Royal Caribbean Cruise Line And CPP-The Myers-Briggs Offer Travel Personality Quiz

Inc. Magazine warned in 2016, "ready or not, companies will soon be tracking your emotions." Most Facebook users already knows this. Also in 2016, the social networking site expanded several reaction buttons beyond its (in)famous "Like" button to cover several emotions (e.g., "Love," "Haha," "Wow," "Sad," "Angry"):

Facebook-emotions-buttons

Maybe you have used these reaction buttons. Companies do this because effective marketing appeals to emotions instead of reason.

Now, a popular cruise line has taken things a step further. Cruise Critic, a popular travel site, announced:

"... Royal Caribbean has teamed up with CPP-The Myers-Briggs Company to launch a quiz that offers cruise recommendations based on your personality type. The assessment tool, found on MyAdventurePersonality.com, asks users 13 questions as they pertain to personal behavior and preferences... Once the results are calculated, users will be designated a travel personality type, such as Expert Adventure Planner, Laidback Wanderer and Spontaneous Sightseer. They also will receive an itinerary recommendation best suited for their type, with planning tips."

What is the Myers'Briggs assessment tool? The Myers-Briggs Foundation site explains:

"The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people's lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment... In developing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [instrument], the aim of Isabel Briggs Myers, and her mother, Katharine Briggs, was to make the insights of type theory accessible to individuals and groups... The identification of basic preferences of each of the four dichotomies specified or implicit in Jung's theory. The identification and description of the 16 distinctive personality types that result from the interactions among the preferences."

Indeed, this assessment tool became very accessible. The Seattle Times reported in 2013:

"Chances are you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), or will. Roughly 2 million people a year do. It has become the gold standard of psychological assessments, used in businesses, government agencies and educational institutions... More than 10,000 companies, 2,500 colleges and universities and 200 government agencies in the United States use the test... It’s estimated that 50 million people have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test since the Educational Testing Service first added the research to its portfolio in 1962... Organizations administer the MBTI assessment to employees in one of two ways. They either pay for someone in their human-resources department to become certified, then pay the materials costs each time employees take the test. Or, they contract with certified, independent training consultants or leadership coaches."

Selected questions from the MyAdventurePersonality site. Click to view larger version The travel quiz uses different and fewer (13 versus ~ 88) forced-choice questions than the MBTI. Plus, the travel quiz categorizes consumers into four travel personality types (versus 16 types by the MBTI). And, the MBTI tool is administered by certified professionals in an ethical manner. So, consumers shouldn't assume that the travel quiz is as rigorous as the MBTI. Admittedly, MyAdventurePersonality may add more questions and/or types in the future.

If you are considering the travel quiz, wise consumers always read the fine print, first. The MyAdventurePersonality site uses the same legal and privacy policies as the core Royal Caribbean cruise line site. So, consumers should know that whatever they submit to the travel quiz will probably be freely shared with other entities, since the Royal Caribbean Privacy Policy does not state any limitations.

The MyAdventurePersonality site may be a marketing gimmick to attract new customers and/or better target e-mail marketing campaigns to current and prospective cruise travelers.

Me? After 28 cruise ship vacations (with many on Royal Caribbean ships) to many areas of the planet, I know my travel needs and preferences very well. So, I doubt the quiz will tell me something I don't already know.

What do you think? Should companies uses these types of quizzes?


Citigroup Promises To Close Pay Gaps For Female And Minority Workers

Logo-citigroupUSA Today reported that Citigroup:

"... will boost job compensation for women and minorities in a bid to close pay gaps in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Germany, becoming the first U.S. bank to respond to shareholder pressure about the inequalities. The New York-based financial company announced the effort Monday, saying it came after a Citigroup compensation assessment in the three countries found that women on average were paid 99% of what men got and minorities on average received 99% of what non-minorities were paid... Citigroup's action prompted investment advisory company Arjuna Capital to withdraw the 2018 gender pay shareholder proposal it had filed in an effort to force an investor vote that would require the bank to address pay inequality."

So, the bank made changes only after a major investor forced it to. The news report cited other banks (text links added):

"No other U.S. bank has taken similar action, Arjuna said. Along with Citigroup, Arjuna said it had filed gender pay shareholder proposals this year with U.S. banks JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Bank of New York Mellon. The investment adviser said it had filed similar proposals with American Express, Mastercard, Reinsurance Group, and Progressive Insurance. If approved by shareholders, the proposals would require the companies to publish their policies and goals to reduce gender pay gaps."

JP Morgan Chase promised in 2016 to raise the pay of 18,000 tellers and branch workers. It seems that the banking industry, kicking and screaming, has been forced to confront its pay-gap issues for employees. What do you think?


Uber's Ripley Program To Thwart Law Enforcement

Uber logo Uber is in the news again, and not in a good way. TechCrunch reported:

"Between spring 2015 until late 2016 the ride-hailing giant routinely used a system designed to thwart police raids in foreign countries, according to Bloomberg, citing three people with knowledge of the system. It reports that Uber’s San Francisco office used the protocol — which apparently came to be referred to internally as ‘Ripley’ — at least two dozen times. The system enabled staff to remotely change passwords and “otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices”, it reports. We’ve also been told — via our own sources — about multiple programs at Uber intended to prevent company data from being accessed by oversight authorities... according to Bloomberg Uber created the system in response to raids on its offices in Europe: Specifically following a March 2015 raid on its Brussel’s office in which police gained access to its payments system and financial documents as well as driver and employee information; and after a raid on its Paris office in the same week."

In November of last year, reports emerged that the popular ride-sharing service experienced a data breach affecting 57 million users. Regulators said then that Uber tried to cover it up.

In March of last year, reports surfaced about Greyball, a worldwide program within Uber to thwart code enforcement inspections by governments. TechCrunch also described uLocker:

"We’ve also heard of the existence of a program at Uber called uLocker, although one source with knowledge of the program told us that the intention was to utilize a ransomware cryptolocker exploit and randomize the tokens — with the idea being that if Uber got raided it would cryptolocker its own devices in order to render data inaccessible to oversight authorities. The source said uLocker was being written in-house by Uber’s eng-sec and Marketplace Analytics divisions..."

Geez. First Greyball. Then Reipley and uLocker. And these are the known programs. This raises the question: how many programs are there?

Earlier today, Wired reported:

"The engineer at the heart of the upcoming Waymo vs Uber trial is facing dramatic new allegations of commercial wrongdoing, this time from a former nanny. Erika Wong, who says she cared for Anthony Levandowski’s two children from December 2016 to June 2017, filed a lawsuit in California this month accusing him of breaking a long list of employment laws. The complaint alleges the failure to pay wages, labor and health code violations... In her complaint, Wong alleges that Levandowski was paying a Tesla engineer for updates on its electric truck program, selling microchips abroad, and creating new startups using stolen trade secrets. Her complaint also describes Levandowski reacting to the arrival of the Waymo lawsuit against Uber, strategizing with then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and discussing fleeing to Canada to escape prosecution... Levandowski’s outside dealings while employed at Google and Uber have been central themes in Waymo’s trade secrets case. Waymo says that Levandowski took 14,000 technical files related to laser-ranging lidar and other self-driving technologies with him when he left Google to work at Uber..."

Is this a corporation or organized crime? It seems difficult to tell the difference. What do you think?


GoPro Lays Off Workers And Exits Drone Business

Gopro-karma-drone

TechCrunch reported that GoPro, the mobile digital camera maker:

"... plans to reduce its headcount in 2018 from 1,254 employees to fewer than 1,000. It also plans to exit the drone market and reduce CEO 2018 compensation to $1... Last week TechCrunch reported exclusively on the firings with sources telling us several hundred employees were relieved of duties though officially kept on the books until the middle of February. We were told that the bulk of the layoffs happened in the engineering department of the Karma drone... Though GoPro is clearly done producing the Karma drone, it says it intends to continue to provide service and support to Karma customers."

Reported, the earnings announcement by GoPro expected fourth quarter revenues of $340 million, down 37% from 2016. At press time, the "Shop Now" button for Karma drones was still active. It seems the company is selling off its remaining drone inventory.


Google Photos: Still Blind After All These Years

Earlier today, Wired reported:

"In 2015, a black software developer embarrassed Google by tweeting that the company’s Photos service had labeled photos of him with a black friend as "gorillas." Google declared itself "appalled and genuinely sorry." An engineer who became the public face of the clean-up operation said the label gorilla would no longer be applied to groups of images, and that Google was "working on longer-term fixes."

