Facebook User Awareness: Two Views

January 17, 2019

What happens when Silicon Valley centric “real” journalists contemplate the question, “How much do Americans know about data slurping, reusing, and monetizing.

For one view, navigate to “Most Facebook Users Still in the Dark about Its Creepy Ad Practices, Pew Finds.” The headline tells the story. I learned:

Pew found three-quarters (74%) of Facebook users did not know the social networking behemoth maintains a list of their interests and traits to target them with ads, only discovering this when researchers directed them to view their Facebook ad preferences page.

Now for another view. Navigate to “Don’t Underestimate Americans’ Knowledge of Facebook’s Business Model.” I learned from this write up:

But let’s take another look at the numbers. According to Pew, 26 percent of Americans are aware that Facebook records a list of their interests and uses it to target ads at them. There are roughly 214 million Americans with Facebook profiles. If that’s the case, then over the past decade, 55.6 million people have educated themselves about how ad targeting works. Facebook itself has played no small role in this effort, regularly describing their ad targeting system in software and marketing materials, and recently even started building pop-up events around it.

And to add beef to the argument:

Pew surveyed more than 3,400 U.S. Facebook users in May and June, and found that a whopping 44 percent of those ages 18 to 29 say they’ve deleted the app from their phone in the last year. Some of them may have reinstalled it later. Overall, 26 percent of survey respondents say they deleted the app, while 42 percent have “taken a break” for several weeks or more, and 54 percent have adjusted their privacy settings.

Nothing like interpreting data from a survey from the left coast.

Stephen E Arnold, January 17, 2019

Facebook Starts 2019 with Some Advice to Consider

January 2, 2019

Ah, the Guardian. I read “‘Resign from Facebook’: experts offer Mark Zuckerberg advice for 2019.” My hunch is that the Zuck will ignore the input. But it is fun for an outfit struggling with revenue and technology to provide suggestions to an organization with plenty of dough and a new advertising business to flog. Jealous much?

Facebook makes headlines because of allegations or discoveries like those reported in “Facebook Collects information from Your Android Even If You Don’t Have Facebook.” One with capitalist DNA automatically responds to this type of business method.

The Guardian begs for dollars with increasingly large yellow banner pleas. Facebook gathers data and goes about its business.

The Guardian reported:

Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labor party

Will be: Continue to evade parliamentary scrutiny and personal responsibility for Facebook’s problems.

Should be: Have a productive life having resigned from the company he founded to leave a new leadership team to clean up his mess.

Unlikely. Money can be messy when there is a lot of it.

Stephen E Arnold, January 2, 2019

Facebook: The Fallacy of Rules in an Open Ended Datasphere

December 29, 2018

I read “Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech.” Yogi Berra time: It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Some history, gentle reader.

Years ago I met with a text analytics company. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to identify problematic content; for example, falsified reports related to a warfighting location.

I listened as the 20 somethings and a couple of MBA types bandied about ideas for creating a set of rules that would identify the ways in which information is falsified. There was the inevitable knowledgebase, a taxonomy of terms and jargon, and rules. “If then” stuff.

The big idea was to filter the content with the front end of old school look ups and then feed the outputs into the company’s smart system. I listened and suggested that the cost and time of fiddling with rules would consume the available manpower, time, and money.

Ho, ho, ho was the response. Listen to the old goose from rural Kentucky.

Yeah, that was in 2005, and where is that system now? It’s being used as a utility for IBM’s staggering mountain of smart software and for finding items of interest for a handful of financial clients.

Ho, ho, ho. The joke is one the whiz kids and the investors, who care going to run out of patience when the light bulb does on and says:

“Yo, folks, figuring out what’s fake, shaped, disinformationized, or reformationized content is what makes search difficult.”

I read a scoop from the New York Times. Yep, that’s the print newspaper which delivers to my door each day information that is two or three days old. I see most of the stories online in one form or another. Tip: 85 percent of news is triggered by AP or Reuters feeds.

The article reveals that Facebook’s really smart people cannot figure out how to deal with various types of speech: Political and other types. The child porn content on WhatsApp is a challenge as well I would add.

The write up says:

An examination of the files revealed numerous gaps, biases and outright errors. As Facebook employees grope for the right answers, they have allowed extremist language to flourish in some countries while censoring mainstream speech in others.

Yep, a scoop.

Facebook’s hubris, like the text processing company which dragged me into a series of bull sessions, allows the company to demonstrate that it cannot cope with filtering within a datasphere in which controls are going to be tough to enforce.

The fix is to create a for fee country club. If a person does not meet the criteria, no membership for you. Then each member gets the equivalent of a US social security number which is linked to the verified identity, the payment mechanism, and other data the system can link.

Amazon has this type of system available, but I am not sure the Facebookers are going to pay Amazon to use its policeware to create a clean, well lit place. (Sorry, Ernest, not “lighted”.)

As a final point, may I suggest that rules based systems where big data floweth are going to be tough to create, update, and pay for.

