Facebook says government demands for user data are at a record high

Facebook’s latest transparency report is out.

The social media giant said the number of government demands for user data increased by 16% to 128,617 demands during the first-half of this year compared to the second-half of last year.

That’s the highest number of government demands its received in any reporting period since it published its first transparency report in 2013.

The U.S. government led the way with the most number of requests — 50,741 demands for user data resulting in some account or user data given to authorities in 88% of cases. Facebook said two-thirds of all of the U.S. government’s requests came with a gag order, preventing the company from telling the user about the request for their data.

But Facebook said it was able to release details of 11 so-called national security letters (NSLs) for the first time after their gag provisions were lifted during the period. National security letters can compel companies to turn over non-content data at the request of the FBI. These letters are not approved by a judge, and often come with a gag order preventing their disclosure. But since the Freedom Act passed in 2015, companies have been allowed to request the lifting of those gag orders.

The report also said the social media giant had detected 67 disruptions of its services in 15 countries, compared to 53 disruptions in nine countries during the second-half of last year.

And, the report said Facebook also pulled 11.6 million pieces of content, up from 5.8 million in the same period a year earlier, which Facebook said violated its policies on child nudity and sexual exploitation of children.

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Just 6% of U.S. adults on Twitter account for 73% of political tweets…and they disapprove of Trump

A small number of prolific U.S. Twitter users create the majority of tweets, and that extends to Twitter discussions around politics, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center out today. Building on an earlier study which discovered that 10% of users created 80% of tweets from U.S. adults, the organization today says that just 6% of U.S. adults on Twitter account for 73% of tweets about national politics.

Though your experience on Twitter may differ, based on who you follow, the majority of Twitter users don’t mention politics in their tweets.

FT 19.10.23 PoliticsTwitter Most prolific political tweeters make up small share US adults Twitter public accounts

In fact, Pew found that 69% never tweeted about politics or tweeted about the topic just once. Meanwhile, across all tweets from U.S. adults, only 13% of tweets were focused on national politics.

 

The study was based on 1.1 million public tweets from June 2018 to June 2019, Pew says. 2,427 users participated.

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Similar to its earlier report about how prolific users dominate the overall conversation, Pew found there’s also a small group of very active Twitter users dominating the conversation about national politics — and they all tend to be heavy news consumers and more polarized in their viewpoints.

Only 22% of U.S. adults even have a Twitter account, and of those, only 31% are defined as “political tweeters” — that is, they’ve posted at least 5 tweets and have posted at least twice about politics during the study period.

Within this broader group of political tweeters, just 6% are defined as “prolific” — meaning they’ve posted at least 10 tweets and at least 25% of their tweets mention national politics.

This small subset then goes on to create 73% of all tweets from U.S. adults on the subject of national politics.

What’s concerning about the data is that it’s those who are either far to the left or far to the right who are the ones dominating the political conversation on Twitter’s platform. A majority of the prolific political tweeters (55%) say they identify as either “very liberal” or “very conservative.” Among the non-political tweeting crowd, only 28% chose a more polarized label for themselves.

This polarized subgroup also heavily leans left. For example, those who strongly approve of President Trump generated 25% of all tweets mentioning national politics. But those who strongly disapprove of Trump generated 72% of all tweets mentioning national politics. (They’re also responsible for 80% of all tweets from U.S. adults on the platform.)

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This isn’t a fully representative picture of U.S. politics. The share of U.S. adults on Twitter who strongly disapprove of Trump (55%) is 7 percentage points higher than the share of the general public that holds this view (48%).

Trump supporters, as a result, are under-represented on Twitter. Perhaps this is because they’ve flocked to alternate platforms; or because don’t tweet their views as often in public; or because they violate Twitter’s policies more often, resulting in bans. Or as is likely, it’s a combination of factors. In any event, the reasoning was beyond the scope of this study.

The study also found the prolific tweeters are highly engaged with the news cycle. 92% follow the news “most of the time,” compared to 58% of non-prolific political tweeters and 53% of non-political tweeters. They’re also civically engaged, as 34% have attended a political rally or event, 57% have contacted an elected official, and 38% have donated to campaigns.

