Apple chief executive Tim Cook has demanded a tough new US data protection law, in an unusual speech in Europe.
Referring to the misuse of “deeply personal” data, he said it was being “weaponised against us with military efficiency”.
“We shouldn’t sugar-coat the consequences,” he added. “This is surveillance.”
The strongly-worded speech presented a striking defence of user privacy rights from a tech firm’s chief executive.
Mr Cook also praised the EU’s new data protection regulation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The Apple boss described in some detail what he called the “data industrial complex”, noting that billions of dollars were traded on the basis of people’s “likes and dislikes”, “wishes and fears” or “hopes and dreams” – the kind of data points tracked by tech firms and advertisers.
He warned that the situation “should make us very uncomfortable, it should unsettle us”.
For the past year, select Google advertisers have had access to a potent new tool to track whether the ads they ran online led to a sale at a physical store in the U.S. That insight came thanks in part to a stockpile of Mastercard transactions that Google paid for.
But most of the two billion Mastercard holders aren’t aware of this behind-the-scenes tracking. That’s because the companies never told the public about the arrangement.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Mastercard Inc. brokered a business partnership during about four years of negotiations, according to four people with knowledge of the deal, three of whom worked on it directly. The alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com Inc. and others.
Nick Heer writes about a topic near and dear to our brains, albeit from the web developer side: why do websites load so slowly? And why is our personal data being sold without our informed consent?
The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago, but instead of making it faster to browse the same types of websites, we’re simply occupying that extra bandwidth with more stuff. Some of this stuff is amazing: in 2006, Apple added movies to the iTunes Store that were 640 × 480 pixels, but you can now stream movies in HD resolution and (pretend) 4K. These much higher speeds also allow us to see more detailed photos, and that’s very nice.
But a lot of the stuff we’re seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible.
Take that CNN article, for example. Here’s what it contained when I loaded it:
Eleven web fonts, totalling 414 KB
Four stylesheets, totalling 315 KB
Twenty-nine XML HTTP requests, totalling about 500 KB
Approximately one hundred scripts, totalling several megabytes — though it’s hard to pin down the number and actual size because some of the scripts are “beacons” that load after the page is technically finished downloading.
The vast majority of these resources are not directly related to the information on the page, and I’m including advertising. Many of the scripts that were loaded are purely for surveillance purposes: self-hosted analytics, of which there are several examples; various third-party analytics firms like Salesforce, Chartbeat, and Optimizely; and social network sharing widgets. They churn through CPU cycles and cause my six-year-old computer to cry out in pain and fury. I’m not asking much of it; I have opened a text-based document on the web.
An actual solution recognizes that this bullshit is inexcusable. It is making the web a cumulatively awful place to be. Behind closed doors, those in the advertising and marketing industry can be pretty lucid about how much they also hate surveillance scripts and how awful they find these methods, while simultaneously encouraging their use. Meanwhile, users are increasingly taking matters into their own hands — the use of ad blockers is rising across the board, many of which also block tracking scripts and other disrespectful behaviours. Users are making that choice.
They shouldn’t have to. Better choices should be made by web developers to not ship this bullshit in the first place. We wouldn’t tolerate such intrusive behaviour more generally; why are we expected to find it acceptable on the web?
An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.
All that “surveillance” stuff and related files are an abomination, and pleases no-one. I’ve heard anecdotal reports that even marketing savvy companies don’t frequently use all the data that is collected on their behalf. So who wants it? Unclear to me. I guess the third party data collection industry is happy to vacuum up this data because they can subsequently re-sell our information to the highest bidder, but that’s not a good enough reason to continue making web pages cumbersome.
Surveillance Society – Halsted and Division Edition
The Guardian reports:
Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, a court case in California alleges.
The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years.
A Facebook spokesperson said that Six4Three’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously”.
The allegations about surveillance appear in a January filing, the fifth amended complaint made by Six4Three. It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.
“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” one court document says.
This is Facebook’s business model though, so what exactly are they going to argue? No, we don’t collect data on our users and then use this information to sell advertising to corporations?
