Twitter releases 'motherlode' of data on alleged Russian, Iranian influence operations

Twitter(NEW YORK) -- Twitter has released data on more than 10 million tweets from nearly 4,000 accounts it said were linked to Russia and Iran, which paint a more nuanced portrait of the nations’ purported online influence operations.

The social media giant previously disclosed the operations and lawmakers released hundreds of suspected account names that Twitter said were linked to the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” that worked day and night to spread propaganda and stoke division online ahead of the 2016 election. But this is the first time the public and independent researchers have been given access to what data analyst Ben Nimmo described as the full “motherlode” of information.

Nimmo, an information defense fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab whose team was given a preview of the data in order to post their analysis with Twitter’s announcement, said that for all the attention given to Russia’s online influence in the U.S. ahead of the 2016 presidential election, he was surprised that the data showed that the “first targets and the first victims” were, in fact, Russian users.

“Particularly in the Russian dataset a lot more of the content was in Russian than in English,” said Nimmo. “It’s a really important reminder that the Russian troll farm started out as a tool of domestic repression. It then became a weapon abroad… They adapted it to the U.S. audience.”

Nimmo pointed to the blast of social media activity after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine, which international investigators blamed on Russia. On the day before the incident, accounts linked to Russia’s troll factory posted a total of 19,000 times. On the day after, the number jumped to 57,000, most of them using hashtags that blamed Ukraine.

“You can see that somebody hit the big red button that said, ‘Trolls, go troll,’” Nimmo told ABC News.

Only later did the Russians turn their attention to the U.S. election, where their goals evolved along with developments in the political race. While a full analysis of the ideological breakdown of the entire trove of tweets has yet to be undertaken, the DFRLab determined that the Russian trolls appear to have been surprisingly “non-partisan,” at least when it came to divisive issues.

“They tried to inflame everybody, regardless of race, creed, politics or sexual orientation,” the analysis said. “On many occasions, they pushed both sides of divisive issues.”

For example, DFRLab identified two Russia-linked accounts that straddled the gun control debate: “Mass shooting occurs even in #GunFreeZones so people is the problem not guns #Prays4California,” one said the day after the San Bernardino shooting. “mass shooting wont stop until there are #GunFreeZones #Prayers4California” another said.

Darren Linvill, a Clemson University professor who with his colleague Patrick Warren previously analyzed some 3 million tweets linked to Russia, told ABC News that influencing the elections might not have been their only – or even their primary – goal.

“The primary goal was be divisive and get Americans to question each other and question institutions,” he said.

As for the Iranian operation, Nimmo said it was less widespread and “much, much clumsier” than the Russians’. It consisted of about a million tweets from 770 accounts that mainly attempted to get Twitter users to go to websites that hosted pro-Iran, anti-Israel or anti-U.S. content.

“It used fewer personalities, which is much less effective,” Nimmo said.

In releasing the dataset, Twitter said the move was “in line with our principles of transparency and to improve public understanding of alleged foreign influence campaigns.” Twitter and Facebook have come under increasing pressure to counter the spread of inauthentic accounts on their platforms, including those linked to foreign state-sponsored actors.

Linvill called Twitter’s disclosure a “great first step,” and said the data could prove of great analytic value when it comes to understanding online influence operations but he still expressed some concern about what he called “a look back at history.”

“The way in which the IRA changes its behavior almost completely year-to-year, this won’t be particularly helpful to understand what they’re doing now,” he said. “The way they operated in 2016, 2017, looks nothing like they’re doing now.”

Nimmo said he hopes that the release of the information will help not only researchers but also average Twitter users to understand the need to be cautious online and “extend that idea into the political sphere.”

“Part of this is basic street wisdom online,” he said.

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Uber driver who allegedly groped customer charged with kidnapping, wire fraud

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An Uber driver has been charged in federal court after allegedly kidnapping a woman, groping her after she fell asleep and then charging more than $1,000 for the ride after abandoning her on the side of a highway.

Harbir Parmar, 24, of Howard Beach, New York, was charged in White Plains Federal Court with kidnapping and wire fraud, officials with the Southern District of New York said on Tuesday.

On Feb. 21, a woman from White Plains requested an Uber in Manhattan to take her home, according to a complaint filed with the FBI. Parmar picked up the woman around 11:30 p.m., and she fell asleep in the back seat.

