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Facebook’s Top Brass Say They Knew Nothing About Definers. Don’t Believe Them.





Sweet, wide-eyed Mark Zuckerberg swears he didn’t know anything.

The Facebook CEO was shocked and appalled at the conduct of his company, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday, responding to a bombshell New York Times report that Facebook hired a D.C. opposition research firm called Definers Public Affairs which proceeded to undertake all manner of ethically fraught actions on its behalf.

“I learned about this yesterday,” Zuckerberg said. Pressed to explain who, then, was aware of Facebook’s relationship with Definers, he offered the verbal equivalent of a shrug: “Someone on our comms team must have hired them.”

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg echoed that denial in a note published later Thursday. “I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing,” she said, “but I should have.”

She really should have ― and it seems almost unbelievable she didn’t.

A TechCrunch breakdown of Facebook’s communications team found numerous staffers linked to Sandberg formerly worked for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign alongside Matt Rhodes, who founded Definers after the campaign. This includes Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications Andrea Saul, who worked for Sandberg’s non-profit for two years after the campaign concluded.

Another possible link: Facebook’s chief lobbyist, Joel Kaplan, worked in the George W. Bush White House at the same time as Rhodes and has strong ties to Sandberg. The two attended Harvard together and he reportedly consults with her on high-level strategy at Facebook ― including deciding to downplay Russian disinformation activities on the site, another bombshell allegation made in the Times report. (Facebook denies this).

In addition to Sandberg’s internal corporate ties to Facebook’s communications and policy leaders, her claim of ignorance doesn’t line up with basic executive oversight.

Documents obtained by NBC show Facebook paid Definers $3.3 million for its services in the first quarter of 2018 alone. Assuming the relationship lasted longer than one quarter, that’s one hefty annual expenditure for both a COO and CEO to know absolutely nothing about.

Their denials also represent a 180-degree reversal of the company’s own spin. Just one day earlier, before its top executives publicly professed their ignorance, Facebook sought to combat the story by painting its contract with Definers as mundane, common knowledge:

“Our relationship with Definers was well known by the media,” the company said in a release, “not least because they have on several occasions sent out invitations to hundreds of journalists about important press calls on our behalf.”

And finally, Sandberg’s and Zuckerberg’s portrayal of Definers’ relationship with the company as a little-known undertaking conflicts with Definers’ own description of it. While Definers disputed the nature of its work in a statement Friday, the firm said its work for Facebook included “a large-scale news alert service” that kept “hundreds of Facebook staff informed.”

As a refresher, here’s some of the work Definers reportedly carried out on Facebook’s behalf: 

– Seeking to undermine and discredit Facebook critics in a group called “Freedom From Facebook” by linking them to the billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros, a common tactic on the far right that’s fueled by anti-Semitism. Even worse, Soros didn’t even fund the group.

– Lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to then cast Facebook critics as anti-Semitic. (Zuckerberg and Sandberg are both Jewish).

– Propagating disinformation about Facebook critics and competitors like Apple and Google ― via a verified Facebook page operated by Definers called “NTK Network”― that was dutifully picked up and disseminated by far-right outlets like Breitbart. (A former Definers employee described NTK to NBC as “our in-house fake news shop.”) 


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Ontario’s new automated speed enforcement explained





(NC) To wage the war against speeding, many municipalities across Ontario have turned to automated speed enforcement. Most recently introduced in Toronto, speed cameras are a high-tech solution to reduce speeding and are considered one of the most effective ways to create safer roads and save lives.  

Recognizing police officers cannot catch all speeders, these cameras fill the gap, providing monitoring in specific locations around the clock. When a car’s speed is even one kilometre over the posted amount, it will take a picture of the offending vehicle’s license plate, using the captured photo as indisputable evidence. A ticket is then served to the vehicle’s owner, regardless of who was driving. 

With a focus on high-risk areas, Ontario’s automated speed enforcement cameras are located in two specific municipal areas: school and community safety zones. School zones are designated streets close to a school, featuring reduced speed limits as dictated by local bylaws. Community safety zones are high-risk corridors and intersections, subject to increased fines and penalties.  

While the Ontario Highway Traffic Act outlines the use of automated speed enforcement, municipalities can decide when and where to use cameras to curb speeding. The act does dictate financial penalties for speed violations captured with cameras, which vary depending on the number of kilometres caught over the speed limit.  

Speed enforcement is not new, but part of a broader, integrated road safety strategy that includes infrastructure improvements, awareness campaigns and new uses of technology. City officials hope for a halo effect, inspiring better driving behaviour across entire communities, not only in areas with cameras. A controversial topic, some critics take exception to speed cameras, labelling them as sneaky cash grabs for municipalities. Governments think the opposite. 

Safety advocate and auto insurance provider Onlia is hopeful that the cameras will provide drivers with a reminder to slow down, especially in high-risk areas like school and community safety zones.  

For those who obey the speed limit, automated speed enforcement shouldn’t change anything about your driving style, says Alex Kelly, Safety Ambassador at OnliaDrivers have fair warning as they approach areas with speed cameras, as mandatory signs provide reasonable notice of upcoming automated speed enforcement. Regardless of warnings, the best speed is the posted speed. 

You can start to understand your speeding style by downloading the insurance provider’s new safe driving app that coaches and rewards for you for safe driving habits.

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Online banking: How to protect yourself from fraud





(NC) Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, a growing number of consumers are regularly using mobile and online banking to paybill payments, transfer money and make purchases.

Although these tools can give you easy access to your personal finances on demand, there are also some risks involved. For instance, your banking information—such as your debit or credit card number, user name, or personal identification number (PIN)—could be stolen. If criminals have access to your online banking information, they can steal your money, which is why it’s so important to be  vigilant when you bank online.

Follow these tips to help protect your personal and banking information:

  • For your online bank accounts, use a strong password that can’t be easily guessed, and never share your user name or password with anyone.
  • Check your accounts regularly to make sure there are no transactions you didn’t make or authorize.
  • When making online purchases, never authorize a website to save your credit card information, password or other personal information. Giving websites this permission will save you some time the next time you access the site, but it poses a real threat if a hacker manages to access your information.

Most financial institutions have policies to protect you from transactions that you didn’t make.

However, you are responsible for protecting your online and mobile banking information. If you give your details to anyone—including your spouse or partner, a family member or a friend—your financial institution may hold you responsible for any unauthorized transactions in your account, and even strip you of protection from unauthorized transactions in the future.

If you suspect your information may have been compromised, change your passwords immediately, and check your account and credit card statements for anomalies and report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has created resources to help you protect your online banking information.

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Payday loans: Not the best way to borrow money





(NC) Payday loans are a very expensive way to borrow money. Even if you’re struggling financially, think twice—and crunch the numbers—before getting this type of loan.

Depending on the rules in your province, payday lenders can charge fees of $15 to $25 per $100 that you borrow.

As an example, let’s say you borrow $300 for home repairs. The payday lender charges you $51 in fees, or $17 for every $100 borrowed. Your loan balance is therefore $351, which amounts to an interest rate of 442 per cent.

There can be serious consequences if you don’t repay your loan by the due date. These may include the following:

  • The payday lender may charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • Your financial institution may also charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • The total amount that you owe, including the fees, continues to increase.

There are better options out there

Payday loans should be your last resort to borrow money. Consider cheaper ways of borrowing money, such as:

  • Cashing in vacation days or asking for a pay advance from your employer.
  • Getting a line of credit, a cash advance on a credit card or a personal loan from your financial institution.
  • Getting a loan from family or friends.

Before getting a payday loan and to avoid getting stuck in a debt trap, consider other, less expensive ways to borrow money.

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