The one detail that is the most disturbing1 is that Facebook did this for people who weren’t Facebook users. How did these people consent? How do they request their data? How do they update their privacy settings?
While Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are hogging the spotlight, data brokers that collect your information from hundreds of sources and sell it wholesale are laughing all the way to the bank. But they’re not laughing in Vermont, where a first-of-its-kind law hems in these dangerous data mongers and gives the state’s citizens much-needed protections.
Data brokers in Vermont will now have to register as such with the state; they must take standard security measures and notify authorities of security breaches (no, they weren’t before); and using their data for criminal purposes like fraud is now its own actionable offense.
If you’re not familiar with data brokers, well, that’s the idea. These companies don’t really have a consumer-facing side, instead opting to collect information on people from as many sources as possible, buying and selling it amongst themselves like the commodity it has become.
This data exists in a regulatory near-vacuum. As long as they step carefully, data brokers can maintain what amounts to a shadow profile on consumers. I talked with director of the World Privacy Forum, Pam Dixon, about this practice.
“If you use an actual credit score, it’s regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” she told me. “But if you take a thousand points like shopping habits, zip code, housing status, you can create a new credit score; you can use that and it’s not discrimination.”
And while medical data like blood tests are protected from snooping, it’s not against the law for a company to make an educated guess your condition from the medicine you pay for at the local pharmacy. Now you’re on a secret list of “inferred” diabetics, and that data gets sold to, for example, Facebook, which combines it with its own metrics and allows advertisers to target it.
Exactly why I wish the US would implement its own version of the GDPR that we’ve discussed. Corporations that mine our digital data, and sell it, and resell it, without oversight, or without giving “a taste” to the consumer are corporations that need to be regulated and watched by a consumer protection agency of some kind. Not every consumer is savvy enough to obfuscate their tracks, and honestly, even somewhat savvy consumers are no doubt caught up in these nameless corporations’ databases. Corporations like Equifax, Quotient and Catalina Marketing and a few thousand others don’t really need to use browser cookies anymore, they also use the unique ID of your devices, they track your IP numbers down to your block group, and can track you at home, at office, via phone, via credit card, via geolocation and via other means. I find it Orwellian and creepy.
My sincere wish is that Vermont continues on this path of regulation of the wild, wild web of data brokers, and that other states and the entire country follows suit.
Europe’s new privacy law took effect Friday, causing major U.S. news websites to suspend access across the region as data-protection regulators prepare to brandish their new enforcement powers.
Tronc Inc., publisher of the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News and other U.S. newspapers [Chicago Tribune], was among those that blocked readers in the European Union from accessing sites, as they scrambled to comply with the sweeping regulation.
“We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market,” the company said in notices it displayed when users attempted to access its news sites from the EU on Friday morning.
Others U.S. regional newspapers owned by Lee Enterprises Inc., as well as bookmarking app Instapaper, owned by Pinterest. Inc., were also blocking access in the EU.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation foresees steep fines for companies that don’t comply with the new rules, aimed at giving Europe-based users more control over the data companies hold on them.
Tronc and many other digital news organizations are among the worst offenders of collecting information on consumers. Using this article at the WSJ as an example, Ghostery reports 24 different cookies/trackers being served to a reader, from Facebook, Google, DoubleClick, and so on. I’m a subscriber, and WSJ still allows companies like Bombora to shovel my information into their corporate maws.
So, I’m not surprised that many news organizations are not in compliance with the new GDPR regulations, I’m only saddened that the US doesn’t have a similar protection for consumers. Savvier consumers can install anti-tracking services, like Ghostery, but what about everyone else?
Kevin Crull, chief operating officer at Sprint, envisions a world in the coming years where his phone is able to automatically book an Uber ride from an airport based on a calendar reminder that he created about an upcoming flight. The calendar reminder feeds real-time travel stats to his device and then recommends a meal for his Uber driver to pick up on the way based on what items he has previously ordered through Uber Eats.
“I can see in the future where it brings in information from other devices and third-party services to get much more predictive and successful in how we’re targeting people,” he said.
