If it hasn't already been made clear by Facebook's moves to cut off AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica from the platform following the data privacy fiasco that exploded last month, there are multiple companies who don't play by the social network's rules and abuse its users' privacy.
But in recent years a batch of surveillance companies, operating in a far more clandestine manner to Cambridge Analytica and its partners, have been infiltrating all kinds of social media platforms. These spytech vendors are offering services not only to co-opt and influence social media groups with sockpuppet accounts, but will even deliver spyware via the fake profiles they create and hone across different platforms. And at least one of those businesses has been caught out shipping to a regime with a dubious human rights record.
Privacy activists are calling for action. "The idea that former spooks are available to buy to infiltrate political groups online is alarming. Imagine how such powers can be used to infiltrate pro-democracy or human rights groups in authoritarian states," warned Edin Omanovic, head of Privacy International's State Surveillance project. "Big surveillance companies are only able to do this because they exploit a broader ecosystem. Fundamentally, Facebook and other companies have a responsibility to protect their users."
Italian jobSee also Thursday's "These Ex-Spies Are Harvesting Facebook Photos For A Massive Facial Recognition Database (FB)", also from Forbes.
One of those surveillance vendors is Area S.p.A., a company which sold network monitoring tools to the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria in 2011. It was punished for that shipment in 2014 with a $100,000 fine from the U.S., the country from which it shipped the tech. And in 2016, the firm's offices were raided by Italian authorities who ordered the seizure of millions in euros as part of an investigation into the possible breach of European law as a result of that same Syrian sale. (In response to questions on that issue, Area simply pointed Forbes to comments made by a deputy minister of the Italian Economic Development Ministry, which an Area spokesperson said showed "the correctness of the company behavior." Those comments can be read in full, in Italian, here).
As for its social network exploitation, in a brochure obtained by Forbes from last year's UK Anti-Terror Expo, Area describes its "MCR Virtual Human Intelligence" platform. Think of it as software that helps organize and manage a government agent's fake profiles across different online spaces. Its aim is "not only to infiltrate agents within virtual communities of interest, but to support psychological operations (psyops) as well." Those "communities" include "blogs, forums and social networks."...MUCH MORE