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Facebook’s third act: Mark Zuckerberg announces his firm’s next business model

Here lies Zuckerberg’s cynical attempt to change the narrative by implementing end to end encryption is simply a bad idea. It gets them off the hook to moderate content (read: more profits), still allows them to sell ads and makes it nearly impossible for law enforcement to do their job. Hey Zuck, why not hand hang a sign out: criminals, pedophiles, gangs, repressive regimes, etc. – “all welcome here.” I have a better idea: Get Facebook off the planet.

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If it works, the social-networking giant will become more private and more powerful

THE FIRST big overhaul for Facebook came in 2012-14. Internet users were carrying out ever more tasks on smartphones rather than desktop or laptop computers. Mark Zuckerberg opted to follow them, concentrating on Facebook’s mobile app ahead of its website, and buying up two fast-growing communication apps, WhatsApp and Instagram. It worked. Facebook increased its market valuation from around $60bn at the end of 2012 to—for a brief period in 2018—more than $600bn.

On March 6th Mr Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s next pivot. As well as its existing moneymaking enterprise, selling targeted ads on its public social networks, it is building a “privacy-focused platform” around WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger. The apps will be integrated, he said, and messages sent through them encrypted end-to-end, so that even Facebook cannot read them. While it was not made explicit, it is clear what the business model will be. Mr Zuckerberg wants all manner of businesses to use its messaging networks to provide services and accept payments. Facebook will take a cut.

A big shift was overdue at Facebook given the privacy and political scandals that have battered the firm. Even Mr Zuckerberg, who often appears incapable of seeing the gravity of Facebook’s situation, seemed to grasp the irony of it putting privacy first. “Frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services,” he noted.

Still, he intends to do it. Mr Zuckerberg claims that users will benefit from his plan to integrate its messaging apps into a single, encrypted network. The content of messages will be safe from prying eyes of authoritarian snoops and criminals, as well as from Facebook itself. It will make messaging more convenient, and make profitable new services possible. But caution is warranted for three reasons.

The first is that Facebook has long been accused of misleading the public on privacy and security, so the potential benefits Mr Zuckerberg touts deserve to be treated sceptically. He is also probably underselling the benefits that running integrated messaging networks brings to his firm, even if they are encrypted so that Facebook cannot see the content. The metadata alone, ie, who is talking to whom, when and for how long, will still allow Facebook to target advertisements precisely, meaning its ad model will still function.

End-to-end encryption will also make Facebook’s business cheaper to run. Because it will be mathematically impossible to moderate encrypted communications, the firm will have an excuse to take less responsibility for content running through its apps, limiting its moderation costs.

If it can make the changes, Facebook’s dominance over messaging would probably increase. The newfound user-benefits of a more integrated Facebook might make it harder for regulators to argue that Mr Zuckerberg’s firm should be broken up.

Facebook’s plans in India provide some insight into the new model. It has built a payment system into WhatsApp, the country’s most-used messaging app. The system is waiting for regulatory approval. The market is huge. In the rest of the world, too, users are likely to be drawn in by the convenience of Facebook’s new networks. Mr Zuckerberg’s latest strategy is ingenious but may contain twists.

The Week in Tech: Facebook and Google Reshape the Narrative on Privacy

And from the bs department

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…Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The chief executive of a huge tech company with vast stores of user data, and a business built on using it to target ads, now says his priority is privacy.

This time it was Google’s Sundar Pichai, at the company’s annual conference for developers. “We think privacy is for everyone,” he explained on Tuesday. “We want to do more to stay ahead of constantly evolving user expectations.” He reiterated the point in a New York Times Op-Ed, and highlighted the need for federal privacy rules.

The previous week, Mark Zuckerberg delivered similar messages at Facebook’s developer conference. “The future is private,” he said, and Facebook will focus on more intimate communications. He shared the idea in a Washington Post op-ed just weeks before, also highlighting the need for federal privacy rules.

Google went further than Facebook’s rough sketch of what this future looks, and unveiled tangible features: It will let users browse YouTube and Google Maps in “incognito mode,” will allow auto-deletion of Google history after a specified time and will make it easier to find out what the company knows about you, among other new privacy features.

Fatemeh Khatibloo, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, told The Times: “These are meaningful changes when it comes to the user’s expectations of privacy, but I don’t think this affects their business at all.” Google has to show that privacy is important, but it will still collect data.

What Google and Facebook are trying to do, though, is reshape the privacy narrative. You may think privacy means keeping hold of your data; they want privacy to mean they don’t hand data to others. (“Google will never sell any personal information to third parties,” Mr. Pichai wrote in his Op-Ed.)

Werner Goertz, a research director at Gartner, said Google had to respond with its own narrative. “It is trying to turn the conversation around and drive public discourse in a way that not only pacifies but also tries to get buy-in from consumers, to align them with its privacy strategy,” he said.
Politics of privacy law

Right – pacify the masses with BS.

Politics of privacy law

Facebook and Google may share a voice on privacy. Lawmakers don’t.

Members of the Federal Trade Commission renewed calls at a congressional hearing on Wednesday to regulate big tech companies’ stewardship of user data, my colleague Cecilia Kang reported. That was before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, on which “lawmakers of both parties agreed” that such a law was required, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Sounds promising.

