NAR Forum Examines Privacy Regulations, Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections

Alex Stamos
Alex Stamos led Facebook’s investigation into manipulation of the 2016 U.S. election and continues his work on election security via the Defending Digital Democracy Project.

SAN FRANCISCO (November 10, 2019) – A host of data security issues and new regulations pose a myriad of challenges and opportunities to the U.S. and its political system in the coming years, according to speakers at the 2019 REALTORS® Conference & Expo's Federal Legislative and Political Forum. More than 100 Realtors® gathered in San Francisco, Calif., to observe a panel discussion featuring representatives from some of the nation's most innovative and influential business entities. The event was hosted by NAR's Federal Legislative and Political Forum Chair Adam Ruiz and Vice Chair John Blom.

Discussing data privacy regulations and the state of America's elections were former Facebook Chief of Security Alex Stamos and Airbnb's Casey Aden-Wansbury. Stamos, who led a threat intelligence team charged with mitigating information security risks to the 2.5 billion people on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, kicked off Saturday's event. 

"One of the interesting things about these influence information operations is that they're becoming highly democratic and a tool that people in a lot of organizations want to use to exert influence," Stamos said on Saturday afternoon. "The people behind [election interferences in previous U.S. election cycles] were not working for the Russian government."

Stamos led Facebook's investigation into manipulation of the 2016 U.S. election and continues his work on election security via the Defending Digital Democracy Project.

"One of the misconceptions about what happened in 2016 was that the Russian activity was all focused on the conservative side – and that's not true," he told the audience. "There was a lot of conservative content, though, and one of the most interesting situations we saw was that Russian organizations were pretending to be actual American political entities." 

Stamos noted that a Twitter handle claiming to be the official account of the Tennessee Republican Party was, in reality, operated out of St. Petersburg. "And for years no one figured out that the Tennessee Republican Party was not behind this account – which turned out to be a mess-up on many, many levels across American society.

"It is not illegal for a building full of people in St. Petersburg to just troll on Facebook all day. It is a violation of Facebook's terms of services, but those are of course not enforceable by law," he said.

Aden-Wansbury, who leads Airbnb's federal government and national political outreach, joined Stamos on stage following his remarks. In her current role, Aden-Wansbury is tasked with leading Airbnb's engagement with Congress, federal agencies and other major national stakeholders. 

"One of the things we're working on at Airbnb on the federal level is privacy regulation, which I think has been a great debate, partly because of what we saw in the 2016 elections," said Aden-Wansbury, who previously served as Airbnb's director of global public affairs. "A lot of the [proposed] laws and policies [targeted at social media entities] can and probably would affect a much wider swath of the American business community, so it's worth it to pay attention to these things and determine what is in our interest and what isn't."

The National Association of Realtors® is America's largest trade association, representing more than 1.4 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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