More than two years later, one of those fixes is erasing gorillas, and some other primates, from the service’s lexicon. The awkward workaround illustrates the difficulties Google and other tech companies face in advancing image-recognition technology... WIRED tested Google Photos using a collection of 40,000 images well-stocked with animals. It performed impressively at finding many creatures, including pandas and poodles. But the service reported "no results" for the search terms "gorilla," "chimp," "chimpanzee," and "monkey."

This is the best facial-recognition software solution Google can do, while it also wants consumers to trust the software in its driver-less vehicles? Geez. #fubar Well, maybe this video will help Google engineers feel better:


Telecoms Fired Workers After Lobbying For, And Getting, Tax Cuts And Net Neutrality Repeal

Comcast logo Last week, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

"Managers, supervisors, and direct sales people in Chicago, Florida, and other parts of Comcast’s Central region, mostly in the Midwest and Southeastern United States, were terminated around Dec. 15... More than 500 sales employees were terminated, company sources said... Comcast has not reorganized the direct sales forces and approach in the company’s two other big divisions, which include Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Comcast/NBCUniversal employs about 159,000.

In late December, Comcast announced that it would hand out $1,000 bonuses to full-time employees, in response to the Trump tax cut that will slash its corporate tax rate. The fired employees will be eligible for a “$1,000 supplemental severance payment,” Comcast said... Comcast direct sales employees earned $50,000 to $100,000 through a low base salary and commissions, the terminated employee said. The commissions ranged between roughly $75 for a new Internet Plus customer to $350 for a new customer who ordered a triple-play package with home security, the former employee said. Internet Plus is a package of television and broadband services..."

Reportedly, fired employees received severance pay only if they accepted non-disclosure agreements. Also, Comcast fired about 405 workers in Georgia.

Context matters. Earlier this week, Vox reported in December before the tax bill was passed:

"... the prospect for a deal on tax reform looking promising, lobbying reached a pinnacle this year, with 2,065 groups pushing their cause, according to reports published by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The efforts are employing more than 6,000 lobbyists, the nonpartisan Public Citizen counted. The four organizations that reported the most lobbying activity on tax issues so far this year are Fortune 500 companies with a huge stake in the outcome: Comcast, Microsoft, Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris), and NextEra Energy."

Many politicians have repeated claims that tax cuts will create new jobs, and that repeal of net neutrality rules would encourage investment by ISPs. And, after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in December to repeal existing net neutrality rules, Comcast issued this statement:

"We commend Chairman Pai for his leadership and FCC Commissioners O’Reilly and Carr for their support in adopting the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, returning to a regulatory environment that allowed the Internet to thrive for decades by eliminating burdensome Title II regulations and opening the door for increased investment and digital innovation. Today’s action does not mark the ‘end of the Internet as we know it;’ rather it heralds in a new era of light regulation that will benefit consumers."

So, let's summarize events. After receiving two huge benefits (e.g., tax cuts, repeal of net neutrality rules), Comcast immediately terminated workers. Ars Technica asked Comcast why they fired workers when tax cuts were supposed to create new jobs:

"... Comcast gave us this statement but offered no further details: "Periodically, we reorganize groups of employees and adjust our sales tactics and talent. This change in the Central Division is an example of this practice and occurred in the context of our adding hundreds of frontline and sales employees. All these employees were offered generous severance and an opportunity to apply for other jobs at Comcast." "

One of the claims by corporate ISPs and by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been that net neutrality rules killed infrastructure investments by telecoms. Ars analyzed this claim:

"The firings happened around December 15. On December 20, Comcast announced that, because of the pending tax cut and recent repeal of net neutrality rules, it would give "special bonuses" of $1,000 to more than 100,000 employees and invest more than $50 billion in infrastructure over the next five years. "With these investments, we expect to add thousands of new direct and indirect jobs," Comcast said at the time.

We examined Comcast's investment claims in an article on December 21. As it turns out, Comcast's annual investments already soared during the two-plus years that net neutrality rules were on the books, and the $50 billion amount could be achieved if those investments simply continued increasing by a modest amount."

AT&T logo So, a few workers received bigger bonuses while others lost their jobs. And, it is worse. AT&T fired about 700 workers after promising to increase investments by $1 billion of Congress passed the tax cuts bill. Congress did, and AT&T didn't wait to terminate workers.

One can conclude:

  1.  The investment claims, by ISPs and advocates of repealing net neutrality rules, were bogus,
  2. Voters either didn't pay attention or were duped by claims that net neutrality rules killed investments by telecoms,
  3. Voters were duped during the 2016 election into believing claims that tax cuts would create jobs,
  4. Voters accepted these job-creation promises without demanding any guarantees, and
  5. Tax cuts are being used to reward employees and managers with bigger bonuses.

The bigger bonuses are great, if you have a job. Regardless, we now see the results: tax cuts help companies and fewer jobs hurt workers. Repeal of net neutrality rules will hurt public libraries, the poor, and disabled persons. And, there's more to come as ISPs roll out their revised broadband services (with higher prices) without net neutrality rules.

Yes, this stinks. What do you think? Is this what you expected?


U.S. Senate Moves Closer To Vote On Net Neutrality

Yesterday, The Hill reported:

"A Senate bill that would reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to repeal net neutrality received its 30th co-sponsor on Monday, ensuring it will receive a vote on the Senate floor. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced her support for the bill on Twitter, putting it over the top of a procedural requirement to bypass committee approval.

The bill, which is being pushed by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), would use Congress’s authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to reverse the FCC’s rollback of its popular net neutrality rules... Under the CRA, if a joint resolution of disapproval bill has enough support it can bypass committee review and be fast-tracked to a floor vote... Lawmakers have 60 legislative days after the FCC submits its regulations to Congress to pass the CRA. The repeal order is currently awaiting approval from the Office of Management and Budget.

With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, the bill faces long odds to win the simple majorities it needs to reach the president’s desk."


Facebook CEO Admits His Social Service Has Problems, And Promises To Do Better In 2018

Facebook logo Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO at Facebook, recently admitted that his social networking service has problems. And, he promised to do better in 2018. The article is important since it highlights the issues causing concerns for Mr. Zuckerberg. The Independent UK reported:

"Each year, the Facebook boss takes on a challenge to complete over the year. For 2018, he has promised to try and fix his company... He said that he had made the decision to concentrate on his own company this year because the world was so divided and he thinks he will "learn more by focusing intensely on these issues..." "

Huh? What else was he focused on instead? You'd think that he'd be focused 24/7/365 on a service with 23,265 employees and 2 billion monthly users worldwide.

The report by the Independent UK also described for Mr. Zuckerberg's concerns, which have implications for everyone:

"... Facebook has been blamed for helping spread hatred and division in the wake of the [2016 U.S.] election, as well as potentially helping with the spread of fake news that allowed it to tip in Donald Trump's favour. Even the site itself has admitted that it can be upsetting and disruptive for those who use it, in a press release that said using the site might be bad for you... He pointed to the fact that the rise of tech companies like Facebook and their increasing power over the internet meant that the internet was becoming centralized in a few powerful hands. He pointed to other technologies like crypto-currency as challenges to that, but said that overall people had "lost faith" in the power of the internet to decentralize things.

A number of complaints have pointed at Facebook's unprecedented power over the way the internet works as a danger. Facebook's ability to control much of the news people read has been blamed for the spread of fake reporting, for instance, and projects like Facebook's Free Basics tools have been blamed for undermining net neutrality. But many of those same projects have been attempts by Facebook to grow its user base... He said he would look at using new technologies – encryption as well as cryptocurrency – to help improve Facebook and the internet by allowing it to stop being controlled by just a few people..."

Regular readers of this blog are aware of the problems, many of which were discussed in prior posts:

Will Mr. Zuckerberg and his senior management team fix these problems? Can they? Some of the ad-targeting mechanisms (that create abuses) have been around for years. Given its history, the cynic in me thinks that Facebook can only get better. Will Facebook do better in 2018? Tell us what you think.