But while the F.T.C. was united in asking for more power to police violations and greater authority to impose penalties, there were large internal tensions about how far it should be able to go in punishing companies. And the lawmakers in Congress “appeared divided over key points that legislation might address,” according to The Journal. Democrats favor harsh penalties and want to give the F.T.C. greater power; Republicans worry that strict regulation could stifle innovation and hurt smaller companies.

Finding compromise will be difficult, and conflicting views risk becoming noise through which a clear voice from Facebook and Google can cut. The longer disagreement rages, the more likely it is that Silicon Valley defines a mainstream view that could shape rules.

Yeah — more lobbyists and political donation subverting the democracy. The US should enact an EU equivalent GDPR now. And another thing, Zuckerberg’s cynical attempt to change the narrative by implementing end to end encryption is simply a bad idea. It gets them off the hook to moderate content (read: more profits), still allows them to sell ads and makes it nearly impossible for law enforcement to do their job. Hey Zuck, why not hand hang a sign out: criminals, pedophiles, gangs, repressive regimes, etc. – “all welcome here.”

Now for Sale on Facebook: Looted Middle Eastern Antiquities

Another reason Facebook is a disgusting dangerous corporation. A 5 billion dollat fine is nothing. It needs to be wound down and Zuckerberg and Sandberg given long hard prison terms for the evil and death they have caused.

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Ancient treasures pillaged from conflict zones in the Middle East are being offered for sale on Facebook, researchers say, including items that may have been looted by Islamic State militants.

Facebook groups advertising the items grew rapidly during the upheaval of the Arab Spring and the ensuing wars, which created unprecedented opportunities for traffickers, said Amr Al-Azm, a professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio and a former antiquities official in Syria. He has monitored the trade for years along with his colleagues at the Athar Project, named for the Arabic word for antiquities.

At the same time, Dr. Al-Azm said, social media lowered the barriers to entry to the marketplace. Now there are at least 90 Facebook groups, most in Arabic, connected to the illegal trade in Middle Eastern antiquities, with tens of thousands of members, he said.

They often post items or inquiries in the group, then take the discussion into chat or WhatsApp messaging, making it difficult to track. Some users circulate requests for certain types of items, providing an incentive for traffickers to produce them, a scenario that Dr. Al-Azm called “loot to order.”

Others post detailed instructions for aspiring looters on how to locate archaeological sites and dig up treasures.

Items for sale include a bust purportedly taken from the ancient city of Palmyra, which was occupied for periods by Islamic State militants and endured heavy looting and damage.

Other artifacts for sale come from Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The majority do not come from museums or collections, where their existence would have been cataloged, Dr. Al-Azm said.

“They’re being looted straight from the ground,” he said. “They have never been seen. The only evidence we have of their existence is if someone happens to post a picture of them.”

Dr. Al-Azm and Katie A. Paul, the directors of the Athar Project, wrote in World Politics Review last year that the loot-to-order requests showed that traffickers were “targeting material with a previously unseen level of precision — a practice that Facebook makes remarkably easy.”

After the BBC published an article about the work of Dr. Al-Azm and his colleagues last week, Facebook said that it had removed 49 groups connected to antiquities trafficking.

 

Dr. Al-Azm said his team’s research indicated that the Facebook groups are run by an international network of traffickers who cater to dealers, including ones in the West. The sales are often completed in person in cash in nearby countries, he said, despite efforts in Turkey and elsewhere to fight antiquities smuggling.

He faulted Facebook for not heeding warnings about antiquities sales as early as 2014, when it might have been possible to delete the groups to stop, or at least slow, their growth.

Dr. Al-Azm countered that 90 groups were still up. But more important, he argued, Facebook should not simply delete the pages, which now constitute crucial evidence both for law enforcement and heritage experts.

In a statement on Tuesday, the company said it was “continuing to invest in people and technology to keep this activity off Facebook and encourage others to report anything they suspect of violating our Community Standards so we can quickly take action.”

A spokeswoman said that the company’s policy-enforcement team had 30,000 members and that it had introduced new tools to detect and remove content that violates the law or its policies using artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision.

Trafficking in antiquities is illegal across most of the Middle East, and dealing in stolen relics is illegal under international law. But it can be difficult to prosecute such cases.
Leila A. Amineddoleh, a lawyer in New York who specializes in art and cultural heritage, said that determining the provenance of looted items can be arduous, presenting an obstacle for lawyers and academics alike.

Dr. Al-Azm said his team’s research indicated that the Facebook groups are run by an international network of traffickers who cater to dealers, including ones in the West. The sales are often completed in person in cash in nearby countries, he said, despite efforts in Turkey and elsewhere to fight antiquities smuggling.

He faulted Facebook for not heeding warnings about antiquities sales as early as 2014, when it might have been possible to delete the groups to stop, or at least slow, their growth.

As the Islamic State expanded, it systematically looted and destroyed, using heavy machinery to dig into ancient sites that had scarcely been excavated before the war. The group allowed residents and other looters to take from heritage sites, imposing a 20 percent tax on their earnings.