Crull’s futuristic scenario isn’t just wishful (or hungry) thinking. It’s the product of 5G technology that constantly pings data back and forth between smartphones and connected devices, making it possible for devices to essentially predict what actions a consumer takes. At its core, the widespread rollout of 5G promises to increase connection speeds by up to 10 times while cutting latency by a factor of five, he said. Videos—and commercials—powered with 5G will stream faster and look crisper on smartphones. And with more data flowing quickly between networks and devices, the so-called Internet of Things will take a bit more shape for marketers who have long strived to ping a user’s smartphone with a relevant message as he passes a billboard or store.
Here’s the nub: 5 G as a technology is not necessarily better for average users, but it sure is for the industries that want to monetize your information and sell it, and you, to corporations.
Jogging After the End of Times
For instance: Augmented Reality, and self-driving cars – with television screens…
By the middle of next year, Sprint plans to have 5G up and running “in many markets,” while AT&T plans to equip 12 markets including Atlanta and Dallas with mobile 5G this year. T-Mobile says that it’s on track to have 5G rolled out to 30 cities such as New York and Los Angeles in 2018, and Verizon is also enabling five markets including Sacramento, Calif., with the technology.
For advertisers, 5G opens up new video opportunities with formats like virtual reality and interactive clips that require hefty amounts of data to view today. Sprint’s Crull said he also expects for advertisers to play with dynamic creative and video lengths that are customized to users depending on how much content they typically watch on their phone.
And as Apple, Facebook and Snapchat invest in augmented reality, expect for 5G to open up more detailed AR experiences for marketers to experiment with, said Malmad.
“In a world of 5G, you aren’t going to be constrained by [bandwidth]—you can showcase whatever you like and have a rich, deep experience, so I do believe that augmented reality will benefit greatly from 5G,” he said.
Malmad said that 5G will also make it easier for marketers to target ads to connected cars, particularly once autonomous driving becomes more mainstream. For example, self-driving cars are expected to free up people’s time and attention so that they can watch TV or stream programs, meaning that automakers may build screens into seats.
No wonder telecoms are forcing municipalities to install 5G towers, whether or not communities want them, with the help of the Republican FCC chairman, Ajit Pai.
Come Rain Come Shine
The NYT reported a few months ago:
The future of cellular service is coming to a neighborhood near you.
But who gets to decide when, where and how it gets delivered is still a heated fight.
The new technology, known as 5G, delivers wireless internet at far faster speeds than existing cellular connections. But it also requires different hardware to deliver the signals.
Instead of relying on large towers placed far apart, the new signals will come from smaller equipment placed an average of 500 feet apart in neighborhoods and business districts. Much of the equipment will be on streetlights or utility poles, often accompanied by containers the size of refrigerators on the ground. More than 300,000 cell stations now provide wireless connections, and 5G will bring hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — more.
The prospect of their installation has many communities and their officials, from Woodbury, N.Y., to Olympia, Wash., insisting that local governments control the placement and look of the new equipment. They say that the cell stations could clutter neighborhoods with eyesores and cost the communities a lot of potential revenue. “Residents across the country are just now beginning to understand the harms that hasty and insensitive small cell deployments can inflict on their communities,” said Jim Baller, the president of Baller Stokes & Lide, a law firm in Washington that represents municipalities on communications issues.
But telecommunications companies — hoping to cash in on what is predicted to be $250 billion in annual service revenue from 5G by 2025 — are pushing to build the system as quickly and cheaply as possible. And they have the federal government on their side.
Some states have preemptively stopped municipalities from having a say in the matter, or in receiving fees for these 5G poles:
And the F.C.C., under the leadership of Ajit Pai, its Republican chairman, has strongly encouraged weakening regulations to accelerate the deployment of new 5G technology — including reducing the role of local governments.
Texas cities can’t negotiate rates. Last year, the State Legislature passed a law pushed by AT&T that allows cities to charge carriers no more than $250 per pole each year. Before the law, cities often charged $1,500 to $2,500 a year per pole, and the change will cost Texas cities as much as $1 billion over eight years, the Texas Municipal League estimated.
