Facebook and Foreign Policy

November 9, 2017

I knew online was important when I became involved in the commercial database sector in 1981. At that time, the idea that accessing online information to look up citations in Pharmaceutical News Index would mature into a policy crushing machine.

After reading “Facebook Can’t Cope with the World It’s Created,” I realized that online has arrived at the big dance. The company, however, lacks the jazzy moves of a John Travolta stayin’ alive.

Foreign Policy does not do fluffy “real news” write ups. You will have to navigate to the original at the link provided or make your way to a real library where the snappy publication is available.

I noted this assertion—well, maybe “real” news—in the article about everyone’s favorite social network:

On an earnings call earlier last week, Zuckerberg told investors and reporters “how upset I am that the Russians tried to use our tools to sow mistrust,” adding that he was “dead serious” about findings ways to tackle the problem. That would be a positive step — but it must also extend to examining Facebook’s tricky impacts in the rest of the world.

But the ace statement in the article is this observation, which I assume is 100 percent on the money:

In Myanmar today, Facebook is the internet.

There are some interesting groups in Myanmar, and it is reassuring to know that Facebook has everyone’s interests in mind. Free communication flows, friends, and nifty private groups.

What could possibly be untoward with these essential, unregulated modern functions? The government authorities are probably avid Facebookers too.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2017

I Hear the Crows Cawing: A Newspaper Revels in Alleged Silicon Valley Flubs

November 2, 2017

I read “How to Stop Google and Facebook from Becoming Even More Powerful.” The write up appeared in a British newspaper, one which has embraced the digital revolution. Well, I should say, “Tries to embrace the digital revolution.”

I learned that “banning these tech giants from buying any more companies would prevent them from entrenching their monopoly position and help protect our freedom.

I assume that if Facebook or Google tried to buy the Guardian, the newspaper would tell these giants to take their money and get back to solving death or paying lobbyists. When a certain person with oodles of money approached the estimable Washington Post, my recollection is that the Bezos bucks convinced the stakeholders of the Washington Post to accept the cash. But not the Guardian’s stakeholders, right? Of course not! Money. Filthy lucre.

I also noted this passage:

these institutions are designed to gather vast amounts of information about every American, but they are not built to manage that information in the interest of those individuals or the public as a whole…

What’s a company supposed to do? Should Facebook and Google refuse to sell ads? Is it the nature of a corporate entity to have a heart, a soul, an obligation to save the whales, and preserve the rain forest?

Nope. A corporate entity has an obligation to make money. if one does not make money or at least try to make money, in the US the Internal Revenue Service is suspicious of deductable expenditures I hear.

I circled this statement as well:

If it’s clear that Facebook and Google can’t manage what they already control, why let those corporations own more? America’s antitrust enforcers can impose such a rule almost immediately.

The Guardian has first hand experience with the bureaucracy of the US government I assume. In my experience, the phrase “almost immediately” does not match what appears to be the velocity at which government agencies can operate. Immediately does not capture the reality of certain government functions in the US. Obviously the Guardian knows better than I how to make the Bugatti Chiron of the US government burn off a ridiculous acceleration down the virtual political Nürburgring that is Constitution Avenue.

What’s clear to me is that Facebook and Google are in for more scrutiny, criticism, and pundit pummeling.

Let’s see. Google’s been chugging along for 20 years. Facebook has fewer miles on its odometer, but it’s no spring chicken.

Yep, let make changes immediately. Sounds good from the point of view of a newspaper dutifully reporting the thrill ride of Brexit. But I keep coming back to this question, “Would the Guardian sell itself if either Facebook or Google showed up with a lorry filled with cash, stock, and a promise of technological heaven?”

