Blake Dowling – Florida Politics

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or at www.aegisbiztech.com

Blake Dowling: Social engineering

Do you need a break from Putnam, Donald, Kim and all the other headlines raging this week in the Sunshine State and our nation?

How ‘bout we talk cybersecurity, so you can make sure you have all the bases covered (baseball analogy for the upcoming College World Series).

Are you familiar with “social engineering?” The term gets thrown around a lot in cybersecurity circles, but according to Webroot:

“Social engineering is the art of manipulating people, so they give up confidential information. The types of information these criminals are seeking can vary, but when individuals are targeted the criminals are usually trying to trick you into giving them your passwords or bank information, or access your computer to secretly install malicious software — that will give them access to your passwords and bank information as well as giving them control over your computer.”

In the political, lobbying and business world we live in, we have long, complex passwords, perimeter security devices, layered anti-spam and anti-virus tools, someone watching the network with a remote monitoring tool, real-time backups, etc.

Social engineering bypasses all that.

I am sure everyone remembers former Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. He got a bogus email from Google, saying he must change his password now, which he did. It was subsequently stolen (as it was not really from Google).

The ramifications were significant, as we all know.

Now think about how former CIA Director John Brennan’s personal email account was similarly hacked. That’s right. The CIA.

Hackers called Brennan’s internet provider, Verizon, and claimed to be from Verizon customer service trying to fix an issue with their client. They didn’t stop until they had his Social Security number.

The hackers took that info, did a password reset and — presto — complete access to all his email.

In Florida, I have personally seen phishing attempts to local, association and lobbying entities were hackers dig up info on key personnel in the organization, an attempt to impersonate them.

If your email address is posted on your website, the bad guys can find it. They then create a fake domain resembling yours and reference something in the news to make the email sound legit and ask for money.

As an example, Bob gets an email from his accounting person saying they need $4K to put on a rally in Miami, the individual needs the money wired because they “can’t use a credit card.”

You would think there’s no way this would work, but occasionally it does. I have seen it happen.

Last week, I took a call from a client who said Microsoft is calling them to do some maintenance and needs their password. As I have said before it is hard enough to get a call through to Microsoft, they certainly never call you for anything, ever. This is an attempt at a hack. What if you have an intern at your office or a campaign volunteer. Do they know about this? Or would they give their password to “Microsoft” putting all of your data in jeopardy?

Sometimes you can’t even trust the security companies as widely known security giant, Kaspersky was hijacked, or maybe even involved in some cyber shenanigans.

Here in Florida, we must protect ourselves every day, especially with some huge elections on the horizon.

Just like college football (and elections), Texas, California and Florida are the states you want to watch, and all eyes — including hackers — will be looking this way. Just like last time.

Make sure you and everyone on your team are ready.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Oops

Technology can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Have you ever “replied all” to an email when you meant to reply just to the person who sent it to you? Has your phone ever pocket dialed your high-school sweetheart or the FBI?

The “oops factor” in tech is always looming, so make sure you are always diligent with your devices and treat your tablet and phone as sacred.

Also, remember your devices have a mind of their own.

Tech industry leaders like Elon Musk have been warning us that artificial intelligence will take over the world if we are not careful. I think we have a few college football seasons ahead of us before global apocalypse happens but in the meantime, AI is wreaking some havoc. How about Alexa sending out a private conversation between two people to one of the person’s contacts without their knowledge. That happened. The “smart” device heard a series of words within the dialogue that lead it to take several steps. 1) Record the conversation and then 2) send it to a contact. Mind blown.

The potential for scandal, disaster, embarrassment and hilarity are off the scale here.

So, while you chew on that, let’s also look at the other most common part of tech that is infested with oops: social media.

We have seen a renaissance in social media use the past couple of years. It seemed to me that a couple of years ago the worlds of Twitter, etc. had calmed down a little but man then the gloves came off in a big way, especially around the time of the last election.