Parmar stands accused of changing the destination in the app to Boston, according to the FBI complaint. When the woman woke up, the vehicle was parked on the side of the road and Parmar had joined the woman in the backseat, placing his hand under the front of her shirt. As she reached for her phone to call for help, Parmar grabbed her phone and refused to give it back to her.

Parmar returned to the driver's seat and continued driving, according to the complaint. The woman asked she be taken home or to a police station, but Parmar refused, dropping her off along a highway in Connecticut around 1:45 a.m.

The woman said she memorized the car's license plate and went to a nearby convenience story seeking help. The next morning she saw that she'd been charged $1,047.55 for the ride.

"As alleged, Harbir Parmar was hired to transport a woman from Manhattan to her home in White Plains. Instead, Parmar kidnapped, terrorized and assaulted the woman before dumping her on the side of an interstate," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. "No one -- man or woman -- should fear such an attack when they simply hire a car service."

If convicted, Parmar could face life in prison for the kidnapping charge and 20 years for the fraud charge.

From December 2016 to February 2018, Parmar allegedly sent false information about customers' destinations and overcharged them on more than 10 occasions. He's also been accused of submitting false information related to cleaning fees. The improper charges totaled more than $3,600.

Uber said that the company blocked Parma from using its app in February and that he hadn't taken a trip since the incident. Uber also provided information to investigators.

"What's been reported is horrible and something no person should go through. As soon as we became aware, we immediately removed this individual's access to the platform," an Uber spokesperson told ABC News in a statement. "We have fully cooperated with law enforcement and will continue to support their investigation."

The woman's fare was refunded within days, Uber added.

Susanne Brody, a lawyer for Parmar, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

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Friday Mega Millions jackpot soars above $900 million

Emilie Richardson/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The prize for Friday's Mega Millions jackpot has climbed to more than $900 million after no one won it Tuesday.

The projected prize would be the second-largest payout in U.S. lottery history. A lone winner taking the cash lump sum would receive about $513 million.

Mega Millions announced that Tuesday's jackpot of $667 million would have been a new record for that game. The only larger lottery payout was a Powerball drawing for $1.59 billion in January 2016. Three winners split that.

The Mega Millions numbers drawn on Tuesday were 3, 45, 49, 61, 69, and a Mega Ball of 9. Nine people matched all five white balls. Eight won $1 million each, and another also got the Megaplier to win $5 million.

Before the drawing Tuesday, the previous Mega Millions record jackpot was $656 million, which was shared by winners from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland in March 2012.

"It's always a thrill to have both jackpots rolling, but there's an extra spark now with Mega Millions reaching a new record," Gordon Medenica, Mega Millions lead director and Maryland's lottery and gaming director said in a statement on Tuesday. "Everyone is talking about the jackpot and running out to buy tickets for tonight's drawing."

The Mega Millions jackpot has skyrocketed since the July 24 drawing when a group of 11 coworkers in Santa Clara County, California, shared a $543 million jackpot, the game's fourth-largest.

More than $1 billion in combined potential prize money remains up for grabs, with tonight's Powerball prize estimated at $345 million -- or a one-time cash prize of nearly $200 million.

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Anheuser-Busch sending 300,000 cans of drinking water to areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael

Anheuser-Busch(MEXICO BEACH, Fla.) -- As communities in Florida and Georgia began to rebuild after Hurricane Michael, Anheuser-Busch said it would be shutting down some of its beer lines to get more than 300,000 cans of drinking water to people in need.

It's an effort the company has been involved with for three decades with the American Red Cross.

"This program is among the best that we do at Anheuser-Busch," said vice president of community affairs Bill Bradley. "Anheuser-Busch has always thought that it's important to help out those in need, particularly here in the United States, particularly in the areas where we live and work."

On Saturday, the beverage company said that as part of its emergency drinking water donation program, two truckloads of water had been sent its wholesaler partners Tri-Eagle Sales and the Lewis Bear Co., both in Florida, to help with disaster-relief efforts.

The company said four additional truckloads would be delivered to communities in Georgia and Florida.

Anheuser-Busch first joined up with the American Red Cross in 1988 to provide water after disasters. The company said that along with its partners they've provided almost 80 million cans of water to U.S. communities.

Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, nearly a week ago with winds topping out around 155 mph.

In September, the company sent more than 300,000 cans of waters to communities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in preparation for Hurricane Florence. And in November 2012, about 44,000 cases of water were sent to the New York and New Jersey area after Superstorm Sandy.

"It's really part of the fabric of our company, part of our DNA," Bradley said. "We're a 165-year-old company and this type of effort, these types of values, go back to that time."

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Mega Millions and Powerball have combined jackpot of more than $1 billion

Emilie Richardson/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- More than $1 billion in combined potential prize money is up for grabs between the Mega Millions and Powerball lotteries.

The jackpot for the Mega Millions has reached a new record of $667 million, with an estimated cash value of $380 million after no one claimed the jackpot this Tuesday.

"The estimated annuity value of the jackpot in tonight’s Mega Millions drawing was raised today to $667 million, making it the largest in the game’s history and third-largest in U.S. lottery jackpot history," read the statement.

The new prize surpasses the previous Mega Millions record of $656 million that was shared by winners from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland in March 2012.

"It's always a thrill to have both jackpots rolling, but there's an extra spark now with Mega Millions reaching a new record," Gordon Medenica, Mega Millions lead director and Maryland's lottery and gaming director said in a statement on Tuesday. "Everyone is talking about the jackpot and running out to buy tickets for tonight's drawing."

If no one claims tonight's Mega Millions jackpot, the estimated prize for the next drawing on Oct. 19 is about $868 million, with an estimated cash value of $495 million.

The Mega Millions jackpot has skyrocketed since the July 24 drawing when a group of 11 coworkers in Santa Clara County, California, shared a $543 million prize, the fourth-largest prize in the game's history.

The jackpot for Wednesday's Powerball drawing is about $345 million.

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An iPhone app that breaks down jump shots like you're LeBron

Homecourt(NEW YORK) -- An iPhone app that uses artificial intelligence to give any basketball player a professional-level breakdown by tracking the speed, height and angles of, say, a jump shot, launched Tuesday.

HomeCourt is a shot-tracking app that was featured at Apple's annual event in September. It was introduced by former NBA MVP Steve Nash, an investor and adviser to the company that created it, NEX. Although the app debuted in July, it's this new version that features "shot science" -- analyses using six metrics -- that pairs with the powerful new cameras in the new iPhone models.

"HomeCourt is giving players immediate feedback to help them understand if they are practicing with the right form," Nash said on the Apple stage. "Release time is also a great indicator of whether the player is shooting at game speed while staying low. These meaningful insights and feedback just weren't possible before."

In addition to the release time of the shot, the player's approaching speed, the angle at which the ball is released, the angle of the bend in the player's legs and the height of the legs off the ground are diagnosed to improve shots in real time. This level of critique, NEX CEO Dave Lee said, can't be seen by the naked eye.

"This type of technology has only been available to the elite pro athlete -- the NBA player -- until recently. We're making it available to everybody," NEX co-founder Alex Wu told ABC News. "What happens when some 13-year-old kid in Hong Kong or the rural U.S. has this technology at the palm of their hand?"

Currently a few NBA teams, including the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, and college teams such as Duke, Stanford and the University of Florida use the app, Wu said. They pay the same price as any other user.

"There's a team subscription -- some buy 15 or 25 accounts and bundle them together -- but everyone is paying the same price, and we did it that way on purpose," Wu said.

In addition to Nash, investors in the $4 million seed round that closed in July include Marc Cuban, Sam Hinkie and Jeremy Lin.

At least one tech analyst remained cautious about heralding a completely new world boosted by augmented reality.

"On the one hand it's compelling, showing people who are watching what can be done on 'just a phone,' which is really cool, doing all of this on the device, said Gartner Group's Tuong Nguyen. "It’s inspirational."

"On the other hand, is this going to usher in augmented reality in the millions? The answer is, 'No,'" Nguyen said.

Dean Oliver, a basketball statistician who has consulted with NBA teams, pointed out that app itself isn't guaranteed to make someone a star player.

"The concept that consumers can do large-scale data collection is one that is important in the AI/computer vision world," Oliver said. "Doing this beyond [a] basic fitness app is something whose time has come.