Some local people and cultural heritage experts scrambled to document and save the antiquities, including efforts to physically safeguard them and to create 3-D models and maps. Despite their efforts, the losses were catastrophic.
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Satellite images show invaluable sites, such as Mari and Dura-Europos in eastern Syria, pockmarked with excavation holes from looters. In the Mosul Museum in Iraq, the militants filmed themselves taking sledgehammers and drills to monuments they saw as idolatrous, acts designed for maximum propaganda value as the world watched with horror.

Other factions and people also profited from looting. In fact, the market was so saturated that prices dropped drastically for a time around 2016, Dr. Al-Azm said.

Around the same time, as Islamic State fighters scattered in the face of territorial losses, they took their new expertise in looting back to their countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and to other parts of Syria, like Idlib Province, he added.

“This is a supply and demand issue,” Dr. Al-Azm said, repeating that any demand gives incentives to looters, possibly financing terrorist groups in the process.

Instead of simply deleting the pages, Dr. Al-Azm said, Facebook should devise a more comprehensive strategy to stop the sales while allowing investigators to preserve photos and records uploaded to the groups.

A hastily posted photo, after all, might be the only record of a looted object that is available to law enforcement or scholars. Simply deleting the page would destroy “a huge corpus of evidence” that will be needed to identify, track and recover looted treasures for years to come, he said.

Similar arguments have been made as social media sites, including YouTube, have deleted videos that show atrocities committed during the Syrian war that could be used to prosecute war crimes.

Facebook has also faced questions over its role as a platform for other types of illicit sales, including guns, poached ivory and more. It has generally responded by shutting down pages or groups in response to reports of illegal activity.

Some of the illicit items sold without proof of their ownership history, of course, could be fake. But given the volume of activity in the antiquities groups and the copious evidence of looting at famous sites, at least some of them are believed to be genuine.

The wave of items hitting the market will most likely continue for years. Some traffickers sit on looted antiquities for long periods, waiting for attention to die down and sometimes forging documents about the items’ origins before offering them for sale.

Sri Lanka Shut Down Social Media. My First Thought Was ‘Good.’

So was mine.

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As a tech journalist, I’m ashamed to admit it. But this is how bad the situation has gotten.

This is the ugly conundrum of the digital age: When you traffic in outrage, you get death.

So when the Sri Lankan government temporarily shut down access to American social media services like Facebook and Google’s YouTube after the bombings there on Easter morning, my first thought was “good.”

Good, because it could save lives. Good, because the companies that run these platforms seem incapable of controlling the powerful global tools they have built. Good, because the toxic digital waste of misinformation that floods these platforms has overwhelmed what was once so very good about them. And indeed, by Sunday morning so many false reports about the carnage were already circulating online that the Sri Lankan government worried more violence would follow.

It pains me as a journalist, and someone who once believed that a worldwide communications medium would herald more tolerance, to admit this — to say that my first instinct was to turn it all off. But it has become clear to me with every incident that the greatest experiment in human interaction in the history of the world continues to fail in ever more dangerous ways.

In short: Stop the Facebook/YouTube/Twitter world — we want to get off.

Obviously, that is an impossible request and one that does not address the root cause of the problem, which is that humanity can be deeply inhumane. But that tendency has been made worse by tech in ways that were not anticipated by those who built it.

I noted this in my very first column for The Times almost a year ago, when I called social media giants “digital arms dealers of the modern age” who had, by sloppy design, weaponized pretty much everything that could be weaponized.

“They have weaponized civic discourse,” I wrote. “And they have weaponized, most of all, politics. Which is why malevolent actors continue to game the platforms and why there’s still no real solution in sight anytime soon, because they were built to work exactly this way.”

So it is no surprise that we are where we are now, with the Sri Lankan government closing off its citizens’ access to social media, fearing misinformation would lead to more violence. A pre-crime move, if you will, and a drastic one, since much critical information in that country flows over these platforms. Facebook and YouTube, and to a lesser extent services like Viber, are how news is distributed and consumed and also how it is abused. Imagine if you mashed up newspapers, cable, radio and the internet into one outlet in the United States and you have the right idea.

A Facebook spokesman stressed to me that “people rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones.” He told me the company is working with Sri Lankan law enforcement and trying to remove content that violates its standards.

It pains me as a journalist, and someone who once believed that a worldwide communications medium would herald more tolerance, to admit this — to say that my first instinct was to turn it all off. But it has become clear to me with every incident that the greatest experiment in human interaction in the history of the world continues to fail in ever more dangerous ways.

In short: Stop the Facebook/YouTube/Twitter world — we want to get off.

 

But while social media had once been credited with helping foster democracy in places like Sri Lanka, it is now blamed for an increase in religious hatred. That justification was behind another brief block a year ago, aimed at Facebook, where the Sri Lankan government said posts appeared to have incited anti-Muslim violence.

“The extraordinary step reflects growing global concern, particularly among governments, about the capacity of American-owned networks to spin up violence,” The Times reported on Sunday.

Spin up violence indeed. Just a month ago in New Zealand, a murderous shooter apparently radicalized by social media broadcast his heinous acts on those same platforms. Let’s be clear, the hateful killer is to blame, but it is hard to deny that his crime was facilitated by tech.