A group of Texas cities led by the city of McAllen, near the Mexico border, filed a lawsuit last year against the state, arguing that the new cell-site law violated the state Constitution, which prohibits the Legislature from forcing cities to grant something of value to corporations.
Cell phones are useful for a lot of things, but owning one does have consequences, like the ability for 3rd party organizations or government entities to track your location down to 25-50 feet at any time your phone is connected to a cell tower.
The NYT reports:
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, wrote in a letter this week to the Federal Communications Commission that Securus confirmed that it did not “conduct any review of surveillance requests.” The senator said relying on customers to provide documentation was inadequate. “Wireless carriers have an obligation to take affirmative steps to verify law enforcement requests,” he wrote, adding that Securus did not follow those procedures.
The service provided by Securus reveals a potential weakness in a system that is supposed to protect the private information of millions of cellphone users. With customers’ consent, carriers sell the ability to acquire location data for marketing purposes like providing coupons when someone is near a business, or services like roadside assistance or bank fraud protection. Companies that use the data generally sign contracts pledging to get people’s approval — through a response to a text message, for example, or the push of a button on a menu — or to otherwise use the data legally.
But the contracts between the companies, including Securus, are “the legal equivalent of a pinky promise,” Mr. Wyden wrote. The F.C.C. said it was reviewing the letter.
Courts are split on whether investigators need a warrant based on probable cause to acquire location data. In some states, a warrant is required for any sort of cellphone tracking. In other states, it is needed only if an investigator wants the data in real time. And in others no warrant is needed at all.
Other experts said the law should apply for any communications on a network, not just phone calls. “If the phone companies are giving someone a direct portal into the real-time location data on all of their customers, they should be policing it,” said Laura Moy, the deputy director of the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology.
Mr. Wyden, in his letter to the F.C.C., also said that carriers had an obligation to verify whether law enforcement requests were legal. But Securus cuts the carriers out of the review process, because the carriers do not receive the legal documents.
The letter called for an F.C.C. investigation into Securus, as well as the phone companies and their protections of user data. Mr. Wyden also sent letters to the major carriers, seeking audits of their relationships with companies that buy consumer data. Representatives for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon said the companies had received the letters and were investigating.
In this particular instance, the 3rd parties selling your location data is called 3Cinteractive and LocationSmart, but there are hundreds more such companies who have built their businesses on turning your location into sellable data, most of which are relatively obscure.
Securus received the data from a mobile marketing company called 3Cinteractive, according to 2013 documents from the Florida Department of Corrections. Securus said that for confidentiality reasons it could not confirm whether that deal was still in place, but a spokesman for Mr. Wyden said the company told the senator’s office it was. In turn, 3Cinteractive got its data from LocationSmart, a firm known as a location aggregator, according to documents from those companies. LocationSmart buys access to the data from all the major American carriers, it says.
How does it work?
“Envision a cell site,” says Allen (a typical tower appears in the photo above). “They’re triangular, and each side has about 120 degrees of sweep.” Every time a signal is transmitted to a nearby phone, says Allen, there is a round-trip delay to the mobile device and back. By using all three sides of the triangle to “talk” to the mobile device, the tower can triangulate which edge of the base station is closest to the device. “Typically the accuracy return varies,” says Allen. “In urban settings, it can be accurate down to several blocks; in suburban settings, several hundred meters.”
“We can locate any subscriber,” says Allen, “and companies want all those subscribers to be addressable,” or discoverable. Normally, this requires passing through some privacy gateways, says Allen. “The end user must opt in through a Web portal or SMS, or an app like Foursquare,” he says, per “universal” CTIA and MMA guidelines, and carriers’ own privacy protocol.
But with enterprise services, there’s a catch. “In a workplace scenario, the corporate entity has the right to opt-in those devices,” says Allen. “The [employee] is typically notified, but the opt-in is up to the employer.”
In other words: if your employer owns your phone, tablet or 3G-enabled computer, they’re entitled to own your location, too.
Even Apple, a corporation that prides itself on not selling users data as much as their competitors, has acknowledged that users data has sometimes been sold.
