Facebook Usage: Who Is Abandoning Ship?

July 15, 2019

It is hard to imagine any social media platform being declared “old,” but Generation Z has already labeled Facebook as thing nobody uses anymore except grandparents sharing photos. Wandering attention spans and cooler Internet places lure younger users away, but there is another reason Facebook usage is down says The Guardian in the story, “Facebook Usage Falling After Privacy Scandals, Data Suggests.” Since April 2018, Facebook activity, including likes, shares, and posts, have dropped 20%, then usage picked up, but circa fall and winter 2018 they fell yet again.

Why is this happening to still one of the top social median platforms? The answer lays in how it handles privacy:

“The decline coincided with a series of data, privacy and hate speech scandals. In September the company discovered a breach affecting 50m accounts, in November it admitted that an executive hired a PR firm to attack the philanthropist George Soros, and it has been repeatedly criticized for allowing its platform to be used to fuel ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.”

Facebook is a social communication tool and not the problem itself. The problem is with the people who run and use, such as the attack on Soros and fueled hatred fires in Myanmar. (Does anyone else think about the Rwanda genocide, except radios were used instead of social media?). Facebook is a crazy, yet necessary tool in today’s wacko world. Despite the breaches, Facebook continues to grow

Users say that while they maintain their accounts, they are not using them as much or they have deleted them entirely. The younger crowds continue to stay away and there are more alluring Web sites to connect with than Facebook.

DarkCyber believes that Facebook chug along. At some point, most users may be law enforcement and intelligence professionals. But $5 billion fines and zero regulatory oversight suggest that whatever content is in Facebook, it has value to some people—for now.

Senior citizens do love looking at pix of their grandchildren.

Whitney Grace, July 15, 2019

Facebook: Fine and a Reminder of Ozymandius?

July 13, 2019

I just wanted to document that Facebook will have to pay a fine. Well. allegedly. On the other hand, the rumored penalty evokes the trunkless legs of stone. Ozymandius time in Silicon Valley. For details, navigate to “Facebook Reportedly Fined $5B over Cambridge Analytica Fiasco.” No high flier wants to wear a t shirt with the word “fiasco” stenciled in red. Perhaps if it were paired with the Nike Betsy Ross shoes and “fiasco” spelled “phiasco”, the label could be trendy. The t shirt would collect likes like a hamburger gathers flies at a picnic on a 90 degree day in Mountain View. I noted this statement in the write up:

The FTC approved the settlement in a 3-to-2 vote with Republican commissioners in favor and Democrats opposing, according to Wall Street Journal sources. The arrangement and further details have yet to be confirmed publicly, and any agreement will still have to be reviewed by the Department of Justice.

Yep, some money, just a bit tardy.

Stephen E Arnold, July 13, 2019

Facebook and Google: An Obvious Question Ignored

July 2, 2019

I read the Guardian’s opinion essay by Shoshana Zuboff, the author of the beach read The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The write up’s title is “It’s Not That We’ve Failed to Rein in Facebook and Google. We’ve Not Even Tried.” I marked this passage as interesting to me:

The tech companies’ innovation rhetoric effectively blinded users and lawmakers for many years. Facebook and Google were regarded as innovative companies that sometimes made dreadful mistakes at the expense of our privacy.

The argument is that words caused law makers, users, and observers to unwittingly help out the bright folks who created “surveillance capitalism.”

This is one of the themes in Dr. Zuboff’s best selling book. A couple of observations:

  • I am not sure Facebook and Google knew what they were doing. Situational decisions, user acceptance, and revenue pulled the folks forward. Hindsight makes the path easy to spot like a satellite photo that reveals an old Roman road.
  • The technology components became available. In the spirit of tinkerers, a bit of experimentation produced some winners. When internal innovation was not enough, a couple of acquisitions proved to be the spark Facebook and Google needed. Who knew that DoubleClick cookies would be a better idea? Who knew that bad actors would flock to Facebook services?
  • Governments — particularly the Five Eyes’ group — realized that Facebook and Google could be very useful. I recall that after my lecture at the International Chiefs of Police meeting in Canberra seven or eight years ago, quite a few attendees wanted to talk about the utility of non governmental data captured by these two outfits.

So what’s the big question?

What value do Facebook and Google deliver to LE and intel agencies?

Answer that, and there might be some useful topics for discussion. Pointing at committees and officials who are groomed by lobbyists is not particularly helpful.

