Tag: congressional hearings

Facebook Whistle-Blower

What I get from the Facebook whistle-blower’s interview and testimony is that social media has the same problem I see with commercialized news. To make money and secure “customers”, news agencies have basically taken a side. And they tailor their news toward engaging their target demo — get people outraged, reinforce how right people are in their opinion. It’s the adrenaline junkie approach to news.

And social media does the exact same thing. The platform isn’t there to make you a more informed citizen, give you access to awesome new sewing patterns or soap recipes, or make sure you know about the PTO’s next meeting. The platform exists to suck up info about you and deliver ads to you based on that data. Thing about AI is that it performs better as it gets more data. Someone who logs in once a week and checks out a few things is a “bad customer” much the same way that someone who pays off their credit card bill each month is a bad customer. Not doing anything wrong, but losing money for the company that provides the service. They want users who are checking the platform every hour. They want people who they know will come back tomorrow, people who will share things with other people so the algorithms can build out connections. The way to achieve those goals is to get people fired up about what they’re reading. Commercialized news being spread via social media algorithms is a compounded problem.

Senate Facebook Hearings

The hearing today reminds me of digital discovery pre-Zubulake – bunch of folks who I suspect might be investigating edgy technologies to ditch cuneiform script making rulings regarding how search and seizure case-law applies to electronic data. Not terribly encouraging that they intend to draft legislation controlling … what? Digital privacy in general? Social media platforms? Here’s hoping a good number of Congresspersons take Scheindlin’s initiative to educate themselves about that on which they seek to rule.

Something that stands out to me is how much of the platform’s operations, litigation, and regulation about which Zuckerberg claims not to know anything. I get not wanting to provide an answer that looks bad for your company, not wanting to provide inaccurate information in a Congressional hearing … but I expected they would have come up with a more reasonable boilerplate fob off answer than, essentially, “I don’t know about that stuff”

The anti-trust thread is an interesting path to go down, although I doubt Graham will follow that path. Shame, too. I had great hopes for Google+ — backed by a company with enough money to compete, enhancing Google’s current ad platform, and the idea of circles to provide granular control of who can see what. An idea which would have vastly limited the impact here. In Google+, I could avoid sharing a lot of personal information with vague acquaintances and distant family members. Heck, close family too if they’re the types who are always downloading rubbish and infecting their computer.

Consumerism and advertising is a priori accepted as a good thing. Not shocking, considering the way of American society, but it really stood out to me throughout the testimony that no one questions the benefit of having stuff more effectively marketed, to having ads that are more apt to result in a sale. They’ve spent enormous sums of money, dedicated incredible human capital to delivering an ad that is more likely to show a shirt I like. Why is that a good thing? I have clothes. If I needed more, I would either go to a store or search online. I understand why a business wants to sell me a shirt … but how is more effectively separating me from my earnings a personal boon??

And the American public is having a good self-education week. There’s interest in taint teams from Cohen yesterday, and today we’re understanding the actual business model of large tech companies — the nuance between “selling my data” and “using my data to form advertising profiles and sell my services in presenting advertising based on those advertising profiles”. Back when the ISPs wanted to be able to commoditize web history, I encountered a lot of uproar about literally selling someone’s browsing history. Which – and no offense meant – your browsing history? Not a thrilling read. Taking your browsing history and turning it into profiles, then using those profiles to sell services presenting ads to customers. Objecting to “selling my data” provides a strawman for the companies to tear down (as Zuckerberg did several times with “we don’t do that”).

Hopefully people are gaining a more complete understanding of what information is available through the “Facebook Platform” … and that you are trusting not just Facebook but the other company to act in good faith regarding your privacy. When the ToS says they may sell data or analytics to a third party … well, they may well do that. What does that third party do with the data? How much control can you, Facebook, or the app developer exert over the data sold to the third party? Not a whole lot.

Finally – the bigger question that doesn’t get asked … how can Americans insulate themselves from having personal information used to foment discontent? How can we get better and analyzing “news” and identifying real fake news. Not Trump-style FAKE NEWS which basically means “something I don’t like hearing” but actual disinformation.