On the other hand, why not hire the New York Times to set up an old school editorial board to do the work. News is not ringing the financial bell at the NYT, so maybe becoming the Facebook solution is a path forward. The cost may put Facebook in the dog house with investors, but the NYT regains it position as the arbiter of what’s in and what’s out.

Power again!

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2018

Facebook: WhatsApp and In App Payment

December 22, 2018

I noted two developments which Facebook may roll out.

The first is the story in Newsweek “WhatsApp Child Porn Groups Exposed.” WhatsApp is an encrypted messaging service. As pressure on “old school” Dark Web sites continues to escalate, bad actors are looking for new, easy ways to communicate, share, and locate information that is of interest to them. Encryption, according to many investigators, allows bad actors to go dark. The authorities are, therefore, blind to potentially useful information. The write up suggests that Facebook is taking some action. The article said:

Facebook said working with police may be their best option to combat the material.

The second item concerns transacting, buying, and selling within WhatsApp. I noted “Facebook Explores Blockchain Tech For WhatsApp Money Transfers.” According to the write up:


In an effort to help WhatsApp users transfer money, Facebook is reportedly creating a digital currency. Unnamed sources told Bloomberg that the company is at work on a stablecoin, which is a cryptocurrency tied to the value of the U.S. dollar, and is reportedly eyeing India’s remittance market.

How quickly will bad actors interested in salacious or illegal content embrace Facebook’s vision of seamless buying and selling?

I would suggest quickly if the system sort of works.

With Facebook’s record of fine tuning its digital compass, WhatsApp could become the new Dark Web.

On the other hand, maybe Facebook will create a positive, uplifting union of services. Yep, maybe.

Stephen E Arnold, December 22, 2018

King Zuck: Above the Law? Yeah, Maybe

December 20, 2018

Though today’s major tech companies can, willingly or accidentally, make startling impacts on society, corporate executives are still primarily accountable only to their shareholders. And in the case of one of the largest and most beleaguered companies, Vox informs us, “Mark Zuckerberg is Essentially Untouchable at Facebook.”

Reporter Emily Stewart begins by recounting some recent criticisms lobbed at the company. First, the New York Times described Facebook’s deliberate efforts to downplay controversies from the Cambridge Analytica data breach to the spread of Russian propaganda on their platform. Then there is the Wall Street Journal’s report that Zuckerberg considers his company to be “at war,” and that both morale and stock prices are in decline. And yet, the digital king remains untouchable. Stewart writes:

“He reiterated the point in an interview with CNN Business this week, saying that stepping down as chairman is ‘not the plan.’ And the thing is, no one can make him. Even before the latest scandals, there have been questions about whether too much influence within Facebook has been placed with Zuckerberg and, among some investors, pushes for him to renounce his position as chair of the board. But because of the way Facebook’s shareholder structure is set up — and the number of shares Zuckerberg holds — there’s no way for anyone to force him out. Facebook may be a publicly traded company, but Zuckerberg pretty much makes the rules.”

The write-up outlines the reasons Facebook’s corporate structure means Zuckerberg always gets the most votes, and notes most corporations are set up this way. (See the article for those details.) It continues:

“That means that whatever shareholders are voting on — typically at Facebook’s annual meeting, usually in May — Zuckerberg and those closest to him are always going to win out. Bob Pisani at CNBC estimated earlier this year that Zuckerberg and the group of insiders control almost 70 percent of all voting shares in Facebook. Zuckerberg alone controls about 60 percent.”

Not that shareholders are silently accepting this status quo. A number of them have made proposals that would limit their famous CEOs power, including bringing in an “independent” board chair. Mysteriously, though, none of those proposals have received enough votes to pass.

But in the back of my mind is the sharing of private communications, the loss of private images, and the orbital sander approach to helping an ethical compass find true revenue.

Cynthia Murrell, December 20, 2018

Gunning for Google AI

December 19, 2018

With DeepMind teaching itself, can other vendors of smart software catch up to the online advertising giant?

Google is on top of many tech mountains, that’s for certain. However, none may be as big as its far-reaching artificial intelligence sector. That future doesn’t look as solid as it once did, thought, because of some hard charging competition, as we discovered in a recent Eyerys article, “With Google Dominating AI, Microsoft and Facebook Want to ‘Defrag Some of the Complexity.’”

According to the story:

“Microsoft is showing that it would rather help others rather than purely focusing on its own projects. There are reasons behind the partnership…. First of all, Microsoft’s AI has its own strengths. For example, it’s particularly great for building speech recognition systems. Second, Facebook’s PyTorch has gained popularity and has some interesting technical capabilities on its own.”

This is intriguing news, considering a three-horse race between these giants would likely result in some incredible advances. Beyond Search wonders if a closer relationship with Facebook will help or hurt Microsoft’s brand image and AI progress?

But, if you ask Google, you shouldn’t expect the world to change overnight. In fact, the leader in AI actually says artificial intelligence is “very stupid” compared to humans. Is this for real or a misdirection? It’s hard to say, but there’s no doubt that this rivalry is heating up, we predict AI will not be dumb for much longer.

