‘Digital Gangsters’: UK Wants Tougher Rules for Facebook

British lawmakers issued a scathing report Monday that calls for tougher rules on Facebook to keep it from acting like “digital gangsters” and intentionally violating data privacy and competition laws.

The report on fake news and disinformation on social media sites followed an 18-month investigation by Parliament’s influential media committee. The committee recommended that social media sites should have to follow a mandatory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator to better control harmful or illegal content.

 

The report called out Facebook in particular, saying that the site’s structure seems to be designed to “conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions.”

 

“It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws,” the report states. It also accuses CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing contempt for the U.K. Parliament by declining numerous invitations to appear before the committee.

“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the report added.

 

U.K. parliamentary committee reports are intended to influence government policy, but are not binding. The committee said it hopes its conclusions will be considered when the government reviews its competition powers in April.

 

And while the U.K. is part of the 28-country European Union, it is due to leave the bloc in late March, so it is unclear whether any regulatory decisions it takes could influence those of the EU.

 

Facebook said it shared “the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity” and was open to “meaningful regulation.”

 

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” said Facebook’s U.K. public policy manager, Karim Palant.

 

“We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”

 

Facebook and other internet companies have been facing increased scrutiny over how they handle user data and have come under fire for not doing enough to stop misuse of their platforms by groups trying to sway elections.

 

The report echoes and expands upon an interim report with similar findings issued by the committee in July . And in December , a trove of documents released by the committee offered evidence that the social network had used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.

Facebook faced its biggest privacy scandal last year when Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, accessed the private information of up to 87 million users.

 

 

 

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China Seizes $1.5 Billion in Online Lending Crackdown

Chinese police have investigated 380 online lenders and frozen $1.5 billion in assets following an avalanche of scandals in the huge but lightly regulated industry, the government announced Monday.

Beijing allowed a private finance industry to flourish in order to supply credit to entrepreneurs and households that aren’t served by the state-run banking system. But that threatens to become a liability for the ruling Communist Party after bankruptcies and fraud cases prompted protests and complaints of official indifference to small investors.

 

The police ministry said it launched the investigation because person-to-person, or P2P, lending was increasingly risky and rife with complaints about fraud, mismanagement and waste.

 

The ministry gave no details of arrests but said more than 100 executives were being sought by investigators and some had fled abroad. It said authorities seized or froze 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) but gave no indication how much might be returned to depositors.

 

Police say some lenders and investment vehicles were brazenly fraudulent, while others collapsed after inexperienced founders failed to manage risk.

 

Monday’s statement said P2P lenders were investigated for complaints including wasting money, reporting phony investment plans and using illegal tactics to raise money.

 

Lending through online platforms grew by triple digits annually until 2017 when regulators tightened controls.

 

Depositors lent 1.9 trillion yuan ($280 billion) last year, but that was down by 50 percent from 2017, according to the Shenzhen Qiancheng Internet Finance Research Institute.

 

The outstanding loan balance stood at 1.2 trillion yuan ($177 billion) at the end of 2018, down 25 percent from a year earlier, according to Diyi Wangdai, a web site that reports on the industry.

 

P2P lenders are part of a privately run Chinese finance industry the national bank regulator estimated in 2015 had grown to $1.5 trillion.

 

The internet has helped financial platforms attract money from financial novices with little knowledge of the risks involved.

 

Many lend to factories and retailers or invest in restaurants, car washes and other businesses. But inexperience and poor risk control means a downturn in business conditions can bankrupt them.

 

Finance as a whole has come under tougher scrutiny after a 2015 plunge in stock prices led to accusations of insider trading and other offenses.

 

In one of China’s biggest financial scams, authorities say depositors lost 50 billion yuan ($7.7 billion) in online lender Ezubo before it was seized by regulators in 2015.

 

The founder and his brother were sentenced to life in prison in 2017.

 

 

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Ex-FBI Official: Rosenstein "Absolutely" Backed Trump Probes

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was “absolutely” supportive of the decision to launch investigations into whether President Donald Trump was inappropriately aligned with the Russians or whether he had obstructed justice.

 

McCabe also said in an interview aired Sunday on “60 Minutes” that the FBI had good reason to investigate whether Trump was in league with Russia following the May 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey.

McCabe cited what he said were Trump’s efforts to publicly undermine the investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment Sunday night.

In excerpts released last week by CBS News, McCabe also described a conversation about invoking the Constitution to remove Trump from office.

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Trump: US Trade Talks with China Making ‘Big Progress’

President Donald Trump said Sunday “big progress” is being made in U.S. trade talks with China on what he calls “so many different fronts.”

“Our country has such fantastic potential for future growth and greatness on an even higher level,” the president tweeted.

Trump said last week he might put off the March 1 deadline to increase tariffs on China if a trade deal is close.

But a China trade expert who served in the Obama administration says he has only seen “incremental progress” toward a trade deal with China.

“The realistic approach is that the deadline gets extended and the negotiations possibly go into the end of this year, I would suspect,” former Assistant Trade representative for China Jeff Moon tells VOA.

