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Assange: Facebook 'the Most Appalling Spy Machine' Ever 520

i4u points out an interview with Julian Assange in which the controversial WikiLeaks spokesman calls Facebook "the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented." He continues, "Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US intelligence. Facebook, Google, Yahoo – all these major US organizations have built-in interfaces for US intelligence. It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena. They have an interface that they have developed for US intelligence to use. Now, is it the case that Facebook is actually run by US intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure on them. And it’s costly for them to hand out records one by one, so they have automated the process. Everyone should understand that when they add their friends to Facebook, they are doing free work for United States intelligence agencies in building this database for them."
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Assange: Facebook 'the Most Appalling Spy Machine' Ever

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  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:02PM (#36005548) Journal

    Where did he tell you to do anything but understand?

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:03PM (#36005552)

    He's not talking to you, you prick. He's raising public awareness. Get over yourself.

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:04PM (#36005574)

    Julian Assange needs to stop trying to tell me what I should and should not do.

    You need to stop putting words in other people's mouths.

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:08PM (#36005610)

    The fun part is that Assange is considered a criminal by most of the people he's trying to help. Oh, the irony.

  • Its funny but a device, the computer, that many clever people developed to free us and improve our lives is ruining our privacy and harming our freedoms. Even governments and their agencies are afraid, wikipedia allowed them to be spied on in an industrial scale, police are weary of cell phones with cameras etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:13PM (#36005650)

    The guy who wants all information to be accessible to everyone is complaining the biggest collections of information are too accessible?

    No, you got it wrong. He stands for open governments, not people. That's a big difference.

  • Reverse Wikileaks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:15PM (#36005674)
    Facebook is like a reverse Wikileaks, leaking the general public's personal information back to shady corporations and government organisations. They really do have a detailed map of your digital life, and they keep all of it - the record goes all the way back to when you joined. A database of the lives 640 million people worldwide... the fact this information is so poorly protected is deeply concerning. Once you put information up there you don't get it back. I've said it before: []
  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:15PM (#36005676)

    It may be quite obvious with Facebook, but the fact is most people don't know how pervasive data-mining is. Still, me, I kind of trust our intelligence community at the moment. I expect CIA and SIGINT for National Security reasons, and I've met enough of them--higher-ups and lower-ups--that I know they're good people trying to do a good job. I still think we need someone with the keys, because in twenty years the culture could change completely, but right now, US Intelligence is staffed by fairly good people.

    Law enforcement use is more normatively questionable to me, since I tend to take an expansive view of the Fourth Amendment. For example, if they lower constitutional rights in NY to allow cops to search bags for explosives, I don't think they should be able to arrest people if they find drugs, since their rights have been artificially suspended because of terrorism, unless they can point to reasons they would have searched the person anyway. (apologies for antecedent potpurri.) But unfortunately I think law enforcement use of Facebook and such is largely constitutional under Maryland v. Smith and related cases. (I don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy in information I communicate to others, like Facebook or the Phone Company.)

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:19PM (#36005712)

    He didn't tell you to do anything. He warned you. Be as proud of your own stupidity as you like, that seems to be popular with Americans these days, but try not to put words into other people's mouths.

  • Yeah, so? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:19PM (#36005716)

    Ain't nothin' on my Facebook but my name, my friends, and my random attempts at being witty. I don't care if the gov't sees any of it. If I did, it wouldn't be on Facebook. The problem isn't Facebook, it's that people -- including Assange, actually -- have a binary idea of security and trust. They think something is either totally secret and revealing it would be a huge betrayal, or it's all out there in the wind open to everyone. If you think Facebook is a privacy threat, you don't have to stop using it: just stop posting private stuff to it.

    Trust is multilayered. I have stuff I only tell my close friends. I have stuff I only tell my Warcraft guild. I have stuff I only tell my wife. I have stuff I keep entirely inside my head. And none of that stuff goes on Facebook. Facebook is fine for some sorts of privacy -- for instance, as a college professor, I don't Facebook friend my students, so I don't have to worry about saying something unbecoming of a professor. For other sorts of things, I use other sorts of communications.