Artificial intelligence appears to be the “go to” buzzword for 2019. Beyond Search thinks it would be helpful if Microsoft could tighten the nuts and bolts on here and now technology like Windows Updates before delivering the future with the likes of Facebook.

Patrick Roland, December 19, 2018

Australia: A Government Watch Dog with Two Companies to Monitor

December 11, 2018

Australia has become the first country to pass a law requiring that encrypted messages have to be unlocked for law enforcement. That means WhatsApp and a gaggle of other secret messaging apps.

Now Australia has another interesting idea, reported by Business Daily in Africa. The Australian government wants a regulator to monitor Facebook and Google. According to the report I saw:

Australia’s competition watchdog on Monday [December 10, 2018]  recommended tougher scrutiny and a new regulatory body to check the dominance of tech giants Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google in the country’s online advertising and news markets.

The source document cited a familiar refrain:

The two firms have already promised to do more to tackle the spread of fake news and, in submissions to the ACCC, said they provided users access to global news articles while providing advertisers a cheap way of reaching big audiences.

Australia is a member of Five Eyes, and the country may be setting a path which Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US may follow.

In short, the good old days of Wild West digital services may find the prairie managed in part by barbed wire fences, gates, and folks with badges and six shooters and maybe an automatic weapon too.

Stephen E Arnold, December 11, 2018

The Legal Dodgeball Wings Facebook

December 10, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg is a digital circus carnival broker to some people. At least, in England, and like a wanted man in a Western flick, it’s going to take a posse to bring him in for questioning. Unlike his appearance in front of US lawmakers earlier this year, he is not granting the same audience with European officials, as we discovered in a recent Forbes story, “Facebook’s Zuckerberg Ignores ‘The New Reality’ By Skipping Fake News Inquiry in London.”

According to the story:

“A special “Grand Committee“ of nine governments from around the world had come together at the U.K. Houses of Parliament, hoping to ask Facebook’s founder about the spread of fake news on his platform…But lawmakers didn’t get the man with 60% of Facebook’s voting shares and thus ultimate control; they got Richard Allen, Facebook’s vice president of public policy for Europe.”

It comes as no surprise to the bulk of people following this story that Facebook’s profits have recently begun to sag. But, the complicated part is that it’s not because of customers defecting and also not because they are sinking bundles of cash into heightened security (in fairness, they are investing in verification, etc) but simply with the expense of being Facebook. Overhead is beginning to hurt this juggernaut, which is not a great combo with all the controversy. It’ll be interesting to see how Zuckerberg dodges this news.

Patrick Roland, December 10, 2018

Alphabet Google: The Wing Clipping Accelerates

December 9, 2018

It is not a great time to be a tech titan. Facebook and Google and their peers seem to be embroiled in daily dilemmas. These kings of the internet are taking it on the chin regarding privacy, fake news, and more. And, yet, we are still surprised when their names pop up in the news feed. Such was the case with a recent Vulture piece, “Google Accused of GDPR Privacy Violations By Seven Countries.”

According to the article:

“The complaints, which each group has issued to their national data protection authorities in keeping with GDPR rules, come in the wake of the discovery that Google is able to track user’s location even when the “Location History” option is turned off. A second setting, “Web and App Activity,” which is enabled by default, must be turned off to fully prevent GPS tracking.”

As detailed in the New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg’s strategy of “Deflect, Deny, Delay” has been keeping them out of any serious legal hot water. Google’s challenge may rip headlines from the Zuckerberg connection machine.

The reason? Information is now becoming available about Google’s malicious ad network flaws.  Since Google found inspiration in GoTo, Overture, and Yahoo’s pay to play system, Google is now talking about ad abuse; for example, “Tackling Ads Abuse in Apps and SDKs.”

What worse? Siphoning data or failing to identify issues which undermine the Madison Avenue way?

Ad fraud? Facebook and Google alike but different except to regulators in Europe.

Stephen E Arnold, December 9, 2018

Patrick Roland, November 30, 2018

Revisiting Facebook Trustiness

December 6, 2018

After news of its most recent data breach hit the headlines, Facebook found itself once again on the defensive. A long apology tour and showcase of efforts to better protect users was rolled out, but was it enough? For one Venture Beat commentator, the answer was “no.” We learned more in the article: “Sorry, Not Sorry. The Problem With Facebook’s Sorry Campaign.”

The piece lays out the social media giant’s many sins and concludes:

“Therefore it is up to us, as consumers to penalize bad behavior and reward good behavior. The two mechanisms available to us are voting with our feet and wallets  and voting for representation in our government so that we can enact legislation to safeguard consumer privacy.”

They are not wrong. It is up to consumers to ask more, demand more, and get more from their online platforms. However, we don’t side with negative pundits like Slate who have given up on Facebook. We do have faith in Mark Zuckerberg’s baby and feel like the very public scrutiny is a good thing. It’s only under this heat lamp that real change can happen, because the alternative is to perish. We simply cannot see that happening without aggressive government intervention from entities outside the United States.

In short, hello, EU.

Patrick Roland, December 6, 2018

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