Regulating Facebook and Unexpected Consequences

April 23, 2018

After Mark Zuckerberg’s mostly frothy and somewhat entertaining testimonies for Congress and the Senate, what are we left with? Some tea leaves are saying that Facebook will likely be permitted to self regulate.

What happens if governments step in. One commentator worries not just for our privacy, but for society as a whole. We learned more from a recent Guardian story, “Facebook is a Tyranny and Our Government Isn’t Built to Stop it.”

According to the story:

“Many ideas for regulatory reforms to protect privacy fail to address the governance problems we face. Our government was not built to counter the tyranny of the global corporation…. “With the fervor of the early US founders, we need to debate and adopt a new structure for self-government that is strong enough to counter the global monopolies of the 21st century. Our liberty is at stake.”

Is Facebook really that serious of a threat? We’re ones to pump the brakes a little on this subject. However, that doesn’t mean that social media needs to change. Many people are inventing suggestions for ways in which Washington can regulate this world. Many are bunk, but some are legitimately solid. One that we have been leaning toward is a Digital Consumer Protection Agency. This keeps the senator and congress, who proved how shockingly little they know about social media when they grilled Zuckerberg, out of the fray.

Allegedly accurate information surfaced in Buzzfeed. The article “Cambridge Analytica Data Scientist Aleksandr Kogan Wants You To Know He’s Not A Russian Spy” will certainly spark some additional discussion of governance at Facebook and Cambridge University.

Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian, who appears to have been a key module in the Cambridge Analytica data service is quoted as saying, “I am not a Russian spy.” That’s good to know. The academic asserts that he was doing research. He wrote journal papers about that research. In fact, he wrote papers with Facebook professionals. He also “believes” that his work had not impact on elections. The information in the article is interesting.

Four observations:

  1. Government officials who do not understand Facebook are likely to find themselves relying on Facebook lobbyists for guidance.
  2. Facebook itself can continue to operate and use clever maneuvers to sidestep some regulations.
  3. With more than two billion users, Facebook has the capability of becoming a messaging system for itself.
  4. The story will continue to have momentum.

One unintended consequence is that it will be business as usual for Facebook.

Patrick Roland, April 23, 2018

Facebook Finds an Angle

April 23, 2018

I read “Americans Want Tougher Rules for Big Tech Amid Privacy Scandals, Poll Finds.” Polls are easy to shape. I did note one comment about this insight into what “Americans want”:

83% of Americans call for companies like Facebook to face harsher penalties for breaches.

Remarkable consensus.

Calling is different from “doing.”

In fact, Facebook seems to have found a way to finesse at least some of the European Union’s privacy protection requirements. “Facebook to Put 1.5 Billion Users out of Reach of New EU Privacy Law” states that Facebook “is keen to reduce its exposure to GDPR.”

The alleged desire for tougher rules may not apply to some Americans. Furthermore, Facebook wants to continue on the path which minimizes the impact of regulations on the firm’s operations.

Clever beats what those in the survey sample say they want it seems.

Stephen E Arnold, April 23, 2018

Social Media Fantasy Land? Hello, Hello?

April 5, 2018

We noted Facebook’s minor correction. That Cambridge Analytica – GSR 50 million person data glitch; it is now 87 million. Minor stuff. “Facebook Says Cambridge Analytica May Have Had Data on 87 Million People” states:

The 87 million number is the maximum amount of people that could have impacted, according to Facebook’s calculations. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a call with reporters on Wednesday that it got to that number by looking at the maximum number of friends its users had at the time.

Okay, just a minor mistake. Keep in mind that Facebook has 2.3 billion or so “users.” A mere 87 million is not even 10 percent of this select group of well informed, online savvy Facebookers.

I like the “maximum” too. Because Facebook has apparently generated this figure, I know it is rock solid. Why would Facebook obfuscate? I can’t think of a single reason. Perhaps investigators will come up with at least one or two hypotheses?

In this context of revising a 50 million figure to an 87 million figure, we think some analysts are working hard to make social media vendors into really great outfits. In “Using Artificial Intelligence to Investigate Illegal Wildlife Trade on Social Media” I learned:

“Methods from artificial intelligence are being developed and used to investigate the supply chain of the illegal wildlife trade in an innovative and novel way, stresses the importance of such novel methods to identify relevant data on the illegal wildlife trade from social media platforms.”