    But I've been living in this sort of multilayered online privacy world for two decades now. Hopefully someday soon the rest of the planet will figure out how it works, so I don't have to deal with Assange's paranoid ranting, or college students who can't get a job because they're naked and/or vomiting on their profile page.

  • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:23PM (#36005762)

    That's philosophy of openness is fine, so long as you don't fall on the government's "undesirables" list. Like those folk who were blacklisted simply because they belonged to the communist party. Or had the unfortunate status of being japanese from 1942 to 46.

    Or get "extra" attention by highway patrols because they are Harley riders, or DWB (driving while black). Or suspected downloaders of porn. "We don't know if he's a pedophile, but by god he's downloaded a lot of nude images. Surely one of those girls LOOKS underage, and we can frame him for it. Oh look - he's bought japanese comics of underage boys and girls from ebay. Book him."

    Or posting a "sexual" photo to facebook when you're only 17 years and 11 months. Sexting is a favorite of overzealous prudes in prosecutors' offices. (Or horror - an 18 year old boy dating a 17 year old junior.)

    Et cetera, et cetera.

  • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:24PM (#36005770)

    The point is not in "hiding from government", but not allowing your personal friendships into easy view of people with potentially dangerous agendas.

    You may or may not know that your friend is now an activist for a political movement that government doesn't like for example. Before, there was no way for them to tell about your level of friendship, and they wouldn't have the man power to investigate every human contact he has. Now, they go to facebook, collect the information on friendships and have a nice list of additional suspects to fine comb through.

    In this regard, it's the ease of availability that is dangerous to the user. This is a change on similar scale to telephones, and wiretapping that came with it. It allows for centralised data collection on a level that was impossible before.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:28PM (#36005818)

    I think I might have heard YOU are a rapist.

    See, now you can be an alleged rapist too!

  • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:32PM (#36005858)

    >>>I kind of trust our intelligence community at the moment.

    According to Assange, ~30 people are sitting in Guantanamo Prison and Obama's intelligence community KNOWS they are innocent, but refuses to release them. How can you sit there and say you "trust" these people??? You must be as naive as a virgin on prom night.

    >>>if they lower constitutional rights in NY to allow cops to search bags for explosives, I don't think they should be able to arrest people if they find drugs

    More naivete'. Drive to Texas or Maine sometime, to where random checkpoints are setup on interstates to stop cars. The checkpoints are staffed by Immigration, supposedly to look for illegal immigrants hiding in trunks, but the agents ALSO look for contraband and will happily arrest you for it. The evidence will not be thrown out, and you will spend years in jail.

    Same goes for the SA at airports which is supposed to be looking for bombs, but have detained multiple people for "carrying thousands in cash". Last I checked carrying US legal tender on internal flights is not a crime, so why are they detaining innocent people? (Answer: For the same reason why SA guards happily executed members of the German Parliament in 1933 - because they are humans and humans can't be trusted with power. They enjoy smashing skulls too much.)

  • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:38PM (#36005916)

    >>>alleged rapist

    Only in Europe could 2 women voluntarily have sex with a single man, enjoy themselves, and then a week later say, "I was raped," and the police take her seriously. I thought Europe was more progressive than backwards USA, what with nude television and beaches and such, but I guess not.

    Anybody with any intelligence (i.e. not you) realizes this was a FRAME job, because woman #1 learned about woman #2, got jealous, and they both decided to "get even" with the man. It's a classic case of buyer's remorse.

    In the US this case would be laughed out of court.

