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Tag: Facebook

Zuckerberg vs. Europe

Wednesday, 23 May, 2018

During Mark Zuckerberg’s two days in April before the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington, the criticism from the opposite side of the Atlantic was loud. The questioning politicians were uninformed, old, laughable and, to boot, American. If only urbane Europeans were allowed to get their hands on the Facebook CEO, the truth would out and the ruffian would pay the reckoning.

Well, yesterday the European Parliament had its moment when Mark Zuckerberg appeared in Brussels. And the outcome? The format was totally unfit for purpose and Zuckerberg didn’t make a single substantial pledge to change the way Facebook operated. Sure, he said he was very sorry about how his platform has been used by disreputable people for reprehensible purposes, but was that a sufficient piety for getting him to fly across the ocean? Fine words butter no parsnips, say the Eurocrats in the Berlaymont, before they order another bottle of Domaine Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru.

The reality is that Zuckerberg was never under pressure yesterday and Facebook has nothing to fear from the European Parliament’s toothless tigers. What’s more, just a few hours before the Brussels “grilling”, Jake Kanter had a story in Business Insider titled “The backlash that never happened: New data shows people actually increased their Facebook usage after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.” Snippet:

The Cambridge Analytica data debacle was billed as Facebook’s biggest crisis, but it looks like it didn’t even leave a scratch on the company.

Facebook weathered the worst of the storm and usage actually increased, according to a client note from Goldman Sachs, citing ComScore figures. In other words, the #deleteFacebook backlash never really arrived.

Goldman Sachs said Facebook’s US unique users on mobile rose 7% year-on-year to 188.6 million in April, when the scandal was biting hard… The findings, coupled with a full recovery in Facebook’s share price, completely undercut other research, which suggested that people’s trust in Facebook has nosedived since mid-March, when whistleblower Christopher Wylie first helped reveal that 87 million users had their data compromised by Cambridge Analytica.”

The MEPs in Brussels and the Senators in Washington can huff and puff as much as the like but they’re not the smartest people in the room when dealing with Mark Zuckerberg. Moreover, he’s not afraid of them. So where does that leave the rest of us? We are on our own and we must live with the complex reality created by these powerful platforms.


Clearing history at Facebook

Thursday, 3 May, 2018 0 Comments

Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference has ended and the announcements that captured most attention were a cheaper Oculus Go headset, enhanced Instagram Stories and dating. The latter gave rise to much mirth since Facebook is always vigilant when it comes to relationships, data and not doing harm. Right?

The really big announcement was underreported, though. It’s the upcoming “Clear history” functionality and Mark Zuckerberg posted about it himself:

“In your web browser, you have a simple way to clear your cookies and history. The idea is a lot of sites need cookies to work, but you should still be able to flush your history whenever you want. We’re building a version of this for Facebook too. It will be a simple control to clear your browsing history on Facebook — what you’ve clicked on, websites you’ve visited, and so on.”

Note 1: Facebook is using your Instagram photos to train its AIs: “Using Instagram images that are already labeled by way of hashtags, Facebook was able to collect relevant data and use it to train its computer vision and object recognition models.”

Note 2: WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum is exiting because of “privacy issues” and Cambridge Analytica is closing, citing “loss of business.”

Facebook has become synonymous with creative disruption, er, destruction.


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