9To5 Mac reports:
Over the last few days, Apple has seemingly started cracking down on applications that share location data with third-parties. In such cases, Apple has been removing the application in question and informing developers that their app violates two parts of the App Store Review Guidelines…
Sylvania HomeKit Light Strip Thus far, we’ve seen several cases of Apple cracking down on these types of applications. The company informs developers via email that “upon re-evaluation,” their application is in violation of sections 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 of the App Store Review Guidelines, which pertain to transmitting user location data and user awareness of data collection.
Legal – 5.1.1 and Legal 5.1.2
The app transmits user location data to third parties without explicit consent from the user and for unapproved purposes.
Apple explains that developers must remove any code, frameworks, or SDKs that relate to the violation before their app can be resubmitted to the App Store
In the context of describing yet another social network aimed at Facebook, albeit one that allegedly will pay you for your content1 Wired reports:
DURING MARK ZUCKERBERG’S over 10 hours of Congressional testimony last week, lawmakers repeatedly asked how Facebook makes money. The simple answer, which Zuckerberg dodged, is the contributions and online activities of its over two billion users, which allow marketers to target ads with razor precision. In which case, asked representative Paul Tonko (D – New York), “why doesn’t Facebook pay its users for their incredibly valuable data?”
Yeah, Facebook doesn’t want to really discuss this key aspect of their business in public: all their wealth is based on the mining and reselling of their users data. It was never a hidden fact, it was always known to anyone who bothered to ask, but Facebook doesn’t really like to explain it so that the majority realize they are the product being sold.
So let’s be clear, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter even2 only exist to collect data about their users, and use information gleaned from their users to sell to corporations, or governments, etc. That is the model. If everyone, including your grandmother, and my 14 year old nephew understands this basic fact, we’ll all benefit as a society.
From the Washington Post we learn that basically every piece of data Facebook collected about you has been shared with the digital marketing world, and the dark web whether you agreed to do that or not:
Facebook said Wednesday that “malicious actors” took advantage of search tools on its platform, making it possible for them to discover the identities and collect information on most of its 2 billion users worldwide.
…But the abuse of Facebook’s search tools — now disabled — happened far more broadly and over the course of several years, with few Facebook users likely escaping the scam, company officials acknowledged.
The scam started when hackers harvested email addresses and phone numbers on the “dark Web,” where criminals post information stolen in data breaches over the years. Then the hackers used automated computer programs to feed the numbers and addresses into Facebook’s “search” box, allowing them to discover the full names of people affiliated with the phone numbers or addresses, along with whatever Facebook profile information they chose to make public, often including their profile photos and hometowns.
Names, phone numbers, email addresses and other personal information amount to critical starter kits for identity theft and other malicious online activity, experts on Internet crime say. The Facebook hacks allowed bad actors to tie raw data to people’s real identities and build fuller profiles of them.
Developers who in the past could get access to people’s relationship status, calendar events, private Facebook posts and much more data will now be cut off from access or be required to endure a much stricter process for obtaining the information, Facebook said.
Until Wednesday, apps that let people input Facebook events into their calendars could also automatically import lists of all the people who attended the events, Facebook said. Administrators of private groups, some of which have tens of thousands of members, could also let apps scrape the Facebook posts and profiles of members of those groups. App developers who want this access will now have to prove that their activities benefit the group. Facebook will now need to approve tools that businesses use to operate Facebook pages. A business that uses an app to help it respond quickly to customer messages, for example, will not be able to do so automatically. Developers’ access to Instagram will also be severely restricted.
Facebook is banning apps from accessing users’ information about their religious or political views, relationship status, education, work history, fitness activity, book reading habits, music listening and news reading activity, video watching and games. Data brokers and businesses collect this type of information to build profiles of their customers’ tastes.
There is no way to put this information back into the bottle, the only thing left to do is protecting future information from being harvested, and perhaps punishing Facebook for its lackadaisical approach to protecting the world’s personal data. Shut them down!