Also of note, the political tweets are more likely to come from older users. Those ages 65 and older produce only 10% of all tweets from U.S. adults, but they contribute 33% of tweets related to national politics. And those 50 and older produce 29% of all tweets but contribute 73% of tweets mentioning national politics.

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These political tweeters also create so-called “filter bubbles” where they mostly follow people who think the same as they do. 45% of Democrats said they did this, compared with 25% of Republicans. Across all U.S. adults, 31% of Democrats said they did this, versus 15% of Republicans.

But there is one thing a majority of U.S. Twitter users can agree on: most (57%) believe any news they see on social media is “largely inaccurate.”

The full report is available here.

Trump gets on Twitch

The reelection campaign will be livestreamed. US president Donald Trump has joined Amazon-owned livestreaming platform Twitch.

Twitch is best known as a social video streaming platform for gamers but does host other content, including politics.

The verified DonaldTrump Twitch account, spotted earlier by Reuters, has just one video in the recent broadcast section so far: A livestream of a Trump rally which took place in Minneapolis yesterday evening.

Alongside the saved video of this broadcast is a growing selection of user generated clips culled from the stream, with titles such as “This is our president.”, “LOL”, “KEK” and “pepelaugh”.

Another clip remarks on how a single black man — who’s visible in the top corner of the shot of the audience behind Trump — vanishes as “they zoom him out of the picture”.

Trump is not the only high profile US politician to be taking to Twitch to broadcast campaign rallies in real time ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Democratic senator Bernie Sanders, who is making a pitch to be the party’s presidential candidate, joined the platform a few months ago. And at the time of writing Sanders still has more followers than Trump on Twitch (88,795 vs 37,754).

Over on Twitter, meanwhile — Trump’s go-to social media soapbox for skewering opponents and deflecting criticism, via his preferred medium of the early morning attack tweet — the president has ~65.6M followers.

So Twitter is very unlikely to be concerned that its highest profile user is flirting with Amazon’s social streaming platform. (Though it’s much less clear how happy “Jeff Bozo” will be about Trump getting on Twitch.)

Trump has dabbled with using Twitter’s own video streaming tool, Periscope. But the choice of Twitch for streaming his campaign rallies looks mostly like a case of horses for courses. Periscope is more for on-the-fly mobile streaming, whereas Twitch is a platform built for playing to (and building) a ‘lean back’ audience.

Troll culture also thrives on gamer Twitch. And Trump is of course edgelord of the trolls. Ergo he should fit right in.

With Periscope Twitter has been taking a stronger approach to tackling abusive comments in recent years (and also trying to fight fake and spam content) — in line with its stated desire to increase ‘conversational health’ on its platforms. So it’s probably happy to have dodged a bullet here.

Certainly Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has more enough flying his way over whatever Trump choses to tweet next.

Silicon Valley’s competing philosophies on tech ethics with The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz

“If Silicon Valley is going to keep telling itself the story that the only uses of their technology will be the most optimistic, the most hopeful, the most salubrious, the most prosocial,” New Yorker staff writer Andrew Marantz told me in Part 1 of this recent conversation for Extra Crunch, “you can try to rebut that logically, or you can just disprove it by showing a very glaring counterexample. If somebody is going around and saying, ‘all swans are white,’ you can argue against that logically, or you can just show them a black swan.”

Author Photo Andrew Marantz credit Luke Marantz fix

Image via Penguin Random House

Marantz, a brilliant and eclectic writer, has in recent years trained his attention on the tech world and its contribution to social unrest in the United States and beyond. He has just published a new book, “Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation“, which, along with recent New Yorker essays expanding on the book’s themes, is sure to provoke debate.

In part 2 of our conversation below, we discuss the Alt-Right and White Nationalists in tech and politics; Silicon Valley spirituality today; competing philosophies of tech ethics; and more.

Greg Epstein: If you look at the alt-right later that year and in 2017, I myself spent a lot of time poring over these figures like Richard Spencer and Gavin McInnes, and their videos, and their writings, and whatever thinking, ‘These guys are really taking over our society right now.