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kubernet3s ( 1954672 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:39PM (#36005920)
    You see, I've never been able to understand this sort of thinking. Why, if ignorance is such an objective evil, are there people actively trying to promote it? If populations never willingly go into a war, then why do we ever go into wars? Is it the case that the situations which justify a war never exist, but are some kind of fantasy? If so, why do people who supposedly have access to the "genuine" information still insist on going to war? Is it merely because it is in their best interest? If so, why is it always in the best interest of those who can be well informed without media intervention and always in the worst interest of people who cannot? It seems to me that this philosophy explicitly posits a good guys vs. bad guys cosmology, and the idea that the soul of mankind would be pure and lily white if it were free of these unseen Illuminati who have apparently raided the secret stash of evil that God keeps in the back of the fridge, out of reach of everyone below a certain income bracket. That worldview smells too much like shit for me to believe, no matter how much hippie-charisma it has.
  • No. Facebook doesn't reveal any of that. The person using it reveals that. And facebook doesn't even ask for race. Unless you mean pictures. I already post my pictures publicly. Anyone could determine my race by looking at me. Porn habit? No. You don't view porn through facebook. Sexting photos? Huh? those are by phone. Those are not through facebook. Posting "my boyfriend is a college guy when you're 16 or 17" - whether you say that on facebook, on a blog, or on twitter, that is the person revealing it publicly, not the service.

    Your examples suck.

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:50PM (#36006000)

    >>>If populations never willingly go into a war, then why do we ever go into wars?

    Same reason Obama drug us into Libya (or Bush into Iraq).
    Because he can.
    And damn what the people think (most are against the war). Of course the real power to enter war is supposed to be with the People, as represented by their representatives in Congress. Unfortunately Congress is about as powerless today, as the Roman Senate was under the caesars. The Republic has fallen. The emperor has risen. (And I don't just mean this one example - the Executive has been ignoring congress a lot lately.)

  • by man_of_mr_e ( 217855 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:55PM (#36006050)

    That is, until your dirty secret becomes illegal. Poker anyone?

  • by mjwalshe ( 1680392 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:58PM (#36006066)
    so how does he justify releasing secret information?
  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:58PM (#36006074)

    ...If Big Brother wants access to my Facebook information, I'd be more offended that my taxpayer dollars are being wasted on such a frivolity than any 'invasion of privacy.'...

    When you really think about the logistics and expense involved in tracking someone down and doing an investigation, having some young intel analyst sit behind a desk and with a few mouse clicks find out just as much information on you in about 20 minutes is likely a hell of a lot cheaper on the taxpayer than spending days or weeks doing intel gathering the "old fashioned" way.

  • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @07:59PM (#36006094) Homepage Journal

    "Seriously, who gave the right to decide national security policy to Assange rather than, you know, that government we elected democratically?"

    He's not an american citizen. He doesn't need to ask our government's position.

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TheEyes ( 1686556 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @08:16PM (#36006210)

    The emperor has risen. (And I don't just mean this one example - the Executive has been ignoring congress a lot lately.)

    If Obama could ignore Congress, he would have:

    -closed Guantanimo (closure blocked by "bipartisan"--but mostly Republican--majority in House and Senate removing funding for any transfer, as well as forbidding the transfer to anywhere inside the US)
    -passed a stimulus bill that actually invested the majority of its money into job creation, rather than half into tax breaks for the rich (a "compromise" made with Republicans to keep them from stonewalling more than they already did)
    -given us a public healcare option (blocked by thirty-nine Republicans plus Joe Frickin' Lieberman whose state houses the headquarters of most major health insurance companies)
    -written a banking reform law with teeth (again, rendered toothless by forty Republicans)

    Politically, our biggest problem is that we have a two-party system, where one party is totally, openly evil and corrupt, and the other is slightly less evil and corrupt, but their non-evil tendencies are easily blocked because the evil one thinks nothing of playing chicken with the budget, the government, even the entire economy in order to get what they want, which is apparently more cash giveaways for their rich campaign donors.

  • Re:Yeah, so? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KhabaLox ( 1906148 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @08:20PM (#36006236)

    Ain't nothin' on my Facebook but my name, my friends,

    Someone said this up above, so I won't take credit, but "your friends" is the piece of data that is most valuable to intelligence and law enforcement. If one of your FB friends pops up on some watch list, the FBI can (in theory) log into Facebook and get a list of all his "friends." Now you are on an FBI watch list. Your employer may be interviewed, maybe your neighbor or co-workers.

    But hey, who cares if you have nothing to hide right?

    For me, the problem isn't the voluntary gift of this information from users (including me) to Facebook. It is the voluntary gift of this information from Facebook to the government.

