Month: October 2019

Facebook sued for age, gender bias in financial services ads

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) was sued on Thursday in a proposed class action accusing it of discriminating against older and female users by withholding advertising for financial services such as bank accounts, insurance, investments and loans. FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File PhotoAccording to the complaint filed in San Francisco federal court, Facebook persists in its willingness to let financial services advertisers “target” prospective customers by age and gender, despite a recent overhaul covering other kinds of ads. It said the Menlo Park, California-based social media company’s conduct violates that state’s civil rights law, exposing Facebook to billions of dollars in potential damages to users nationwide. “The internet is not a place where you can discriminate against people because of their age or gender, particularly in financial services opportunities,” Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an phone interview. “It would be like General Motors refusing to offer women or older people the same features on a car as men or younger people.” Facebook said it is reviewing the complaint. “Our policies have long prohibited discrimination and we’re proud of the strides we’re making in this area,” a spokeswoman said. The complaint was filed seven months after Facebook agreed to overhaul its targeted ad system, including for Instagram and Messenger, to settle lawsuits by civil rights groups that it let employers, landlords and lenders discriminate by age, gender and zip code when placing job, housing and credit ads. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said at the time that the changes would help protect Facebook users, and that “getting this right was deeply important to me and all of us at Facebook because inclusivity is a core value for our company.” While Facebook has begun implementing the changes, the complaint said it still allows financial services ads limiting such services to “people ages 24 to 40,” “men ages 20 and older,” and other comparable groups. Facebook is the world’s second-largest seller of online ads, and on Wednesday said around 2.8 billion people use at least one of its platforms each month. “We recognize that Facebook has taken significant steps to prevent discrimination in housing and jobs,” as well as credit ads, said Romer-Friedman, a lawyer at Outten & Golden. “The company can do a lot more.” Thursday’s complaint seeks damages for millions of Facebook users under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which allows $4,000 of damages per violation. It is led by Neutah Opiotennione, a 54-year-old woman from Washington, D.C. who said Facebook has deprived her of financial services ads and information because of her age and gender. The case is Opiotennione et al v Facebook Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 19-07185. Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Daniel WallisOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Exclusive: Government officials around the globe targeted for hacking through WhatsApp – sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior government officials in multiple U.S.-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp to take over users’ phones, according to people familiar with the messaging company’s investigation. FILE PHOTO: The WhatsApp messaging application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File PhotoSources familiar with WhatsApp’s internal investigation into the breach said a “significant” portion of the known victims are high-profile government and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents. Many of the nations are U.S. allies, they said. The hacking of a wider group of top government officials’ smartphones than previously reported suggests the WhatsApp cyber intrusion could have broad political and diplomatic consequences. WhatsApp filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group. The Facebook-owned software giant alleges that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users between April 29, 2019, and May 10, 2019. The total number of WhatsApp users hacked could be even higher. A London-based human rights lawyer, who was among the targets, sent Reuters photographs showing attempts to break into his phone dating back to April 1. While it is not clear who used the software to hack officials’ phones, NSO has said it sells its spyware exclusively to government customers. Some victims are in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India, said people familiar with the investigation. Reuters could not verify whether the government officials were from those countries or elsewhere. Some Indian nationals have gone public with allegations they were among the targets over the past couple of days; they include journalists, academics, lawyers and defenders of India’s Dalit community. NSO said in a statement that it was “not able to disclose who is or is not a client or discuss specific uses of its technology.” Previously it has denied any wrongdoing, saying its products are only meant to help governments catch terrorists and criminals. Cybersecurity researchers have cast doubt on those claims over the years, saying NSO products were used against a wide range of targets, including protesters in countries under authoritarian rule. Citizen Lab, an independent watchdog group that worked with WhatsApp to identify the hacking targets, said on Tuesday at least 100 of the victims were civil society figures such as journalists and dissidents, not criminals. John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, said it was not surprising that foreign officials would be targeted as well. “It is an open secret that many technologies branded for law enforcement investigations are used for state-on-state and political espionage,” Scott-Railton said. Prior to notifying victims, WhatsApp checked the target list against existing law enforcement requests for information relating to criminal investigations, such as terrorism or child exploitation cases. But the company found no overlap, said a person familiar with the matter. Governments can submit such requests for information to WhatsApp through an online portal the company maintains. WhatsApp has said it sent warning notifications to affected users earlier this week. The company has declined to comment on the identities of NSO Group’s clients, who ultimately chose the targets. Reporting by Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter; Editing by Chris Sanders, Lisa Shumaker and Tom BrownOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.