Smart Lock Maker Suspends Operations

Otto, a smart lock maker, has suspended operations. Sam Jadallah, the firm's CEO, announced the suspension just before the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). TechCrunch reported:

"The company made the decision just ahead of the holidays, a fact that founder and CEO Sam Jadallah recently made public with a lengthy Medium post now pinned to the top of the startup’s site... Jadallah told TechCrunch that the company’s lock made it as far as the manufacturing process, and is currently sitting in a warehouse, unable to be sold by a hardware startup that is effectively no longer operating... The long and short of it is that the company was about to be acquired by someone with a lot more resources and experience in bringing a product to market, only to have the rug apparently pulled out at the last minute..."

The digital door lock market includes a variety of types and technologies, such as biometrics, face recognition, iris recognition, palm recognition, voice recognition, fingerprint recognition, keypad locks, and magnetic stripe locks. Consumer Reports rated bothh door locks and smart locks.

Several digital locks are available at online retail sites, including products by August, Brilong, Kwikset, Samsung, and several other makers.


Report: Air Travel Globally During 2017 Was The Safest Year On Record

The Independent UK newspaper reported:

"The Dutch-based aviation consultancy, To70, has released its Civil Aviation Safety Review for 2017. It reports only two fatal accidents, both involving small turbo-prop aircraft, with a total of 13 lives lost. No jets crashed in passenger service anywhere in the world... The chances of a plane being involved in a fatal accident is now one in 16 million, according to the lead researcher, Adrian Young... The report warns that electronic devices in checked-in bags pose a growing potential danger: “The increasing use of lithium-ion batteries in electronics creates a fire risk on board aeroplanes as such batteries are difficult to extinguish if they catch fire... The UK has the best air-safety record of any major country. No fatal accidents involving a British airline have happened since the 1980s. The last was on 10 January 1989... In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa has an accident rate 44 per cent worse than the global average, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)..."

Read the full 2017 aviation safety report by To70. Below is a chart from the report.

Accident Data Chart from To70 Air Safety Review for 2017. Click to view larger version


What We Discovered During a Year of Documenting Hate

[Editor's note: today's guest blog post, by the reporters at ProPublica, is second in a series about law enforcement and hate crimes in the United States. Today's post is reprinted with permission.]

By Rachel Glickhouse, ProPublica

The days after Election Day last year seemed to bring with them a rise in hate crimes and bias incidents. Reports filled social media and appeared in local news. There were the letters calling for the genocide of Muslims that were sent to Islamic centers from California to Ohio. And the swastikas that were scrawled on buildings around the country. In Florida, “colored” and “whites only” signs were posted over water fountains at a high school. A man assaulted a Hispanic woman in San Francisco, telling her “No Latinos here.”

But were these horrible events indicative of an increase in crimes and incidents themselves, or did the reports simply reflect an increased awareness and willingness to come forward on the part of victims and witnesses? As data journalists, we went looking for answers and were not prepared for what we found: Nobody knows for sure. Hate crimes are so poorly tracked in America, there’s no way to undertake the kind of national analysis that we do in other areas, from bank robberies to virus outbreaks.

There is a vast discrepancy between the hate crimes numbers gathered by the FBI from police jurisdictions around the country and the estimate of hate crime victims in annual surveys by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The FBI counts 6,121 hate crimes in 2016, and the BJS estimates 250,000 hate crimes a year.

We were told early on that while the law required the Department of Justice to report hate crime statistics, local and state police departments aren’t bound to report their numbers to the FBI — and many don't. Complicating matters further is that hate crime laws vary by state, with some including sexual orientation as a protected class of victims and some not. Five states have no hate crime statute at all.

We decided to try collecting data ourselves, using a mix of social media news gathering and asking readers to send in their personal stories. We assembled a coalition of more than 130 newsrooms to help us report on hate incidents by gathering and verifying tips, and worked on several lines of investigation in our own newsroom.

Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about how hate crimes fall through the cracks:

We’ve received thousands of tips so far through our embeddable incident reporting form. We’ve also added tips sent to us by civil rights groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

ProPublica and reporters in newsrooms around the country used those tips to tell the stories of people who’ve come forward as victims or witnesses. They’ve identified a number of patterns:

Impact

Our mission at ProPublica is to do journalism that has impact. We’ve seen significant impact from Documenting Hate.

  • The official Virginia state after-action report on the Charlottesville rally cited ProPublica’s reporting and made recommendations for better police practices based on our journalism.
  • Cloudflare changed their complaint policies following a ProPublica story on how the company helps support neo-Nazi sites. The company cited our reporting when they later shut down The Daily Stormer, a major neo-Nazi site.
  • After we asked for their records, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which had not sent a hate crime report to the state of Florida in years, began reporting hate crime data for the first time since 2013.
  • The Miami-Dade Police Department started an internal audit after we talked to them in October. Detective Carlos Rosario, a spokesman for the department, told us they found four hate crimes that they had failed to report to the state. Rosario also told us that they are in the process of creating a digital hate crime reporting process as a result of our reporting.
  • The Colorado Springs, Colorado, police department fixed a database problem that had caused the loss of at least 18 hate crime reports. The error was discovered after we asked them questions about their records.
  • The Madison, Wisconsin, police department changed how they categorize hate crimes before they send them to the FBI based on our records request.
  • A group of nine senators led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asking what the administration will do in response to racist harassment in schools and universities, citing Buzzfeed’s reporting for the project.
  • The Daily Stormer in Spanish removed the name of a popular Spanish forum from its site after legal action was threatened following a Univision story.
  • The Matthew Shepard Foundation said it would increase resources dedicated to training police officers to identify and investigate hate crimes, citing our project.

Even after the 100 news stories produced by the Documenting Hate coalition, we’re by no means finished. ProPublica and our partners will spend next year collecting and telling more stories from victims and witnesses. And we still have a lot of questions that demand answers. You can help.

Filed under: Civil Rights

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Dozens of Companies Are Using Facebook to Exclude Older Workers From Job Ads

[Editor's note: everyone looks for a new job during their life. Today's guest blog post, by the reporters at ProPublica, explores an advertising practice by recruiters using social networking sites. Today's post is reprinted with permission.]

By Julia Angwin and Ariana Tobin of ProPublica, with Noam Scheiber, of The New York Times

A few weeks ago, Verizon placed an ad on Facebook to recruit applicants for a unit focused on financial planning and analysis. The ad showed a smiling, millennial-aged woman seated at a computer and promised that new hires could look forward to a rewarding career in which they would be "more than just a number."

Some relevant numbers were not immediately evident. The promotion was set to run on the Facebook feeds of users 25 to 36 years old who lived in the nation’s capital, or had recently visited there, and had demonstrated an interest in finance. For a vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people who check Facebook every day, the ad did not exist.

Verizon is among dozens of the nation's leading employers — including Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Target and Facebook itself — that placed recruitment ads limited to particular age groups, an investigation by ProPublica and The New York Times has found.

The ability of advertisers to deliver their message to the precise audience most likely to respond is the cornerstone of Facebook’s business model. But using the system to expose job opportunities only to certain age groups has raised concerns about fairness to older workers.

Several experts questioned whether the practice is in keeping with the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits bias against people 40 or older in hiring or employment. Many jurisdictions make it a crime to “aid” or “abet” age discrimination, a provision that could apply to companies like Facebook that distribute job ads.

"It’s blatantly unlawful," said Debra Katz, a Washington employment lawyer who represents victims of discrimination.

Facebook defended the practice. "Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work," said Rob Goldman, a Facebook vice president.

The revelations come at a time when the unregulated power of the tech companies is under increased scrutiny, and Congress is weighing whether to limit the immunity that it granted to tech companies in 1996 for third-party content on their platforms.

Facebook has argued in court filings that the law, the Communications Decency Act, makes it immune from liability for discriminatory ads.

Although Facebook is a relatively new entrant into the recruiting arena, it is rapidly gaining popularity with employers. Earlier this year, the social network launched a section of its site devoted to job ads. Facebook allows advertisers to select their audience, and then Facebook finds the chosen users with the extensive data it collects about its members.

The use of age targets emerged in a review of data originally compiled by ProPublica readers for a project about political ad placement on Facebook. Many of the ads include a disclosure by Facebook about why the user is seeing the ad, which can be anything from their age to their affinity for folk music.

The precision of Facebook’s ad delivery has helped it dominate an industry once in the hands of print and broadcast outlets. The system, called microtargeting, allows advertisers to reach essentially whomever they prefer, including the people their analysis suggests are the most plausible hires or consumers, lowering the costs and vastly increasing efficiency.