Stephen E Arnold, November 2, 2017

Instagram Milestone: 800 Million Monthly Active Users

October 27, 2017

If there were any doubts that Facebook’s 2012 purchase of Instagram was a good idea, this should put them to rest—SiliconBeat reports, “Facebook-Owned Instagram Reaches 800 Million Monthly Active Users.” Reporter Queenie Wong writes:

The photo-sharing app reached 800 million monthly active users, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, announced at an advertising event in New York Monday. That’s an uptick of 100 million monthly users since April. Instagram also grew its daily active users to 500 million and reached 2 million advertisers. Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock in 2012. So far, the social media giant’s purchase appears to be paying off. Analysts have noted before that Instagram was a good investment for Facebook because it gave the company an app that was popular among teens.

Wong concludes by reminding us that Instagram has recently been competing with Snapchat with its own version of temporary posts, Stories. In fact, Facebook just announced the ability to cross-post Stories between the two platforms.

Cynthia Murrell, October 27, 2017

You Cannot Patent Public Domain Property

October 24, 2017

Oh, Google!  Is there no end to the amount of mischief you will cause to make a dollar?  Bleeping Computer reports that, “Google Is Accused Of Trying To Patent Public Domain Technology” and that is not right.  A Polish assistant professor named Jaroslaw Duda invented a technology called Asymmetric Numeral Systems.  He said he released it to the public domain so it would not be trapped in restrictive licenses.

Duda’s Asymmetric Numeral Systems (ANS) is a powerful family of entropy coding methods that is used in data compression systems.  These include Apple’s LZFSE compressor, Facebook’s standard compressor, and Google’s Draco 3D compressor.  Technology companies love ANS, because it has faster compression and decompression speeds with minimal data loss and computational costs.

Duda has a sarcastic response to Google trying to patent his technology, saying it was a nice “thank you” from a “don’t be evil” company.  He is also bringing a very strong case against Google and also strong supporters:

The International Search Authority [ISA], a WIPO department tasked with searching prior patents, has already sided with Duda on the topic and published a scathing review, calling Google’s patent as not comprising ‘an inventive contribution over the prior art, because it is no more than a straightforward application of known coding algorithms.

Writing on online forums, Duda said he had high hopes when he first reached out to Google.

There was a moment they gave me hope for a formal collaboration with my University so I could build a team, but then silence … probably due to this patent application,” the researcher wrote. ‘[Right now,] Google is not responding, probably currently rewriting the patent – showing its determination to reach this monopoly..’

Google might have deep pockets and powerful lawyers, but Duda released ANS as public domain technology in 2014.  Good luck trying to overcome that, Google!  Not really.

Whitney Grace, October 24, 2017

Facebookand Publishing

October 23, 2017

Print publishing has slowly been circling the drain as revenue drops (at least depending on what type of publishing you are in).  Some publishers have tried going totally digital, hoping that online subscriptions and ads would pay the bills, but Google and Facebook are siphoning off the source.  The Next Web shares more of how publishers are struggling in the article, “Publishers Need To Learn From Mega Platforms Like Facebook.”

Like many smart companies, publishers have joined social media and hoped to build their brand image on them.  Publishers, however, have learned that Facebook and other social media platforms keep changing their requirements.  The article compares it to a type of Darwinian survival of the fittest.  The publishing companies with deep pockets are surviving by investments and smart digital upgrades.

Jeff Bezos is used as an example because he has turned video streaming as one of Amazon’s main profit generators.  The suggestion is that publishers follow suit with video and then live video streams.  The comments sections in these videos create an ongoing dialogue with viewers (while at the same time allowing trolls).  It turns out that commoditized content on social media is not the way to go.

Publishers need to instead concentrate on building their own platform apparently:

This is the perfect time for publishers to take control of their platforms and the video streams that will drive the next phase of the digital content revolution. With advances in live video programming and the speed with which original content can be created, publishers can greatly enhance what they already do and know, and monetize it through changes in advertising models that fuel online media platforms as well as live-streaming video platforms.

The Internet is more than video, however.  Podcasts and articles are still viable content too.  It might be time to double think your career if you are a social media manager.

