush that the U.S.-based seller contacted Amazon. They provided screenshots of their competitor’s product being advertised on the “Amazon review club” Facebook page and even included a link to a negative review that had been written about their product by a man who appears to be deceased.

    “Previously, we had always been able to reinvent our marketing to keep an upper edge. But the fake reviews are intensifying, resulting in significant losses for our business.” 

    — Anonymous U.S.-based Amazon seller targeted by a competitor

    “Amazon has not responded to my report that was submitted 2 months ago. Nothing,” the seller told Fox. What’s more, they say “since submitting the report to Amazon in mid-October, [our competitor’s] product has gained 100 reviews and our sales continue to plummet.”

    Fox News was given documentation and evidence of some of these "fake" reviews, but we are unable to reveal the reviews themselves in the interest of protecting the seller whose business has been impacted. Those reviews remain on Amazon as of this writing.

    In the past, Amazon has claimed that less than 1% of reviews on its platform are fake, but with at least 500 million reviews on the site, those fake reviews could still number in the millions by that statistic. One percent of 500 million, a low-ball estimate of the total number of reviews on Amazon, is 5 million reviews, after all.

    Amazon is now using “machine learning and automated systems” to fight the problem of inauthentic reviews, according to a representative who spoke to Fox News. They also pointed out that the company has filed lawsuits against more than 1,000 defendants over the issue.

    Amazon was asked about the case of the seller who spoke with Fox News, and who has weathered the holiday shopping season without a response from Amazon, but did not respond in time for the publication of this article.

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    That seller told Fox News that they have not reported the “Amazon review club” group to Facebook, and suggested they “didn’t know where to begin.”

    A Facebook spokesperson told Fox News that if a user reports a group engaging in this type of activity, the company takes swift action to remove it. Indeed, one of the groups brought to their attention by Fox News was almost immediately taken down.

    Fox News passed along this screenshot from a different Amazon review exchange group to Facebook representatives. The company shut the group down almost immediately. (Facebook/Fox News)

    However, that representative would not say whether there are any Facebook employees actively monitoring the platform for these kinds of groups, and argued the majority of activity on the platform is positive.

    Fox News was able to find many of these groups on Facebook using simple search terms like “Amazon reviews.” According to one expert, it probably wouldn’t be that hard for Facebook to do the same.

    “A minimal effort could go a long way,” says Tommy Noonan, the founder of ReviewMeta.com, a website that monitors Amazon reviews and listings where people suspect this kind of activity is taking place. Given Facebook’s history of dealing with misinformation on its platform, Noonan says, “I think [Facebook is] doing Amazon a favor by doing anything.”

    Mom and Pop sellers, like the one that spoke with Fox News, are clearly the biggest victims in all of this, Noonan says. And while his research does confirm Amazon is taking visible steps to combat this admittedly persistent problem, he says consumers shouldn’t lose hope.

    “In my experience, it’s a very nuanced and difficult problem to solve,” Noonan says. “You can’t just delete every review you think is suspicious because you'll wind up deleting authentic reviews. So it’s trickier than people make it out to be, and I have hope for the platform and consumers as a whole.”

    Facebook’s fall: From the friendliest face of tech to perceived enemy of democracy

    In 2010, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's story was the stuff of Hollywood movies. "The Social Network," about the website and its founder's meteoric rise, starred A-listers Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake, won an Oscar and made almost $250 million in the United States alone.

    What a difference eight years makes.

    Today, Zuckerberg is seen by many as a wincing megalomaniacal multibillionaire, and the personal data-mining company he created is viewed by some as an existential threat to democracy itself.

    "It’s been a sudden thing. These people are not the darlings anymore and it’s been hard for them to adapt," Lincoln Network President Aaron Ginn told Fox News. "So they’ve made a lot of unforced errors."

    Ginn, who co-founded the Lincoln Network five years ago to help technology and government work together to promote individual liberty and economic opportunity, added that “there are significant internal company responsibilities that, I think, [Facebook executives] have not lived up to.”

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    Indeed, in less than a decade, Zuckerberg has managed to enrage leaders on both sides of the aisle in the U.S., and around the world, as his social media network has emerged as a polarizing tool that can be politically weaponized amid concerns about algorithms issues, privacy, misinformation and bias.