"But note that it is just 'data' collection, not analysis, not instruction. It uses complex analysis to collect data for users, but will it really make players better? That's to be determined. But getting consumers the data is a big step towards those applications."

The initial version of HomeCourt that debuted in July only featured shot tracking and location. It has been downloaded in 120 countries and five million shots have been recorded in the last few months.

The app is currently only available on IOS devices, from the iPhone 6 to newer models, but the "shot science" is only available for the newest generation of iPhones. Wu said the company is planning to expand to Android devices in the future.

Wu said he hoped HomeCourt could "revolutionize the game" to allow more people to access and excel at the sport.

"It's for any aspiring player or somebody who loves basketball -- NBA teams to 13-year-old kids," he said.

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Beer shortage due to climate change? Yes, it could happen

iStock/Thinkstock (IRVINE, Calif.) -- This is not a drill: As climate change worsens, there could be a beer shortage.

A study published Monday that looked at beer's growing popularity and a potential decline in barley harvests linked to climate change showed prices for beer could double, or even triple, in countries including the U.S.

The research was compiled by Nathan Mueller and Steven Davis, assistant professors of Earth system science at UC Irvine, Dabo Guan of the department of Earth system science at Tsinghua University and Jie Pan from the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture in China.

Extreme heat and drought could ravage harvests of barley, a key ingredient in beer. "Average yield losses range from 3 to 17 [percent] depending on the severity of the conditions," according to the study.

In the U.S., this could mean a reduction of hundreds of millions of gallons of beer.

The game-changing study was published in the U.K. journal "Nature Plants."

The study also said that extreme-heat events linked to a reduction in barley production are years away, as the scientists' models looked well into the current century.

"Although the effects on beer may seem inconsequential in comparison to many of the other -- some, life-threatening -- impacts of climate change, there is nonetheless something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer," the study said. "For perhaps many millennia, and still at present for many people, beer has been an important component of social gatherings and human celebration."

It continued: "Although it may be argued that consuming less beer is not disastrous—and may even have health benefits—there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer consumption will add insult to injury."

On Monday, Mueller tweeted: "Our new paper reveals a frightening impact of climate change extremes: decreasing beer supplies and large price increases. Yet another reason to decrease [green house gas] emissions!"

Guan also took to social media to joke around a bit -- and send a few warnings.

"Not to encourage you to drink more today! But you know what you need to do," he wrote, adding, "Beer is the key for social stability."

You could say that again.

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Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen dead at 65

Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, died Monday afternoon in Seattle from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his family said. He was 65.

Allen's sister, Jody Allen, released a statement on behalf of her family.

"My brother was a remarkable individual on every level. While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend," she wrote in the statement. "Paul's family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern. For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends. At this time of loss and grief for us -- and so many others -- we are profoundly grateful for the care and concern he demonstrated every day."

On Oct. 2, Allen, who owned the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, announced that the non-Hodgkins lymphoma he was treated for in 2009 had returned, in a post on his personal website.

"A lot has happened in medicine since I overcame this disease in 2009," Allen wrote. "My doctors are optimistic that I will see good results from the latest therapies, as am I. I will continue to stay involved with Vulcan, the Allen Institutes, the Seahawks and Trail Blazers, as I have in the past. I have confidence in the leadership teams to manage their ongoing operations during my treatment. I am very grateful for the support I've received from my family and friends. And I've appreciated the support of everyone on the teams and in the broader community in the past, and count on that support now as I fight this challenge. Go Seahawks! Go Blazers!"

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft along with Allen, also released a statement fondly remembering his friend.

“I am heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Paul Allen. From our early days together at Lakeside School, through our partnership in the creation of Microsoft, to some of our joint philanthropic projects over the years, Paul was a true partner and dear friend. Personal computing would not have existed without him."

"But Paul wasn’t content with starting one company. He channeled his intellect and compassion into a second act focused on improving people’s lives and strengthening communities in Seattle and around the world. He was fond of saying, 'If it has the potential to do good, then we should do it.' That’s the kind of person he was."

"Paul loved life and those around him, and we all cherished him in return. He deserved much more time, but his contributions to the world of technology and philanthropy will live on for generations to come. I will miss him tremendously.”

Microsoft released a statement via Twitter from CEO Satya Nadella.

"As co-founder of Microsoft, in his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world," Nadella said.

