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Lawmakers want to probe Facebook’s huge new data scandal

The social network’s latest controversy could become a big legal headache. Backstory: Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica from its network on Friday for failing to delete data about 270,000 people, acquired from an academic study. Then, on Saturday, the New York Times and the Observer reported that Cambridge Analytica actually had data on over 50 million people because social ties of the original 270,000 were tapped, seemingly without permission.

Facebook says: “People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.” But: Lawmakers in the US and UK are calling for investigations into the situation. And the Washington Post (£) says that Facebook may have breached Federal Trade Commission privacy rules by letting the data escape, which could lead to “many millions of dollars in fines.”

Bottom line: The finer details of exactly how data made its way from Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica are still to be shaken out.

But political powers, many already displeased by Big Tech, hope to get to the bottom of it.

It could be troubling and expensive for Zuck.

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China wants to shape the global future of artificial intelligence

China isn’t just investing heavily in AI–its experts aim to set the global standards for the technology as well. Academics, industry researchers, and government experts gathered in Beijing last November to discuss AI policy issues. The resulting document, published in Chinese recently, shows that the country’s experts are thinking in detail about the technology’s potential impact.

Together with the Chinese government’s strategic plan for AI, it also suggests that China plans to play a role in setting technical standards for AI going forward. Chinese companies would be required to adhere to these standards, and as the technology spreads globally, this could help China influence the technology’s course. Indeed, big Chinese companies including Tencent and Alibaba are rapidly adding AI capabilities to their cloud offerings and selling those services overseas (see “Inside the Chinese lab that wants to wire the world with AI“).

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“[The Chinese government] sees standardization not only as a way to provide competitiveness for their companies, but also as a way to go from being a follower to setting the pace,” says Jeffrey Ding, a student at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute who studies China’s nascent AI industry, and who translated the report.

The government’s plan cites the way US standards bodies have influenced the development of the internet, expressing a desire to avoid having the same thing happen with AI. China’s booming AI industry and massive government investment in the technology have raised fears in the US and elsewhere that the nation will overtake international rivals in a fundamentally important technology. In truth, it may be possible for both the US and the Chinese economies to benefit from AI.

But there may be more rivalry when it comes to influencing the spread of the technology worldwide. “I think this is the first technology area where China has a real chance to set the rules of the game,” says Ding. Ding has also published “Deciphering China’s AI Dream,” a detailed analysis of the Chinese government’s grand AI plan, which was issued last December.

An English version of the plan was produced at the time, but it contains fewer details than the original. Ding’s analysis shows the plan is more complicated and nuanced than many previously presumed. The discussions in November involved representatives from Tencent, one of China’s biggest tech companies with a prominent AI research effort, and from the China Academy of Information, a research institute under the purview of the government’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Topics discussed in November included other national AI plans (like the one produced by the Obama administration), practical applications of AI, emerging research areas, privacy challenges, bias, and autonomous weapons. The discussion of privacy is revealing. The document analyzes the privacy approaches taken by different countries, and it describes evolving attitudes and policies in China.

A law passed by the National People’s Congress in 2016 provides some rules for companies’ use of personal data.

On the other hand, the government has been willing to share personal information such as ID photos with tech companies, and this data is increasingly being used for surveillance.

Most striking, though, Ding’s analysis shows that China’s emerging AI industry is thinking carefully about how to make the most of the technology. “The most interesting thing is the depth of thinking, the breadth of thinking, from policy makers, research institutes, and tech companies,” Ding says. “It vastly exceeds what I expected going in.”

Porn ID Plans Kicked In The Plums As UK Gov Abandons April Deadline

The government has delayed the launch of compulsory age verification for pornographic sites operating in the UK. Due to go live this April, the system would require anyone wanting to view legal adult content to prove that they’re aged 18 or over, using any number of age verification (AV) systems. The exact nature of how AV will work remains unclear, but it’s understood thought that any form of ID you’d be able to use in order to buy alcohol – your passport, driving licence or a credit card – could be used to verify your age and that it would be a single sign on-type action; once you’re verified, you won’t have to do it again.

Over the weekend, the government quietly admitted dropped its April launch date for a vague “end of the year” deadline, burying the news 27 paragraphs deep in a press release about 5G[1]. Part of the reason for the delay has been traced to a lack of guidance from the government and the BBFC, which will have the power to fine any adult website operators who don’t comply with the AV regulations. Talking to the BBC[2], Warren Russell, CEO of W2 Global, which is building its own AV system, said that developers are currently in the dark.

“The real difficulty for providers is that the regulators have not yet released guidelines,” Russell said. “We are all working a little bit in the dark and making our best educated guesses as to what will and won’t be acceptable.” James Clark, from AgeID, the AV platform that’s being developed by PornHub owner MindGeek, said that the April deadline was wishful thinking anyway. “The regulations still have to go out for consultation, and be discussed and approved by Parliament,” said Clark. “There are set timings for such processes, so the maths just don’t seem to add up for it to be ready by April.”

The BBFC will launch a public consultation on its draft guidance for AV later this month, meaning the industry, critics and supporters will have the opportunity to supply evidence and have a hand in shaping the regulations. While privacy advocacy lobbyists the Open Rights Group[3] ‘welcomed’ the delay, its legal director Myles Jackman called on the Culture Secretary Matt Hancock to rethink the scheme. “This is a chance for the government to rethink the absence of safeguards for privacy and security, but it is frightening to consider that this policy was two weeks away from launch before it was pulled,” Jackman said. “Matt Hancock needs to introduce powers to safeguard privacy immediately before this scheme causes real damage.”

Jackman has argued[4] that the lack of safeguards would not prevent private data and viewing habits of 20-25 million of British adults from being collected by AV operators, setting the stage for “an Ashley Madison style hack”.

Ashley Madison, a website specialising in extra-marital adult encounters, was hacked in 2015[5], and the details of 30 million users were leaked, which resulted in divorces, resignations and suicides.

Plum Plum[6]” by Alan Levine[7] is licensed under CC BY 2.0[8].


  1. ^ in a press release about 5G (
  2. ^ BBC (
  3. ^ Open Rights Group (
  4. ^ has argued (
  5. ^ was hacked in 2015 (
  6. ^ Plum Plum (
  7. ^ Alan Levine (
  8. ^ CC BY 2.0 (

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