    ‘Zuckerberg got too big for his hoody, lost track of his responsibilities to Facebook users, advertisers and employees’

    — Porter Bibb

    Facebook's perceived threat has reached such a level that Damian Collins, chairman of the U.K. Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, recently took the extraordinary step of sending a sergeant-at-arms from the legislative body to use forceful tactics to seize secret documents that could contain data about Facebook's privacy controls and potentially shady correspondence between Facebook’s top executives.

    Other high-profile figures in the U.K. have also voiced their concerns about the social network. Asked in a BBC interview whether Facebook is a threat to democracy, Robert Hannigan – the former head of GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA replied: "Potentially yes. I think it is if it isn't controlled and regulated.”

    The documents, which are under seal in the U.S., are part of an ongoing lawsuit in California between Facebook and app developer Six4Three. Brits clearly think they're damaging, as the BBC described a sergeant-at-arms being sent to nab the documents as a "highly unusual" tactic that hasn't been employed "in living memory."

    The once-sterling company has been operating under a dark cloud of suspicion for most of 2018, with European regulators insisting to probe the tech giant’s internal communications and British regulators hitting Facebook with a fine of 500,000 U.K. pounds ($644,000) – the highest possible – for failing to protect the privacy of its users in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

    But the drama with Facebook is hardly limited to incidents across the pond – and both British and American lawmakers have mocked Zuckerberg's lack of cooperation with empty chairs to represent where he would have sat if he actually attended various hearings that he has blown off.

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    “Facebook is the villain and finally people know it,” Washington University professor Liberty Vittert wrote in a Fox News Op-Ed pegged to both the British lawmaker and the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal. “If the government doesn’t get its act together and start creating and enforcing laws to regulate these powerful companies, we are in real trouble.”

    As Facebook’s issues tick off lawmakers in various countries, the tech monster has also caught the attention of both liberal and conservative groups on U.S. soil.

    ‘Facebook has now become part of the broader ‘establishment,’ which doesn’t necessarily look out for the regular people, and thus, is now treated with suspicion’

    — DePauw University professor Jeffrey McCall

    Progressive advocacy groups, including MoveOn and Public Citizen, teamed up to create Freedom From Facebook – which calls on the FCC to break up Zuckerberg's massive conglomerate. Freedom From Facebook has accused the social media network of curating the news that billions of people consume, bankrupting potential competitors, killing innovation, reducing choice, tracking users and “spending millions on corporate lobbyists.”

    Liberal advocacy groups have also decried Facebook’s use of a GOP opposition firm to do some digging on billionaire George Soros.

    Meanwhile, Facebook has long been accused of censoring conservative viewpoints and promoting news with a liberal bias.

    Ginn said that the majority of employees who determine what is considered hate speech and oversee content have liberal political views. He feels that institutional bias, combined with data proving the majority of users lean left, has turned Facebook into “activist central,” despite the social network not being designed for political activism.

    FACEBOOK'S MOUNTING WOES WEIGH ON SOCIAL NETWORK'S STOCK

    “It doesn’t remove that they have a responsibility, when 50 percent of the nation believes something different, generally speaking, to accept them on their platform,” Ginn said.

    Earlier this year the conservative Media Research Center launched TechWatch, a project dedicated to exposing those kinds of incidents as they plague the tech industry.

    MRC Vice President Dan Gainor, who heads up the project, feels that the mainstream media “has been looking for someone or something to blame for Trump winning in 2016 and journalists are pointing the finger at social media."

    ‘The top social media, search media companies reach billions of people and have the ability to silence the right more than even a major government’

    — Media Research Center VP Dan Gainor

    “They are convinced that somehow the right used Facebook to win and they want it reined in or destroyed before a repeat performance in 2020,” Gainor told Fox News. “Facebook made its relationship with the media worse because it dared to work with a right-leaning group like Definers and used them to prepare ordinary research about billionaire liberal George Soros… the press has been on an anti-Facebook crusade ever since.”

    Facebook Inc.’s board of directors defended the Soros controversy, saying that it was “entirely appropriate” to ask if the billionaire investor had shorted the company’s stock after he called the social-media giant a “menace.”

    While the folks behind TechWatch and Freedom From Facebook don’t share ideologies, the two groups seem to agree that Zuckerberg's company is causing people harm.