People, especially politicians, started unloading on Twitter, attacking their enemies, defending their agendas, etc.

Even with all this raw content sometimes people have a “hmmm” moment and delete something.

Not so fast my friends.

There is an entire website devoted to the publication of deleted tweets from your fave politicians. It’s called Politwoops.

According to the site, Sen. Bill Nelson deleted this May 26 after posting it for two hours. I don’t see anything too threatening, and Alan Williams is cool, so who knows why this got deleted. But it did.

You can check out all fun for yourself here, I narrowed it down to just Florida.

So remember to treat your tech like the powerful tool it is and it can be your pal.

Also, give those posts some thought before posting as people are always watching. A lot of you out there might have someone to review your posts for you before hitting the enter button. This is a superb system of checks and balances. Consider putting this into play, especially if you work in the hypersensitive world of state, local or federal politics.

Lastly, considering unplugging those smart devices when they are not in use. As we are starting to see, they aren’t really that smart yet and they could accidentally open you up to a world of hurt by emailing private conversations to everyone you know, in theory.

Have a great week.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Net neutrality redux

Net neutrality is back in the news.

There are 2 sides to the issue and everyone is weighing in. Except for the guy from now shall be known as “Shopping Center Man,” found at the 59-second mark of this WCTV News segment from Thursday night in Tallahassee.

When asked what is net neutrality, he says “he forgot” … “and back to you in studio Bob.”

 

Classic.

“I forgot.” That’s one I need to remember.

WCTV was kind enough to visit the office yesterday and asked my humble opinion on the issue, and it’s back to what happened late last year.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission classification of the internet changed from that of “information services” to that of a “telecommunications service” — with all the regulatory oversight that comes with it.

That was repealed, until this week, when the Senate said: “No joy.”

Bottom line, there are two sides: one says “trust the government,” the other says “trust business.” Regardless which side you are on, the decision is not up to you.

When I wrote on the issue late last year, I brought in the team at the Florida Internet and Television Association to weigh in. You can check that out by clicking here.

What went down this week was Senate Democrats used the so-called Congressional Review Act to force a vote. This allowed Congress to appeal an agency rule with a majority vote (not the normal 60 vote threshold).

How did they get there? They had help from some Republicans, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whose state certainly has faced challenges with internet connectivity.

Will this matter? It brought the issue of net neutrality back to the table for discussion, but it will probably get punted when it hits the House.

 So, any victory will most likely be short-lived.

From 1996 to 2014, the internet seemed to do just fine — regardless if a Republican or Democrat was in the White House. For a long time, rules were the same.

Perhaps the game has changed? Maybe there is too much connectivity? Too many dollars on the line?

Maybe not.

We need not forget that innovation still needs to take precedence over regulation, as the United States is not the fastest in the world. Most lists put Sweden and South Korea as top countries with the fastest Internet. However, we certainly can’t let Big Business block access to specific sites as they see fit.

We will see how this goes, but (most likely) any changes made will stay on course — we will have to see what happens. As long as I can watch Gator baseball on my iPad, I’m good.

Why is it not on regular TV? I am forced to watch it on an APP? Jeez.

Oh well, there’s always Shopping Center Man to make me smile.

Say hello to Shopping Center Man.

Have a great weekend.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: All apologies

Last night, I was watching a Celtics game. Late in the half, during a timeout, there were back-to-back commercials — each a message of apology.

Wells Fargo was very sorry they created millions of fake accounts to cook the books; Facebook is very sorry about, I guess, lots of things.

Wells Fargo’s message was pretty clear, but the FB ad was a bit like a hurricane of messaging.

Bottom line, apologies are everywhere these days.

Or, maybe, are we a nation of apologists? Perhaps we have always been.

Are these nationwide campaigns helpful? Are they even necessary?

While Zuck was testifying to Congress and scandal after scandal was unfolding for his firm, meanwhile the company’s financials were skyrocketing, in fact, their first-quarter earnings for 2018 were up 60 percent over the same time last year.

