This Week in Tech: Spyware & Data Privacy Edition

Summer’s on full blast on both SHIFT coasts this week. Here are some of the stories that grabbed our attention this week while trying to keep our cool:

Spyware uncovered

Researchers from mobile security provider Lookout have discovered what was described by Ars Technica as “some of the most advanced and full-featured mobile surveillanceware ever seen.” The app, Monokle, targets Android-based mobile devices and uses a number of unique methods to enable a host of surveillance capabilities that can work even when not connected to the internet. Developed by a Russian defense contractor tied to the country’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Monokle conducts a wide array of spying, with the ability to reset a user’s pincode, record location and ambient audio, retrieve contacts and document text from office applications, delete arbitrary files, and download attacker-specified files – before uninstalling itself and deleting any record from an infected phone.

Record fine for Facebook

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday levied a $5 billion fine against Facebook after finding the social network had misrepresented how app developers, advertisers and others obtained users’ personal data. Despite also settling an investigation (for an additional $100 million) with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook remains under scrutiny. In a deep-dive piece, CNET editor Ian Sherr points out that “regulators and lawmakers around the world are increasingly looking for ways to rein in the social networking giant.”

In addition to a new investigation by the FTC, the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a sweeping antitrust investigation into Facebook and other tech giants. It’s no easier for the company in Europe. Germany has fined Facebook $2.3 million for under reporting incidents of illegal content such as hate speech. Meanwhile, the UK has said it will install an internet safety official, whose role till include policing social networks and make sure they are addressing violence, cyberbulling and disinformation.

“The Great Hack”

Many of Facebook’s woes stem from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, in which the political consultancy obtained access to millions of Facebook users’ data, created profiles and targeted voters during the 2016 U.S. election and Brexit vote. A new Netflix documentary – “The Great Hack” – takes a closer look at the scandal and uses it as an entrance into a discussion of how our everyday data is “harvested and weaponized against us.”

If you’ve ever been weirded out by a too-perfectly targeted ad or confused as to whether or not something you read was “fake news,” this film provides an informative look at how companies like Cambridge Analytics, Facebook, Google and pretty much every other tech company track, mine and sell our personal data – and the impact it can have on an individual, community and national level.

Related pro tip

Want to learn more about data-driven marketing in today’s environment? Our sister agency National, shared its thoughts on “Rethinking Data-Driven Marketing in the Wake of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal.” Definitely worth a read.

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