Moon believes negotiators on both sides are failing to address the real reason the U.S. imposed stiff sanctions on China in the first place — allegations that it is stealing U.S. intellectual property, and China’s demands that U.S. firms turn over trade secrets if they want to keep doing business in China.

“It’s not possible to resolve those issues in two weeks. Those are very complex issues that require longer talks…so a quick settlement is not a good settlement. It just glosses things over,” Moon said.

He forecast things getting “messy” over the long run if those matters are not settled.

He also said Trump has “muddied” the negotiations by letting politics creep into the trade talks with such issues as North Korea.

Trump has threatened to hike tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports to the U.S. from 10 to 25 percent if there is no trade deal reached by March 1.

China has accused the U.S. of violating global trade rules, saying it is preventing the Chinese economy from thriving.

Current U.S. sanctions on China were met with retaliation from Beijing by sanctions on U.S. goods.

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Trump: ‘Nothing Funny’ about Jokes Aimed at Him

Can U.S. President Donald Trump laugh at a joke at his own expense?

Not if it’s coming from NBC’s satirical Saturday Night Live show and Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin, who has periodically contorted his face and snarled his way to fame mocking the 45th president.

On Saturday night Baldwin was jabbing at Trump again, a day after Trump declared a national emergency to divert money in the government’s budget to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border without congressional authorization.

“You all see why I gotta fake this emergency, right? I have to because I want to,” Baldwin said as the sketch show opened. “It’s really simple.

We have a problem. Drugs are coming into this country through no wall.”

But Baldwin as Trump said, “Wall works, wall makes safe. You don’t have to be smart to understand that  in fact it’s even easier to understand if you’re not that smart.”

The fake president mimicked Trump’s singsong voice during part of his Friday news conference announcing the national emergency.

“I’ll immediately be sued and the ruling will not go in my favor and then it will end up in the Supreme Court and then I’ll call my buddy [Brett] Kavanaugh (a justice appointed by Trump) and I’ll say, It’s time to repay the Donny,’ and he’ll say, new phone, who dis?'” Baldwin joked.

But by then, Baldwin-as-Trump said, a report by special counsel Robert Mueller, who has been investigating links between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, “will be released, crumbling my house of cards and I can plead insanity and do a few months in the puzzle factory and my personal hell of playing president will finally be over.”

The show also lampooned the results of Trump’s recent annual physical exam.

“I’m still standing 6-7, 185 pounds — shredded,” Baldwin said, although Trump actually is several centimeters shorter and weighs more than 110 kilograms, defined by U.S. health standards as obese.

Trump gave the sketch and the show a thumbs down.

“Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC!” Trump said on Twitter. “Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!”

“THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” he tweeted minutes later.

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Trump’s National Emergency Declaration Rocks Washington

Washington has been plunged into a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches of government — one that America’s third branch, the courts, ultimately may resolve. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration aims to jumpstart wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border that Congress did not authorize.

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Sedans Take Back Seat to SUVs, Trucks at 2019 Chicago Auto Show

It’s billed as North America’s largest and longest-running auto show, now in its 111th year. The 2019 Chicago Auto Show offers a lineup of nearly 1,000 vehicles occupying nearly 1 million-square-feet of space at the McCormick Place Convention Center.

A special preview for members of the media at the annual show is a chance for manufacturers to show off their latest and greatest products about to enter the market.

What is notable about this year’s event is what some manufacturers aren’t showing off — new sedans.

Customers want trucks, SUVs

“Over 10 years, there has been a consistent movement of customers in the United States and around the world, but even more so in the United States, moving away from sedans and more traditional passenger sedans into more utility vehicles,” said Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford Motor Co.’s Global Operations.

“Nearly 7 out of 10 vehicles sold today are trucks or SUVs in the U.S. market. They like the ride high, the seating height, the utility of the vehicle. And now, we can give them the fuel efficiency that they used to get out of sedans. So, that’s where customers are going.”

All reasons Ford is going the extra mile and planning to invest $1 billion to upgrade its Chicago manufacturing facility, which produces the popular Explorer Sport Utility Vehicle, or SUV — also used as a law enforcement vehicle — and the new Lincoln Mariner luxury SUV.

But while Ford is offering new options for consumers, it is also discontinuing models of the Focus, Fiesta and Fusion cars, ending production later this year.

“We’ve been planning our business to incorporate the expectation that some of those cars will go away,” Hinrichs said. “Then bring in new products to enter the market to supplement some of that volume that was lost so that we can keep our plants full.”

The new family car

“We have the debate a lot about is the compact SUV the new family sedan, and in many instances, you can say yes,” said Steve Majuros, marketing director for cars and crossovers for the General Motors Chevrolet brand. He introduced two new trucks in Chevy’s popular Silverado lineup to media at the auto show.

The prominence, and choices, of SUVs, crossovers and trucks in GM’s current lineup promoted at the auto show stands in contrast to its perennial attraction in recent years, the Chevrolet Volt. Even though it is the top-selling electric plug-in vehicle of all time, sagging sales have led GM to cease production in March.