TikTok explains its ban on political advertising

Already under fire for advancing Chinese foreign policy by censoring topics like Hong Kong’s protests and pro-LGBT content, the Beijing-based video app TikTok is now further distancing itself from U.S. social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with a ban on political ads on its app.

The company today says it will not allow political ads on TikTok, noting they don’t fit in with the experience the short-form video app aims to offer.

“Any paid ads that come into the community need to fit the standards for our platform, and the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience,” says Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s VP of Global Business Solutions, who recently joined the company from Facebook.

“To that end, we will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state, or local level – including election-related ads, advocacy ads, or issue ads,” he says.

TikTok further explains that it wants to be known as a place for creative expression, and one that creates a “positive, refreshing environment” that inspires that creativity.

It will further encourage these goals through its products like its fun filters and effects as well as its brand partnerships.

Today, TikTok offers a range of ad opportunities, including in-feed video ads, launch screen ads, and other native ads like its sponsored hashtag challenges. It also more recently launched a beta version of the TikTok Creator Marketplace, which will help to connect brands with TikTok creators for their marketing campaigns.

“Throughout all of this, however, our primary focus is on creating an entertaining, genuine experience for our community,” Chandlee continues. “While we explore ways to provide value to brands, we’re intent on always staying true to why users uniquely love the TikTok platform itself: for the app’s light-hearted and irreverent feeling that makes it such a fun place to spend time,” he says.

Political ads don’t fit with this agenda, the company believes.

But running those sorts of ads also come with significant challenges, as Facebook has found.

It had to create a system to verify the credentials of political advertisers, for example, which requires them to submit identification information like their street address, phone number, business email and website matching the email, tax ID number, or U.S. Federal Election Commmission ID number. It also launched a publicly searchable database of political ads, for transparency’s sake.

As a Chinese-run company, TikTok may not have the resources to run a similar operation. In fact, it seemed to be having trouble cracking down on the hate speech found on its app last year, VICE had reported.

The ban on political ads isn’t really new to TikTok, it’s more of a reiteration of the existing policy — but it’s a statement that TikTok hadn’t made before.

 

 

SmartNews’ latest news discovery feature shows users articles from across the political spectrum

Even before the 2016 election, political polarization was increasing, with Americans so entrenched in the news sources they rely on that the Pew Research Center said “liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds.” Now SmartNews, the news aggregation app that recently hit unicorn funding status, wants to give users a way to step out of their bubbles with a feature called News From All Sides.

News From All Sides is an option located under the politics tab in SmartNews’ app. A slider at the bottom allows users to see articles about a specific news event sorted into five groups, ranging from most liberal to most conservative. Now available for new users in the United States, the feature will gradually roll out as the company fine-tunes it.

SmartNews News From All Sides feature

News From All Sides was created for readers who want to see other points of view, but might be overwhelmed by an online search, says Jeannie Yang, SmartNews’ senior vice president of product. It also aims to provide more transparency about news algorithms, which have been blamed for exacerbating political polarization.

Before developing the feature, SmartNews team conducted research and focus groups in places including Minneapolis and cities in North Carolina to understand how people across the country consume political news online.

“We found that across the board, the last [presidential] election was not just a wakeup call about what news reporting is, but users also expressed that they are much, much more aware of algorithms running underneath what they see. They might not know how it works, but they know there is something else going on,” Yang says.

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The political leanings of publications that appear in News From All Sides were categorized by Smartnews’ content team, which includes journalists who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Fox News and other major news outlets. An AI-based algorithm decides which headlines appear in each category. As the feature goes through new iterations, Yang says SmartNews will make changes based on reader feedback. For example, future versions might look at the positions taken in specific articles and include more than five categories on the slider.

News From All Sides is an eye-opener along the lines of “Blue Feed, Red Feed,” an interactive feature (now archived) by the Wall Street Journal that demonstrated how much someone’s political leanings can influence what Facebook’s algorithms display on their News Feed.