Speaking for myself, I don’t feel too worried, I always was a bit leery with giving Facebook access to my actual information. They do have my birthday, and where I went to school, but nearly everything else I put in my profile was faux information, or things available elsewhere. For a long time, I’ve used the Facebook API and other tools1 to automatically post photos from Flickr, Instagram, blog entries, etc. But who knows, perhaps I wasn’t careful enough to always delete my Facebook cookies, and so they scraped more information about me than I know. I did use the Facebook app for a few months before deleting it off of my iOS devices, but all it takes is a moment of unguarded attention, and the freaks at Facebook will vacuum up everything not nailed down. So the dark web may know more about me than I know.
In Your Bubble Where Nothing Goes Wrong
Barbara Ortutay adds:
On Monday all Facebook users will receive a notice on their Facebook feeds with a link to see what apps they use and what information they have shared with those apps. They’ll have a chance to delete apps they no longer want. Users who might have had their data shared with Cambridge Analytica will be told of that. Facebook says most of the affected users are in the U.S.
As part of the steps it’s taking to address scrutiny about outsiders’ access to user data, Facebook outlined several changes to further tighten its policies. For one, it is restricting access that apps can have to data about users’ events, as well as information about groups such as member lists and content.
In addition, the company is also removing the option to search for users by entering a phone number or an email address. While this helped individuals find friends, Facebook says businesses that had phone or email information on customers were able to collect profile information this way. Facebook says it believes most of its 2.2 billion users had their public profile information scraped by businesses or various malicious actors through this technique at some point. Posts and other content set to be visible only to friends weren’t collected.
This comes on top of changes announced a few weeks ago. For example, Facebook has said it will remove developers’ access to people’s data if the person has not used the app in three months.
Laura Ingraham, a Fox News host, apologized under pressure on Thursday for taunting a survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., as at least eight companies confirmed they would pull advertising from her show.
In response, Mr. Hogg, who has rapidly become a prominent advocate for gun-control policies, called on Ms. Ingraham’s advertisers to boycott her show. Eight of the companies, TripAdvisor, Wayfair, Hulu, Nutrish, Johnson & Johnson, Nestle, Atlantis Paradise Island and Stitch Fix, said they were removing their ads. A ninth, Expedia, said it had recently pulled its advertising but declined to say when.
As frustrated as advertisers may be with Facebook these days, a bigger challenge may be finding a suitable alternative.
Whether many will actually try to do so remains the $55 billion question. That is what Wall Street currently expects Facebook to generate in advertising revenue this year. It is a big number that also happens to be 37% higher than what the company generated in ad sales last year. For comparison’s sake, Google’s ad business was growing about half as fast when it was the same size.
Perhaps most notable is that the majority of analysts haven’t brought down their projections for Facebook’s ad business even as controversy has engulfed the company over the last two weeks. Many instead are taking a wait-and-see approach. Questions over Facebook’s handling of user data has sparked an online campaign to #DeleteFacebook. But little is known now about whether that is having any effect. Facebook’s next quarterly report—likely about a month from now—will be the first real opportunity to see if users are fleeing or largely sticking around.
In the latter case, most advertisers likely will too. As controversial as Facebook may be right now, its scale and reach make the platform unique among advertising channels. The social network ranked highest in terms of return on investment among online advertising platforms in a survey by RBC Capital Markets. Interestingly, most of the survey took place in the latter half of March as the negative headlines about Facebook piled up. RBC analyst Mark Mahaney noted that Facebook even managed to edge out Alphabet Inc.’s Google for the top ranking for the first time.
Facebook plans on riding out this wave of bad PR, just as they have in the past. As long as people continue to use Facebook, and willingly be the product that is sold to advertisers, Facebook will continue profiting off your clicks.
As Vox writer Matthew Yglesias notes, Google collects as much or more information on us, yet they in return give something useful. Google search is the best search engine, usually, and Gmail is a good, free mail. What does Facebook offer in return for selling your data? A place to share photos of your children? A place to argue about politics? Why can’t that be done in the same way it was done before Facebook? The main selling point of Facebook is that it has a built-in audience for your content. But is it really worth it? Maybe because I’m a cynical Gen-Xer who wrote most of my college papers on a typewriter, but I wouldn’t miss Facebook if it vanished, especially if Twitter survived. I’m comfortable emailing people, if I needed to communicate with them. Maybe this sucky blog would start to get decent traffic again?