“Volt was a great product for us,” said Majuros. “(It) had a great run — two generations. But what has happened is as the ability to produce pure electric and the kind of cost configuration and range of what people are looking for, Volt had its time, but was a great stepping stone for us to lead us to the future, which was pure electrification.”

Joining the Volt on the chopping block is the Cruze, a compact car manufactured at GM’s Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio. Chevrolet does plan to keep making the Malibu midsize sedan and the Bolt all-electric vehicle, among a few other options.

“We’re not abandoning the car market completely,” Majuros assured. “We’re right-sizing our portfolio. We’re reacting to what the consumers are looking for.”

What they are looking for are trucks and SUVs, which made up about 70 percent of the 17 million vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2018, a trend expected to continue this year.

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Trump Receives Update on China Trade Talks 

President Donald Trump received an update on trade talks with China on Saturday at his Florida retreat after discussions in Beijing saw progress ahead of a March 1 deadline for reaching a deal.

Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago club, was briefed in person by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and trade expert Peter Navarro, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and other aides joined by phone. 

The White House offered no additional detail. 

Both the United States and China reported progress in five days of negotiations in Beijing this week, but the White House said much work remained to be done to force changes in Chinese trade behavior. 

Shortly after the meeting with his trade team, Trump said on Twitter the talks in Beijing were “very productive.” 

At a White House press conference on Friday, he said the talks with China were “very complicated” and that he might extend the March 1 deadline and keep tariffs on Chinese goods from rising. 

U.S. duties on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are set to rise from 10 percent to 25 percent if no deal is reached by March 1 to address U.S. demands that China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights. 

China’s vice premier and chief trade negotiator, Liu He, and Lighthizer are to lead the next round of talks next week in Washington. 

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Nauert Withdraws From Consideration for UN Post

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Saturday said she has withdrawn her name from consideration for the post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

In December, President Donald Trump had announced he was picking Nauert to fill the vacancy caused when Nikki Haley stepped down from that position, leaving at the end of 2018.

Media reports said late Saturday Nauert has withdrawn due to complications surrounding her employment of a nanny who was in the country legally, but not legally allowed to work. 

According to The Washington Post, the nanny had worked for the Nauerts for 10 years and was paid in cash, but she had not paid taxes.  When the family discovered that taxes had not been paid, The Post reported, the Nauerts demanded that the tax bill be paid. 

Earlier Saturday, before news of the the nanny complication emerged, Nauert said, in a statement, “I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary (Mike) Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration.

“Serving in the Administration for the past two years has been one of the highest honors of my life and I will always be grateful to the President, the Secretary, and my colleagues at the State Department for their support,” Nauert said in a statement released by the State Department Saturday.

In the statement, Secretary of State Pompeo praised Nauert for performing her duties with “unequalled excellence,” and wished her the best “in whatever role she finds herself.” 

In nominating Nauert, Trump said she was “very talented, very smart, very quick. And I think she’s going to be respected by all.”

 

Broadcast journalist

Nauert joined the State Department in April 2017 after a career in broadcast journalism, first serving under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then under Pompeo. In addition to serving as spokesperson, Nauert also served as acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs from March to October of this year. 

 

She came to State from Fox News, where she co-anchored Fox and Friends, the morning program that Trump says he watches regularly. The president’s other recent hires from Fox News include White House communications chief Bill Shine and national security adviser John Bolton. 

 

Nauert likely would have faced tough questioning during her Senate confirmation hearings about her apparent lack of diplomatic or policymaking experience. 

 

The Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller said Nauert had a different profile from past U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations. 

 

“I think Heather Nauert is smart. She is a quick study. She will learn the brief. But, I think it [the U.S. ambassador job] is not going to be what it was under Nikki Haley, which was a serious competitor under a vacuum at the NSC [National Security Council] and at the State Department under Tillerson.” 

 

Miller, who advised several secretaries of state under Republican and Democratic administrations, said Haley took advantage of the “empty space” created by media-averse Tillerson to stake out positions on a whole range of foreign policy issues, and that was not likely going to be the case with Nauert. 

Smaller role seen

 

“Heather Nauert is not going to be a big-time player in the deliberations on substance in the administration,” he said. “I doubt, on an issue like Syria, unless it pertains to the U.N., that the president is going to call her up and say, ‘What do you think?’ ” 

 

Both Trump and Pompeo have been highly critical of the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, with Pompeo noting in a Brussels speech earlier this week that “multilateralism has become viewed as an end unto itself. The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done.” 

 

During Nauert’s twice-weekly briefings at the State Department and her own trips, she has shown a passion for human rights issues. While serving with Tillerson, Nauert took trips on her own initiative, visiting Myanmar and Bangladesh last year to meet with Rohingya refugees. 

 

She also visited Israel and strongly defended Trump’s controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. 

 

Nauert is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Mount Vernon College in Washington. The 48-year-old is a wife and mother of two young sons, and was born in Rockford, Ill. 

 

Steve Herman at the White House, and Cindy Saine and Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.

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