Of course, there are many people who are content to be ensconced in their own news bubbles and may not be interested in News From All Sides, even with the upcoming presidential election. Features like it won’t fix political polarization, but for people who are curious about different points of view, even ones they strongly disagree with, News From All Sides gives them a simple way to explore more coverage.

“We definitely discussed that,” says Yang. “The feature is not initially targeted to everyone. It targets people who are more political news junkies, who are checking their phones for news multiple times a day and will actively seek out other sources, so they might go on Google News and go down a rabbit hole.”

“As more readers consider how they are going to vote, it will also help them with perspectives,” Yang adds. “It’s not something that will appeal to everyone broadly, but we hope that we will adjust a pain point for this core group and then iterate it to something more universal.”

SmartNews was founded in Japan, but the slider is currently only on its app for the U.S., since political polarization is a major issue there. Yang says the feature is one part of of SmartNews’ goal to improve discovery in all news topics.

“Our mission is to break people out of filter bubbles and personalize discovery with the idea that recommendation algorithms can expand interests, instead of narrowing your interests,” she says. “We’re thinking of how to create more transparency and also expose readers to something they might not usually see, but present it in a fun way, like a serendipitous discovery.”

Brexit means clear your cookies for democracy

Brexit looks set to further sink the already battered reputation of tracking cookies after a Buzzfeed report yesterday revealed what appears to be a plan by the UK’s minority government to use official government websites to harvest personal data on UK citizens for targeting purposes.

According to leaked government documents obtained by the news site, the prime minister has instructed government departments to share website usage data that’s collected via gov.uk websites with ministers on a cabinet committee tasked with preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

It’s not clear how linking up citizens use of essential government portals could further ‘no deal’ prep.

Rather the suspicion is it’s a massive, consent-less voter data grab by party political forces preparing for an inevitable general election in which the current Tory PM plans to campaign on a pro-Brexit message.

The instruction to pool gov.uk usage data as a “top priority” is also being justified internally in instructions to civil servants as necessary to accelerate plans for a digital revolution in public services — an odd ASAP to be claiming at a time of national, Brexit-induced crisis when there are plenty more pressing priorities (given the October 31 EU exit date looming).

A government spokesperson nonetheless told Buzzfeed the data is being collected to improve service delivery. They also claimed it’s “anonymized” data.

“Individual government departments currently collect anonymised user data when people use gov.uk. The Government Digital Service is working on a project to bring this anonymous data together to make sure people can access all the services they need as easily as possible,” the spokesperson said, further claiming: “No personal data is collected at any point during the process, and all activity is fully compliant with our legal and ethical obligations.”

However privacy experts quickly pointed out the nonsense of trying to pretend that joined up user data given a shared identifier is in any way anonymous.

 

For those struggling to keep up with the blistering pace of UK political developments engendered by Brexit, this is a government led by a new (and unelected) prime minister, Boris ‘Brexit: Do or Die’ Johnson, and his special advisor, digital guru Dominic Cummings, of election law-breaking Vote Leave campaign fame.

Back in 2015 and 2016, Cummings, then the director of the official Vote Leave campaign, masterminded a plan to win the EU referendum by using social media data to profile voters — blitzing them with millions of targeted ads in final days of the Brexit campaign.

Vote Leave was later found to have channelled money to Cambridge Analytica-linked Canadian data firm Aggregate IQ to target pro-Brexit ads via Facebook’s platform. Many of which were subsequently revealed to have used blatantly xenophobic messaging to push racist anti-EU messaging when Facebook finally handed over the ad data.

Setting aside the use of xenophobic dark ads to whip up racist sentiment to sell Brexit to voters, and ongoing questions about exactly how Vote Leave acquired data on UK voters for targeting them with political ads (including ethical questions about the use of a football quiz touting a £50M prize run on social media as a mass voter data-harvesting exercise), last year the UK’s Electoral Commission found Vote Leave had breached campaign spending limits through undeclared joint working with another pro-Brexit campaign — via which almost half a million pounds was illegally channeled into Facebook ads.

The Vote Leave campaign was fined £61k by the Electoral Commission, and referred to the police. (An investigation is possibly ongoing.)