That Facebook’s relentless growth threatens the existence of news organizations is something that should make the architects of that relentless growth feel bad about themselves. They are helping to erode public officials’ accountability, foster public ignorance, and degrade the quality of American democracy.
Google, of course, poses similar threats to the journalism ecosystem through its own digital advertising industry. But Googlers can also make a strong case that Google makes valuable contributions to the information climate. I learn useful, real information via Google every day. And while web search is far from a perfect technology, Google really does usually surface accurate, reliable information on the topics you search for. Facebook’s imperative to maximize engagement, by contrast, lands it in an endless cycle of sensationalism and nonsense.
Facebook is actually bad for our media infrastructure, the media infrastructure which is an essential pillar to our democracy.
Meanwhile, Facebook is destroying the business model for outlets that make real news.
Facebook critics in the press are often accused of special pleading, of hatred of a company whose growing share of the digital advertising pie is a threat to our business model. This is, on some level, correct.
The answer to the objection, however, is that special pleaders on behalf of journalism are correct on the merits. Not all businesses are created equal. Cigarette companies poison their customers; journalism companies inform them.
And traditionally, American society has recognized that reality and tried to create a viable media ecosystem. The US Postal Service has long maintained a special discount rate for periodicals to facilitate the dissemination of journalism and the viability of journalism business models. Until last fall, the Federal Communications Commission maintained rules requiring licensed local broadcast stations to maintain local news studios.
The association between Facebook and fake news is by now well-known, but the stark facts are worth repeating — according to Craig Silverman’s path-breaking analysis for BuzzFeed, the 20 highest-performing fake news stories of the closing days of the 2016 campaign did better on Facebook than the 20 highest-performing real ones.
Rumors, misinformation, and bad reporting can and do exist in any medium. But Facebook created a medium that is optimized for fakeness, not as an algorithmic quirk but due to the core conception of the platform. By turning news consumption and news discovery into a performative social process, Facebook turns itself into a confirmation bias machine — a machine that can best be fed through deliberate engineering.
In reputable newsrooms, that’s engineering that focuses on graphic selection, headlines, and story angles while maintaining a commitment to accuracy and basic integrity. But relaxing the constraint that the story has to be accurate is a big leg up — it lets you generate stories that are well-designed to be psychologically pleasing, like telling Trump-friendly white Catholics that the pope endorsed their man, while also guaranteeing that your outlet gets a scoop.
For a better path forward, it’s worth looking at the actual life of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
He likes to do annual personal challenges, and they are normally sensible. One year, he set about to learn Mandarin. Another year, he challenged himself to run 365 miles. He visited all 50 states and met and spoke face to face with people in each state he visited. He committed to reading a book cover to cover every two weeks.
This year, his challenge is to try to fix Facebook. But he ought, instead, to think harder about those other challenges and what they say about what he finds valuable in life — sustained engagement with difficult topics and ideas, physical exercise, face-to-face interaction with human beings, travel. This suggests a healthy, commonsense value system that happens to be profoundly and fundamentally at odds with the Facebook business model.
To simply walk away from it, shut it down, salt the earth, and move on to doing something entirely new would be an impossibly difficult decision for almost anyone. Nobody walks away from the kind of wealth and power that Facebook has let Zuckerberg accumulate. But he’s spoken frequently about his desire to wield that wealth and power for good. And while there are a lot of philanthropists out there who could donate to charities, there’s only one person who can truly “fix” Facebook by doing away with it.
or for instance, read the instructions Abby Ohlheiser wrote in the WaPo:
In the Facebook settings for your account — right below the link to deactivate it — there’s an option to download a copy of all your Facebook data. The file can be a creepy wake-up call: All those years of browsing the News Feed, and sharing selfies, engagements and birthday wishes on Facebook have taught the company quite a lot about you. You, the user, are part of the reason that Facebook has become so good at targeting ads. You’re giving them everything they need to do it.
