- Associated Press - Monday, July 16, 2018

The Journal Times of Racine, July 16

Facebook, your data and friends of Putin

You’ve probably seen the sentimentally sweet TV commercial for Facebook.

A narrator describes the enjoyable moments all Facebook users initially experience: Reconnecting with old friends, connecting further with current friends, making new friends. The joy of seeing an old photograph of one of them, or of yourself.

“But then something happened,” the narrator says. “We had to deal with spam, clickbait, fake news and data misuse.”

Yes, those things did happen.

Some of them happened with encouragement from Facebook itself.

As we wrote in March, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2007 invited outside developers to build their businesses off Facebook’s data, giving them ready access to the friend lists, “likes” and affinities that connect millions of Facebook users. Practically any engineer who could persuade a Facebook user to download an app or to sign into a website using Facebook’s popular “log-in through Facebook” feature would have been able to access not only the profile, behavior and location of that Facebook user but also that of all the user’s Facebook friends, developers said. As long as the developers didn’t misrepresent themselves, Facebook allowed the data to be stored on developers’ databases in perpetuity.

“The model was to build and grow and figure out monetization,” said Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook operations manager who oversaw developers’ privacy practices until 2012. “Protecting users did not fit into that.”

So trusting that everyone seeking data from Facebook was an honest broker was standard operating procedure, and protecting users “did not fit into that.”

That trust, Wired magazine reported July 10, was extended to Russian email giant Mail.ru, which for all intents and purposes means it was extended to the Russian government.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which that firm retained data on Facebook users without their consent or Facebook’s, Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress. Facebook said it had taken steps in 2014 to disallow apps from collecting data on users, but gave some apps more time to “come into compliance” with the new rules.

Facebook says Mail.ru ran hundreds of apps on the platform, all of which operated under Facebook’s old rules, which did allow app developers to collect their users’ friends’ data. Some of those apps began operating as early as 2009.

U.S. Sen Mark Warner, D-Virginia, who has been investigating Russia’s manipulation of social media platforms as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement: “We need to determine what user information was shared with Mail.ru and what may have been done with the captured data.” Warner expressed particular concern that key players at Mail.ru, including major investor Alisher Usmanov, “boast close ties to Vladimir Putin.”

Experts say the Mail.ru deal, viewed alongside the news that Facebook gave data to device manufacturers including Chinese companies like Huawei, reflects naïveté on Facebook’s part about the power that international regimes have over businesses within their borders, Wired reported.

“If you are a Russian businessperson of a certain scale, you can’t escape the requirements Russian intelligence services are going to put on you,” says Brett Bruen, an American diplomat who served as director of global engagement under President Barack Obama and now runs the consulting firm Global Situation Room. “This is the reality of doing business in Russia today.”

So, thanks to Facebook, one of Vladimir Putin’s buddies may have access to data on you.

“From now on, Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy,” the narrator in the TV commercial says.

That sounds nice, Facebook. We all wish you’d taken that concept seriously from the start.


The Capital Times, July 15

Volunteer firefighters like Cory Barr are true heroes

Hundreds of Wisconsin communities are served by volunteer fire departments, made up of farmers, teachers and main street business owners who rush to serve their neighbors without sufficient recognition. Until a tragedy occurs.

Then we pause to recognize the personal sacrifices, and the great courage, of people like Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr, 34 years old and a 15-year veteran on the volunteer crew, who died last week after responding to reports of a natural gas leak in downtown Sun Prairie. Barr, a proud husband and father who ran the Barr House restaurant and bar in Sun Prairie, jumped into action when the call came - as volunteer firefighters do, at all hours, at all times of the year and in all kinds of dangerous circumstances.

Shortly after a contractor breached a gas main, firefighters arrived on the scene to investigate the source of the leak and evacuate the area. A devastating blast occurred, injuring a half-dozen firefighters, a police officer and as many as seven civilians. Several buildings were leveled and Barr was knocked to the ground under a pile of rubble.

Despite the best efforts of Sun Prairie EMS personnel, Barr succumbed to his injuries and the community lost one of its finest members.

Cory Barr cannot be replaced. But his memory can be honored. The Barr House, which he owned with his wife Abby, was among the leveled buildings. There has already been a huge outpouring of support for a GoFundMe benefit for his family (https://www.gofundme.com/benefit-for-the-family-of-cory-barr), and we hope it continues. We also hope that people in Sun Prairie and beyond will pause to recognize the crucial role that volunteer firefighters play in keeping our communities safe and strong.


Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, July 12

Group’s point difficult to disregard

There is no mistaking the political bent of One Wisconsin Now. After all, the organization stopped in Eau Claire on Tuesday as part of the “Scott Walker Farewell Tour.”

The Madison-based progressive organization visited to tout its “Tomorrow Wisconsin” plan. At the core of the effort are five key issues: student loan debt refinancing, paid family and medical leave and sick days, affordable child care, job security and livable wages, and access to the state pension system.

Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now executive director, said that even if Gov. Scott Walker is re-elected the group hopes to bring the topics, which his group deems critical for members of Generation X (generally those born from 1966 through 1980) and Millennials (those born in the 1980s or ‘90s), to the forefront of political discourse.

“It’s time for us to start talking about issues that aren’t just one generation’s issue,” he said.

At least some of the aforementioned talking points are a concern regardless of one’s political persuasion. You may not support student loan debt refinancing, but the fact that the total is now about $1.48 trillion in this country can’t be ignored. A new television game show on TruTV, “Paid Off,” even rewards winning contestants by eliminating their student debt.

It also disproportionately affects women, who hold more than 60 percent of that debt, according to a recent report by the American Association of University Women. Assessing data from the 2015-16 school year, the report found that women graduating with a bachelor’s degree on average owe $2,700 more than their male counterparts.

“It’s a real problem and it’s a problem with a distinct gender component,” Anne Hedgepeth, AAUW’s federal policy director, told CBS News. “It (also) is taking women longer to repay their student debt for a number of reasons, like the gender pay gap in the workforce.

“Obviously, it has an impact on women’s economic security, so it can certainly have an influence on their ability to pay rent or their health care.”

The story also cites a study that found that more than half of 1,858 men and women in a survey planned to have fewer children than their parents. Often, the chief concern was financially based. Another found that college-educated women earn 90 percent as men at age 25 and 55 percent at age 45.

Political headlines today are dominated by such terms and phrases as “Foxconn,” ”tax cuts,” ”climate change” and “tweet,” while too often policies that could positively affect our daily lives fall by the wayside.

Many economic indicators currently are on a positive trend. But it’s hard to imagine that’s sustainable in the long run considering hard-working families are faced with stagnant wages, costly child care, suffocating health care costs, shackling debt and retirement concerns.

“Middle-class spending in a community is what drives the economy,” Ross said.

Although these aren’t inherently partisan issues, how one gets to the solution often is. You certainly don’t have to agree with the strategies championed by groups such as One Wisconsin Now, but that doesn’t negate the core problems.

We live in a time of almost unprecedented political hostility, when each party is guilty of condemning almost any effort from the other. The casualties, unfortunately, are real concerns felt on both sides of the aisle.

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