In that case, the New Zealand government did not turn off the tech faucets, but it did point to those companies as a big part of the problem. After the attacks, neither Facebook nor YouTube could easily stop the ever-looping videos of the killings, which proliferated too quickly for their clever algorithms to keep up. One insider at YouTube described the experience to me as a “nightmare version of Whack-a-Mole.”

New Zealand, under the suffer-no-foolish-techies leadership of Jacinda Ardern, will be looking hard at imposing penalties on these companies for not controlling the spread of extremist content. Australia already passed such a law in early April. Here in the United States, our regulators are much farther behind, still debating whether it is a problem or not.

It is a problem, even if the manifestations of how these platforms get warped vary across the world. They are different in ways that make no difference and the same in one crucial way that does. Namely, social media has blown the lids off controls that have kept society in check. These platforms give voice to everyone, but some of those voices are false or, worse, malevolent, and the companies continue to struggle with how to deal with them.

In the early days of the internet, there was a lot of talk of how this was a good thing, getting rid of those gatekeepers. Well, they are gone now, and that means we need to have a global discussion involving all parties on how to handle the resulting disaster, well beyond adding more moderators or better algorithms.

Shutting social media down in times of crisis isn’t going to work. I raised that idea with a top executive at a big tech company I visited last week, during a discussion of what had happened in New Zealand.

“You can’t shut it off,” the executive said flatly. “It’s too late.”

True – but we can encourage or even ban businesses from advertising on it. Then they would whither and die and good riddance.

On the Great Russian Heist of 2016 and Cyber Security

The Mueller report is a good reminder of how important it is to prevent foreign interference in American elections. “

True. And how they did it is telling also. They used social media and hacking. I will address hacking first. I have been focusing on the cyber security business nearly 20 years and to this day it astounds me how lax businesses are about their information security. The reason is money. They do not want to spend it. Why? The cost of a breach is really cheaper than that which is needed secure and monitor a business. Solution? Easy – since businesses will not solve this, we need very strong data security and privacy laws at the federal level coupled with stiff fines for breaches.

Next social media – here is where businesses can play a roll. They need to wake up to the fact that their use of companies like Facebook, Twiiter, and Google are all part of the problem. They need to simply stop using their advertising platforms. Of course that will not happen.

Consumers – at the Federal level, mandate that all browsers have effective ad blockers and browser privacy data is dumped when the browsers is closed inclusive of cookies and cache. If consumers can’t be targeted or tracked, then their value as ad revenue will dry up and so will the likes of Facebook etc.

There are other things that need to be done along the anti-trust route for big tech and in counseling for social media addiction. Perhaps a minimum age limit of 18 for using any digital social media would facilitate real social development in our children and eliminate the ills of the false digital social media ills.

Anyway – on to the op. ed. piece. It is very old news of course. Unless you were living under a rock, Russian influence in the election was well known a long time ago. And I do not wish to simply pick on Russia. Other countries are targeting us also – on many fronts. Should we ask them to stop? Well we can, but the results will be the same as when Obama did this. A temporary pause and then right back at it (China in this case). In fact, we should thank Russia and China for showing us how weak, and in many case, non existent, our cyber defenses are. They did cause they could. I maintain, therefore, the answers is federal action to guide and mandate information security.

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Heist of 2016

The report of the special counsel Robert Mueller leaves considerable space for partisan warfare over the role of President Trump and his political campaign in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But one conclusion is categorical: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

That may sound like old news. The Justice Department’s indictment of 13 Russians and three companies in February 2018 laid bare much of the sophisticated Russian campaign to blacken the American democratic process and support the Trump campaign, including the theft of American identities and creation of phony political organizations to fan division on immigration, religion or race. The extensive hacks of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails and a host of other dirty tricks have likewise been exhaustively chronicled.

But Russia’s interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mr. Mueller was appointed to investigate, and if he stopped short of accusing the Trump campaign of overtly cooperating with the Russians — the report mercifully rejects speaking of “collusion,” a term that has no meaning in American law — he was unequivocal on Russia’s culpability: “First, the Office determined that Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — the social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations — violated U.S. criminal law.”

The first part of the report, which describes these crimes, is worthy of a close read. Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States that Mr. Trump, for all his endless tweeting and grousing about the special counsel’s investigation, has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned or comprehended. Culpable or not, he must be made to understand that a foreign power that interferes in American elections is, in fact, trying to distort American foreign policy and national security.

The earliest interference described in the report was a social media campaign intended to fan social rifts in the United States, carried out by an outfit funded by an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” for the feasts he catered. Called the Internet Research Agency, the unit actually sent agents to the United States to gather information at one point. What the unit called “information warfare” evolved by 2016 into an operation targeted at favoring Mr. Trump and disparaging Mrs. Clinton. This included posing as American people or grass-roots organizations such as the Tea Party, anti-immigration groups, Black Lives Matter and others to buy political ads or organize political rallies.

At the same time, the report said, the cyberwarfare arm of the Russian army’s intelligence service opened another front, hacking the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and releasing reams of damaging materials through the front groups DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, and later through WikiLeaks. The releases were carefully timed for impact — emails stolen from the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, for example, were released less than an hour after the “Access Hollywood” tape damaging to Mr. Trump came out.