Targeted Facebook ads were an important tool in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election. The social media giant has acknowledged that 126 million people saw Russia-linked content, some of which was aimed at particular demographic groups and regions. Facebook has also come under criticism for the disclosure that it accepted ads aimed at "Jew-haters" as well as housing ads that discriminated by race, gender, disability and other factors.

Other tech companies also offer employers opportunities to discriminate by age. ProPublica bought job ads on Google and LinkedIn that excluded audiences older than 40 — and the ads were instantly approved. Google said it does not prevent advertisers from displaying ads based on the user’s age. After being contacted by ProPublica, LinkedIn changed its system to prevent such targeting in employment ads.

The practice has begun to attract legal challenges. On Wednesday, a class-action complaint alleging age discrimination was filed in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of the Communications Workers of America and its members — as well as all Facebook users 40 or older who may have been denied the chance to learn about job openings. The plaintiffs’ lawyers said the complaint was based on ads for dozens of companies that they had discovered on Facebook.

The database of Facebook ads collected by ProPublica shows how often and precisely employers recruit by age. In a search for “part-time package handlers,” United Parcel Service ran an ad aimed at people 18 to 24. State Farm pitched its hiring promotion to those 19 to 35.

Some companies, including Target, State Farm and UPS, defended their targeting as a part of a broader recruitment strategy that reached candidates of all ages. The group of companies making this case included Facebook itself, which ran career ads on its own platform, many aimed at people 25 to 60. "We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory," said Goldman of Facebook.

After being contacted by ProPublica and the Times, other employers, including Amazon, Northwestern Mutual and the New York City Department of Education, said they had changed or were changing their recruiting strategies.

"We recently audited our recruiting ads on Facebook and discovered some had targeting that was inconsistent with our approach of searching for any candidate over the age of 18," said Nina Lindsey, a spokeswoman for Amazon, which targeted some ads for workers at its distribution centers between the ages of 18 and 50. "We have corrected those ads."

Verizon did not respond to requests for comment.

Several companies argued that targeted recruiting on Facebook was comparable to advertising opportunities in publications like the AARP magazine or Teen Vogue, which are aimed at particular age groups. But this obscures an important distinction. Anyone can buy Teen Vogue and see an ad. Online, however, people outside the targeted age groups can be excluded in ways they will never learn about.

"What happens with Facebook is you don’t know what you don’t know," said David Lopez, a former general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who is one of the lawyers at the firm Outten & Golden bringing the age-discrimination case on behalf of the communication workers union.

‘They Know I’m Dead’

Age discrimination on digital platforms is something that many workers suspect is happening to them, but that is often difficult to prove.

Mark Edelstein, a fitfully employed social-media marketing strategist who is 58 and legally blind, doesn’t pretend to know what he doesn’t know, but he has his suspicions.

Edelstein, who lives in St. Louis, says he never had serious trouble finding a job until he turned 50. “Once you reach your 50s, you may as well be dead,” he said. "I’ve gone into interviews, with my head of gray hair and my receding hairline, and they know I’m dead."

Edelstein spends most of his days scouring sites like LinkedIn and Indeed and pitching hiring managers with personalized appeals. When he scrolled through his Facebook ads on a Wednesday in December, he saw a variety of ads reflecting his interest in social media marketing: ads for the marketing software HubSpot ("15 free infographic templates!") and TripIt, which he used to book a trip to visit his mother in Florida.

What he didn’t see was a single ad for a job in his profession, including one identified by ProPublica that was being shown to younger users: a posting for a social media director job at HubSpot. The company asked that the ad be shown to people aged 27 to 40 who live or were recently living in the United States.

"Hypothetically, had I seen a job for a social media director at HubSpot, even if it involved relocation, I ABSOLUTELY would have applied for it," Edelstein said by email when told about the ad.

A HubSpot spokeswoman, Ellie Botelho, said that the job was posted on many sites, including LinkedIn, The Ladders and Built in Boston, and was open to anyone meeting the qualifications regardless of age or any other demographic characteristic.

She added that “the use of the targeted age-range selection on the Facebook ad was frankly a mistake on our part given our lack of experience using that platform for job postings and not a feature we will use again.”

For his part, Edelstein says he understands why marketers wouldn’t want to target ads at him: "It doesn’t surprise me a bit. Why would they want a 58-year-old white guy who’s disabled?"

Looking for ’Younger Blood’

Although LinkedIn is the leading online recruitment platform, according to an annual survey by SourceCon, an industry website. Facebook is rapidly increasing in popularity for employers.

One reason is that Facebook’s sheer size — two billion monthly active users, versus LinkedIn’s 530 million total members — gives recruiters access to types of workers they can’t find elsewhere.

Consider nurses, whom hospitals are desperate to hire. “They’re less likely to use LinkedIn,” said Josh Rock, a recruiter at a large hospital system in Minnesota who has expertise in digital media. "Nurses are predominantly female, there’s a larger volume of Facebook users. That’s what they use."

There are also millions of hourly workers who have never visited LinkedIn, and may not even have a résumé, but who check Facebook obsessively.

Deb Andrychuk, chief executive of the Arland Group, which helps employers place recruitment ads, said clients sometimes asked her firm to target ads by age, saying they needed “to start bringing younger blood” into their organizations. “It’s not necessarily that we wouldn’t take someone older,” these clients say, according to Andrychuk, “but if you could bring in a younger set of applicants, it would definitely work out better.”

Andrychuk said that “we coach clients to be open and not discriminate” and that after being contacted by The Times, her team updated all their ads to ensure they didn’t exclude any age groups.

But some companies contend that there are permissible reasons to filter audiences by age, as with an ad for entry-level analyst positions at Goldman Sachs that was distributed to people 18 to 64. A Goldman Sachs spokesman, Andrew Williams, said showing it to people above that age range would have wasted money: roughly 25 percent of those who typically click on the firm’s untargeted ads are 65 or older, but people that age almost never apply for the analyst job.

"We welcome and actively recruit applicants of all ages," Williams said. "For some of our social-media ads, we look to get the content to the people most likely to be interested, but do not exclude anyone from our recruiting activity."

Pauline Kim, a professor of employment law at Washington University in St. Louis, said the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, unlike the federal anti-discrimination statute that covers race and gender, allows an employer to take into account “reasonable factors” that may be highly correlated with the protected characteristic, such as cost, as long as they don’t rely on the characteristic explicitly.

The Question of Liability

In various ways, Facebook and LinkedIn have acknowledged at least a modest obligation to police their ad platforms against abuse.

Earlier this year, Facebook said it would require advertisers to "self-certify" that their housing, employment and credit ads were compliant with anti-discrimination laws, but that it would not block marketers from purchasing age-restricted ads.

Still, Facebook didn’t promise to monitor those certifications for accuracy. And Facebook said the self-certification system, announced in February, was still being rolled out to all advertisers.

LinkedIn, in response to inquiries by ProPublica, added a self-certification step that prevents employers from using age ranges once they confirm that they are placing an employment ad.

With these efforts evolving, legal experts say it is unclear how much liability the tech platforms could have. Some civil rights laws, like the Fair Housing Act, explicitly require publishers to assume liability for discriminatory ads.

But the Age Discrimination in Employment Act assigns liability only to employers or employment agencies, like recruiters and advertising firms.

The lawsuit filed against Facebook on behalf of the communications workers argues that the company essentially plays the role of an employment agency — collecting and providing data that helps employers locate candidates, effectively coordinating with the employer to develop the advertising strategies, informing employers about the performance of the ads, and so forth.

Regardless of whether courts accept that argument, the tech companies could also face liability under certain state or local anti-discrimination statutes. For example, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act makes it unlawful to "aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing" of discriminatory acts proscribed by the statute.

"They may have an obligation there not to aid and abet an ad that enables discrimination," said Cliff Palefsky, an employment lawyer based in San Francisco.

The question may hinge on Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies from liability for third-party content.

Tech companies have successfully invoked this law to avoid liability for offensive or criminal content — including sex trafficking, revenge porn and calls for violence against Jews. Facebook is currently arguing in Federal court that Section 230 immunizes it against liability for ad placement that blocks members of certain racial and ethnic groups from seeing the ads.

Related Reading ad object. List of coompanies and their age-based ads "Advertisers, not Facebook, are responsible for both the content of their ads and what targeting criteria to use, if any," Facebook argued in its motion to dismiss allegations that its ads violated a host of civil rights laws. The case does not allege age discrimination.

