August 14, 2016
I love it when Facebook and Google take steps to improve information quality for everyone.
I noted “Facebook’s News Feed to Show Fewer Clickbait Headlines.” I thought the Facebook news feed was 100 percent beef. I learned:
The company receives thousands of complaints a day about clickbait, headlines that intentionally withhold information or mislead users to get people to click on them…
Thousands. I am impressed. Facebook is going to do some filtering to help its many happy users avoid clickbait, a concept which puzzles me. I noted:
Facebook created a system that identifies and classifies such headlines. It can then determine which pages or web domains post large amounts of clickbait and rank them lower in News Feed. Facebook routinely updates its algorithm for News Feed, the place most people see postings on the site, to show users what they are most interested in and encourage them to spend even more time on the site.
Clustering methods are readily available. I ask myself, “Why did Facebook provide streams of clickbait in the first place?”
On a related note, the Google released exclusive information to Time Warner, which once owned AOL and now owns a chunk of Hula. Google’s wizards have identified bad bits, which it calls “unwanted software.” The Googlers converted the phrase into UwS and then into the snappy term “ooze.”
Fortune informed me:
people bump into 60 million browser warnings for download attempts of unwanted software at unsafe Web pages every week.
Quite a surprise I assume. Google will definitely talk about “a really big problem.” Alas, Fortune was not able to provide information about what Mother Google will do to protect its users. Obviously the “real” journalists at Fortune did not find the question, “What are you going to do about this?” germane.
It is reassuring to know that Facebook and Google are improving the quality of the information each provides. Analytics and user feedback are important.
Stephen E Arnold, August 13, 2016
August 9, 2016
I read an AOL-Yahoo post titled “Inside Facebook Algorithms.” With the excitement of algorithms tingeing the air, explanations of smart software make the day so much better.
if you understand the rules, you can play them by doing the same thing over and over again
Good point. But how many Facebook users are sufficiently attentive to correlate a particular action with an outcome which may not be visible to the user?
Censorship confusing? It doesn’t need to be. I learned:
Mr. Abbasi [a person whose Facebook post was censored] used several words which would likely flag his post as hate speech, which is against Facebook’s community guidelines. It is also possible that the number of the words flagged would rank it on a scale of “possibly offensive” to “inciting violence”, and the moderators reviewing these posts would allocate most of their resources to posts closer to the former, and automatically delete those in the latter category. So far, this tool continues to work as intended.
There is nothing like a word look up list containing words which will result in censorship. We love word lists. Non public words lists are not much fun for some.
Now what about algorithms? The examples in the write up are standard procedures for performing brute force actions. Algorithms, as presented in the AOL Yahoo article, seem to be collections of arbitrary rules. Straightforward for those who know the rules.
A “real” newspaper tackled the issue of algorithms and bias. The angle, which may be exciting to some, is “racism.” Navigate to “Is an Algorithms Any Less Racist Than a Human?” Since algorithms are often generated by humans, my hunch is that bias is indeed possible. The write up tells me:
any algorithm can – and often does – simply reproduce the biases inherent in its creator, in the data it’s using, or in society at large. For example, Google is more likely to advertise executive-level salaried positions to search engine users if it thinks the user is male, according to a Carnegie Mellon study. While Harvard researchers found that ads about arrest records were much more likely to appear alongside searches for names thought to belong to a black person versus a white person.
Don’t know the inside rules? Too bad, gentle reader. Perhaps you can search for an answer using Facebook’s search systems or the Wow.com service. Better yet. Ask a person who constructs algorithms for a living.
Stephen E Arnold, August 9, 2016
August 14, 2015
Navigate to “Reddit Responds after Being Threatened, Banned and Unbanned by the Russian Government.” The main point is that one cannot find information if it is not in the index. Magic. Better and cheaper than reprinting history books in certain countries.
The write up says:
One thing that is clear is that Russia doesn’t play around though when it comes to speech encouraging drug use online. In 2013, Roskomnadzor blacklisted Wikipedia in its entirety for a single article on “Cannabis smoking.” Reddit doesn’t address concerns over restrictions of free speech from the Russian government in this statement, but instead seems to say that whatever the situation, wherever it’s posted, Reddit and Reddit alone has the final call. It sounds like a lot of redditors are perplexed by Reddit’s right to “restrict content,” but in the time being it seems that stability, rather than free speech, is Reddit’s main priority.
Cue the music:
Even when the darkest clouds are in the sky
You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry
Spread a little happiness as you go by
That’s it. Reddit is spreading a little happiness. Are Russian content mavens smiling? I assume they are having a “golden shoes day.” When information is disappeared, that makes someone happy.