Cummings, the ‘huge brain’ behind Vote Leave’s digital strategy, did not suffer a dent in his career as a consequence of all this — on the contrary, he was appointed by Johnson as senior advisor this summer, after Johnson won the Conservative leader contest and so became the third UK PM since the 2016 vote for Brexit.

With Cummings at his side, it’s been full steam ahead for Johnson on social media ads and data grabs, as we reported last month — paving the way for a hoped for general election campaign, fuelled by ‘no holds barred’ data science. Democratic ethics? Not in this digitally disruptive administration!

The Johnson-Cummings pact ignores entirely the loud misgivings sounded by the UK’s information commissioner — which a year ago warned that political microtargeting risks undermining trust in democracy. The ICO called then for an ethical pause. Instead Johnson stuck up a proverbial finger by installing Cummings in No.10.

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport parliamentary committee, which tried and failed to get Cummings to testify before it last year as part of a wide-ranging enquiry into online disinformation (a snub for which Cummings was later found in contempt of parliament), also urged the government to update election law as a priority last summer — saying it was essential to act to defend democracy against data-fuelled misinformation and disinformation. A call that was met with cold water.

This means the same old laws that failed to prevent ethically dubious voter data-harvesting during the EU referendum campaign, and failed to prevent social media ad platforms and online payment platforms (hi, Paypal!) from being the conduit for illegal foreign donations into UK campaigns, are now apparently incapable of responding to another voter data heist trick, this time cooked up at the heart of government on the umbrella pretext of ‘preparing for Brexit’.

The repurposing of government departments under Johnson-Cummings for pro-Brexit propaganda messaging also looks decidedly whiffy…

Asked about the legality of the data pooling gov.uk plan as reported by Buzzfeed, an ICO spokesperson told us: “People should be able to make informed choices about the way their data is used. That’s why organisations have to ensure that they process personal information fairly, legally and transparently. When that doesn’t happen, the ICO can take action.”

Can — but hasn’t yet.

It’s also not clear what action the ICO could end up taking to purge UK voter data that’s already been (or is in the process of being) sucked out of the Internet to be repurposed for party political purposes — including, judging by the Vote Leave playbook, for microtargeted ads that promote a no holds barred ‘no deal’ Brexit agenda.

One thing is clear: Any action would need to be swiftly enacted and robustly enforced if it were to have a meaningful chance of defending democracy from ethics-free data-targeting.

Sadly, the ICO has yet to show an appetite for swift and robust action where political parties are concerned.

Likely because a report it put out last fall essentially called out all UK political parties for misusing people’s data. It followed up saying it would audit the political parties starting early this year — but has yet to publish its findings.

Concerned opposition MPs are left tweeting into the regulatory abyss — decrying the ‘coup’ and forlornly pressing for action… Though if the political boot were on the other foot it might well be a different story.

Among the cookies used on gov.uk sites are Google Analytics cookies which store information on how visitors got to the site; the pages visited and length of time spent on them; and items clicked on. Which could certainly enable rich profiles to be attached to single visitors IDs.

Visitors to gov.uk properties can switch off Google Analytics measurement cookies, as well as denying gov.uk communications and marketing cookies, and cookies that store preferences — with only “strictly necessary” cookies (which remember form progress and serve notifications) lacking a user toggle.

What should concerned UK citizens to do to defend democracy against the data science folks we’re told are being thrown at the Johnson-Cummings GSD data pooling project? Practice good privacy hygiene.

Clear your cookies. Indeed, switch off gov.uk cookies. Deny access wherever and whenever possible.

It’s probably also a good idea to use a fresh (incognito) browser session each time you need to visit a government website and close the session (with cookies set to clear) immediately you’re done. And use a good tracker blocker.

When the laws have so spectacularly failed to keep up with the data processors, limiting how your information is gathered online is the only way to be sure. Though as we’ve written before it’s not easy.

Privacy is personal and unfortunately, with the laws lagging, the personal is now trivially cheap and easy to weaponize for political dark arts that treat democracy as a game of PR, debasing the entire system in the process.

