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Facebook & Discrimination Part I of IV (HUD, Lobbying and USPTO)

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Posted on April 07 2019

 

Dear Facebook...so many questions

Full disclosure this maybe a very uncomfortable read for some of you. Since  I’m not a reporter nor is my livelihood predicated on what an Editor may or may not allow me to research and subsequently write about, I have the luxury of being some what of a free agent. In turn this gives me a lot of freedom to dig deeper.

Since I’m not paid to tweet, blog or research...essentially I am the captain of my words, oh so many words. Also true story Dead Poet’s Society is one of my favorite movies of all time:

 

Oh Capitain, My Captain...

 

I also think I’ve been completely transparent regarding my thoughts about Facebook.  My unapologetic distain for Facebook is far more complex that one would think. Yet once you strip away all of the words and “feelings” it comes down to these very simple datapoints:

 

1) if you are not paying for a service, you are in fact the product, as in the data you willingly give to Facebook. You do understand that data is aggregated to build an actual social profile, right? (Facebook’s gaslighting found on their blog)

 

2) President Obama personally warned Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck just didn’t give a shit and he was far more beholden to the almightily dollar than addressing his “technology platform” had been (arguably still is) weaponized by known hostile adversaries.

 

3) Facebook has lied, obfuscated and offered the barest of apologies only after they were caught.

 

Yes I know i shouldn’t laugh but the irony here is just deliciously hilarious.

 

 

 

And yes of course we should take the prerequisite time to briefly review the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Complaint, whereby HUD asserts that Facebook has and in centain cases continues to do so:

 

alleging that Respondent violated subsections 804(a), 804(b), 804(c) and 804(f) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-19 (“Act”), by discriminating because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.

 

FHA 42 USC §§3601-19 is written in fairly plain language:

 

Sec. 804. [42 U.S.C. 3604] Discrimination in sale or rental of housing and other prohibited practices 

As made applicable by section 803 of this title and except as exempted by sections 803(b) and 807 of this title, it shall be unlawful-

(a) To refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.

(c) To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.

(d) To represent to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin that any dwelling is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when such dwelling is in fact so available.

(e) For profit, to induce or attempt to induce any person to sell or rent any dwelling by representations regarding the entry or prospective entry into the neighborhood of a person or persons of a particular race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

 

In non legalese you as a land lord, property owner, property manager can not discriminate based on race, sex, religion or handicap. And yes while HUD’s March 29, 2019 Discrimination Complaint against Facebook is certainly newsworthy. In my opinion the real juice can be found in the SDNY-AUSA August 2018 Statement of Interest Filing. As detailed on the following twitter thread, found below:

 

 

 

 

And we all know how my twitter stalkers enjoy fratting my account, so I’ve taken the proactive approach and liberty of archiving said thread, found here and unrolled Thread Archive.

In my opinion, Facebook is not a social media company, they are a hybrid “internet content provider” but mainly Facebook is a data mining/harvesting company. Who then profits off of the data they harvest, aggregated by allowing their platform and content to be used to exclude based on race, sex and/or religious preferences, all of which are in overt violation of the Fair Housing Act (as previously mentioned).

If you have followed Facebook’s recent litigation issued and questionable corporate policy doctrine, you will start to see predictable defense strategy.

First deny everything. Second if the ubiquitous and unequivocal denial is no longer accepted, then pivot to “but we are protected by Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. § 230 et seq.”...Third when in doubt just find the weakest link in the litigation chain and offer to pay to make the case go away. And as a last resort: gas light your users in to making them believe Facebook is a good “networking” company trying to “connect” you to the world. By convincing users that Facebook is a: “social media company”.

 

As I previously stated, in the aforementioned twitter thread, the real juice is in the SDNY-AUSA’s August 2018 Statement of Interest:

 

 

 

As detailed in the SDNY-AUSA’s statement of interest in the aforementioned matter, I found this particular paragraph noteworthy, as this is what Facebook’s filings indicated: 

 

CDA immunizes it (Facebook) from the FHA rests on the faulty premise that it is merely an interactive computer service.