Stephen E Arnold, July 2, 2019

Facebook Versa: Do GOOG and MSFT Face a Woulda Coulda Shoulda Moment

June 24, 2019

I saw a number of references to Bill Gates and his biggest regret. The “regret”, according to a person with whom I spoke at the ice skating rink, was not inventing or cloning a phone operating system. I think that meant, “I should have done the DOS thing again.” Information exchanged at a sportsplex is about as useful as Internet content from a “begging for dollars” publisher I assume.

As I thought about this alleged “I shoulda, coulda, woulda” approach, I spotted this write up from: “Bill Gates Says His Greatest Mistake Ever Was Failing to Create Android at Microsoft.” This article may have been the source for the guy in line with his kids. I was unaware of the fact that hockey players know how to read.

The shadow message, in my opinion, is:

Facebook moved forward to create its digital currency. Google and Microsoft have not. Both can. But the initiative or momentum is Facebook’s it seems.

I wonder if the senior management of Google and Microsoft, including the lower profile founders, will look back at Facebook’s decision and roll out the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” line?

What’s remarkable about Facebook’s move strikes me as the company’s actions when it faces its greatest social and political pushback. Some executives would have avoided doing much of anything.

This action triggered three thoughts:

  • Facebook doesn’t care what people think. He sees an opportunity and goes for it. Maybe this is good, maybe bad. But he did it. Action, not retreat.
  • Libra is an overt, aggressive act which is definitely going to throw politicos and competitors into a tailspin. The privacy angle is a big deal, but now a global currency, essentially outside the span of control of countries?
  • Microsoft did not seize on digital currency as it did DOS. Google did not seize this opportunity as it did search. It is possible that time does wither boldness and innovation’s fire?

Net net: Regulating Facebook is going to be interesting. Dithering is abdication. Perhaps Facebook will roll out a new flag featuring yet another hand gesture to customers, governments, and Google.

Google and Microsoft seem to be waiting for the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” bus to arrive.

Stephen E Arnold, June 24, 2019

Facebook: Amazon Is Shifting Gears and May Be Grinding Toward Social Media Land

June 19, 2019

The zippy 2019 news cycle is writing about Facebook: Its digital currency, a thriller for those working to enforce assorted rules and regulations about money. Facebook’s trust issues percolate in the stories as well; for example, “Facebook’s Crypto currency Has a Trust Problem,” which explains — well, obviously — Facebook’s method of saying one thing and just chugging along mostly doing what it wants to do. One must not overlook the legal tussles like the Cambridge Analytica matter; for example, “The Cambridge Analytica Debacle: A Legal Primer.” Exciting stuff.

There was an announcement which the DarkCyber team noted; specifically, “Game Streaming Site Twitch Buys Social Network Bebo.” Yawn. Bebo, a social media service founded in 2005. That’s so yesterday. Bebo pivoted to social apps, but that did not work out as planned. Then Bebo tried a hashtag messaging app. The idea was that a message had content and it had user assigned index terms just like Twitter. More recently, Bebo has dabbled in young people playing games. Think intramural sports with games like Fortnite. Bowling leagues for people who prefer digital games to those which can result in two a days, bruises, and rides on a team bus.

Wikipedia provides more details of the Bebo trajectory. The reports about this deal like “Amazon’s Twitch Acquired Social Networking Platform Bebo for up to $25 million to Bolster Its Esports Efforts” hit the basics:

  • Twitch will be buying pizzas for the Bebo team
  • Amazon paid an alleged $25 million for the Bebo property (fungible and intellectual property like Monkey Inferno)
  • Hope for the future.

DarkCyber’s view of the deal is mostly in line with the publicly available news reports. However, Amazon has access to data about Twitch, including outputs from users who exchange messages, inputs from “creators” or “live streamers” who want special features without having to arm wrestle with third party software, and Amazon’s own big thinkers who understand that “games” are not part of the fabric of outfits like Amazon, Facebook, and — are you ready for it? — Netflix.

There are also implications for intelligence and law enforcement and, of course, for Facebook, a digital country with its own fledgling sovereign currency. The Bezos bulldozer might be making tracks for Palo Alto to redevelop a certain billionaire’s compound.