All situations are unique, and maybe FB is bullet resistant (not bulletproof, mind you. No one is.) Its offering has integrated itself into the fabric of our personal and professional lives, and it is an extremely “sticky” company/offering to simply toss out the window.

Most of us are in professions where apologies are required and necessary. Think about KFC this year. They ran out of chicken. Ummm. Oops to the guy ordering the chicken.

You had ONE job, Daryl. 😊

How did they respond? With a pretty cheeky PR campaign.

How about politics? Apologies are welcome (it would seem) but a “there’s the door” approach appears to be the common end game. Plus, in situations last year involving state Sens. Jeff Clemens and Jack Latvala, we are not talking about creating fake bank accounts (or running out of chicken).

In these cases, more serious issues are at play. In the political world, once trust is broken and alleged bad behavior is exposed, it is much harder to get it back.

City of Tallahassee mayor? Apology.

More apologies in our state.

Joy Reid calls Charlie Crist “Miss Charlie.” Classy. Another apology.

Why are people apologizing so much these days? Doesn’t it seem as if apologies are rampant — money, data, sex (and chicken)?

Perhaps, the world of social media and our press focuses so much on those doing wrong and the apologies that come after.

Just a crazy thought: Maybe we should focus more on those business leaders and companies that are not apologizing for anything?

For example, Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership during recent hurricanes. No apology required. Thank you, sir.

Another is Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, who are fighting the good fight for the people of Puerto Rico. Great job, guys, as 10 percent of this U.S. territory is still without power.

So, if my thoughts in this column have offended you in any way, email me at the address below. Perhaps I will send an apology. (HA!)

As my friend Brad Swanson likes to say, if you aren’t taking any flak, you aren’t on target.

Have a great weekend.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He enjoys sports, IPA’s and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Backpage and the fight against human trafficking

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has been a vocal advocate and champion for the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Last year in our state, a Coral Cables man was arrested for human trafficking.

The headlines are all over the state — from Miami, to Boca to Tallahassee

One common element in many of these stories is Backpage.com.

Backpage began as a classified advertising website in 2004. It offered very traditional services, job listings, real estate, and so forth. They also had an “escort” section, which was later removed, and changed to “personals” — an attempt to keep the law at bay.

A couple of weeks ago, after a massive effort by Bondi (as well as every other AG in the nation), the FBI and public won a huge battle as the Department of Justice seized the site on April 6. The company’s CEO then pleaded guilty to “charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering.”

Backpage was certainly not the first page with adult-themed ads and listings. However, what caused the entire country to hunt them down was the fact that they have been accused that the site “encourage[s] dissemination of child sex trafficking content on its website” (as per the National Center for Missing And Exploited Children).

According to the NCMEC, the majority of child sex trafficking cases referred to the organization involved ads found on Backpage.

Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin — two of the accused.

What’s next? Five members are the Backpage.com team have a trial date for Jan. 15, 2020. Some argue that Backpage was not responsible for the consequences of its ads; others say it gave workers in the escort industry a safe place to operate.

Newsweek has a very dramatic (spare us the drama, guys) headline about that: “‘People are going to die’: Sex workers devastated after Backpage shutdown.

Nevertheless, even the appearance of turning a blind eye to the exploitation of children — in both Florida and nationwide — is worthy of the full wrath of our nation’s law enforcement (unless proven innocent, of course).

But it would appear that Backpage’s Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin are going away for a long, long while.

A shout out to Bondi and her team for fighting the good fight.

Have a great weekend.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Latest in political campaign tech

Last week, I had an opportunity to visit Pebble Beach outside Carmel, California.

Pretty gal and some clown at Pebble Beach.

As I basked in the glory of the extraordinary West Coast scenery, I just couldn’t stop thinking about Cambridge Analytica and its micro-targeting techniques, as well as the disruptive and deceptive Internet Research Agency and the trail of havoc and misinformation created in the last presidential election. (The sarcasm button is on, clearly.)