 

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Korea are two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign. Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

All this activity, the report said, was accompanied by the well documented efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for Mr. Trump to meet Mr. Putin and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains, the report said — Russia in a Trump presidency, the campaign from the stolen information. The Times documented 140 contacts between Mr. Trump and his associates and Russian nationals and WikiLeaks or their intermediaries. But the Mueller investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

That is the part Mr. Trump sees as vindication, though the activities of his chaotic campaign team that the report describes are — at best — naïve. It is obviously difficult for this president to acknowledge that he was aided in his election by Russia, and there is no way to gauge with any certainty how much impact the Russian activities actually had on voters.

But the real danger that the Mueller report reveals is not of a president who knowingly or unknowingly let a hostile power do dirty tricks on his behalf, but of a president who refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.

Since the publication of the report, Vladimir Putin and his government have been crowing that they, too, are now somehow vindicated, joining the White House in creating the illusion that the investigation was all about “collusion” rather than a condemnation of criminal Russian actions. If their hope in a Trump presidency was to restore relations between the United States and Russia, and to ease sanctions, the Russians certainly failed, especially given the added sanctions ordered by Congress over Moscow’s interference.

But if the main intent was to intensify the rifts in American society, Russia backed a winner in Mr. Trump.

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Korea are two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign. Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

Facebook Is Stealing Your Family’s Joy

Before you post that baby bump or college acceptance letter online, remember how much fun it used to be to share in person.

My kids have had some good news lately. Academic triumphs, hockey tournament wins, even a little college admissions excitement. They’ve had rough moments too, and bittersweet ones. There have been last games and disappointments and unwashed dishes galore. If you’re a friend, or even somebody who knows my mom and struck up a friendly conversation in line at the grocery store, I’d love to talk to you about any of it. I might even show you pictures.

But I’m not going to post them on social media. Because I tried that for a while, and I came to a simple conclusion about getting the reactions of friends, family and acquaintances via emojis and exclamations points rather than hugs and actual exclamations.

It’s no fun. And I don’t want to do it any more.

I’m not the only one pulling back from social media. While around two-thirds of American adults use Facebook, the way many of us use it has shifted in recent years. About 40 percent of adult users report taking a break from checking Facebook for several weeks or more, and 26 percent tell researchers they’ve deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year.

Some have changed their behavior because of Facebook’s lax record on protecting user data: More than half of adult users have adjusted their privacy settings in the past year. Others seem more concerned with how the platform makes them act and feel. Either way, pulling back on social media is a way to embrace your family’s privacy.

“I have definitely seen an evolution toward sharing less,” said Julianna Miner, an adjunct professor of global and community health at George Mason University and the author of the forthcoming “Raising a Screen-Smart Kid: Embrace the Good and Avoid the Bad in the Digital Age.” She added, “It’s hard to tell if the changes are a response to the security breaches, or a result of people just getting tired of it.”

Even Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, seems to suspect it’s at least in part the latter — that after experimenting with living our lives in a larger online sphere for over a decade, many of us are ready to return to the more intimate groups where humans have long thrived. In a recent blog post, Mr. Zuckerberg announced plans to emphasize private conversations and smaller communities on the platform. Interacting on Facebook, he wrote, “will become a fundamentally more private experience” — less “town square,” more “living room.”

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That’s a shift I’ve already made for myself, and since doing so, I find myself asking why I embraced my personal soapbox in that online square in the first place. The more I reserve both good news and personal challenges for sharing directly with friends, the more I see that the digital world never offered the same satisfaction or support. Instead, I lost out on moments of seeing friends’ faces light up at joyful news, and frequently found myself wishing that not everyone within my network had been privy to a rant or disappointment.

“There’s plenty of evidence that interpersonal, face-to-face interactions yield a stronger neural response than anything you can do online,” said Ms. Miner. “Online empathy is worth something to us, but not as much. It takes something like six virtual hugs to equal one real hug.”

Time spent seeking those virtual hugs can take us outside the world we’re living in, and draw us back to our phones (which, of course, is the reason many networks offer those bursts of feedback in the first place).

“Ultimately, you’re not just giving social media the time it takes you to post,” said Stacey Steinberg, the associate director of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and the author of a paper on the topic called “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media.”

“The interaction doesn’t end the minute you press share,” she said. “Some part of your mind is waiting for responses, and that amounts to a small distraction that takes us away from whatever else we would be engaged in.” Once we post that image of our toddler flossing, we’re no longer entirely watching him dance. Some part of us is in the digital realm, waiting to have our delight validated.

That validation can be satisfying, but the emotion is fleeting, like the sugar rush that comes from replacing a real breakfast with a Pop-Tart. Watching your mother’s reaction to the same video, though, brings a different kind of pleasure. “I see parents sharing differently than I did five years ago,” said Ms. Steinberg. “We’re looking for smaller audiences and ways to share just with close friends.”

She also warned that even seemingly innocuous public updates have long shadows. “You could have a child who was a star baseball player and later decides to make a change, still being asked by relative strangers about his batting average,” she said. “Or one who decides on a college, and then changes her mind. Decisions are complex. Lives are complex. Marie Kondo-ing your Facebook page is not so easy.”

