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Tag: Facebook

Zuckerberg live

Tuesday, 10 April, 2018 0 Comments

Today, Mark Zuckerberg appears before the US Congress and is answering questions from a joint hearing of the Senate judiciary and commerce, science and transportation committees. Tomorrow he will face the House committee on energy and commerce.

Note: Facebook is larger than all nations, and all human groups in history, with the exception of global Christianity, which it now almost equals in numbers of “followers”.


Twitter thread on AI and FB

Friday, 6 April, 2018 0 Comments

Note: A thread on Twitter is a series of connected Tweets from one person. With a thread, you can add updates, context and background by connecting multiple Tweets together.

François Chollet constructs exemplary Twitter threads. A software engineer and artificial intelligence researcher at Google, he’s the creator of Keras, a leading deep learning framework for the Python programming language, and he has a new book out, Deep Learning with Python. In other words, he knows his AI, and he knows how Facebook uses AI to achieve its ends. Chollet’s Twitter thread from 21 March is informative and disturbing. Highlights:

The problem with Facebook is not *just* the loss of your privacy and the fact that it can be used as a totalitarian panopticon. The more worrying issue, in my opinion, is its use of digital information consumption as a psychological control vector.

We’re looking at a powerful entity that builds fine-grained psychological profiles of over two billion humans, that runs large-scale behavior manipulation experiments, and that aims at developing the best AI technology the world has ever seen. Personally, it really scares me

Twitter thread

And this is a powerful call to arms by Chollet: “If you work in AI, please don’t help them. Don’t play their game. Don’t participate in their research ecosystem. Please show some conscience”


Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology

Thursday, 5 April, 2018 0 Comments

The full title of Adam Alter’s book is even longer: Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Money quote:

“Facebook has an endless feed; Netflix automatically moves on to the next episode in a series; Tinder encourages users to keep swiping in search of a better option. Users benefit from these apps and websites, but also struggle to use them in moderation. According to Tristan Harris, a ‘design ethicist,’ the problem isn’t that people lack willpower; it’s that ‘there are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.'”

Our age of behavioural addiction is still in its infancy, but we can no longer ignore the writing on the screen. Everything from family and friendship to rest and play is being crowded out by smartphones, e-mails, social networking and on-demand viewing. Understanding the nature of addiction is a necessary first step in defending our well-being, but it will be hard to beat our new habits when thousand of dopamine pushers “on the other side of the screen” are being paid huge sums to hook us.

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked


Blog to write, tweet to fight

Sunday, 25 March, 2018 0 Comments

That, by the way, is the follow up to the “blog to reflect, tweet to connect” meme of recent years. Background: Dan Cohen is a history professor at Northeastern University in Boston known for his focus on what some people call the “digital humanities.” He’s also a blogger and in a recent post titled “Back to the Blog” he wrote about the pleasure of traditional blogging compared to the thrill of posting on social media. In essence, it’s about leaving the Facebook & Twitter noise behind and taking ownership of one’s own intellectual property, but there’s more. Snippet:

“I met many people through Twitter who became and remain important collaborators and friends. But the salad days of ‘blog to reflect, tweet to connect’ are gone. Long gone. Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like ‘blog to write, tweet to fight.’ Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic — not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.

Which is why it’s once again a good time to blog, especially on one’s own domain.”

Still, it’s a labour of love because the advertising that once supported bloggers has been hoovered up by the web giants, and then there’s the enormous advantage of numbers the platforms possess. Cohen: “Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity — the feeling that ‘others are here’ — that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.”

Talking about animals and the loneliness of the long-distance blogger (classical reference), George R.R. Martin summed it up, grimly, in A Game of Thrones: “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”


The Age of Hypocrisy

Wednesday, 21 March, 2018 1 Comment

Without a hint self-reflection the Guardian asks: “Facebook: is it time we all deleted our accounts?” Why is this Hypocrisy with a capital H? Because the same Guardian has a community of almost eight million “likers” on Facebook and it uses the platform to flog its products. There’s no sign of the Guardian deleting that account, though.

The same goes for the much-praised post by Whatsapp co-founder Brian Acton on Twitter: “It is time. #deletefacebook.” As the world knows, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 and the company implemented the policy Acton is objecting to now in 2010, four years before he trousered $6.5 billion of Zuck’s money. Acton knew full well what Facebook was when he sold WhatsApp to them but now, with those Facebook billions in the bank, he’s wants us to believe that he’s a privacy advocate. That’s rich, Brian, and it’s every bit as convincing as the Guardian pontificating about deleting Facebook accounts when it’s using data gleaned from Facebook to market its wares.

This is the Age of Hypocrisy


Escaping from Facebook: deactivating is not deleting

Tuesday, 20 March, 2018 0 Comments

Over at Wired, Gordon Gottsegen and Josie Colt offer advice on how to make the break. It isn’t easy, though, because deactivating is not the same as deleting:

If you’ve ever deactivated your account, you may have noticed that everything goes back to normal the next time you log in, as if nothing has happened. That’s because deactivating your Facebook account is not the same as deleting it. When you deactivate your account, you are just hiding your information from searches and your Facebook friends. Although nothing is visible on the site, your account information remains intact on Facebook’s servers, eagerly awaiting your return.

