Last weekend’s newsletter, “Facebook’s ‘War Room’ Is a Marketing Ploy,” elicited mixed reactions. Some readers agreed with my criticism that Facebook’s unveiling of a misinformation-quashing initiative was a PR stunt. Other readers felt I had been unfair to the company, arguing that it is taking the threat of fake news seriously. Below is a sampling of the mailbag.
J.B.: “Thank You for calling out FB for their PR/marketing ploy with their ‘war room’. I was surprised and disappointed from a number or articles from other news organizations that essentially praised the company for all of its efforts while failing to exercise any basic form of journalistic/critical thinking.”
K.S.: “Sorry but I’m with Facebook on this…. The unanimous view is, there’s no reliable technology available today using which Facebook, or anyone else, can conclude that a piece of news is fake news at the point it is posted.”
A.J.: “I smiled as I read your analysis. But then, as a professional communicator who eschews hype (though not transparency), I wondered how should FB solve this: 1. Should it go dark? Can’t do that now, since it would seem like they were hiding. 2. Should it go very proactive? Not sure that would work since it would feel like hype.”
Melanie Ensign, ex-Facebook, present Uber PR: “The event might have been a performance for press, but the team/effort/initiative is real w/ origins long before the 2016 drama began. We all know plenty of journos who require a ‘visual element’ before they commit to anything.”
M.C., discussing whether Facebook had contradicted itself when one executive said it’s easier for the fake news-fighting squad to work side-by-side in a single office, whereas the company’s cybersecurity director said it’s harder for them to collaborate with external partners when seated next to one another: “From a security perspective, it is absolutely easier to collaborate virtually. Allowing employees of your competitors into your office, with access to your systems, is a huge security risk compared to digital collaboration. The exec and security director are both correct.”
Oren Falkowitz, CEO and cofounder of cybersecurity startup Area 1 Security, summed the reactions up best when he posted a gif from the film Dr. Strangelove (a personal favorite). “Gentlemen, no fighting in the war room!”
One note: in last weekend’s newsletter I misinterpreted views held by Jason Witty, chief information security officer at U.S. Bank, who was referenced talking about these flashy, cybersecurity workspaces in a separate New York Times story. He did not say that the war rooms themselves are mostly for show but, as paraphrased by a Times reporter, that “the blinking map he breaks out for customer briefings is mostly for show.” Susan Beatty, U.S. Bank’s communications lead, corrected me: “Jason believes that such ‘war rooms’ are very important and highly valuable to our company and our customers.”
Marketing at its finest. Have a great weekend.
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
The jig is up. Law enforcement arrested a man accused of mailing pipe bombs to various prominent Democrats and others. The suspect, Cesar Sayoc, Jr., had apparently lived out of a van covered in pro-Trump paraphernalia in Florida. He had a history of prior offenses and bomb threats.
Please hold while I connect you. Chinese spies are snooping on President Donald Trump’s phone calls, reports the New York Times. The spooks are apparently trying to learn who the president communicates with and what kinds of arguments tend to sway him so as to engineer an influence campaign that will cause him to change his tune about a trade war.
Spoiling the bunch. Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered a full-throated critique of Silicon Valley for its trust-eroding tech and invasive data privacy practices at a conference in Brussels this week. In response, Facebook’s former security chief called out Apple for its acquiescence to various security demands of the Communist Party in China–like putting iCloud servers in the country.
Data breaches and payouts. The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office, a data protection watchdog, fined Facebook some $ 640,000 to settle its Cambridge Analytica scandal, a small sum but an important precedent nonetheless. Meanwhile, Yahoo has agreed to pay $ 50 million in damages for its 2013 data breach.
Epidemiology as ad-tracking business.
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Quantum of Solace. MIT Technology Review profiled
a project in the Netherlands that aims to stop snoops from spying on Internet-transmitted data through quantum encryption technology. Here’s a peek at the science behind it, per an excerpt.
The internet is vulnerable to the kind of hacking revealed by Snowden because data still travels over cables in the form of classical bits–a stream of electrical or optical pulses representing 1s and 0s. A hacker who manages to tap into the cables can read and copy those bits in transit.
The laws of quantum physics, on the other hand, allow a particle–for example, an atom, an electron, or (for transmitting along optical cables) a photon of light–to occupy a quantum state that represents a combination of 1 and 0 simultaneously. Such a particle is called a quantum bit, or qubit. When you try to observe a qubit, its state “collapses” to either 1 or 0. This, explains Wehner, means that if a hacker taps into a stream of qubits, the intruder both destroys the quantum information in that stream and leaves a clear signal that it’s been tampered with.
ONE MORE THING
Trying the front door. Peter Avritch, chief technology officer of a startup called Hello Gloss, wrote a fun, personal essay about a time almost two decades ago when, he claims, the National Security Agency phoned him in a panic requesting his help. The agency apparently needed to get its hands on the source code for some encryption software Avritch had developed. He cooperated, and he received an NSA coffee mug as a gift, he said.
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