There are exceptions. Facebook shines as an arena for professional connection and promotion, of course. For those of us with children who have special needs, it can offer an invaluable community of support. And for the very worst of bad news — for calamities or illnesses or deaths — Facebook can help users speedily share updates, ask for help and share obituaries and memories.
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Cal Newport, the author of “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” suggests that when we evaluate the ways we use the social media tools available to us, we ask ourselves if those tools are the best ways to achieve our goals. In those cases, the answer is yes.

But for sharing personal moments, for venting, for getting good advice on parenting challenges while feeling supported in our tougher moments? I’ve found that real life, face-to-face, hug-to-hug contact offers more bang for my buck than anything on a screen ever could. Why cheat yourself out of those pleasures for the momentary high of a pile of “likes”?

Recently, I ran into an acquaintance while waiting for my order at a local restaurant. “Congratulations,” she said, warmly. I racked my brain. I’d sold a book that week, but the information wasn’t public. I wasn’t pregnant, didn’t have a new job, had not won the lottery. My takeout ordering skills didn’t really seem worthy of note, and in fact I probably had asked for too much food, as I usually do. I wanted to talk more about this happy news, but what were we talking about? Fortunately, she went on, “Your son must be so thrilled.”

Right. My oldest — admitted to college. He was thrilled, and so were we, and I said so. But how did she know?

My son told her daughter, one of his classmates, and her daughter told her.

Perfect.

Hundreds of millions of Facebook records exposed on public servers – report

Wait Wait – I thought old Zuck said he was changing things. I guess his users (including Business users) are really the Zuckers.

Note to Businesses: DROP FACEBOOK, it will hurt you in the long run.
Note to Users: Time to seek addiction counseling because if you still use Facebook, in spite of all the news, you are either mentally challenged or have a serious addiction problem (or simply too apathetic to give a damn).

Editorial — actually my ire is not with the users, it is with the businesses that still patronize Facebook. Customers of these businesses really need to ask this “why is this business still using Facebook?” The answers is clear — they also want your private data and prefer to track and monetize you as opposed to protecting your privacy. And yes, their bedfellows include media like the Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg, all of which we often quote here. Shame on them and all others. If companies left Facebook, then this menace (Facebook) would be history. Well that will not happen as they see $$$$$$$$$$$.

What to do? Simple: 1) Delete your Facebook Account, 2) contact those businesses and urge them to drop Facebook.

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Material discovered on Amazon cloud servers in latest example of Facebook letting third parties extract user data

More than 540m Facebook records were left exposed on public internet servers, cybersecurity researchers said on Wednesday, in just the latest security black eye for the company.

Researchers for the firm UpGuard discovered two separate sets of Facebook user data on public Amazon cloud servers, the company detailed in a blogpost.

One dataset, linked to the Mexican media company Cultura Colectiva, contained more than 540m records, including comments, likes, reactions, account names, Facebook IDs and more. The other set, linked to a defunct Facebook app called At the Pool, was significantly smaller, but contained plaintext passwords for 22,000 users.
Zuckerberg’s proposals to regulate Facebook are self-serving and cynical | Roger McNamee
Read more

The large dataset was secured on Wednesday after Bloomberg, which first reported the leak (see article here), contacted Facebook. The smaller dataset was taken offline during UpGuard’s investigation.

The data exposure is not the result of a breach of Facebook’s systems. Rather, it is another example, akin to the Cambridge Analytica case, of Facebook allowing third parties to extract large amounts of user data without controls on how that data is then used or secured.

More than 540m Facebook records were left exposed on public internet servers, cybersecurity researchers said on Wednesday, in just the latest security black eye for the company.

“The data exposed in each of these sets would not exist without Facebook, yet these data sets are no longer under Facebook’s control,” the UpGuard researchers wrote in its blogpost. “In each case, the Facebook platform facilitated the collection of data about individuals and its transfer to third parties, who became responsible for its security.”

Facebook said that it was investigating the incident and did not yet know the nature of the data, how it was collected or why it was stored on public servers. The company said it will inform users if they find evidence that the data was misused.

“Facebook’s policies prohibit storing Facebook information in a public database,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “Once alerted to the issue, we worked with Amazon to take down the databases. We are committed to working with the developers on our platform to protect people’s data.”

Cultura Colectiva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The data exposure is just the latest example of how Facebook’s efforts to be perceived as a “privacy-focused” platform are hampered by its own past practices and what UpGuard researchers called “the long tail” of user data. For years, Facebook allowed third-party app developers substantial access to users’ information.

“As these exposures show, the data genie cannot be put back in the bottle,” the UpGuard researchers wrote. “Data about Facebook users has been spread far beyond the bounds of what Facebook can control today.”

High tech is watching you

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In new book [The Age of Surveillance Capitalism], Business School professor emerita says surveillance capitalism undermines autonomy — and democracy

The continuing advances of the digital revolution can be dazzling. But Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School, warns that their lights, bells, and whistles have made us blind and deaf to the ways high-tech giants exploit our personal data for their own ends.

In her new book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Zuboff offers a disturbing picture of how Silicon Valley and other corporations are mining users’ information to predict and shape their behavior.