Eric Goldman, professor and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law, who has written extensively about Section 230, says it is hard to predict how courts would treat Facebook’s age-targeting of employment ads.

Goldman said the law covered the content of ads, and that courts have made clear that Facebook would not be liable for an advertisement in which an employer wrote, say, “no one over 55 need apply.” But it is not clear how the courts would treat Facebook’s offering of age-targeted customization.

According to a federal appellate court decision in a fair-housing case, a platform can be considered to have helped “develop unlawful content” that users play a role in generating, which would negate the immunity.

"Depending on how the targeting is happening, you can make potentially different sorts of arguments about whether or not Google or Facebook or LinkedIn is contributing to the development" of the ad, said Deirdre K. Mulligan, a faculty director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

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In The News: Net Neutrality And I've Been Mugged Blog

WERS interview, net neutralityOn Sunday, December 17, 2017, WERS Radio (88.9 FM), a college radio station in Boston, broadcast on Sunday an interview about net neutrality. The persons interviewed included myself and Nina Vyedin, of Indivisible Somerville.

You can listen to the interview on SoundCloud. The interviewer, Jonathon House, and I met during the December 7th demonstration in Boston to save net neutrality protections for consumers.

Related posts:


Hate Crime Training for Police Is Often Inadequate, Sometimes Nonexistent

[Editor's note: today's guest blog post, by the reporters at ProPublica, is first in a series which explores the approaches by law enforcement to hate crimes in the United States. Today's post is reprinted with permission.]

By A.C. Thompson, Rohan Naik and Ken Schwencke. ProPublica

To become a police officer in the U.S., one almost always has to enroll in an academy for some basic training. The typical academy session lasts 25 weeks, but state governments — which oversee police academies for local and state law enforcement officers — have wide latitude when it comes to choosing the subjects that will be taught in the classrooms.

How to properly identify and investigate hate crimes does not seem terribly high on the list of priorities, according to a ProPublica review.

Only 12 states, for example, have statutes requiring that academies provide instruction on hate crimes.

In at least seven others — Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas — recruits aren’t required to learn about hate crimes at all, according to law enforcement officials.

Even states that provide new recruits with at least some education on hate crimes often provide training that is cursory at best.

Officials overseeing police training in three states — Wisconsin, North Carolina and Washington — told ProPublica that their recruits spent about 30 minutes of class time on the subject.

Hate crimes in America have made no shortage of headlines over the last year as the country has once more confronted its raw and often violent racial, religious and political divisions. Just how few hate crimes get formally reported and analyzed has shocked many. Fewer still get successfully prosecuted, a fact that has provoked frustration among some elected officials and law enforcement agencies.

But the widespread lack of training for frontline officers in how to handle potential hate crimes, if no great surprise, might actually be the criminal justice system’s most basic failing. There is, after all, little way to either accurately tabulate or aggressively prosecute hate crimes if the officers in the street don’t know how to identify and investigate them.

Hate crimes are not, by and large, simple to deal with. Different states identify different categories of people to be protected under their laws. And the authorities must prove not only guilt, but intent. It isn’t enough to find fingerprints on a weapon. The authorities must explore a suspect’s state of mind, and then find ways of corroborating it.

“Hate crimes are so nuanced and the laws can be so complex. You’re trying to deal with the motivation of a crime,” said Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which has for years provided training to officers as expert consultants.

“Thirty minutes in the academy is not enough,” Geft said.

Though each state operates its police academies differently, most of them rely on a training council or commission to oversee the institutions, shape the curriculum and set minimum standards for graduation.

ProPublica spent weeks trying to answer the question of how, if at all, police departments prepare their officers to respond to possible hate crimes, which are known as bias crimes in some jurisdictions. We interviewed key officials in 45 states and the District of Columbia about the lessons being taught to new recruits during their police academy classes. We reviewed thousands of pages of training material — curricula, detailed lesson plans, legal guidance, PowerPoint presentations and videos. We studied the statutes and regulations governing police training around the nation and interviewed experts who have spent years educating officers and federal agents. Several states declined to discuss their instructional practices, or provide ProPublica with any training materials.

Among our findings:

A key federal training program was scuttled during the early days of the Obama administration as police leaders concerned about violence colored by race, religion and politics shifted their focus toward Islamic extremists and terrorism. That program, which was run by an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, sent experts around the country to teach local and state police officers how to respond to hate crimes.

State leaders at times displayed a lack of even basic knowledge about hate crimes. In Alaska, the state Department of Public Safety told ProPublica that officers in that state don’t learn about hate crimes during their time in the academy because Alaska doesn’t have a hate crimes law. In fact, Alaska’s hate crimes statute has been on the books since 1996.

Training materials used in Kansas explain the history behind the federal hate crimes law, but make no mention of Kansas Statute 21-6815 — the state’s hate crimes code — which is likely to be of more use to a local officer in Topeka or Wichita.

Some states that require hate crimes training often combine the instruction with what has long been called cultural sensitivity training. Such instruction typically involves material on the subtleties of dealing with specific ethnic or religious communities. Our review, however, showed some of those materials to be either hopelessly out of date or downright inflammatory.

Law enforcement leaders point to several factors to explain, if not justify, the lack of emphasis on training for hate crimes. While the offenses can be dramatic and highly disturbing — like the incident earlier this year in which a white supremacist impaled an African-American man with an 18-inch sword in New York’s Times Square — they represent a very small percentage of the nation’s overall crime. Working with often limited budgets, police officials have to make difficult decisions about what to prioritize during training, and hate crimes can lose out.

That said, the events of the last 18 months, driven in great part by the racially charged presidential campaign of 2016, seem to suggest an adjustment of priorities might be in order.

The number of Americans reporting hate crimes to the authorities has grown in recent years, with FBI figures showing an increase of nearly 5 percent in 2016 alone, a tally that included more than 2,000 physical attacks and beatings. More recent data shows double-digit hate crime spikes in several major cities.

Melissa Garlick, the Northeast Area Civil Rights Counsel at the Anti-Defamation League, would like to see every state pass legislation requiring hate crimes training. “We want law enforcement to have the tools they need to properly investigate hate crimes,” she said.

Hate crimes laws are not new. The earliest legislation was adopted by a pair of states in the Pacific Northwest — Oregon and Washington — in 1981 and, since then, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed their own hate crimes bills. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law a federal hate crimes bill named after murder victims James Byrd and Matthew Shepard. The FBI, for its part, has asked local and state law enforcement agencies to track hate crimes since 1990.

Yet today, nearly four decades after the first hate crimes law was passed, police officers in much of the country get little or no training on how the laws work, or what to look for when responding to a potential hate crime.

At the police academy in Huntsville, Alabama, instructors dedicate two weeks to educating recruits about the state’s penal code. Capt. Dewayne McCarver, who heads the academy, said he isn’t sure precisely how much time his staff spends discussing the Alabama hate crime law during those 10 days of legal instruction. In an interview, McCarver questioned whether the school needed to devote more than an hour, at most, to the subject.

The law, which dates to 1993, is similar to others across the country and focuses on individuals whose crimes are motivated by their victim’s “race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability.” It acts as a “sentence enhancement,” adding time behind bars in cases ranging from property destruction to murder.

In class, McCarver said, instructors caution students to be “very careful” in classifying offenses as possible hate crimes when writing up incident reports. He worries that logging incidents as potential hate crimes can cause trouble for officers when they testify in court: an aggressive defense attorney might challenge the officer’s decision to label the offense as a hate crime, particularly if prosecutors don’t wind up charging it as such.

He told ProPublica that officers in Huntsville “rarely, if ever” designate offenses as hate crimes.

“It’s really a box that I personally wish they didn’t put on a case report,” he said.

In fact, according to FBI records, the Huntsville Police Department has never reported a bias-motivated crime to the federal government.

Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer, takes issue with McCarver’s approach.

“We should always train law enforcement to tag it as a possible hate crime at the time of report, as long the evidence is there,” said Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “We need accurate data, so communities can be aware of the extent of the problem and the characteristics of the offenses.”

Last year, the entire state of Alabama reported only 14 hate crimes to the FBI, a figure criminologists believe is inaccurate and represents a small sliver of the true number of hate crimes.

Once on the force, McCarver said, Huntsville officers get 40 hours of additional training each year. That added instruction, however, does not include hate crimes, he said.

“We have a limited amount of time,” McCarver said. “We have not had a reason to put hate crimes into the curriculum other than what we learn in the basic class.”