Even so, deactivating your account is still a complex process. Go into your settings and click General. At the bottom, you’ll find Manage your Account. From there, click on “Deactivate your account” and type in your password. Before you’re completely off the hook, Facebook shows you photos of all the “friends” you’ll miss (“Callie will miss you”, “Phoebe will miss you”, “Ben will miss you”) followed by a survey asking you to detail your reasons for leaving. Get through that, click Deactivate, and you’re good to go.

Now, to permanently delete your account, you’ll need to learn where the delete option resides. The easiest way to find it is by clicking the “Quick Help” icon in the top-right corner, then the “Search” icon. When you see the search field, type “delete account.” You’ll see a list of search results. Click on “How do I permanently delete my account?” and Facebook will give you the obscure instructions to “log into your account and let us know.” In this case, “let us know” is code for “delete my account,” so click on that link. From here, the final steps are clear: Enter your password and solve the security captcha, and your request to permanently delete your account is underway.

Yes, you read that right — it’s just a request. Facebook delays the deletion process for a few days after you submit your request, and will cancel your request if you log into your account during that time period.

Love that bit: “Facebook shows you photos of all the ‘friends’ you’ll miss (‘Callie will miss you’, ‘Phoebe will miss you’, ‘Ben will miss you’).” It’s hard to break up with Callie, Phoebe and Ben, but lots of people are thinking about it now.


One channel to rule them all

Monday, 4 December, 2017 0 Comments

As J.R.R. Tolkien fans know, the One Ring is the central plot element in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. It’s got a malevolent power, this ring, which is not surprising as it was created by Sauron as part of his plan to conquer Middle-earth. The words inscribed on the Ring were uttered by the Dark Lord himself as he forged it:

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”

There is no parallel to be drawn between YouTube and the One Ring, of course, but it has turned into the internet for video content from Middle-earth. All the big players publish on Google’s channel: Amazon is there, so is Microsoft, so is Twitter, so is Facebook and Apple has now bowed to reality.

“Someone else always has to carry on the story.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


Chat is king

Wednesday, 26 April, 2017 0 Comments

Jam Koum? Yan Koum? Jan Koum? Russian journalist Darya Luganskaya, who writes cryptic English, snags a rare interview with the reticent co-founder of WhatsApp, who co-trousered $19 billion with Brian Acton when Facebook acquired the app in 2014.

Darya Luganskaya notes that the messenger generation is not that into making phone calls and asks, “Why people turn to text communication so fast?”

Jan Koum: “I can not speak from the others. I personally prefer not to call, because I am afraid to disturb people. Everybody has very rich life, and it seems to me I can distract them from something important. Somebody could have dinner with his family, prepare the homework with his children or attend an important meeting. And then all of a sudden his phone rings, but my call could be absolutely unimportant. I may just want to ask: how is it going?

Usually I try to plan the call. I ask in the messenger if I could call, for example, in half an hour. For me it is much easier to chat via messengers.”

The WhatsApp user base of more than one billion messaging people is cool with that.


Apps away!

Monday, 10 April, 2017 0 Comments

As Facebook nears two billion users, Instagram is heading towards a billion. Meanwhile, Messenger and WhatsApp continue to surge onward and upward.

Apps


Mobile is eating the world: 2016

Monday, 12 December, 2016 0 Comments

“As we pass 2.5 billion smartphones on earth and head towards 5 billion , and mobile moves from creation to deployment, the questions change,” say Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm behind lots of successful Silicon Valley startups. He assesses the state of the smartphone, machine learning and GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) in his annual presentation.


Allo, Allo, Allo: Productivity vs. Privacy vs. Pizza

Wednesday, 5 October, 2016 0 Comments

“The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives. But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first, a world where computing becomes universally available — be it at home, at work, in the car, or on the go —and interacting with all of these surfaces becomes much more natural and intuitive, and above all, more intelligent.” Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, yesterday.

The occasion was the announcement of the gorgeous new Pixel phone with its in-built artificial intelligence assistant. But there’s a price to be paid for the beauty and the smarts because AI will enable tech companies to gather even more information about us, and our data will be less protected than ever.

Allo, Allo, Allo

Google’s AI apprentice, which beavers busily inside the new messaging app Allo, will answer questions about sports, the weather, or for directions to the nearest café. Pichai pointed out yesterday that this is just the beginning. Google’s AI will learn about our preferences to better present personalized results and to answer more specific questions. It will get smarter, faster and more accurate every day. It will never rest.

Pixel To do this, it will gather data, endlessly. The places you visit, the foods you prefer, your thoughts about Trump will be collected. It can do this only by accessing all the information on everything stored on the phone, and it can also access “content on your screen”. To provide more accurate recommendations, the AI must gather and analyse our data, but for this to happen, our messages need to be unencrypted. Yes, Google offers best-of-breed encryption within Allo, but if you turn on encryption, you turn off the AI.

Here’s the reality: to stay competitive, the tech giants will have to provide AI-powered assistants. This is an arms race and the choice is fight or flight. Facebook’s Messenger also has opt-in encryption that’s regarded as the gold standard, but if users want to call an Uber from within the app, their messages have to be unencrypted.

AI is fun. But it’s also serious because it’s a potential revenue stream that will only flow if it’s filled with data. Investors in Google and Facebook know that an assistant that presents sponsored results when someone asks it to order that Pepperoni Feast could be huge for Alphabet and Domino’s. Yes, they offer people serious options to protect their data, but that means going without the sorcerer’s apprentice. Tech is betting that productivity and pizza, not privacy, will win.