The Gazette recently interviewed Zuboff about her belief that surveillance capitalism, a term she coined in 2014, is undermining personal autonomy and eroding democracy — and the ways she says society can fight back.
Q&A
Shoshana Zuboff

GAZETTE: The digital revolution began with great promise. When did you start worrying that the tech giants driving it were becoming more interested in exploiting us than serving us?

ZUBOFF: In my 2002 book, “The Support Economy,” I looked at the challenges to capitalism in shifting from a mass to an individual-oriented structure of consumption. I discussed how we finally had the technology to align the forces of supply and demand. However, the early indications were that the people framing that first generation of e-commerce were more preoccupied with tracking cookies and attracting eyeballs for advertising than they were in the historic opportunity they faced.

For a time I thought this was part of the trial and error of a profound structural transformation, but, certainly by 2007, I understood that this was actually a new variant of capitalism that was taking hold of the digital milieu. The opportunities to align supply and demand around the needs of individuals were overtaken by a new economic logic that offered a fast track to monetization.

GAZETTE: What are some of the ways we might not realize that we are losing our autonomy to Facebook, Google, and others?

ZUBOFF: I define surveillance capitalism as the unilateral claiming of private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. These data are then computed and packaged as prediction products and sold into behavioral futures markets — business customers with a commercial interest in knowing what we will do now, soon, and later. It was Google that first learned how to capture surplus behavioral data, more than what they needed for services, and used it to compute prediction products that they could sell to their business customers, in this case advertisers. But I argue that surveillance capitalism is no more restricted to that initial context than, for example, mass production was restricted to the fabrication of Model T’s.

Right from the start at Google it was understood that users were unlikely to agree to this unilateral claiming of their experience and its translation into behavioral data. It was understood that these methods had to be undetectable. So from the start the logic reflected the social relations of the one-way mirror. They were able to see and to take — and to do this in a way that we could not contest because we had no way to know what was happening.

We rushed to the internet expecting empowerment, the democratization of knowledge, and help with real problems, but surveillance capitalism really was just too lucrative to resist. This economic logic has now spread beyond the tech companies to new surveillance–based ecosystems in virtually every economic sector, from insurance to automobiles to health, education, finance, to every product described as “smart” and every service described as “personalized.” By now it’s very difficult to participate effectively in society without interfacing with these same channels that are supply chains for surveillance capitalism’s data flows. For example, ProPublica recently reported that breathing machines purchased by people with sleep apnea are secretly sending usage data to health insurers, where the information can be used to justify reduced insurance payments.

GAZETTE: Why have we failed even now to take notice of the effects of all this surveillance?

ZUBOFF: There are many reasons. I chronicle 16 explanations as to “how they got away with it.” One big reason is that the audacious, unprecedented quality of surveillance capitalism’s methods and operations has impeded our ability to perceive them and grasp their meaning and consequence.

Another reason is that surveillance capitalism, invented by Google in 2001, benefitted from a couple of important historical windfalls. One is that it arose in the era of a neoliberal consensus around the superiority of self-regulating companies and markets. State-imposed regulation was considered a drag on free enterprise. A second historical windfall is that surveillance capitalism was invented in 2001, the year of 9/11. In the days leading up to that tragedy, there were new legislative initiatives being discussed in Congress around privacy, some of which might well have outlawed practices that became routine operations of surveillance capitalism. Just hours after the World Trade Center towers were hit, the conversation in Washington changed from a concern about privacy to a preoccupation with “total information awareness.” In this new environment, the intelligence agencies and other powerful forces in Washington and other Western governments were more disposed to incubate and nurture the surveillance capabilities coming out of the commercial sector.

A third reason is that these methodologies are designed to keep us ignorant. The rhetoric of the pioneering surveillance capitalists, and just about everyone who has followed, has been a textbook of misdirection, euphemism, and obfuscation. One theme of misdirection has been to sell people on the idea that the new economic practices are an inevitable consequence of digital technology. In America and throughout the West we believe it’s wrong to impede technological progress. So the thought is that if these disturbing practices are the inevitable consequence of the new technologies, we probably just have to live with it. This is a dangerous category error. It’s impossible to imagine surveillance capitalism without the digital, but it’s easy to imagine the digital without surveillance capitalism.

A fourth explanation involves dependency and the foreclosure of alternatives. We now depend upon the internet just to participate effectively in our daily lives. Whether it’s interfacing with the IRS or your health care provider, nearly everything we do now just to fulfill the barest requirements of social participation marches us through the same channels that are surveillance capitalism’s supply chains.

GAZETTE: You warn that our very humanity and our ability to function as a democracy is in some ways at risk.

ZUBOFF: The competitive dynamics of surveillance capitalism have created some really powerful economic imperatives that are driving these firms to produce better and better behavioral-prediction products. Ultimately they’ve discovered that this requires not only amassing huge volumes of data, but actually intervening in our behavior. The shift is from monitoring to what the data scientists call “actuating.” Surveillance capitalists now develop “economies of action,” as they learn to tune, herd, and condition our behavior with subtle and subliminal cues, rewards, and punishments that shunt us toward their most profitable outcomes.