For a couple of days, I didn’t even check email. It was a grand escape, indeed.

If you have never visited Carmel/Big Sur, get there ASAP.

In fact, the only political thought on my trip was when John Dailey called to discuss his campaign for Tallahassee mayor.

“Can’t talk now, how about next week?” I replied.

Anyway, I am back in the swing of things and thought we could look around the political landscape and see what tech folks are using to get themselves into office – without fake ads and stealing/borrowing data.

During his last run, Ted Cruz used a very innovative suite of mobile apps called uCampaign. The app actually makes campaigning a game (to some, it already is) and you are awarded points for reaching specific achievements.

“Political Pokémon,” I call it.

Apps like uCampaign can really change how a supporter engages with those they support. His fans were (literally) all tied together in a digital community. Very cool.

Here in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson is doing great things with his digital presence. Last year, I gave him a hard time about his website in a column; I just retook a look and it is actually pretty slick. He integrates a photo album, videos and several other calls to action right on the home page.

The past two presidential elections have been outstanding examples of tech usage. President Barack Obama was the first to use Social Media (Twitter – 102 million followers) aggressively in a campaign. President Donald Trump’s use of social media and firms like Cambridge Analytica during the election was also aggressive. And we all know about his use of Twitter in the White House.

Also, doing the little stuff, like making sure to send out e-newsletters is a strong way to keep your constituents and or supporters in the loop during and after an election.

In 1812, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed into law legislation redistricting his state to help his party with an election. With that, the term “Gerrymandering” was born, describing the activity of redistricting areas.

Some experts argue that the fact the U.S. is the only democracy on earth where the politicians are involved in the process of drawing boundaries is terrible – causing even more party division.

For example, England has a “Boundaries Commission” which claims to be “independent.”  Which I am sure it bloody is, mate (British accent).

Even more interesting is throwing “big data” into the gerrymandering equation to see what that looks like. There is a ton of information here on that. However, this also might veer back into the shady side of things vs. cool. But it is a reality.

Back to cool tech, have you heard of Nation Builder? It’s software to run every facet of an election.

Check out the story of Alabama’s Randall Woodfin Nation Builders to help capture the Mayor’s office in Birmingham. Nation Builder puts social media, finances, emails all in one place.

Also, check out ActBlue, it is an exciting fundraising platform that gathers together small donors all in one place to support Democrats.

“ActBlue is an invaluable tool not only to the DCCC but to the whole party,” says Julia Ager, Chief Digital Officer of the DCCC. “They make it easy for supporters to give with a single click.”

So, there you have it – some cool tech to help get you or your favorite aspiring politician elected.

Keep in mind, all the tech in the world can’t replace a phone call or face to face dialogue.

Nice work, Mr. Dailey, pounding the phones, and best of luck with your campaign. I hope everyone is having a wonderful day and thank you for reading.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Where does Facebook go now?

Do you use Facebook for your business, lobbying firm, campaign for not running for Mayor or just personal use?

If so, read on.

Have you seen an endless stream of news about the social media site?

Such issues as pay-to-play for who sees what posts, ad prices going way up, millions of users data lost to Cambridge Analytica, fake sites/users promoting discourse on all sides of the political arena during the last election?

As far as the latest, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress this week, giving us a front-row seat of where this all goes.

The making of the Bimini film referenced below.

I have heard a lot of folks saying they are done with Facebook. Well, about 87 million FB users will get a notice this week that means something to the effect of, your data may have been misplaced, etc.

This will appear in your news feed, so keep an eye out for it.

Also, if you see this note, read it and follow the instructions about privacy settings for other apps. You can take some control over where your data is shared, so make sure to do so if you are planning on continuing to use the Facebook platform.

In my opinion, I am not prepared to get rid of it.

If you think about the massive amount of information you can gather in a few minutes, it is mind-boggling.