Whitney Grace, October 23, 2017

Social Media Should Be Social News

October 18, 2017

People are reading news more than ever due to easy information access on the Internet.  While literacy rates soar, where people are reading news stories has changed from traditional news outlets to something comparatively newer and quite questionable.  According to Pew Research, “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017,” people are obtaining their news stories from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others.  The Pew Research survey discovered that 67% of Americans get some of their news from social media, which has grown from 62% in 2016.  The growth comes from people who are older, nonwhite and are less educated.  That is an interesting statistic about American social groups:

Furthermore, about three-quarters of nonwhites (74%) get news on social media sites, up from 64% in 2016. This growth means that nonwhites1 are now more likely than whites to get news while on social media. And social media news use also increased among those with less than a bachelor’s degree, up nine percentage points from 60% in 2016 to 69% in 2017. Alternatively, among those with at least a college degree, social media news use declined slightly.

The information is different from what Pew Research has recorded in the past and there are two ways to interpret the data: compare the share of each social media’s users that get news on that specific Web site and the total percentage of Americans that get news on social media sites.  Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube she a significant growth in user shared news and these directly correspond to investments the companies made to in developing their usability.  Facebook remains the number one social media Web site that distributes news, while YouTube is a close second.  The data also shows that users visit multiple social media sites to read the news, but that they also rely on traditional news platforms as well.

Social media is a major component to how people communicate with the world around them.  Perhaps traditional news outlets should look at ways to incorporate themselves more into social media.  Will Facebook, YouTube, and/or Twitter hire journalists in the future?

Whitney Grace, October 18, 2017

Facebook: A Pioneer in Bro-giveness?

October 2, 2017

The write up “Mark Zuckerberg Asks for Forgiveness from ‘Those I Hurt This Year’ in Yom Kippur Message” surprised me. In my brief encounters with Silicon Valley “bros”, I cannot recall too many apologies or apologetic moments. My first thought was, “Short circuit somewhere.”

The Verge article explained to me:[Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook] publicly asked for forgiveness for those I hurt this year.

I thought online companies were like utilities. Who gets excited if a water main breaks drowns an elderly person’s parakeet? Who laments when a utility pole short circuits a squirrel? Who worries if an algorithm tries to sell me an iPhone when I am an Android-type senior citizen?

I noted this statement:

Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook has had a divisive effect on the country, and that he’ll work to do better in the coming year.

I like New Year’s resolutions.

The write up quotes another Silicon Valley source which I sometimes associate with enthusiasm for what’s new and “important”:

Facebook itself needs to do better to improve its efforts in combating the spread of false information and abuse that appears throughout its platform. It and other social media sites have often touted themselves as a neutral platforms for all ideas and beliefs, but underestimate how these ideals can be undermined, which led to tangible impacts in the real world. Zuckerberg may be sincere in his intentions, but the company he founded needs to follow through on them.

Follow through? Okay.

I think of this commitment to do better as the Silicon Valley equivalet of the New Yorker’s breezy, “Let’s have lunch.”

Is bro-giveness is a disruptive approach to forgoveness? If it is, click the Like button.

Stephen E Arnold, October 2, 2017

The Narrowing App Market

September 29, 2017

If you are thinking of going into app development, first take a gander at this write-up; Business Insider reports, “Half of Digital Media Time Is Spent in Five Apps.” Citing comScore’s 2017 US Mobile App Report , writer Laurie Beaver tells us:

Users spend 90% of their mobile app time in their top five apps, making up 51% of total digital time spent. Perhaps more alarming is that half of the time spent on smartphones is within just one app. That drops dramatically to 18% of time for the second most used app. This suggests that unless a brand’s or business’ app is the first or second most used (most likely Facebook- or Google-owned), it’s unlikely to get any meaningful share of users’ attention.