  • by Rik Rohl ( 1399705 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @08:32PM (#36006316)

    I don't care what the faceless "agencies" know about me because I have nothing to hide from them

    I do. I have a lot to hide from them.
    I want to hide the stuff from them that's NONE OF THEIR FUCKING BUSINESS.

  • If a Government makes it law for any entity that has data to to share it with them on request, that's spying. If they incentivize companies, with payments, thats spying.
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @08:37PM (#36006356)

    With Wikileaks, they decide what should be released about a company/government/etc and that person has no say in it. With Facebook, the individual decides what gets released. Anything you don't give to them, anything you don't post, doesn't get released. You don't want your phone number released? Don't give it to them. They don't go hoovering that kind of stuff up.

    The problem with FB seems to come from people's false assumption that their weak ass privacy controls mean anything. No, not so much. Basically, you need to assume anything you post anywhere on the web is public, and that goes double for social networking sites. So, don't post it to FB if you don't want the world to see it. Real simple.

    I have a FB profile, because there are things I'm ok with everyone knowing. All of it, with the possible exception of photos of me, is more or less public record anyhow. However there's not a lot on there. Many of their fields remain blank. That is because it is stuff I don't care to be public. I choose what to release and I don't really care where it goes, because I presume by posting it there I made it public to all.

  • Social Engineering (Score:5, Insightful)

    by airfoobar ( 1853132 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @08:46PM (#36006410)

    I'm surprised no other people are talking about this aspect of Assange's remarks. Having a graph of the connections between (almost) everyone allows you a great level of control over how rumours and ideas spread in that graph, and as a result allows shady government agencies to socially engineer the public more effectively. I bet somebody somewhere must already have a computer model with all the connections in FB and is using basic epidemiology-style graph theory to calculate how to most effectively mind-control the dumb unwashed.

    For instance, if they want to indirectly influence some official in a certain country, they could try influencing the friends of his son, who will in turn influence the son, who will then exert pressure on the official. Or, if they want to influence the largest number of people possible, they work to influence the people with the most connections. You get the idea - except on a much larger scale (think six degrees of separation).

    I also have to wonder how HBGary's fake online persona "clone army" is related to this sort of thing.

  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:13PM (#36006546)

    but substantial increases in surveillance capability come more or less for free with technological development.

    I disagree. I think technological development is neutral, it can go either way. The real question is this: do the CS people who develop and refine surveillance methods outnumber and/or outperform the CS people who develop and refine ways to counter the surveillance?

    A smart CS graduate could work on better privacy systems, or on better surveillance systems. It's not all one way. Both problems are equally interesting and equally challenging. It's a black hat/white hat kind of thing.

    It's clear that there's a lot of money in surveillance, especially in the US which is so strongly controlled by the military industrial complex. So there are a lot of grants and projects to improve surveillance. But I think that's ultimately a social problem rather than a technical one. There needs to be a critical mass of people who are willing to fund and sell countermeasures, and create a self sustaining market available to all.

    For example, we have encryption widely available in software today because people were willing to stand up to the US government when they were trying to ban the technology.

    There are embryonic ways to sabotage data gathering efforts which everyone on slashdot has used before: filling out fake data in surveys and registration forms, etc. We need people to think up ways to refine these basic ideas into technologies that can reliably damage large scale surveillance efforts.

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:21PM (#36006588)

    I choose what to release...

    Suppose you attended a party and elected not to say a single word. How much do you think I could find out about you simply by listening in on all your friends?

    Facebook doesn't need you to post. Other people can fill in the blanks for them. You don't decide what information they release about you.

  • Re:Yeah, so? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:22PM (#36006598)

    Ain't nothin' on my Facebook but my name, my friends, and my random attempts at being witty.

    Are any of your friends communists? Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party? Anything your friends are involved in leads to you when your friendship graph is available for sale.

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kagura ( 843695 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:24PM (#36006612)
    Assange comes from far too privileged of a life.