“...Facebook is an internet content provider and that it may be held to account for that content. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that Facebook creates and harvests user data to develop profiles for each user, categorizing them into groups based on demographics, interests, behaviors, and other criteria. Facebook then solicits demographic and other audience preferences from advertisers and implements those preferences using Facebook’s proprietary algorithms to enable advertisers to include some customers and exclude others...” (emphasis added)

 

AUSA Berman goes on to affirm the core factual principles of the Plaintiff’s argument that Facebook’s business model is set up that users “join for free” but that Facebook entire business model is to monetize the data you willingly give to them. However where Facebook fails to understand it is unlawful to discriminate. See Angel Fraley, et al. v. Facebook, Inc., C.A. No. 511-01726 (it should be noted that Fraley dropped out of this class action and that after nearly two years Facebook Agreed to a $25million Settlement).

In the DOJ-SDNY statement of interest, page 9 (marked page 4) appears to be the factual predicate of why Facebook’s Ad Manager undoubtedly crosses the legal line, it’s this particular passage coupled with the “exclusion” (see further down for the patents) that actually shore up the Plaintiffs and DOJ position and arguments:

 

“greatest advertising asset is its user base of over 2 billion people,” concerning whom Facebook has collected “a remarkable amount of information,” by harvesting the information that users voluntarily post on their profile pages, share with or receive from friends, or unwittingly reveal about themselves through, for example, their web browsing activity on and off Facebook and the precise location from which they log into Facebook each time...

...Plaintiffs allege that Facebook gathers, collates, and evaluates user data to categorize its users across hundreds of demographics, behaviors, and interests... (emphasis added)

 

 

 

At the core of this disputed are two Facebook features: Boost, what my research soon discovered is it appears Facebook might be playing hide the feature. As in it actually appears Facebook’s BluePrint. I ran multiple word searches in the HUD, NFHA and DOJ filings, I could not find a single invocation of Facebook’s blueprint feature. 

 

 

 

The other aspect of the Complaint is Facebook’s AdManager. You would think after the 2016 ProPublica report that Facebook would take swift and curative actions to at the minimum maybe “disable” the “exclusion” drop down menus. Nope.

 

November 2017 Facebook & ProPublica

 

As a preface, you should read Facebook’s February 8, 2017 blog entry, entitled:

Improving Enforcement and Promoting Diversity:

Updates to Ads Policies and Tools

 

Updated Facebook Advertising Policies: We’ve updated our policies to make our existing prohibition against discrimination even stronger. We make it clear that advertisers may not discriminate against people based on personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, medical or genetic condition.

Advertiser Education: We also created a new section linked from the Advertising Policies, which provides additional information about our anti-discrimination policy as well as educational resources from government agencies and civil rights groups that specialize in combating discrimination.

 

In theory or at least on paper after February 2017 there should have been no logical or logistical reason why a person/entity could place a housing Ad that would be viewed as discriminatory, right? Because the aforementioned and embedded links take you to Facebook’s pwn blog and/or press release. Just so we are clear these are the promises made by Facebook to not only the Congressional Black Caucus, but to NFHA, ACLU, NAACP...

 

November 17, 2017 ProPublica published the second article, found here

ProPublica showed that Facebook still permitted ad discrimination. ProPublica submitted ads to Facebook and requested that they not be shown to “African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers.” Facebook approved every single ad.

 

And sure you could possible argue that Facebook is trying to “adjust on the fly” by putting on a front facing “public front” as to assuage the growing and credible concerns about Facebook’s corporate culture. As the November 2017 ProPublica report states:

 

“This was a failure in our enforcement and we’re disappointed that we fell short of our commitments,” Ami Vora, vice president of product management at Facebook, said in an emailed statement. “The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure.”

 

 

Facebook & CDA cases it’s complicated, or is it?

 

Klayman v. Zuckerberg, 753 F.3d 1354, found here, the DCCOAs held that Facebook and Zuckerberg were “shielded” and “immune”, because Facebook nor Zuckerberg “created” the content of the page, therefore neither could be held liable.

Cohen v. Facebook, 252 F. Supp. 3d 140 (E.D.N.Y. 2017), found here. The court held that plaintiffs failed to state a claim not could they over come the burden of “shielding” and “immunity” afford to “content” providers under the CDA.