In a 10 minute view, I saw my old friend Hadderman is at the Masters, former Gators Coach Jim McElwain took a loss on his Gainesville house to help a family with disabled children (according to the Tampa Bay Times), friends Emmett Reed and Jason Gonzalez assisted a young man in Bimini during a shark attack; Peter Schorsch’s comments on a bizarre sermon ( which I agree 100 percent), a gazillion (very important) Springtime Tallahassee pictures; plus, the sponsored post on the new Lost in Space, wow, actually looks pretty smooth.

I usually don’t post anything too serious on FB; pics of the family and columns are about it.

But some people lay it all out there; if you choose to do so, great, my friend Jim shared a pic of his mom’s old car and a very sad bumper sticker.

As for the island of Bimini mentioned earlier, I am a big fan of the place. Did you know Martin Luther King Jr. wrote some speeches there? I didn’t know that, even after visiting the destination about 20 times. But someone shared it on FB, and I picked up that fascinating piece of knowledge.

I have written several pieces on the island and, in fact, I anxiously await info on the release of a documentary I worked on last year there with filmmaker Bradley Beesley and the team at Costa.

They checked out my column at Florida Politics about the island and flew me down for several days of filming. It was a blast, and you have to check out Beesley’s other work, he is a great talent.

So, let’s see how the testimony goes, as well as new rules FB is putting in place to protect our data; maybe when it comes to advertising for elections, posting amazing pics, promoting business and publishing columns, FB will surprise us and improve the user experience.

Or, maybe they will continue down the dark path toward irrelevancy. I am indeed willing to wait and see.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies; he can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Ransomware cripples city

Atlanta’s situation is grim.

What happens when your local government’s technology is crippled? Nothing good.

In the blink of an eye, it can happen to your business, association, or administration. A click on the wrong email, and you better get out the jelly, because you are toast.

City employees were told to turn off their computers; they were given notepads.

Currently, the courts cannot hear cases, residents cannot pay bills online; police officers cannot write reports or book inmates normally (all of which was done digitally).

How can this happen?

Usually, a hacker (or hackers) develop or buy software (ransomware tool kits are for sale on the dark web); they launch attacks usually by emails that contain what appears to be friendly links (from a bank or shipping company) — which actually contain malicious code.

An example of a ransomware tool kit for sale on the dark web.

Once a user clicks an infected email, their computer is locked (with all files encrypted), and unlike old-school cyber threats, most of these new variants of ransomware spread fast.

That is precisely what happened in Atlanta.

As they have not yet identified user zero, they will eventually — and that person will have a tough time shedding the reputation as the individual who brought Atlanta’s entire government to its knees.

Once infected, a clock starts to count down on your screen; the user has until the clock runs out to pay the ransom. In this case, the hackers asked for 6 bitcoins (as of today, the market value of one bitcoin is $6,705). The clock in Atlanta already ran out and no one seems sure they paid the ransom (or not).

In theory, if you pay the ransom you get encryption keys from the hackers, but sometimes they give them. Sometimes they don’t (after all, they are criminals).

My advice: Make sure to have redundant backups of all things and wipe everything clean if infected and reinstall it all. A thorough backup protocol is just as important as robust firewalls, complex passwords, anti-virus and anti-spam services.

It’s all part of your security bundle.

You should also think about intrusion testing and cyber training for everyone on your team. This is what the landscape demands.

Consequences of not taking these steps can be grim; here in Florida, Surfside Non-Surgical Orthopedics filed a lawsuit in January against medical software giant Allscripts related to a ransomware attack that shut down Allscripts and many of their clients.

And does anyone remember the Sarasota City Hall getting pummeled in 2016?

Last year, the Miami Herald had a nice wake-up call on the threat of ransomware; if you are not prepared, the time is now.

So, the good news: When visiting Atlanta, you can park wherever you want — as their parking ticket system is fried, too.