There are a few reasons for developers to take heart—the number of app downloads is picking up, and users have become more willing to allow push notifications. Most importantly, perhaps, is that users are making in-app purchases; that is where most apps make their money. Beaver continues:

Nevertheless, the report shows the astonishing influence Facebook and Google have over how US mobile app users spend their time. And given the increasingly large share the top five apps have, it’s likely to only become more difficult for brands and publishers to receive any share of users’ time. Alternate app experiences such as Apple’s iMessage apps, Google’s Instant Apps, and Facebook Messenger’s Instant Games could provide brands and publishers with new avenues to reach consumers where they’re spending their time. While these services are nascent, they do provide a promising option for businesses moving forward.

We’re reminded that apps have gained ground over browsers, and are now the main way folks get online. However, the trends toward app consolidation and app abandonment may lead to a “post-app” future. Never fear, though—Business Insider’s research service, BI Intelligence, offers a report titled “The End of Apps” ($495) that could help businesses and developers prepare for the future. Founded in 2007, Business Insider is headquartered in New York City.

Cynthia Murrell, September 29, 2017

AI Will Build Better Chatbots

September 21, 2017

For better or worse, chatbots have well and truly supplanted the traditional customer service role. Sure, one can still reach a human at many companies with persistence, but it is the rare (and appreciated!) business that assigns a real person to handle point-of-contact. Geektime ponders, “What is the Future of Chatbot Development and Artificial Intelligence?” Writer Damian Wolf surveys chatbots as they now exist, and asserts it is AI that will bridge the gap between these simple systems and ones that can realistically replicate human responses. He writes:

The future of AI bots looks promising and exciting at the same time. The limitation in regards to accessing big data can be eradicated by using AI techniques. The ultimate aim for the futuristic chatbot is to be able to interact with users as a human would. Computationally, it is a hard problem. With AI evolving every day, the chances of success are already high. The Facebook AI chatbot is already showing promises as it was able to come up with negotiation skills by creating new sentences. E-Commerce will also benefit hugely with a revolution in AI chatbots. The key here is the data  collection and utilization. Once done correctly, the data can be used to strengthen the performance of highly-efficient algorithm, which in turn, will separate the bad chatbots from the good ones. … Automation is upon us, and chatbots are leading the way. With a fully-functional chatbot, e-commerce, or even a healthcare provider can process hundreds of interactions every single minute. This will not only save them money but also enable them to understand their audience better.

In order for this vision to be realized, Wolf insists, companies must invest in machine learning infrastructure. The article is punctuated with informative links like those in the quotation above; one I’m happy to see is this guide for non-technical journalists who wish to write accurately about AI developments (also good for anyone unfamiliar with the field). See the article for more useful links, and for more on chatbots as they currently exist.

Cynthia Murrell, September 21, 2017

Google Invests Hefty Sums in Lobbying Efforts

September 19, 2017

Since Microsoft was caught flat-footed by antitrust charges in 1992, the tech industry has steadily increased its lobbying efforts. Now, The Guardian asks, “Why is Google Spending Record Sums on Lobbying Washington?” Writer Johathan Taplin describes some reasons today’s political climate prompts such spending and points out that Google is the “largest monopoly in America,” though the company does its best to downplay that trait. He also notes that Google is libertarian in nature, and staunchly advocates against regulation. Looking forward, Taplin posits:

Much of Google’s lobbying may be directed toward its future business. That will be running artificial intelligence networks that control the transportation, medical, legal and educational businesses of the future. In a speech last Saturday to the National Governor’s Conference, the tech entrepreneur Elon Musk stated: ‘AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive.’ Coming from a Silicon Valley libertarian, this was a rare admission, but Musk went on to say: ‘There certainly will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us … I mean all of us.’ Both Google and Facebook pushed back hard against Musk’s remarks, because they have achieved their extraordinary success by working in an unregulated business environment. But now, for the first time in their histories, the possibility of regulation may be on the horizon. Google’s response will be to spend more of its $90 bn in cash on politicians. K Street is lining up to help.

We are reminded that, for many industries, lobbying Congress has long been considered a routine cost of doing business. The tech industry is now firmly in that category and is beginning to outspend the rest. See the article for more details.

Cynthia Murrell, September 19, 2017

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