In a separate (but closely related action re Cohen v Facebook) Force v. Facebook, 16-CV-5158  (NGG) (LB), 2018 WL 472807 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 17, 2018, found here. The Court held in Force v Facebook their amended complaint similarly failed to overcome the standards setforth in Cohen v Facebook as such Force v Facebook case was dismissed with Prejudice 

Cross v. Facebook, Inc., 14 Cal. App. 5th 190, 207 (1st Dist. 2017), found here. This particular case added additional arguments and sought to weave in CDA with Anti-SlAPP. Although at the heart of this dispute was once again Facebook argued that it was “shielded” and “immunized” because the “content” was not Facebook’s rather that of its users. I know that can be a tricky nuanced and I’m probably dumbing this down but that’s the heart of this action.

The point of divergence, in relation to the four previously mentioned complaints is; HUD, NFHA and the DOJ (by way of SDNY-AUSA’s August 2018 statement of interest) argued that “Facebook Pre-Populated List” based on Facebook’s data harvesting and subsequent aggregation by way of “Facebook’s proprietary” algorithms limits Facebook’s CDA immunity.

Under the CDA, “liability only where the website itself has at least in part “developed” or “created” content, as opposed to merely hosting it.” Again the Plaintiffs argue that Facebook is a “content provider” this is a distinction with an actual difference (similar to past legal precedence setforth by Roommates.com, Craigslist.com . The Plaintiffs argument is predicated on Facebook’s own  “Boost” and “Ad Manager” allows for exclusion predicated on sex, religionious preference, language spoken and other impermissible “demographics”.

 

Facebook it’s complicated. NOT

 

As a general rule, I tend to look beyond the surface of “news reports” and lets be intellectually honest, Facebook has a lot of problems. Given the plethora of factual information I’ve outlined above, the fact is I am human and I’m not infallible. If I make a mistake, I’ll own it and do my level best to not repeat said mistake. 

What continues to confound me is the inability to pull back and look at the larger picture. For example within of the ProPublica’s original 2016 report, (as originally reported by ProPublica on November 7, 2016, found here.

“...filed a class-action lawsuit Facebook, asserting that this ad-targeting technology violates the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “There is no mechanism to prevent ad buyers from purchasing ads related to employment/housing and then excluding based on these illegal characteristics,” the plaintiffs wrote, in a complaint filed on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. “[N]o user can tell whether they are subject to illegal discrimination, because the discrimination occurs with the ads they do not see. As a result, the problem will not be remedied unless Facebook is forced to take additional action.”

 

Yet many overlooked that Case 5:16-cv-06440-EJD was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice on March 19, 2019. See joint status report found here

 

Why does March 19, 2019 matter? Here’s why it matters on the very same day Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg published the following letter on Facebook’s blog. This particular paragraph in Ms. Sandberg’s entry struck me as entirely disingenuous:

 

Our policies already prohibit advertisers from using our tools to discriminate. We’ve removed thousands of categories from targeting related to protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. But we can do better. (emphasis added)

Facebook no longer allows housing ads that target users by "age, gender, or zip code."

 

 

In yet another example of how Facebook uses their immense power and funds to avoid much needed accountability and transparency. Many and I mean many completely overlooked Case No: 1:18-cv-02689 was re-opened. To allow the parties NFHA and Facebook to enter the “settlement” into the record and shortly thereafter this case was dismissed with Prejudice. Accordingly you can download the zipped PACER file but it will cost you about $2.80 (snort). It is notable that yes while the HUD Complaint received a hefty amount of media coverage. The NFHA and Facebook Settlement received minimal to zero coverage. Are you starting to see the pattern here?

 

 

Or you can read the filings I uploaded to this thread:

 

 

Because last week’s filing is the culmination of a protracted legal battle with the National Fair Housing Association (NFHA) and Facebook. Where Facebook once again paid a minimal fine. When I say minimal it is in relation to Facebook’s revenues. 