Huntsville isn’t unique: Across the border in Florida, two of that state’s largest law enforcement agencies, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department, also do not refresh cops on hate crimes after their initial instruction.

Boe Turner is chief of training for Nevada’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, the body that oversees academies in that state. Turner thinks officers shouldn’t go looking into the motivation of suspected offenders. That’s the job of prosecutors, he said. Victims, he added, tend to have little insight into the motivations of their assailants.

Experts disagree. Victims, they say, are critical sources of information, particularly in hate crime cases. Because the cases are difficult to prove — prosecutors must show conclusively that the offender was motivated by bigotry or bias — it’s crucial for police to gather as much evidence as possible, they argue, and victims often understand the circumstances surrounding a crime better than anyone.

“Training for law enforcement officials on identifying and investigating hate crimes is critical,” said Becky Monroe, a former federal prosecutor who now works for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Decent training, she added, can prepare officers for a pair of intertwined tasks: gathering the right evidence and calming the fears of community members who may feel frightened and vulnerable in the aftermath of an attack.

To better equip officers for such investigations, some state academies have developed thorough and detailed lessons on hate crimes. Instructors at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, for instance, work from a 61-page handbook, which ProPublica obtained. The manual profiles local white supremacist leaders and extremist groups, examines recent criminal cases and offers practical guidance for investigators.

But not all training guides are so impressive. A six-page handout used in Arizona lists a host of white supremacist groups that have completely disbanded or faded from relevancy, but fails to mention the Hammerskins or Vinlanders, two Nazi skinhead gangs that have murdered people in the state in recent years.

In Wisconsin, trainers fold hate crimes training into broader courses about cultural sensitivity and biased policing. The material includes some dubious racial generalizations.

“African Americans may distrust the motives or honesty of a speaker who is carefully neutral, objective, and unemotional,” one section of the guide states. “By contrast, European Americans may see someone who is speaking with a great deal of emotion as irrational.”

The federal government, for its part, has mounted several different training initiatives over the years, some more successful than others. Since the 1990s, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services branch has run training programs aimed at teaching law enforcement agencies how to collect hate crimes statistics and submit that data to the FBI; today, however, around 12 percent of those agencies still don’t gather the information at all and many more fail to give the bureau reliable data.

After the federal Shepard-Byrd Act passed in 2009, Cynthia Deitle, while serving as head of the FBI’s Civil Rights unit, began organizing hate crimes conferences for state and local officers, educational events that explained the mechanics of the various state laws and laid out the ways the FBI could assist with local hate crime cases. She remembers stressing to local officers the importance of gathering every possible clue, no matter how insignificant it might seem. Unfortunately, many of the events weren’t well attended, pulling in maybe 20 to 50 police officers apiece.

“We could not force a police officer to come to our training,” said Deitle, who is now an executive at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an advocacy group, adding that she understood the challenges faced by smaller agencies — many simply couldn’t take officers off the street for extra schooling.

While Deitle was trying to launch a new training effort, another federal program was coming to end.

For more than a decade, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers ran a program called “Train-the-Trainer” that routinely sent hate crimes specialists around the country to work with state and local cops. The idea was to educate police trainers and command staff about hate crimes so they could return to their departments and teach new recruits and frontline officers.

“It was a great program,” recalled Levin, the director of the extremism center in California who was one of the instructors. “I did stuff on everything from the hate groups to legal issues such as Supreme Court cases.” Levin said he volunteered his time out of a sense of mission and worked alongside experts from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ADL, as well as law enforcement figures.

But interest in the issue eventually waned. Several people familiar with the effort say it came to a halt in the early days of the Obama administration, in 2009, at a time when police departments were shifting their attention toward combating acts of terrorism.

“Departments really wanted to focus on terrorism rather than hate crimes,” said Levin.

At FLETC, Communications Officer Christa Thompson wasn’t sure why the program shut down, but she did know what kind of courses the agency — which teaches local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement — is holding these days: internet investigations, active shooter response, marksmanship and more.

She said, “We do not currently offer hate crimes training” on a regular basis.

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Net Neutrality: Massachusetts Joins Multi-State Lawsuit Against FCC. What Next?

The Attorney General (AG) for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is suing the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after the FCC voted on December 14th to repeal existing net neutrality rules protecting consumers. Maura Healey, the Massachusetts AG, announced that her office has joined a multi-state lawsuit with the New York State AG:

"... joined New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in announcing that they will be filing a multi-state lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over its vote to rollback net neutrality protections...The FCC recently issued a proposed final order rolling back net neutrality protections and on December 14th, voted 3-2 on party lines to implement the final order. On December 13th, AG Healey joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in sending a letter to the FCC after reports emerged that nearly two million comments submitted in support of the agency were fake."

AG Healey said about the multi-state lawsuit:

"With the FCC vote, Americans will pay more for the internet and will have fewer options... The agency has completely failed to justify this decision and we will be suing to stand up for the free exchange of ideas and to keep the American people in control of internet access."

The December 13th letter to the FCC about fake comments was signed by AGs from California, District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. The AGs' letter stated, in part:

"One of the most important roles that we perform is to prosecute fraud. It is a role we take extremely seriously, and one that is essential to a fair marketplace... The ‘Restore Internet Freedom’ proposal, also known as net neutrality rollback (WC Docket No. 17- 108) has far-reaching implications for the everyday life of Americans... Recent attempts by New York Attorney General Schneiderman to investigate supposed comments received by the FCC have revealed a pattern of facts that should raise alarm bells for every American about the integrity of the democratic process. A careful review of the publicly available information revealed a pattern of fake submissions using the names of real people. In fact, there may be over one million fake submissions from across the country. This is akin to identity theft on a massive scale – and theft of someone’s voice in a democracy is particularly concerning.

As state Attorneys General, many of our offices have received complaints from consumers indicating their distress over their names being used in such a manner. While we will investigate these consumer complaints through our normal processes, we urge the Commission to take immediate action and to cooperate with law enforcement investigations. Woven throughout the Administrative Procedures Act is a duty for rulemakers to provide information to the public and to listen to the public. We know from advising our rulemakers at the state level that listening to the public provides insights from a diversity of viewpoints. But, if the well of public comment has been poisoned by falsified submissions, the Commission may be unable to rely on public comments that would help it reach a legitimate conclusion to the rulemaking process. Or, it must give less weight to the public comments submitted which also undermines the process..."

The FCC ignored the AGs' joint letter about fraud and proceeded with its net-neutrality vote on December 14. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had blown off the identity theft and fraud charges as maneuvers by desperate net neutrality advocates.

California AG Xavier Becerra said:

"... the FCC failed to do what is right... The FCC decided that consumers do not deserve free, open, and equal access to the internet. It decided to ignore the millions of Americans who voiced their strong support for our existing net neutrality rules. Here in California – a state that is home to countless start-ups and technology giants alike – we know that a handful of powerful companies should not dictate the sources for the information we seek..."

Residents in some states can use special sites to notify their state's AG about the misuse of their identity data in fake comments submitted to the FCC: Pennsylvania, New York.

The FCC under Chairman Pai seems to listen and respond to the needs of corporate internet service providers (ISPs), and not to consumers. A November 21 - 25 poll found that 52 percent of registered voters support the current rules, including 55 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans.

While that is down from prior polls, a majority support net neutrality rules. A poll by Mozilla and Ipsos in June, 2017 found overwhelming support across party lines: 76% of Americans, 81% of Democrats, and 73% of Republicans favor keeping net neutrality rules. The poll included approximately 1,000 American adults across the U.S. with 354 Democrats, 344 Republicans, and 224 Independents.

Before the FCC affirmed net neutrality rules in 2015, a poll by the Center for Political Communication at the University of Delaware in 2014 found strong and widespread support:

"... About 81 percent of Americans oppose allowing Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to charge Web sites and services more if they want to reach customers more quickly... Republicans were slightly more likely to support net neutrality than Democrats. 81 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans in the survey said they opposed fast lanes."