This movement has become quite far reaching to stop the hunting of elephants and rhinos for their ivory. We spotted a snow leopard jacket for sale on eBay.

ebay snow leopard from kabul

The coat was manufactured in Kabul. Those filters are working really well too.

Even Google is working to preserve animals. The well managed company and ZSL recently teamed up to also help pinpoint poaching hopefully before it happens and definitely after it occurs.

With Facebook revising numbers and Google using its smart software to help minimize poaching, Silicon Valley touchstones are doing excellent work.

“Management excellence in action,” opined one of the Beyond Search researchers. From people to animals, online is setting a new standard in governance infused with smart software.

Stephen E Arnold, April 5, 2018

Facebook Wants to Do Better

April 4, 2018

The company seems to be unable to cook up ways to do better. If “Do You Think Facebook Is Good for the World?” is accurate, Facebook wants its “users” to provide the company with ideas. Mr. Zuckerberg wants to “fix Facebook.” What did Alexis de Tocqueville say about voting in a “democracy”? Was it the triumph of the average? Perhaps Facebook will share the results of its survey.

Stephen E Arnold, April 4, 2018

Cambridge Analytica: The April 3, 2018, DarkCyber Report Is Now Available

April 3, 2018

DarkCyber for April 3, 2018, is now available. The new program can be viewed at and on Vimeo at

This week’s program focuses on the Facebook, GSR, Cambridge Analytica data controversy. The 12 minute video addresses the role of GSR and the Cambridge professor who developed a personality profile app. The DarkCyber program outlines how raw social data is converted into actionable, psychographic “triggers.” By connecting individuals, groups, and super-groups with “hot buttons” and contentious political issues, behaviors can be influenced, often in an almost undetectable way.

The DarkCyber research team has assembled information from open source coverage of Cambridge Analytica and has created a generalized “workflow” for the Facebook-type data set. The outputs of the workflow are “triggers” which can be converted into shaped messages which are intended to influence behaviors of individuals, groiups, and super-groups.

The program explains how psychographic analyses differ from the more well known demographic analyses of Facebook data. The link analysis or social graph approach is illustrated in such a way that anyone can grasp the potential of this data outputs. The program includes a recommendation for software which anyone with basic programming skills can use to generate “graphs” of relationships, centers of influence, and individuals who are likely to take cues from these centers of influence.

DarkCyber’s next special feature focuses on the Grayshift GrayKey iPhone unlocking product. The air date will appear in Beyond Search.

Kenny Toth, April 3, 2018

Facebook WhatsApp Seems to Be Humming Along

April 1, 2018

If anyone still had doubts that Facebook’s 2014 purchase of WhatsApp was a wise deal, this news should put them to rest. In an article at the U.K.’s Express, cryptically titled “WhatsApp Announces Huge News and Its Rivals Will Not Be Happy,” it is revealed that the messaging app now has 1.5 billion active monthly users, and transmits an astounding 60 billion messages per day. Writer David Snelling shares some more relevant facts:

“Facebook bought WhatsApp back in 2014 for $19 billion (£13.4billion) and that investment appears to have been worth every penny. Along with WhatsApp’s success, Zuckerberg also revealed that Facebook-owned Instagram is now the most popular Story-sharing product in the world. According to TechCrunch, Instagram Stories now has around 300 million daily active users, that’s compared to some 178 million who opt for rival service Snapchat. The news of these huge numbers comes as WhatsApp recently revealed another record. The messaging firm said it saw 75 billion messages sent across the service on New Year’s Eve. That number eclipses any other day in WhatsApp’s history with the previous record of 65 million on New Year’s Eve 2016 well and truly smashed. WhatsApp says that of the 75 billion messages sent, 13 billion were photos and five billion included videos.”

Now after what seems a long time when measured in Internet moments, a WhatsApp user can change the “number” to which an account is attached. We wonder how many new accounts were triggered by frustrated users who had to sign up again and again.

No fooling.

Cynthia Murrell, April 1, 2018

What Has Cambridge Analytica Done to Crowdsourcing As a Way to Identify Fake News?

March 29, 2018

The battle to counteract fake news is hitting a strange, new chapter. Where, once, the falsification of news was the source of much ridicule and scrutiny, now it’s the solution to the problem. Social media titans are suggesting solutions, but the public isn’t so sure, as we discovered in a recent Slate story, “A Surprising New Study Shows That Facebook’s Ridiculed Plan to Rate The Media Could Actually Work.”