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called Allen a "truly wonderful, bright and inspiring person -- and a great friend," on Twitter, adding "I will miss him."

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Melinda Gates shares the worst advice she never took

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Robin Hood(NEW YORK) -- When Melinda Gates was in high school she received a gift from her father that would change her life: an Apple III computer. The Dallas native spent hours learning to code on her Apple III as a teen and it further solidified her love of math and science opening up the vast possibilities of technology.

Gates would go on to be a high achiever in high school, graduating as valedictorian, voted best student and most likely to succeed before heading off to Duke University where her love of the computer would manifest itself in her studies.

It appeared that the sky was the limit for a young Melinda Gates, then Melinda French, but it wasn’t always that way. In her first year of high school Gates says that her grades “weren’t as good as they should be” if she was planning on attending a top university for college, something she says was always a dream of hers. That’s when she received the worst, albeit eye-opening, advice that she never took.

“A college guidance counselor in high school ... said to me that I should look at schools closer to home for university instead of going away,” Gates tells ABC News’ Chief Business, Technology and Economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis.

To Gates, that advice was limiting as she always wanted the option to go anywhere.

“I think she was trying to give me what she thought was realistic advice, you know, she looked at my grades first quarter freshman year and second quarter and they weren’t as good as they should be if I was really aspiring to go to one of those great universities.”

Gates says that advice was the wakeup call that she needed to work harder.

“I took that advice and it fueled me to say I need to get better grades, I need to show that I can do this work because I really want to go to any university ... but that's not ever good advice to give a kid. You should always give someone the advice to shoot for their dreams and to help them see the path that could get them there.”

Today she has made it her mission to help people around the world see their own potential as the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Through the Foundation she and her husband work to fix critical problems around the world with a main focus on education in the United States.

“In the U.S. we think the thing that gives people equality is a great education and so we've been very dedicated to trying to fix the U.S. public education system.”

Hear more from Melinda Gates on episode #106 of the “No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis” podcast.

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Facebook hackers accessed more private information than previously revealed

Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Hackers accessed much more private information in a recent Facebook breach than the social media giant previously revealed.

 Two weeks ago, Facebook announced that 50 million users were affected, with the possibility of an additional 40 million, so the company reset the "access tokens" or digital keys of the 90 million accounts.

The breach forced users to log back into their accounts.

On Friday, the company said there were actually fewer users -- 30 million -- who were affected by the breach.

But the hackers went deeper into users' profiles than initially thought, the company also said Friday.

Nearly half of those impacted -- approximately 14 million users -- had their "username, gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches," the company's vice president of product management Guy Rosen, wrote in a blog post.

These details were exposed sometime between Sept. 14 and Sept. 25 this year, when the company first discovered the security breach due to a sudden uptick in activity. But the software bugs made user information vulnerable from July 2017 to September 2018.

Previously, the company said only profile information exposed in the “View As” feature was accessed, which is basically a user’s name, gender and hometown.

From 400,000 to 30 million

The hackers didn't access all of the affected accounts immediately. The hack started with 400,000 profiles, then used the "Friends" and "Friends of Friends" features to get the "digital keys" for 30 million people, Rosen wrote.

Then, "for 15 million people, attackers accessed two sets of information – name and contact details (phone number, email, or both, depending on what people had on their profiles). For 14 million people, the attackers accessed the same two sets of information," Rosen wrote.

For some users, the last four digits of their credit card could have been accessed, Rosen said in a follow-up call with reporters.

The information the hackers accessed include timeline posts, lists of friends, Facebook groups, and "names of recent Messenger conversations." The company said the actual content of the messages was not revealed unless "a person in this group was a Page admin whose Page had received a message from someone on Facebook, the content of that message was available to the attackers."

Rosen said Facebook is cooperating with the ongoing FBI investigation into the breach, but would not give any details on who the hackers were or where they were based.

"We have not ruled out the possibility of smaller-scale attacks, which we’re continuing to investigate," he added.

"For 1 million people, the attackers did not access any information," Rosen said.

To find out if your account has been affected, Facebook has provided this link. Scroll to the bottom.

This attack did not include Messenger, Messenger Kids, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, Workplace, Pages, payments, third-party apps, or advertising or developer accounts, Rosen wrote.

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