Facebook will require political advertisers provide further credentials, or have their ads paused

Ahead of the 2020 elections, Facebook today announced it’s tightening requirements for groups buying political ads on the social network. The company last year began requiring advertisers get authorized to run ads about social issues, elections, or politics, which involves advertisers providing identification to confirm who they are and where they’re located — including a U.S. street address, phone number, business email and website matching the email. Starting in mid-September, Facebook says advertisers will now need to submit more information about their organization in order to run political ads.

Failure to submit this information will see their ads paused, the company says.

There are five options for submitting more information, three of which will confirm the advertiser is registered in some way with the U.S. government. This includes submitting a tax-registered organization identification number (EIN); a government website matching an email ending in .gov or .mil; or a Federal Election Commission (FEC) identification number.

By submitting this information, Facebook will label the advertiser a “Confirmed Organization” in its ad archive. The advertiser will also be allowed to use their registered organization name in the ad disclaimers and the “i” icon that appears on the upper-right hand corner of the ad will read “Confirmed Organization.”

For smaller businesses or local politicians who want to run ads about social issues, elections, or politics, they can choose to submit one of two other options instead: an organization name with a verifiable phone number, business email, mail-deliverable address and business website with a domain matching the email; or they can provide no organizational information and use the Page Admin’s legal name on their personal information document.

In either of these two cases, the “i” icon on the ad will read “About this ad” instead of “Confirmed Organization.”

Facebook says this “i” icon is how people will be able to see who is trying to influence them through the ad.

Facebook Ads Info

Posted by Facebook on Tuesday, August 27, 2019

“Now, with one tap, people will not only see information about the ad, but they’ll be able to see the information Facebook confirmed, such as whether an advertiser used an EIN or FEC identification number. This will allow people to confidently gauge the legitimacy of an organization and quickly raise questions or concerns if they find anything out of the ordinary,” the company explained in a blog post announcing the changes.

Despite Facebook’s rule around political ads, the company admitted that there have been several cases where advertisers attempted to put out misleading “Paid for by” disclaimers on their ads.

VICE, for example, demonstrated how easy it was to manipulate the system by placing ads on behalf of VP Mike Pence, DNC Chairman Tom Perez, and the Islamic State, which Facebook approved. Business Insider also ran fake ads pretending to be Cambridge Analytica, which Facebook also approved.

More recently, Facebook banned conservative news outlet The Epoch Times from running ads on its platform because of ad policy violations. The organization had hidden under page names like “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism,” to bypass Facebook’s ad transparency system in order to run some $2 million worth of ads promoting the president and spreading conspiracy theories about his opponents.

In addition to the changes around the advertiser requirements, Facebook is updating its social issues list in the U.S. to include 10 categories, instead of 20 distinct subjects. This doesn’t represent a narrowing focus, but rather makes the categories themselves broader to encompass more topics. For example, the “Civil and Social Rights” category would include sub-topics like freedom of religion, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights.

The new categories were based on the issue lists in countries who recently held elections, Facebook says.

Facebook also will no longer require some environmentally-focused ads to submit these additional requirements, based on user feedback. This includes ads that “discuss, debate or advocate for environmental issues,” those that encourage recycling, or those highlighting sustainable products.

In the months ahead, Facebook says it will be updating its Ad Library to make it easier to track and compare U.S. presidential candidate spending, and it will expand its policy to prohibit ads that discourage people from voting.

It will turn its attention to Pages, too, by requiring national candidates or elected officials to go through Page Publishing Authorization, to verify their Pages are using real accounts and are based the U.S. Facebook will then begin exposing more information about the Page, including the business or organization behind it.

“We know we can’t tackle these challenges alone. That’s why we’re calling for sensible regulation and working directly with governments, watchdogs and regulators,” the company wrote in the blog post. “While our efforts to protect elections are ongoing and won’t be perfect, they will make it harder for advertisers to obscure who is behind ads and will provide greater transparency for people.”

Senate Intelligence Committee releases first volume of its investigation into Russian election hacking

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today released the first volume of its bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections.