Be safe out there; if you read this far, thank you so much for taking an interest in my writing. It is an honor and a privilege to humbly share my ramblings with you.

Happy Easter.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: After Uber tragedy, safety is job one for self-driving cars

Legislation, innovation and deployment of autonomous vehicles hit a significant roadblock this week. A very tragic incident in Arizona involving a self-driving Uber vehicle and a pedestrian killed the pedestrian.

The goal of self-driving vehicles is to make our lives easier and roads safer. Self-driving cars do not get drunk or speed, so the 40,000 traffic fatalities each year would be reduced considerably if the world was full of these machines.

However, in this case, all detection systems apparently failed, and the ultimate backup (the human in the car) was not paying attention. At any time, the theory goes, this person could have hit the brakes and take over if the auto driving system needs overriding.

In Florida, Ford is launching a test program this year for self-driving cars. The goal is to have a self-driving taxi and delivery service in place by 2021. Domino’s Pizza is getting into the game as a partner.

There are lots to factor into the logistics, but safety is No. 1; if they can’t figure that out, none of this is going to happen.

Ford sunk $1 billion into the effort and it will be housed in Miami. Why Florida? 1.) It is a traffic nightmare, so if they can figure out Southbeach it can work anywhere, right? 2.) For years, Florida has stated it is not California and has a “bring it on” approach to this new business model. In fact, the state was a very early adopter of providing a friendly staging ground for this kind of tech.

Go back to 2012, when Google dropped off two autonomous vehicles at the Florida Capitol requested by Sen. Jeff Brandes. Test drives were done with the elected officials and their families, and the buzz was in the air. Shortly afterward, HB 7027 passed 118-0 — the first legislation in our great country to legalize self-driving vehicles on our roads.

The national landscape has caught up, last year 33 states introduced legislation on the subject. You can follow all the details on the subject here.

It is exciting technology but not without scandal, as we saw Uber in the headlines earlier this year, and (sadly) the story of this transportation revolution now has a tragedy on its hands.

Those R and D dollars need to be devoted to safety first, as clearly more redundancy in the tech is required to prevent another situation like that in Arizona this week.

Be safe out there; enjoy your weekend.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Facebook’s brand takes another beating

Have you heard of Cambridge Analytica or psychometrics?

I weighed in on the topic in 2017 after the election. Psychometrics follows online traits and data collection from social media versus old-school methods of gathering information like a questionnaire. The goal of gathering this info is to develop predictive models of behavior so that you might be able to know who someone was going to vote for etc.

You can dive into my 2017 column here.

Cambridge Analytica is back in the news this week; apparently, they were up to more than originally suggested during the election.

It’s all going back to how Facebook data was allegedly used and collected. Cambridge Analytica says it properly obtained user data from a psychology professor who then passed it to them. They say the data was deleted when it was discovered that they should not have had it in the first place. Others say it was used improperly.

The UK government is on the case and pushing hard.

According to CNN and the BBC: “UK cyber officials are asking for a warrant to enter Cambridge Analytica’s offices in London and audit its data.” They are also examining Facebook’s response to the unauthorized use of its data.

“We’re looking at whether or not Facebook secured and safeguarded personal information on the platform and whether when they found out about the loss of the data they acted robustly and whether people were informed,” Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told BBC radio Tuesday.

Regardless what happened, it was alleged and Facebook is taking the hits. They are hosting an employee Q&A event this week, so staff can ask questions. Meanwhile, the stock price has fallen approximately 10 percent.

Other reports allege the last U.S. president’s team was doing the exact same thing, but with Facebook’s blessing.

Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie speaks his mind.

That’s not really the Atlanta airport smoking lounge, but it is a nice little fish tank of sad smokers.

Rumors are flying left and right (no political pun intended whatsoever J) and it will take months to get to the bottom of this. Where there is smoke, there is fire and the Facebook brand is looking these days like a smoking section in the Atlanta airport.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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