Experts have debated the various ways of moving forward after the December 14th FCC vote. Wired reported:

"Most immediately, the activity will move to the courts... The most likely argument: that the commission’s decision violates federal laws barring agencies from crafting “arbitrary and capricious” regulations. After all, the FCC’s net neutrality rules were just passed in 2015... as capricious as the current FCC's about-face may seem, legal experts say the challenges won’t be a slam-dunk case. Federal agencies are allowed to change their minds about previous regulations, so long as they adequately explain their reasoning... The FCC's main argument for revoking the 2015 rules is that the regulations hurt investment in broadband infrastructure. But, as WIRED recently detailed, many broadband providers actually increased their investments, while those that cut back on spending told shareholders that the net neutrality rules didn't affect their plans. University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Christopher Yoo says courts generally defer to an agency's expertise in interpreting evidence submitted into the record... net neutrality advocates could also argue that the agency's decision-making process was corrupted by the flood of fake comments left by bots. But FCC Chair AJit Pai will argue that the agency discarded low-quality and repeated comments and focused only on matters of substance... A long-term solution to net neutrality will require Congress to pass laws that won't change every time control of the White House passes to another party... Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) recently called for Congress to pass bipartisan net neutrality legislation. In 2015, Thune and Representative Fred Upton (R-Michigan) introduced a bill that would have banned blocking or slowing legal content, but limited the FCC's authority over internet service providers. It never moved forward. Thune is clearly hoping that growing demand from the public for net neutrality protections will bring more Republicans to the table... Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) told WIRED earlier this year that he won't support a bill with weaker protections than the 2015 rules..."

President Trump appointed Pai as FCC Chairman in January, giving the Republican commissioners at the FCC a voting majority. Neither the President nor the White House staff said anything in its daily e-mail blast or in their website about the FCC vote; and instead discussed tax reform, general remarks about reducing regulation, and infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, tunnels).

Seems to me the internet is a key component of our country's infrastructure. What are your opinions? If your state isn't in the above list, we'd like to hear from you, too.


FCC Action To Kill Net Neutrality Will Likely Hurt Public Libraries, The Poor, And The Disabled

American Library Association logo Jim Neal, the president of the American Library Association, released a statement condemning the December 14th vote by the Republican-led U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to kill net neutrality protections for internet users:

"The majority of the FCC has just dealt a blow to equitable access to online information and services which puts libraries, our patrons, and America’s communities at risk... By rolling back essential and enforceable net neutrality protections, the FCC has enabled commercial interests at the expense of the public who depends on the internet as their primary means of information gathering, learning, and communication. We will continue to fight the FCC’s decision and advocate for strong, enforceable net neutrality protections."

New York Public Library logo The Verge interviewed New York Public Library (NYPL) president Tony Marx, and Greg Cam the NYPL director of information policy. During 2017, the NYPL provided 3.1 million computer sessions across all branches (using 4,700 computers), plus 3 million wireless sessions. Based upon that activity, Marx said:

"... the simple fact is that the poorest of New York rely on the library as the only place they can go and get free use of computers and free Wi-Fi. It’s one of the reasons why the library is the most visited civic institution in New York. We have also, in recent years, been lending people what we call hot spots, which are Wi-Fi boxes they can take home, typically for a year. That gives them digital access at home — broadband access — which something like 2 million New Yorkers can’t afford and don’t have..."

And, New York City is one of the more prosperous areas of the country. It makes one wonder how citizens in poor or rural areas; or in areas without any public libraries will manage. Disabled users will also be negatively affected by the FCC vote. Marx explained:

"... the New York Public Library runs the Andrew Heiskell Library for the visually impaired. I believe it is a three-state depository, so it plays a role in getting access in all the ways you described — not just in New York City but way beyond. A lot of that now happens online and it could simply stop working, which means they’re gonna cut people off completely."

Cram explained the wide range of tasks people use the internet for at public libraries:

"Our users depend on the library, and libraries in general, for things like completing homework assignments, locating e-government resources, e-government services, accessing oral histories and primary source materials. Things that are resource-intensive like video and audio and image collections are dependent on a free and open internet. Also things like applying and interviewing for jobs. More and more jobs involve a first round of interviews that are done over the internet. If we have to put things in the slow lane, we’re worried about those interview services being downgraded."

"Slow lanes" are one of about five possible consequences by the FCC decision to kill net neutrality. Marx summarized the concerns of many library managers:

"We live in a world where access to information is essential for opportunity, for learning, for success, for civic life, for checking facts. Anything that reduces that, particularly for people who can’t afford alternatives, is a body blow to the basic democratic principles that the library stands for. Whether people or the library are shoved to the slow lane, and/or forced to pay to be in the fast lane with resources that are already stretched thin, is really sort of shocking. To put it sort of bluntly, the FCC should be defending communications."

Basically, internet access is a utility like water or electricity; something corporate providers have long denied and fought. Everyone needs and uses broadband internet. What are your opinions?


More Year-End Considerations Given The Coming Likely Republican Tax Plan

A prior post discussed the questionable benefits and year-end considerations for middle-class taxpayers of the likely Republican tax reform plan making its way through Congress. The likely tax plan includes lower tax rates paired with many deductions eliminated.

The professional who prepares my taxes provided another warning:

"Dear clients:
It looks like almost a sure thing that, if you itemize deductions, beginning in 2018, you will no longer be able to take a deduction for the Excise Tax on your car or the income taxes that you pay to Massachusetts and other states. You will PROBABLY still be able to deduct your real estate property taxes up to $10,000 a year. If you currently pay the Alternative Minimum Tax (line 45 of your Form 1040), check with me before you follow these recommendations.

All others who itemize, I recommend that you consider the following actions this month (December):

  1. If your total property taxes (including those for a second home) are more than $10,000, pay your city or town as much as you possibly can in December.
  2. Be sure to pay... maybe even over-pay... as much of your State Income Tax as possible by December 31st. If you make estimated payments, your 4th quarter Massachusetts payment is due by January 15th. YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY PAY IT IN DECEMBER INSTEAD.
  3. Even if you don't usually make Estimate Payments to Massachusetts, you should consider making one in December... For example, if you made a payment of $1,000, you might save $150 or $250 or more on your 2017 federal tax return. You will save NOTHING on any state income taxes that you pay in 2018.

I will reach out again if and when the tax bill is finalized and signed into law if there are any other changes that might affect your plans in December."

Obviously, you should consult the professional that prepares your income taxes, since your situation and state may dictate different actions. And, I am not an income tax professional. New legislation always has consequences, and it seems wise to be aware. hence, this informational blog post.

Some additional thoughts. Capping the real estate property tax deduction at $10,000 might help pay for the increased deficits the Republican tax plan would generate, but it will also hurt persons living in high-cost areas (e.g., cities, states with high state taxes, areas with high real estate prices). Plus, the tax cuts are temporary for individuals but permanent for corporations. Slick, eh? Is it fair? Seems not.

My college friends and I are discussing via e-mail the considerations listed above and in my prior blog post. The proposed elimination of deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) is a hot topic. You can find online articles discussing the advantages and disadvantages of eliminating SALT deductions. Regardless, more to discuss with your accountant and/or income tax professional.


Doug Jones Wins In Alabama, Net Neutrality, And The FCC

[7:30 am EST] Congratulations to Doug Jones and his supporters for a stunning victory Tuesday in a special election in Alabama for the open U.S. Senate seat. His victory speech is available online. Late last month, Doug Jones tweeted this:

Later today, the commissioners at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will likely vote during their December 2017 Open Commission Meeting to kill net neutrality rules protecting consumers free and open internet access. The planned vote comes despite clear and mounting evidence of widespread identity theft by unknown persons to submit fake comments distorting and polluting FCC record and website soliciting feedback from the public.

Yesterday, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel released the following press release:

"Upon receipt of a letter from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stating that it now appears that two million Americans’ identities may have been misused in the FCC record and a separate letter from 18 State Attorneys General calling on the FCC to delay its net neutrality vote because of its “tainted” record, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel released the following statement:

“This is crazy. Two million people have had their identities stolen in an effort to corrupt our public record. Nineteen State Attorneys General from across the country have asked us to delay this vote so they can investigate. And yet, in less than 24 hours we are scheduled to vote on wiping out our net neutrality protections. We should not vote on any item that is based on this corrupt record. I call on my colleagues to delay this vote so we can get to the bottom of this mess.” "

Despite the widespread identity theft and fraud, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has maintained his position to proceed with a vote today to kill net neutrality protections for consumers. President Trump appointed Pai as FCC Chairman in January, giving the Republican commissioners a majority when voting. Pai has blown off the identity theft and fraud charges as maneuvers by desperate net neutrality advocates.

[Update at 2:20 pm EST: earlier today, the FCC commissioners voted along party lines to kill existing net neutrality rules protecting consumers.]