Here’s a link that will take you right to the settings page, if you’re logged in to your account. One there, click on the link to download your archive, and follow the prompts
I was curious what exactly Facebook knows, especially since I’ve always been somewhat cautious about what I post there. At least I thought I was careful. Turns out Facebook has a huge list of people from my address book, most of which are not actual friends on Facebook1 or several deceased people. I guess one time Facebook copied my phonebook? A lot of the data is old, and not up to date, but there it is anyway.
Then there is the Facebook advertising selects (listed below because it is a big freaking list)
The Facebook exposé continues at The Guardian. Privacy enthusiasts have known or suspected this was Facebook’s business model all along, it is good to make Facebook’s practices more well known to the general public.
Hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information harvested by companies that exploited the same terms as the firm that collected data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, according to a new whistleblower.
Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012, told the Guardian he warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major breach.
“My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data,” he said.
Parakilas said Facebook had terms of service and settings that “people didn’t read or understand” and the company did not use its enforcement mechanisms, including audits of external developers, to ensure data was not being misused.
Asked what kind of control Facebook had over the data given to outside developers, he replied: “Zero. Absolutely none. Once the data left Facebook servers there was not any control, and there was no insight into what was going on.”
Parakilas said he “always assumed there was something of a black market” for Facebook data that had been passed to external developers. However, he said that when he told other executives the company should proactively “audit developers directly and see what’s going on with the data” he was discouraged from the approach.
He said one Facebook executive advised him against looking too deeply at how the data was being used, warning him: “Do you really want to see what you’ll find?” Parakilas said he interpreted the comment to mean that “Facebook was in a stronger legal position if it didn’t know about the abuse that was happening”.
He added: “They felt that it was better not to know. I found that utterly shocking and horrifying.”
Probably good news for the American food consumer1 – the GMA is crumbling.
A succession of high-profile, global companies have terminated their memberships with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—the self-professed “voice of the industry”—rapidly undoing some 110 years of work the trade association had done to amass influence in US politics. In July 2017, as first reported by Politico, the Campbell Soup Company decided to leave GMA by the start of 2018, saying the trade association no longer represented its views. Three months later, the world’s largest food company, Nestlé, announced it was following suit. Then the floodgates opened, with Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods, Unilever, the Hershey Company, Cargill, the Kraft Heinz Company, and DowDuPont all opting to leave, as well.
These high-profile departures will likely cost GMA millions of dollars in lost membership dues; one top lobbyist with a former member company speculates the association may lose about half of its former financial might. In 2016, GMA reported spending nearly $35 million on lobbying initiatives.
Publicly, the companies that left GMA are mostly vague about their reasons for defection. Privately, though, their executives have complained about disagreements with management, arthritic association bylaws, and a seeming unwillingness to budge on issues. As the lobbyist puts it, rather than trying to evolve with consumer demand, GMA leadership chose instead to be pugnacious about issues like GMO transparency and improved food-package ingredient labeling.
New York University nutrition and food studies professor Marion Nestle says a wounded GMA is unequivocally a good thing for everyday people eager for better access to information about the foods they’re eating.
“The positions that GMA took were really, really retrogressive on a range of consumer issues,” Nestle says. “All these companies are trying to position themselves as being consumer-friendly.”
Companies are increasingly under pressure to find growth in a market where more and more consumers are seeking healthier fare, whether they’re buying organic baby food, cereal without artificial colors or meats raised without antibiotics.
As legacy brands lag, food companies have two options: Change to compete or buy up the new brands that are already growing rapidly.
With each episode of discord, both internally and publicly, it becomes harder for GMA to convince its members to pay fees to belong to a trade group that’s rife with division and, at times, fights against issues they either don’t want fought or don’t want to be associated with.
“More than one food industry lobbyist has told me that they spend more time lobbying their industry association than they do Capitol Hill,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
Many in Washington think GMA has been tone deaf as it has, in some cases, kept up lavish spending even as its members are cutting costs and laying off workers to meet their quarterly targets.
“I don’t know a single challenger brand that’s said ‘hey, I need to join GMA,’” said John Foraker, the founder and former CEO of Annie’s.
My favorite quote comes from Jeff Nedelman, who was a VP of communications at GMA during the 1980s and ’90s: “To me, it looks like GMA is the dinosaur just waiting to die.”