Stephen E Arnold, June 19, 2019

Criticizing the Digital Czarina of Silicon Valley

May 31, 2019

DarkCyber would not criticize Kara Swisher. We think that her method of talking over those whom she interviews is just an outstanding way to deliver understandable audio. We find her summaries of her stellar career in journalism necessary because some of the DarkCyber team (like me) has a lousy memory for some crucial information. We enjoy her interactions with the kind, patient, and deeply informed author of The Algebra of Happiness a remarkable opportunity to learn how life is to be lived in the 21st century.

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But TechDirt has a different point of view, expressed clearly in “Dear Kara Swisher: Don’t Let Your Hatred of Facebook Destroy Free Speech Online.” See, that’s what a brave person, steeped in the law, will share about a digital czarina of Silicon Valley.

We noted this statement in the 1362 word epistle:

This is wrong on so many levels that it makes me wonder where Swisher is getting her information from.

The “wrong” refers to Ms. Swisher’s posture toward Facebook censorship.

We also circled in blue, this statement:

…her analysis is simply incorrect.

Yikes. An error in analysis. The “incorrect” refers to Section 230 and other legal matters.

We also underlined this passage:

For quite some time now, we’ve been talking about the “impossibility” of doing content moderation at scale well. There are always going to be disagreements. But Section 230 is what allows for experimentation. People can (and should) criticize Facebook when they think the company made the wrong call, but to blithely toss Section 230 under the bus as the reason for Facebook failing to meet her own exacting standards, Swisher is actually throwing the open internet and free speech under the bus instead. It’s a horrifically bad take, and one that Swisher should know better about.

There it is. Ms. Swisher is not fully informed. (My mother used to tell me “You should know better.” I assume this phrasing is part of the adulting movement.

To wrap up, my hunch is that two important people in the world of Silicon Valley may exchange further communications.

Will the Czarina respond directly, or will a colleague or former colleague (of which there appear to be many) pick up the gauntlet and slap TechDirt in the head in order to knock some sense and appreciation into it?

Worth watching. There’s nothing like a lawyer and czarina dust up to reveal why Silicon Valley is held in such high regard by millions of people. DarkCyber will watch from a safe distance, of course. When elephants fight, only the grass suffers.

Stephen E Arnold, May 31, 2019

Silicon Valley Management Crises Escalate

May 10, 2019

Early in my career I worked at Booz, Allen & Hamilton. There was lots of chatter about management from the MBAs. I listened, and I learned that management was a slippery fish.

Now the engineers, mathematicians, and scientists who are in charge of a couple of successful Silicon Valley firms are dealing with slippery fish, and some of these creatures are poisonous.

Let’s look at two examples.

The first appears in “Google Employees Ask Alphabet CEO to Address Walkout.” The idea is that employees are not happy, and they want to make this clear to colleagues and the real journalists who pay attention to real news. I learned:

The plea for Page’s involvement comes after months of worker protests against the mishandling of sexual harassment incidents, along with retaliation against those who report it, including the demotion and modifications of roles that female employees who reported harassment held.

Google denies retaliation, and some of the world’s smartest people employed by the online advertising firm are unhappy.

Unhappy employees means trouble with a capital T. There may be a Meredith Wilson opportunity here.

The second has been captured in statements from Chris Hughes, one of the “founders” of Facebook. This Facebooker has been on talking head TV, but the article “Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes: It’s Time to Break Up Facebook” does a good job of recycling the opinion piece Mr. Hughes crafted for the New York Times. I noted:

Hughes says that Zuckerberg has “unchecked power” and influence “far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government.”

Okay, a founder and “friend” of Facebook is criticizing the company. The fix is painful because breaking up is hard to do.

Okay, two examples.

The Google problem is a revolt from within. The Facebook problem is a revolt of the insiders.

Neither Google nor Facebook is handling the management challenges in a smooth, friction free way.

Maybe it is time to call in the MBAs along with lots of lawyers to help with this Iron Man events? The high school science club is just not working. Sure, the money is still flowing, but like a gurgling Mauna Loa, further events are inevitable. Foosballl and colorful mouse pads won’t do the job. And algorithms? Nope.