Helmed by Select Committee Chairman Richard Burr, the Republican from North Carolina, and Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, who serves as Vice Chairman, the committee’s report Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure,” details the unclassified summary findings on election security. 

Through two and a half years the committee has held 15 open hearings, interviewed over 200 witnesses, and reviewed nearly 400,000 documents, according to a statement and will be publishing other volumes from its investigation over the next year. 

“In 2016, the U.S. was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary on our election infrastructure. Since then, we have learned much more about the nature of Russia’s cyber activities and better understand the real and urgent threat they pose,” Committee Chairman Burr said in a statement. “The Department of Homeland Security and state and local elections officials have dramatically changed how they approach election security, working together to bridge gaps in information sharing and shore up vulnerabilities.”

Both Sen. Burr and Sen. Warner said that additional steps still needed to be taken.

“[There’s] still much more we can and must do to protect our elections. I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that this threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it.”

Among the Committee’s findings were that Russian hackers exploited the seams between federal and state authorities. State election officials, the report found were not sufficiently warned or prepared to handle an attack from a state actor.

The warnings that were provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security weren’t detailed enough nor did they contain enough relevant information that would have encouraged the states to take threats more seriously, the report indicated.

 More work still needs to be done, according to the Committee. DHS needs to coordinate its efforts with state officials much more closely. But states need to do more as well to ensure that new voting machines have a voter-verified paper trail. 

So does Congress. The committee report underscores that Congress need to evaluate the results of the $380 million in state security grants which were issued under the Help America Vote Act and ensure that additional funding is available to address any security gaps in voting systems and technologies around the U.S.

Finally, the U.S. needs to create more appropriate deterrence mechanisms to enable the country to respond effectively to cyber attacks on elections.

The Committee’s support for greater spending on election security and refining electoral policy to ensure safe and secure access to the ballot, comes as Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has blocked two election security measures that were attempting to come before the Senate floor for a vote.

New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, tried to get consent to pass a House bill that requires the use of paper ballots and included new funding for the Election Assistance Commission.

In a statement explaining his rejection of the Bill, McConnell told The Hill, “Clearly this request is not a serious effort to make a law. Clearly something so partisan that it only received one single solitary Republican vote in the House is not going to travel through the Senate by unanimous consent.”

McConnell also rejected a consent motion to pass legislation that would require that candidates, campaign officials, and family members to reach out to the FBI if they received offers of assistance from foreign governments.

Terry Gou resigns as Foxconn’s chairman to run for president of Taiwan

Terry Gou said at Foxconn’s annual general meeting today that he is leaving the electronics manufacturing giant as he prepares to run for president of Taiwan. Gou, who founded Foxconn (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.) 45 years ago and is also its biggest shareholder, will remain on the company’s board. Young Liu, the head of Foxconn’s semiconductor business, will succeed him as chairman and the company will also transition to a committee-directed management structure.

Gou first officially announced in April that he plans to resign as chairman to focus on his campaign for the nomination of Taiwan’s opposition party, the Kuomintang. If he succeeds against other KMT candidates, including Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-Yu, Gou will be challenging President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party, for the election next January.

Foxconn (one of Apple’s biggest suppliers) is China’s largest private employer and the Kuomintang supports a closer relationship with the Chinese government, despite its stance that Taiwan is a rogue province. Gou’s ties to the country will be scrutinized during the campaign as he opposes Tsai and the DPP, advocates of Taiwan’s sovereignty. The issue is especially fraught after the recent large-scale demonstrations in Hong Kong against a bill that would have allowed extradition to China.

Last month Gou, who has never held political office before, tried to assuage critics by saying he has no plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping after the head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council of the Executive Yuan, Chen Ming-Tung, claimed Gou had said Taiwan was part of China. Gou also said that during a recent meeting with Donald Trump he had asked the president of the United States to work on improving the relationship between all three countries.

Gou’s campaign has also been marred by other controversies, such as when he said “the harem should not meddle in politics” after his wife, Delia Tseng, objected to his candidacy. Gou later apologized for the remark.