Stephen E Arnold, August 14, 2015
July 16, 2015
This cat has long since forgotten what the inside of the bag looked like. Have you perused the documents that were released by Edward Snowden, beginning in 2013? A website simply titled “Snowden Doc Search” will let you do just that through a user-friendly search system. The project’s Description page states:
“The search is based upon the most complete archive of Snowden documents to date. It is meant to encourage users to explore the documents through its extensive filtering capabilities. While users are able to search specifically by title, description, document, document date, and release date, categories also allow filtering by agency, codeword, document topic, countries mentioned, SIGADS, classification, and countries shared with. Results contain not only full document text, pdf, and description, but also links to relevant articles and basic document data, such as codewords used and countries mentioned within the document.”
The result of teamwork between the Courage Foundation and Transparency Toolkit, the searchable site is built upon the document/ news story archive maintained by the Edward Snowden Defense Fund. The sites Description page also supplies links to the raw dataset and to Transparency Toolkit’s Github page, for anyone who would care to take a look. Just remember, “going incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider, or the websites you visit.” (Chrome)
Cynthia Murrell, July 16 , 2015
June 26, 2015
I know that many people believe that a search reveals “all” and “everything” about a topic. Nothing is further from the truth. There are forces at work which wish to ensure that only certain information is available to a person with an Internet connection.
Navigate to “Russia Bans the Internet Archive’s ‘Wayback Machine’.” The Wayback Machine, which once had tie ups with outfits as different as the Library of Congress and Amazon. I found it useful when working as an expert witness to be able refresh my memory on certain Web sites’ presentation of information. I am confident there are other uses of “old information.”
According the write up, Russia is not to keen on the notion of old information. Kenneth Waggner, one of my high school teachers, had Russian language textbooks from the Stalin era. He had marked passages included in one book and excluded from another. If he were correct, the tradition of filtering has a reasonable track record in Russia. Keep in mind that other countries and company and individuals have the same goal: Present only what a smarter, more informed person thinks I should be able to access.
The article states:
By banning access to the Internet Archive, the government is denying Russian Internet users a powerful tool—one that is particularly useful in an environment where websites often disappear behind a state-operated blacklist, as is increasingly true in Russia today.
Governments are like horse races. No one is sure of the winner unless the race is rigged.
Stephen E Arnold, June 26, 2015
February 13, 2015
In the struggle between privacy and transparency, score one for the privacy advocates. Or, at least, for those looking to protect intellectual property. TorrentFreak tells us that “Chilling Effects DMCA Archive Censors Itself.” Chilling Effects is a site/ database set up in response to takedown requests; their homepage describes their goal:
“The Chilling Effects database collects and analyzes legal complaints and requests for removal of online materials, helping Internet users to know their rights and understand the law. These data enable us to study the prevalence of legal threats and let Internet users see the source of content removals.”
Now, though, the site has decided to conceal the non-linked URLs that could be used to find material that has been removed due to copyright infringement complaints. The TorrentFreak (TF) article explains:
“The Chilling Effects DMCA clearing house is one of the few tools that helps to keep copyright holders accountable. Founded by Harvard’s Berkman Center, it offers an invaluable database for researchers and the public in general. At TF we use the website on a weekly basis to spot inaccurate takedown notices and other wrongdoings. Since the native search engine doesn’t always return the best results, we mostly use Google to spot newsworthy notices on the site. This week, however, we were no longer able to do so. The Chilling Effects team decided to remove its entire domain from all search engines, including its homepage and other informational and educational resources.”
Yes, information is tough to find if it is not indexed. For their part, the folks at Chilling Effects feel this step is necessary, at least for the time being; they “continue to think things through” as they walk the line between legally protected privacy and freedom of information.
Cynthia Murrell, February 13, 2015
December 1, 2014
Here is but one reason today’s domination of news coverage by huge corporations is a problem: they don’t even feel the need to feign objectivity anymore. The Daily Dot reveals, “Verizon is Launching a Tech News Site that Bans Stories on U.S. Spying.” Verizon is calling this site SugarString, and, presumably, the company would like us to focus on its ambition to compete with tech news sites like Wired and the Verge. However, reporter Patrick Howell O’Neill cannot ignore that little restriction. He writes:
“There’s just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today. Unsurprisingly, Verizon is deeply tangled up in both controversies….
“Verizon has been snarled in U.S. government surveillance for years. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USA Today reported, Verizon gave the NSA landline phone records without customer consent or a warrant. Just this week, it was revealed that Verizon is tracking all of its wireless customers movement throughout the Web.
“Verizon has also led the charge to kill net neutrality—the principle that Internet service providers, like Verizon, should treat all Internet traffic equally—earning its place as the most vocal, aggressive, and well-funded opponent the so-called open Internet movement faces.”