Was Your Identity Information Misused To Submit Fake Comments To The FCC About Net Neutrality?

After creating a webpage specifically to help New York State residents determine if their identifies were misued for net neutrality comments, Attorney General Schneiderman announced:

"In the last five days alone, over 3,200 people have reported misused identities to the Attorney General’s office, including nearly 350 New Yorkers from across the state. Attorney General Schneiderman urges New Yorkers to continue to check whether their identity was misused and report it to his office in order to inform the investigation."

The webpage automatically links to only net neutrality (Docket 17-108) comments with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  site. So, at least 3,200 persons have confirmed the misuse of their identity information by unknown persons (or bots) to pollute feedback by the public about net neutrality rules protecting consumers' broadband freedoms. You'd think that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would be concerned about the pollution and fraud; and would delay the upcoming December 14th vote regarding net neutrality. But he's not and blew off the fake comments allegations, as explained in this earlier blog post.

You might think that Chairman Pai and the FCC would be concerned about pollution and fraud in feedback submitted to the FCC site, given the massive Equifax data breach in September which exposed the data elements (e.g., name, street addresses) criminals and fraudsters could easily use to submit fake comments.

This makes one wonder if the FCC can be trusted under Chairman Pai's leadership. Hopefully, Attorneys General in other states will provide similar webpages to help residents in their states... and not only for comments about net neutrality.

Being curious, I visited the webpage by AG Schneiderman. It instructed:

"The Office of the New York State Attorney General is investigating whether public comments regarding net neutrality rules wrongfully used New Yorkers’ identities without their consent. We encourage you to search the FCC’s public comment website and tell us if you see any comments that misuse your name and address.

First, search below to find any comments that may have misused your identity. If results appear, click on any comment that uses your name, and when the comment appears review the name, the address, and the comment text. (If no results appear, your identity most likely was not misused.)"

You don't need to be a New York State resident to use this online tool. My initial search produced 1,046, so I narrowed it by entering my name in quotations ("George Jenkins") for a more precise match. That second search produced 40 comments about net neutrality (e.g., Docket 17-108), a manageable number. I browsed the list which included my valid comment submitted during May, 2017.

I did not see any other comments using my name and address. That's good because I only submitted one comment. I noticed comments by persons with the same name in other states. That seems okay. It's reasonable to expect multiple persons with the same name in a country with a population of about 360 million people.

I did not check the addresses of the other persons with the same name. I realize that could easily hide synthetic ID-theft. In traditional synthetic ID-theft, criminals mix stolen (valid) Social Security numbers with other persons' names to avoid detection. In the ECFS comments system, one could enter valid names with fake addresses; or vice-versa. I hope that AG Schneiderman's fraud analysis also checks for both types of synthetic ID-theft: 1) fake names at real addresses, and 2) real names at fake addresses.

If I had found fraudulent entries, I would have notified AG Schneiderman, the Attorney General's office in the state where I live, and the FCC.

Did you check for misuse of your identity information? What did you find?


Governors and Federal Agencies Are Blocking Nearly 1,300 Accounts on Facebook and Twitter

[Editor's note: today's guest blog post, by the reporters at ProPublica, highlights a little-known practice by some elected officials to block their constituents on social networking sites. Today's post is reprinted with permission.]

By Leora Smith and Derek Kravitz - ProPublica

Amanda Farber still doesn’t know why Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan blocked her from his Facebook group. A resident of Bethesda and full-time parent and volunteer, Farber identifies as a Democrat but voted for the Republican Hogan in 2014. Farber says she doesn’t post on her representatives’ pages often. But earlier this year, she said she wrote on the governor’s Facebook page, asking him to oppose the Trump administration’s travel ban and health care proposal.

She never received a response. When she later returned to the page, she noticed her comment had been deleted. She also noticed she had been blocked from commenting. (She is still allowed to share the governor’s posts and messages.)

Farber has repeatedly emailed and called Hogan’s office, asking them to remove her from their blacklist. She remains blocked. According to documents ProPublica obtained through an open-records request this summer, hers is one of 494 accounts that Hogan blocks. Blocked accounts include a schoolteacher who criticized the governor’s education policies and a pastor who opposed the governor’s stance against accepting Syrian refugees. They even have their own Facebook group: Marylanders Blocked by Larry Hogan on Facebook.

Hogan’s office says they “diligently adhere” to their social media policy when deleting comments and blocking users.

In August, ProPublica filed public-records requests with every governor and 22 federal agencies, asking for lists of everyone blocked on their official Facebook and Twitter accounts. The responses we’ve received so far show that governors and agencies across the country are blocking at least 1,298 accounts. More than half of those — 652 accounts — are blocked by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, a Republican.

Four other Republican governors and four Democrats, as well as five federal agencies, block hundreds of others, according to their responses to our requests. Five Republican governors and three Democrats responded that they are not blocking any accounts at all. Many agencies and more than half of governors’ offices have not yet responded to our requests. Most of the blocked accounts appear to belong to humans but some could be “bots,” or automated accounts.

When the administrator of a public Facebook page or Twitter handle blocks an account, the blocked user can no longer comment on posts. That can create an inaccurate public image of support for government policies. (Here’s how you can dig into whether your elected officials are blocking constituents.)

ProPublica made the records requests and asked readers for their own examples after we detailed multiple instances of officials blocking constituents.

We heard from dozens of people. The governors’ offices in Alaska, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska and New Jersey did not respond to our requests for records, but residents in each of those states reported being blocked. People were blocked after commenting on everything from marijuana legislation to Medicaid to a local green jobs bill.

For some, being blocked means losing one of few means to communicate with their elected representatives. Ann-Meredith McNeill, who lives in western rural Kentucky, told ProPublica that Bevin rarely visits anywhere near her. McNeill said she feels like “the internet is all I have” for interacting with the governor.

McNeill said she was blocked after criticizing Bevin’s position on abortion rights. (Last January, Bevin’s administration won a lawsuit that resulted in closing one of Kentucky’s two abortion clinics, the event that McNeill says inspired her comment.)

In response to questions about its social media blocking policies, Bevin’s office said in a statement that “a small number of users misuse [social media] outlets by posting obscene and abusive language or images, or repeated off-topic comments and spam. Constituents of all ages should be able to engage in civil discourse with Governor Bevin via his social media platforms without being subjected to vulgarity or abusive trolls.” McNeill told ProPublica, “I’m sure I got sassy” but she made “no threats or anything.”

Almost every federal agency that responded is blocking accounts. The Department of Veterans Affairs blocked 18 accounts as of July, but said most were originally blocked before 2014. The blocked accounts included a Michigan law firm specializing in auto accident cases and a Virginia real estate consultant who told ProPublica she had “no idea why” she was blocked. The Department of Energy blocked eight accounts as of October. The Department of Labor blocked seven accounts. And the Small Business Administration blocked two accounts, both of which were unverified and claimed to be affiliated with government loan programs.

Many governors and agencies gave us only partial lists or rejected our requests altogether. Outgoing Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s office told us they would not share their block lists due to “privacy concerns for those people whose names might appear on it.” Alabama declined to provide public records because our request did not come from an Alabama citizen.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ office declined to share records from his Facebook or Twitter accounts, arguing they are not “considered to be the ‘official’ social media accounts of the Governor of Missouri” because he created them before he took office.

Increased attention on the issue of blocking seems to be having an impact. In September, the California-based First Amendment Coalition revealed that California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, had blocked more than 1,500 accounts until June, shortly before the organization submitted a request for his social media records.

At some point before fulfilling the coalition’s request, Brown’s office unblocked every account.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, blocked the activist group Indivisible Vermont on Twitter on Aug. 25. On Aug. 28, Vermont reporter Taylor Dobbs submitted a request for the governor’s full blocked list, shortly after ProPublica’s similar request. Later that day, Scott unblocked the group and released a statement saying the account was “misconstrued as spam.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s office unblocked at least two Facebook users after receiving ProPublica’s request. Here are screenshots they sent us showing that the users have been unblocked:

In the last year, a series of legal claims have called into question the legality of government officials blocking constituents on social media.

At least one federal district court held that government officials who block constituents are violating their First Amendment rights.

Constituents have pending lawsuits against the governors of Kentucky, Maine, and Maryland, as well as Representative Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and President Trump.

We asked the White House, which is not subject to open-records laws, to disclose the list of people Trump is blocking. Officials there have not responded.

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