    SECRET FACEBOOK DOCUMENTS SHOW COMPANY ALLEGEDLY GAVE ADVERTISERS SPECIAL ACCESS TO USER DATA

    “Censorship got very bad — bad in ways that are tough to track, because all of our experiences online are personalized. People from ordinary citizens to major politicians have been censored and these firms use the vague term ‘hate speech’ to restrict any content they simply don’t like,” Gainor said. “The top social media, search media companies reach billions of people and have the ability to silence the right more than even a major government.”

    DePauw University professor Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that Americans have “long suffered from the false notion that if something is technologically glitzy, it must necessarily be great,” and feels Facebook is the latest example.

     Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in September. (AP)

    “Facebook emerged as a craze that led people to believe the platform was a life enhancer in terms of social connections and flow of information, broadly considered.  While many people enjoy sharing photos and updates with friends, it turns out the platform gave false hope and expectations on many levels,” McCall said. “Hanging out on Facebook doesn't really make us happier and what we learn there might or might not be reliable. Individual privacy has been lost in many regards.”

    Ginn noted that Facebook has become sort of “the middle man between the media and the customer,” and hasn’t gained many corporate friends in the process.

    Among the mainstream media organizations that have attacked Facebook are BuzzFeed and The New York Times. BuzzFeed News recently quoted a number of current and former employees as saying the atmosphere at the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company is one of feeling "under siege" with a growing sense of "paranoia."

    The New York Times recently published a bombshell report that detailed Facebook’s attempt to distance itself from various controversies, ranging from Russia-linked activity on the platform to attempting to discredit enemies. The report noted that Facebook has connected more than 2 billion people, essentially creating a “global nation unto itself” that has “reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world.”

    “Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500,” the Times wrote. "As Facebook grew, so did the hate speech, bullying and other toxic content on the platform."

    The scathing Times report painted Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg as careless regarding their company’s ability to “disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe.”

    ‘Legitimate concerns about the machinations behind the scenes at Facebook have surfaced now, and it is clear that big tech is not promoting individual empowerment’

    — DePauw University professor Jeffrey McCall

    Reporter-turned-investment banker Porter Bibb specializes in media, entertainment and technology ventures, with over 40 years of experience moving money in those fields. He told Fox News that it’s time to “bring in the grownups” because Zuckerberg is “blind to the fact that he is driving his company off the cliff.”

    “Zuckerberg got too big for his hoody, lost track of his responsibilities to Facebook users, advertisers, and employees and failed to accept the fact that his inexperience does not qualify him to run the world's largest social media enterprise,” Bibb said. “Sandberg and Facebook's feckless board only intensified the likelihood that the roof will fall in on Facebook.”

    Facebook algorithm issues are yet another concern for users on both sides of the political spectrum. The social network, for example, accidentaly tagged an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence as hate speech, and briefly censored a photo of Santa Claus.

    TechWatch has only been around for three months but has faced no shortage of Facebook-related content, posting stories about the company failing to protect users from foreign scam artists, shadowbanning pro-life content, upsetting a journalists' union, raising the eyebrows of various lawmakers and examined a potential conflict of interest over Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., – who warned a colleague to back off Facebook — because his daughter is employed at the company.

    Ginn said that a lot of steps Facebook has taken to rectify the issues actually made the problems worse, pointing to Zuckerberg declaring he wanted the social media service to make people better as an example.

    “Most people on the right would say, ‘That’s not your role,’ and they receive pressure from internal employees and users who say, ‘That is your role,’” Ginn said, before adding that the exit strategy for Facebook should simply be to act more “laissez-faire and Libertarian.”

    In addition to displeasing users, staffers, voters, lawmakers, reporters, activists and tech rivals, Facebook could suddenly agitate investors, too.

    The company’s mounting problems and newly-disclosed internal documents prompted a research firm to downgrade its stock to hold from buy last Thursday.

    “Facebook has now become part of the broader ‘establishment,’ which doesn't necessarily look out for the regular people, and thus, is now treated with suspicion. Legitimate concerns about the machinations behind the scenes at Facebook have surfaced now, and it is clear that big tech is not promoting individual empowerment, but instead exploiting the masses for profit, power and pushing of ideology,” McCall said.

    Fox News' James Rogers contributed to this article.

    Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.