 

 

Facebook’s Lobbying

 

Again all of this information is publicly available, HouseLDA and/or SenateLDA 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with how the House and/or Senate LDA Databases work. You should know a few cursory ground rules. Lobbying isn’t bad. Many DMV area  (DC, MD, VA) law firms have lobbying embedded in their portfolios. Lobbying is incredibly lucrative work. Many large Companies “self lobby” but they typically engage a DMV to lobby at their behest. For Example Facebook’s “self lobbying IDs are; House ID 408140000 and Senate ID: 400458207-12

When running a query in the HouseLDA Database you can drill down data in a variety of ways, note what I’ve marked with the blue arrow, that will greatly impact the data returned via your query:

Let’s go ahead and pop the hood and take a look, shall we? Off the bat you should drill down on what exactly was Facebook Lobbying, as in what bills:

Discussions regarding general intellectual property issues, including copyright reform; Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act (H.R. 890); The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 (H.R. 1695); Music Modernization Act of 2017 (H.R. 4706).

  • Q1 2018 Facebook reported expenses of $3,300,000.00
  • Q2 2018 Facebook reported expenses of $3,670,000.00
  • Q3 2018 Facebook reported expenses of $2,820,000.00
  • Q4 2018, Facebook reported expenses of $2,830,000.00

Concurrently while Facebook was “self lobbying” they also hired the following firms to conduct lobbying on their behalf for the following issues:

Issues relating to technology policy, including cyber and data security (CDS)

Issues relating to corporate tax policy (CTP)

 

Baker & Hostetler LLP (BHLLP) House LDA ID 300190209

 

  • Q1 2017 Facebook paid BHLLP $60,000.00 (CTP)
  • Q2 2017 Facebook paid BHLLP $60,000.00 (CTP)
  • Q3 2017 Facebook paid BHLLP $50,000.00 (CTP)
  • Q4 2017 Facebook paid BHLLP $50,000.00 (CTP)
    • Q1 2018 paid $50,000.00 (CDS)
    • Q2 2018 paid $50,000.00 (CDS)
    • Q3 2018 paid $50,000.00 (CDS)
    • Q4 2018 paid $50,000.00 (CDS)

 

 

Blue Mountain Strategies (BMS)

 

Based in part from the queries in the House LDA in Q4 2017 Facebook hired Blue Mountain Strategies. Their filings show:

Issues and discussions related to technology and the Internet including privacy, data security, research, and online advertising. Discussions regarding content transparency efforts. Issues related to the Honest Ads Act S. 1989.

  • Q4 2017, Facebook paid BMS $45,000.00
  • Q1 2018, Facebook paid BMS $45,000.00
  • Q2 2018, Facebook paid BMS $45,000.00
  • Q3 2018, Facebook paid BMS $45,000.00
  • Q4 2018, Facebook paid BMS $45,000.000

 

Capitol Tax Partners, LLP (CTPLLP) 

Issues related to tax reform and tax administration. Predictably once House Republicans (rightfully so) lost control of the House gavel, Facebook took note and opted to diversify their lobbying partners. Take a peak at who and what Committees  Facebook’s “new” lobbying firm met with:

  •  Q3 2018 Facebook paid CTLLP $20,000.00
  • Q4 2018 Facebook paid CTLLP $60,000.00

 

David Wade/GreenLight Strategies LLC (GLS)

In late 2017 (weird right around the same time ProPublica published their second report of how Facebook’s Ad Manager allowed placement for discriminatory ads) hire  GLS to Lobbying on their behalf. Specifically the House LDA Report Disclosures shoe GLS was hired to:

Issues related to online advertising and platform transparency efforts.

  • Q4 2017 Facebook paid GLS $30,000.00
  • Q1 2018 Facebook paid GLS $30,000.00
  • Q2 2018 Facebook paid GLS $30,000.00
  • Q3 2018 Facebook paid GLS $30,000.00
  • Q4 2018 Facebook paid GLS $30,000.00

 

This is the Senate LDA query I ran, it captures additional lobbying that’s not in the House LDA, which is why it is important to run queries in both databases in order to have a full and accurate accounting of monetary lobbying investment Facebook has made.

 

At a later date we should REALLY have a fulsome conversation about Facebook’s patents (look for parts II-IV soon-ish), many of which they purchased post IPO and some of the patents are down right terrifying, in terms of:

 

 Is Facebook’s long play..data God?

 

Let’s see what their patents say 

 

A closer look at Facebook’s actions, specifically their various patent applications actually provides you with a factual basis to infer that YES Facebook is doing more than just “mining” your data.