What is abrogated here is our right to the future tense, which is the essence of free will, the idea that I can project myself into the future and thus make it a meaningful aspect of my present. This is the essence of autonomy and human agency. Surveillance capitalism’s “means of behavioral modification” at scale erodes democracy from within because, without autonomy in action and in thought, we have little capacity for the moral judgment and critical thinking necessary for a democratic society. Democracy is also eroded from without, as surveillance capitalism represents an unprecedented concentration of knowledge and the power that accrues to such knowledge. They know everything about us, but we know little about them. They predict our futures, but for the sake of others’ gain. Their knowledge extends far beyond the compilation of the information we gave them. It’s the knowledge that they have produced from that information that constitutes their competitive advantage, and they will never give that up. These knowledge asymmetries introduce wholly new axes of social inequality and injustice.

GAZETTE: So how do we change this dynamic?

ZUBOFF: There are three arenas that must be addressed if we are to end this age of surveillance capitalism, just as we once ended the Gilded Age.

First, we need a sea change in public opinion. This begins with the power of naming. It means awakening to a sense of indignation and outrage. We say, “No.” We say, “This is not OK.”

Second, we need to muster the resources of our democratic institutions in the form of law and regulation. These include, but also move beyond, privacy and antitrust laws. We also need to develop new laws and regulatory institutions that specifically address the mechanisms and imperatives of surveillance capitalism.

A third arena relates to the opportunity for competitive solutions. Every survey of internet users has shown that once people become aware of surveillance capitalists’ backstage practices, they reject them. That points to a disconnect between supply and demand: a market failure. So once again we see a historic opportunity for an alliance of companies to found an alternative ecosystem — one that returns us to the earlier promise of the digital age as an era of empowerment and the democratization of knowledge.

Facebook’s Data Deals Are Under Criminal Investigation

Throw the book at em, and wind down this house of despicable spies and greedy exploiters of their (arguably gullible) flock

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Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into data deals Facebook struck with some of the world’s largest technology companies, intensifying scrutiny of the social media giant’s business practices as it seeks to rebound from a year of scandal and setbacks.

A grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, according to two people who were familiar with the requests and who insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential legal matters. Both companies had entered into partnerships with Facebook, gaining broad access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of its users.

The companies were among more than 150, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Sony, that had cut sharing deals with the world’s dominant social media platform. The agreements, previously reported in The New York Times, let the companies see users’ friends, contact information and other data, sometimes without consent. Facebook has phased out most of the partnerships over the past two years.

A grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, according to two people who were familiar with the requests and who insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential legal matters. Both companies had entered into partnerships with Facebook, gaining broad access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of its users.


Yep, no surprise here. The invasion of privacy extends much further including the oligopolist, and in many cases, outright monopolies in the mobile phone carriers, ISPs and beyond. When will the U.S. get serious about anti-trust enforcement in the tech industry?

“We are cooperating with investigators and take those probes seriously,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged that we will continue to do so.”

[Read Brian Chen’s story on what he found when he downloaded his Facebook data.]

It is not clear when the grand jury inquiry, overseen by prosecutors with the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, began or exactly what it is focusing on. Facebook was already facing scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. And the Justice Department’s securities fraud unit began investigating it after reports that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, had improperly obtained the Facebook data of 87 million people and used it to build tools that helped President Trump’s election campaign.

The Justice Department and the Eastern District declined to comment for this article.

The Cambridge investigation, still active, is being run by prosecutors from the Northern District of California. One former Cambridge employee said investigators questioned him as recently as late February. He and three other witnesses in the case, speaking on the condition of anonymity so they would not anger prosecutors, said a significant line of inquiry involved Facebook’s claims that it was misled by Cambridge.

In public statements, Facebook executives had said that Cambridge told the company it was gathering data only for academic purposes. But the fine print accompanying a quiz app that collected the information said it could also be used commercially. Selling user data would have violated Facebook’s rules at the time, yet the social network does not appear to have regularly checked that apps were complying. Facebook deleted the quiz app in December 2015.

The disclosures about Cambridge last year thrust Facebook into the worst crisis of its history. Then came news reports last June and December that Facebook had given business partners — including makers of smartphones, tablets and other devices — deep access to users’ personal information, letting some companies effectively override users’ privacy settings.

The sharing deals empowered Microsoft’s Bing search engine to map out the friends of virtually all Facebook users without their explicit consent, and allowed Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends. Apple was able to hide from Facebook users all indicators that its devices were even asking for data.

Privacy advocates said the partnerships seemed to violate a 2011 consent agreement between Facebook and the F.T.C., stemming from allegations that the company had shared data in ways that deceived consumers. The deals also appeared to contradict statements by Mark Zuckerberg and other executives that Facebook had clamped down several years ago on sharing the data of users’ friends with outside developers.

F.T.C. officials, who spent the past year investigating whether Facebook violated the 2011 agreement, are now weighing the sharing deals as they negotiate a possible multibillion-dollar fine. That would be the largest such penalty ever imposed by the trade regulator.

Facebook has aggressively defended the partnerships, saying they were permitted under a provision in the F.T.C. agreement that covered service providers — companies that acted as extensions of the social network.

The company has taken steps in the past year to tackle data misuse and misinformation. Last week, Mr. Zuckerberg unveiled a plan that would begin to pivot Facebook away from being a platform for public sharing and put more emphasis on private communications.