Stephen E Arnold, May 10, 2019

Facebook: Yep, Privacy Is Our Business

May 7, 2019

I believe everything I read on the Internet. Here’s an example of truth, which may actually be true: “Facebook’s Contract Workers Are Looking at Your Private Posts to Train AI.” The main idea is that a post marked “private” allegedly may be perused by a contractor. In my experience, contractors are often far away from the office stuffed with supervisors. When I use contract workers, I just get the work. I don’t spend too much time micro-managing. If I hire a contractor via Fiverr.com, I don’t interact after I post an email describing what I want done. My hunch is that contract workers can do quite a few things. I don’t know because they are “contract workers.”

The write up states:

Facebook confirmed to Reuters that the content being examined by WiPro’s workers includes private posts shared to a select numbers of friends, and that the data sometimes includes users’ names and other sensitive information. Facebook says it has 200 such content-labeling projects worldwide, employing thousands of people in total.

Yep, private information in the hands of contracts who are “employees” of WiPro.

Privacy is our business.

Stephen E Arnold, May 7, 2019

Defriending Facebook? Harsh

April 24, 2019

Whether it was earnest advice or a public-relations ploy, we’re told Mark Zuckerberg’s recent call for regulation would not actually fix the problems with Facebook. Canada’s CBC News describes “The Case Against Facebook: a ‘Dataopoly’ with Too Much Market Power.” I was interested in reporter Ramona Pringle’s explanation of a “dataopoly;” she cites Carleton University professor Dwayne Winseck, who teaches about Internet governance:

“[Winseck] says with its behemoth scale and singular control over the data of its users, Facebook is a ‘dataopoly.’ A company with a monopoly in a traditional, non-digital industry is able to charge consumers higher prices for goods or services due to the lack of competition. In the case of a dataopoly, the results of that unrivalled power can be less privacy, degraded quality of service, and political and social consequences, writes Prof. Maurice Stucke, an antitrust expert at the University of Tennessee College of Law. With more than two billion users who have few, if any, alternatives to the massive social network and its various platforms — which also include Instagram and WhatsApp — there is little incentive for Facebook to change the way it does business. Winseck says this is clear in the company’s ‘take-it-or-leave-it terms of service.’ Even if a user is uncomfortable with some of the Facebook’s practices, if they want to use the social network, they have no choice but to grin and bear it.”

On top of that, we’re reminded, Facebook keeps a tight grip on everything that crosses its platform, like the nature of its services, how advertisers can target users, and what it really does with all that juicy user data. The only real solution, Pringle insists, is the breakup of Zuckerberg’s company. Like others, this article is skeptical of Zuckerberg’s motives, noting that, for various reasons, Facebook could use some good PR about now. If this was the goal, did it backfire?

Cynthia Murrell, April 24, 2019

Facebook: A Bubbling Cauldron of PR Opportunity

April 23, 2019

I read “Facebook’s New Chief Lawyer Helped Write the Patriot Act.” Then I read “Facebook Taps Former Vulcan and Gates Ventures Exec John Pinette to Run Global Communications.” From these two real news stories, I concluded that the Facebook senior management team is circling its wagons, cleaning up the dorm room, and involving some individuals who may have been excluded from the high school science club party last year. Vulcan Ventures and the Patriot Act. Times are changing at the company which seems to struggle with privacy, legislative wrath, and trust.

Not a moment too soon.

The Guardian, an outfit eager to identify the possible frailties of humanoids in Silicon Valley, published “My TED Talk: How I Took on the Tech Titans in Their Lair” and reported via a contributor who gave a TED talk:

In the theatre, senior executives of Facebook had been “warned” beforehand. And within minutes of stepping off stage, I was told that its press team had already lodged an official complaint. In fairness, what multi-billion dollar corporation with armies of PRs, lawyers and crisis teams, not to mention, embarrassingly, our former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, wouldn’t want to push back on the charge that it has broken democracy? Facebook’s difficulty is that it had no grounds to challenge my statement. No counter-evidence. If it was innocent of all charges, why hasn’t Mark Zuckerberg come to Britain and answered parliament’s questions? Though a member of the TED team told me, before the session had even ended, that Facebook had raised a serious challenge to the talk to claim “factual inaccuracies” and she warned me that they had been obliged to send them my script. What factual inaccuracies, we both wondered. “Let’s see what they come back with in the morning,” she said. Spoiler: they never did.

I am not sure when the Patriot Act and Vulcan hires start work, but the Guardian write up may spin up some work for the new, fresh, clear-eyed Facebookers. Not a moment too soon. Wait. Maybe it is too late?

Stephen E Arnold, April 23, 2019

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