This mini twitter thread is my first salvo into Facebook’s patent underbelly. It’s not pretty, in fact it’s down right horrifying:

 

 

A cursory look into the U.S.P.T.O. Gives you some factual evidence to support the aforementioned assertion. For example;

 The application,. No.: 15/592108


Filed: May 10, 2017 - approved November 18, 2018

 

PREDICTING HOUSEHOLD DEMOGRAPHICS BASED ON IMAGE DATA:

 

Abstract

An online system predicts household features of a user, e.g., household size and demographic composition, based on image data of the user, e.g., profile photos, photos posted by the user and photos posted by other users socially connected with the user, and textual data in the user's profile that suggests relationships among individuals shown in the image data of the user. The online system applies one or more models trained using deep learning techniques to generate the predictions. For example, a trained image analysis model identifies each individual depicted in the photos of the user; a trained text analysis model derive household member relationship information from the user's profile data and tags associated with the photos. The online system uses the predictions to build more information about the user and his/her household in the online system, and provide improved and targeted content delivery to the user and the user's household.

 

 

In 2010 Facebook applied for patten to predict its users death. No I’m not kidding 

 

Because you should read their WET Patent application, the abstract reads in part:

Apparatuses, methods, and systems for jointly selecting a plurality of antennas and a transmission power level, for transmitting a wireless energy transfer (WET) signal from a base station to a device are disclosed. One apparatus includes a base station, wherein the base station includes a plurality of N antennas configured to transmit and receive electromagnetic signals, and a controller connected to the plurality of N antennas through a plurality of RF (radio frequency) chains. The controller is configured to jointly select a plurality of M of the plurality of N antennas and a transmission power level, for transmitting a wireless energy transfer (WET) signal from the base station to a device based on an activation threshold of the device and a saturation level of the device.

 

This USPTO link will take you to Facebook’s -WET- diagrams. Further when you run a search by inventor. I personally found JUSTIA’s Database is far easier to navigate. I decided to run a query based on the following Inventor(s) name. Becuase isn’t it totally normal for Facebook and FUTUREWEI TECHNOLOGIES, INC. to have the same inventor. Oh you think I’m one slice of bread short of a ham sammich? That’s adorable. Here’s your proof

Also as of writing this blog entry thus far I’ve uncovered numerous Facebook entities. For some reasons those of us in America falsely assume it’s “Facebook” versus: Facebook, Inc Facebook Israel, Facebook Technologies Inc. in sum and substance Facebook et al currently hold >4,080 different patents. I am now in the process of categorizing their patents and it might take me a few weeks to read each application and delineate the type of technology. So look for a few fillow entries. Notwithstanding of the 21 patent applications I have read in their entirety the question remains: why are YOU still on Facebook?

 

 

Abstract:

A method for reducing data bandwidth usage in wireless communication comprises receiving a request from a mobile device to provide the an e-mail message; sending a request to the an e-mail server for delivery of the e-mail message; analyzing the e-mail message delivered from the e-mail server to determine if a size of the e-mail message is above a threshold value, and if not expanding the e-mail content to be above the threshold value; acknowledging to the mobile device the existence of the e-mail message and its respective size; and delivering to the mobile device header content of the e-mail content, thereby only a small fraction of the data corresponding to the e-mail message is actually delivered to the mobile device.

This USPTO link will take you to the actual patent application. This link will take you to graphics and diagrams associated with Facebook Isreal Ltd patent.

To appropriately establish your expectations, Part II I will drill down further on Facebook’s lobbying and political contributions. ETA Tuesday or Wednesday of this week..and my parting thought:

 

How to Uninstall Facebook:

This step by step guide by Business Insider is one of the better guides.

A close second is this NBC News December 2018 guide on how to uninstall Facebook. And lastly some people forget that you also need to uninstall from your cloud  

 

If you are a visual learner you might find this video easier to understand how to permanently uninstall Facebook. This is the video I sent to my parents and in-laws because walking them through the step by step was...in a word: FRUSTRATING

 

At any rate I hope this is helpful and that you walk away from this entry better armed with facts. -Spicy

 

 

 

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