    Facebook opening Bryant Park pop-up to teach users about privacy

    Sorry about sharing your Facebook data. How about a cup of hot chocolate?

    Mark Zuckerberg’s social network plans to open a pop-up kiosk on Dec. 13 in Midtown Manhattan, where it will field questions about its data-sharing practices and teach users how to understand its new privacy controls.

    “It’s been a tough year, and people have a lot of questions,” Khaliah Barnes, a privacy and public policy manager at Facebook, told The Post. “We wanted to have the opportunity to connect with people face to face.”

    Visitors to the kiosk, to be located next to Bryant Park’s Holiday Market, will be able to stop by without an appointment, speak with Facebook employees and drink free hot chocolate.

    Facebook users who aren’t able to visit Bryant Park on Thursday between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m., however, are out of luck — the event is a one-day affair.

    Asked by The Post whether Facebook would be making a nationwide effort to highlight its privacy tools, Barnes said only that the privacy page on Facebook’s site is available to all users.

    The Bryant Park pop-up is the first-ever event of this kind in the US, and comes following numerous scandals that have kneecapped the company in recent months.

    In March, the Cambridge Analytica debacle saw Facebook leak the private information of nearly 90 million users to a Trump campaign-affiliated political consulting firm. And in September, Facebook revealed a security breach that impacted nearly 30 million users.

    A cache of secret documents and e-mails released earlier this week by a UK Parliament minister showed that Facebook granted big-name tech companies like Netflix and Airbnb full access to user data long after it said it was dropping the practice because of privacy concerns.

    This story originally appeared in the New York Post.

    Jason Chaffetz: Time for Facebook to do an ‘about face’ and regain the confidence of its users

    It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to do an “about face” at Facebook. He has lost the confidence of consumers and attracted the attention of too many regulators. Without significant changes to the platform, Zuckerberg risks serious lawsuits, a mass consumer exodus, and unwanted new regulations.

    Facebook originated as a creepy way to rate the looks of college women. Today, the mainstream platform’s vulnerability to invasions of privacy and its inability to secure users’ data threatens everyone with a profile on the granddaddy of social media platforms.

    This weakness has attracted the attention of regulators around the world as the personal identifiable information of individuals is seemingly insecure.  Much of the information you agree to give Facebook has uses and implications you may not even realize.

    Coupled with less-than-straightforward interactions with regulators, including the FTC, and the Europeans, the young entrepreneur, multi billionaire’s charm is wearing off.  Mark Zuckerberg is using a technology older regulators and elected officials don’t understand.  He used to succeed because his phenomenal success created awe and the platform helped win elections.  But things are changing.

    Regulators and elected officials will have no problem understanding the loss of privacy, invasion into minors’ lives, and the torrent of lawsuits coming Facebook’s way.  They will also understand the political push in support of one party to the detriment of the other.  This uneven hand and political favoritism has consequences that invite regulation and legislation.

    Congress and the regulators are no doubt slow and naive, but if Facebook does the right thing it can continue to thrive. 

    Additionally, lack of privacy will catch up to Facebook.  Current law allows a 13-year-old to enter into a user agreement with Facebook.  The minor trades their privacy for information and the platform.  Facebook can then monetize and sell that information and contact for a remarkable profit.  Creepy.

    Facebook at one point was accessing Android call and message history for data mining.  How is it not creepy to be looking at people’s information like this?  Not to mention looking at the information of teenage kids.

    But what happens with facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and other technological wonders when the minor wants to exit the agreement and return to anonymity?  There is no way to put that genie back in the bottle.

    Fortunately for Facebook, Congress is naive. The European regulators and legislators, however, are more aggressive.  They are moving to rein in the omnipresent Facebook which comprises half of the duopoly controlling 75 percent of digital advertising across the pond.

    Time for Facebook to do an “about face” and regain the confidence of its users.  Congress and the regulators are no doubt slow and naive, but if Facebook does the right thing it can continue to thrive.  Ironically, that requires prioritizing privacy, protecting children, and cooperating with regulators. All of which are antithetical to the founding and core of Facebook.

    Jason Chaffetz is a Fox News contributor who was the chairman of the U.S. House Oversight Committee when he served as a representative from Utah. He is the author of “The Deep State: How an Army of Bureaucrats Protected Barack Obama and is Working to Destroy the Trump Agenda.”