O’Neill notes that SugarString allows articles on spying by non-U.S. agencies, presumably because Verizon does not (yet?) have info-sharing deals with foreign governments. Word of the limitations spread as the new site began soliciting tech reporters, including O’Neill, through email. The company might have expected at least one of these reporters to, ahem, report on the restrictions. The article notes that almost every story on SugarString’s front page (as of its writing) is one for which discussion of U.S. surveillance or net neutrality would be relevant. It is a shame that Verizon, and companies like it, are putting their interests ahead of fully informing readers. A shame, but is it any surprise?
Cynthia Murrell, December 01, 2014
February 18, 2014
Communist governments are not exactly considered advocates for free-flowing information within their borders. Quartz does nothing to dispel this image with its article, “Vietnam’s New Social Media Crackdown Takes Aim at News Aggregators (and Enemies of the State).” The pieces tells us about Vietnam’s new Decree 72, which declares that websites must not “quote, gather or summarize information from press organizations or government websites.” Writer Adam Pasick reports:
“If you think that sounds ominously vague, you’re not alone. Critics of the new law noted that it would essentially ban any links to a news article on Facebook, which has 12 million users in Vietnam. ‘We are deeply concerned by the decree’s provisions that appear to limit the types of information individuals can share via personal social media accounts and on websites,’ the US Embassy in Hanoi said. Reporters Without Borders called Decree 72 ‘both nonsensical and extremely dangerous,’ saying it would require ‘massive and constant government surveillance of the entire internet.'”
Ostensibly, the decree is meant to fight copyright violations. However, critics note that its vagueness grants plenty of wiggle room to a government known for a heavy hand in this area; Pasick reminds us that this country threw 35 bloggers in jail for writing about things it would have preferred to keep hidden. Not to be overlooked is this gem—Pasick writes:
“And there is also the chilling language of the second half of Decree 72, which bans ‘information that is against Vietnam, undermining national security, social order, and national unity … or information distorting, slandering, and defaming the prestige of organizations, honor and dignity of individuals.'”
Ugh. Vietnam was already near the bottom of the press freedom index maintained by Reporters Without Borders. It seems the country’s government will not relinquish censorship any time soon; after all, it is an effective tool for controlling one’s citizens.
Cynthia Murrell, February 18, 2014
January 18, 2014
Years ago I gave a lecture at Yale. My subject was Google. I ran through the basic points in The Google Legacy and Google Version 2.0. The audience reacted as if I had dissected a dead frog. I received a smattering of polite applause and headed out for a talk in New York City. So much for Yale and the idea that Google was more than a Web search company.
I just read “Yale Students Made a Better Version of Their Course Catalogue. Then Yale Shut It Down.” A couple of students put up a Web page that allowed students to pinpoint classes and compare student ratings of professors. Sounds like an app to me.
Information? Who said it was supposed to be free? Image source: http://1.usa.gov/1dFIhW9
But Yale perceived the Web page differently. Here’s the quote:
‘Yale’s policy on free expression and free speech entitles no one to appropriate a Yale resource and use it as their [sic] own ,’ the statement read. It further stated its main priority at this time was supporting its own resources, ‘not others created independently and without the university’s cooperation or permission,’ and that ‘all the information on the website remains available to students on the Yale site.’
I assume the Washington Post is semi-accurate, just like an Amazon recommendation.
What did the future bonesmen learn? A nuance of academic freedom in Yale Land has been broadcast in an analogue transmission.
Will these two free thinkers demonstrate digital initiative in the future? Is Yale turning out well-trained online researchers for the next-generation information highway?
Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2014
October 16, 2013
Well, this is disappointing. New Europe draws our attention to another case of government censorship in, “Jordan Blocks 304 News Websites.” Searching for news can be tough when countries filter streams.
Jordan’s Department of Press and Publication (which used to be blatantly titled the Censorship Department) insists it respects the media as “one of the most important pillars of modern democracy,” but maintains that the blocks are necessary to prevent verbal attacks on groups and individuals. As of last year, new Jordanian websites are required to register with the Department. They must also appoint an editor who will take the fall if anything deemed slanderous makes it onto the site, comments sections included. The article tells us these regulations were implemented after several incidents in which:
“… online media were blamed for inciting religious or social prejudice and inaccurate reporting involving public figures. Targets of some of the articles claimed that some online editors sought bribes in return for halting publication of false rumors.”
That may be, but to our way of thinking the response seems unreasonable. Consider the locale, though; Jordan may actually be moving forward overall. We also learn:
“Since the Arab Spring uprisings that unseated four Arab leaders two years ago, Jordan has taken steps to ease restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion and assembly. The government also introduced special courts to deal with media cases, presided over by specialized civil judges. However, other constraints remain. That includes a ban on criticizing the king in public, punishable by up to three years in jail. King Abdullah II holds final authority in most matters.”
Well, that’s kinda what one would expect in a (traditional) kingdom. Big changes most often take place slowly, and journalists and bloggers in Jordan must still be very careful what they write. However, we can hope that this one step back is part of a generally forward progress.
Cynthia Murrell, October 16, 2013