    The "most appalling spy machines" I can think of are the North Korean/Soviet/Chinese/Ba'ath/Iranian surveillance systems, where they don't even have notions such as warrants and due process and right to reasonable privacy. Assange needs to read about some true issues in the world. We still have hundreds of thousands of North Koreans in physical labor reeducation centers, Chinese sending hundreds of citizens at a time to secret prisons, Syrian Ba'ath surveillance where a government informer is installed in every individual neighborhood, pervasive Iranian political police cracking down on dissidents... Come on now, there are far worse monstrosities in the world today than Facebook telling the world on accident that you cheat on your significant other or do drugs. Some people need to get a grip.
  • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:36PM (#36006676)

    in reality demons are rare.

    The sort of people who will do the most horrific and soul chilling things can go home, hug their kids and go to the community picnic.
    I have no doubt that you're sure the people you know in the intelligence community are good people and I'm sure they're sure they're good people as well.
    but that doesn't really mean anything.

    it's hard to imagine but the guards at concentration camps can have coffee mugs with "worlds best dad" just like anyone else.
    a good man, just following orders, who believes he's doing what is right can be far more scary than any mere psychopath.

  • by joocemann ( 1273720 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @09:55PM (#36006784)

    The extra funny thing is that 1) Its voluntary, and 2) most people on facebook aren't thinking of themselves as criminals with things to hide.

    People VOLUNTARILY share this information. Sure its a society where privacy can be beneficial, but this *society* is actually very social. People are driven to share their lives with each other, and while many a smirk is made by joking about the uselessness of facebook, the truth is we are drawn towards it like a magnet of interest! The truth is, the people on facebook aren't afraid of being called a 'criminal' because they probably don't consider themselves as such.

    Now there might even be criminals using facebook to their own demise... Who knows... But unlike Assanage, most of us are living our lives without fear of some repercussion. And as we desire, we socialize.

    Once Corporations and Government become the same thing -- maybe its too late to undo anything and we'll all get our tattoos and serial numbers... I just used the last of my tinfoil on a nice dinner, so... well... so much for worrying about being made out 'bad', lol.

  • by xnpu ( 963139 ) on Monday May 02, 2011 @10:57PM (#36007066)

    Eh. Perhaps Facebook doesn't decide, but my friends sure do. They post shit all the time that implicates me as participating in certain activities and being in certain places. And that's without me ever using Facebook myself.

  • Re:Yeah, so? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @01:49AM (#36007542)

    The problem with your notion is that the government has already revealed that they are reading the subject, to, and from lines on every piece of email. It's safe to assume they are watching every major IM network. So basically, they are already aggregating all of this information in an automated fashion, and whether you use failbook or not makes no difference whatsoever.

    Is that so? So you're saying if the government snoops on millions of people, that means there's no point complaining that FB sells your data to shady corps?

    Life is not all or nothing. One thing doesn't excuse the other, and they're not both the same.

  • by YA_Python_dev ( 885173 ) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @03:33AM (#36007912) Journal

    That's a very common misconception: privacy is not about criminals with things to hide.

    It's about not giving some centralized entity an enormous power because they know everything about everyone. Such a huge power will be misused, sooner or later.

    That's why you still need privacy and secrecy even (especially!) if you've nothing to hide. And, BTW, everyone has something to hide to at least someone else.

  • Re:Yes, I know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @04:51AM (#36008220)

    I'm always shocked when I see the "There's much worse places in the world, so what we do is alright" argument.

    Let me put thing this way:
    - If any democratic country needs to be put side-by-side with the worse countries in the world to look good, then it's a failure.

    Beyond that, there's also the issue of direction - as in, "What is the direction things are taking?" - which seems to be quietly ignored by the apologists of "We're better than North Korea" style of argument.

    Given that in the US (and also, to an extent, in most Western Democracies) things are getting worse when it comes to respect for people's rights while, for example, in North Korea they're not (in fact, they can only get better over there), then the US looks worse (going down) than North Korea (not going anywhere).

    If you want to be a real patriot, I suggest you look at the road ahead and try and get the driver to avoid driving you down a deep canyon rather than spending your time looking at the car seats and comenting on how wonderful it all is.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.