According to the story:

“In at least one plausible interpretation of the survey results, the respondents distinguished the credible outlets from the sketchy ones with near-perfect accuracy. Nineteen of the 20 mainstream news outlets in the sample were trusted more by both Democrats and Republicans than any of the other 40 outlets were trusted by respondents of either party.”

According to the Neiman Lab Facebook’s ratings system has a flaw built into the system. It seems like a great idea to rate the trustworthiness of news sources, but the fact that the system will be crowdsourced pretty much ensures that nobody will trust the results. In a world filled with hackers and bots that can funnel millions of votes toward crowdsourced content, it’s going to be hard to trust the trustworthiness of Facebook’s venture. Certainly, they will have filters in place to try to prevent such corruption, but the public will likely always be a little weary.

Beyond Search wonders if the information about this initiative is itself either fake news or an example of how some individuals issue a report in order to shape perception. Isn’t this the core method of the GSR Cambridge Analytica matter?

Patrick Roland, March 29, 2018

The Country of Facebook Rebuffs England

March 27, 2018

I read “Facebook’s Zuckerberg Will Not Answer UK Lawmakers’ Questions over Data Scandal.” The main idea of the “real” news story struck me as:

Zuckerberg will instead send his Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer or Chief Product Officer Chris Cox to appear before parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.

Several observations:

  1. The lawmakers in England are likely to interpret the refusal of Facebook’s president as a slap in the face.
  2. Facebook may face increasing friction from lawmakers and, possibly, from government agents with regard to some of Facebook’s activities in England
  3. Increased attention from British entities may increase Facebook’s costs in the form of regulatory compliance and tax scrutiny.

England has demonstrated that it can take immediate and direct action in certain matters of state. Facebook’s decision to ignore a request from the country may spark additional actions.

England can arrest, detain, and deport individuals. Planning a jaunt to London to catch a play may evolve into a risky proposition for individuals identified as of particular interest to England.

Serious business in the view of the addled goose.

Stephen E Arnold, March 27, 2018

Facebook and Its Advertising: In Newspapers No Less

March 26, 2018

Google is allegedly earmarking millions to help dead tree publications survive the digital winter. Will the money help? Probably not.

I noted what struck me as an interesting move. The BBC’s write up “Facebook Boss Apologizes in UK and US Newspaper Ads” reveals to non newspaper readers the company’s fascinating mea culpa white out.

I learned:

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has taken out full-page adverts in several UK and US Sunday newspapers to apologies for the firm’s recent data privacy scandal.

Let’s recap the view of some dead tree senior managers.

  • Digital media recycles our content and does not pay producers of “real news”
  • Facebook and Google have replaced traditional newspapers and magazines as the gatekeepers of what’s right and what’s wrong, saying, “Hey, that’s our job.”
  • Digital giants are indifferent to the downstream impacts of their nifty technologies.

Now Facebook is using the dead tree channels to explain:

“This was a breach of trust, and I am sorry.”

I assume that some at Facebook see the matter as off the table.

Ironic? Nope, just implement the “it’s easier to apologize than ask permission” method.

My question, “Has Facebook bought some Adwords or hired Cambridge Analytica-type outfits to make this apology more efficacious?”

Stephen E Arnold, March 26, 2018

CNN Facebook Put Down: CNN. Imagine!

March 24, 2018

I noted this article on the CNN Web site: “Mark Zuckerberg Is Not Comfortable with the Enormous Influence He Has Over the World.” I associate this type of take down with the gentleman who ran a charity in the US, loved cricket, and took a very, very dim view of Americans. He once told me, “Kentucky has a great deal about which to be modest.”

CNN appears to be suggesting that Mr. Zuckerberg is a little big man.

I noted this statement in the write up:

“Any company that can influence a US presidential election without being aware that it is doing so is demonstrably too powerful,” Roger McNamee, Zuckerberg’s former mentor and a venture capitalist, told CNN by email.

The write up offered this assessment:

Brian Wieser, an analyst who tracks Facebook for Pivotal Research Group, says the real issue plaguing the company may not be whether it’s too powerful so much as whether it became powerful too fast. “It looks like a problem that has emerged is that they may have become big and powerful too quickly, without ensuring their foundations were solid enough to withstand the growth they have had,” Wieser told CNN.

I wish CNN has asked Mr. Zuckerberg how he was going to cause the next recession?

Stephen E Arnold, March 24, 2018

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