Facebook: Slow and TikTok: Fast. Can Research Keep Pace with Effects?

September 23, 2022

I read “Facebook Proven to Negatively Impact Mental Health.” The academic analysis spanned about two decades. The conclusion is that Facebook (the poster child for bringing people together) is bad news for happy thoughts.

I noted this passage:

The study was based on data that dates back to the 2004 advent of Facebook at Harvard University, before it took the internet by storm. Facebook was initially accessible only to Harvard students who had a Harvard email address. Quickly spreading to other colleges in and outside the US, the network was made available to the general public in the US and beyond in September 2006. The researchers were able to analyze the impact of social media use by comparing colleges that had access to the platform to colleges that did not. The findings show a rise in the number of students reporting severe depression and anxiety (7% and 20% respectively).

The phrase which caught my attention is “quickly spreading.” Sure, by the standards of yesteryear, Facebook was like Road Runner. My thought is that the velocity of TikTok is different:

  1. Slow ramp and then accelerating user growth
  2. Rapid fire content consumption
  3. Short programs which Marshall McLuhan would be interested in if he were alive
  4. Snappy serve-up algorithms.

Facebook is a rabbit with a bum foot. No lucky charm for the Zuckers. TikTok is a Chinese knock off of the SR 71.

Perhaps the researchers in Ivory Towerville will address these questions:

  1. What’s the impact of high velocity, short image-centric videos on high school and grade school students?
  2. What can weaponized information accomplish in attitude change on certain issues like body image, perception of reality, and the value of self harm?
  3. What mental changes take place when information is obtained from a TikTok type source?

Do you see the research challenge? Researchers are just now validating what has been evident to many commercial database publishers for many years. With go-go TikTok, how many years will it take to validate the downsides of this outstanding, intellect-enhancing service?

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2022

Cyber Security Management: Does It Work or Just Output Excuses?

September 23, 2022

It seems that cyber security is a bit of an issue at a number of organizations. Uber faces a teen and seems to say, “We’re a-okay.” A Chinese entity may have lost data about one billion people. If I poke around, I can find one or two examples of what seem to be cyber security challenges. Oh, sorry. Yes, one or two may be an understatement.

“Nearly a Third of Security Teams Lack a Management Platform for IT Secrets” suggests that there may be a problem with management. The write up states:

most security pros expect cyber attacks to intensify over the next year, some 32% surveyed lack a management platform for IT secrets, such as API keys, database passwords, and privileged credentials, posing significant security risks.

Does this mean that geared up outfits with layers of security, training programs for employees because phishing is a problem, and expensive real time flows of threat data about vectors with snappy names have a vulnerability?

Yes, some organizations have another cyber security issues with which to wrestle. Management of “information technology secrets” may pose a threat. More precisely, a failure to manage passwords and other “IT secrets” is lacking. No kidding? Poor or ineffective management. Who would have guessed that work-from-home, quiet quitters, and basic safeguards were inadequate. Wow. Insight!

The article says:

While many surprisingly report feeling prepared for attacks, security leaders admit their tech stacks lack essential tools: Some 84% are concerned about the dangers of hard-coded credentials in source code, but 25% don’t have software to remove them. And, more than one-quarter of respondents (26%) say they lack a remote connection management capability that can secure remote access to IT infrastructure.

I think this means that after many PowerPoints, trade show presentations, and big buck mergers and acquisitions, bad actors have some vulnerabilities to exploit.

Is it time perchance to rethink cyber security and the management thereof?

Nah, security is a cost center. And most executives with whom I talk are reasonably confident that their personnel, advisors, and information technology professionals are Top Guns, flying juiced up cyber gear.

Okay, no problem. That’s why storing Microsoft Teams’ tokens in plain text is such a great idea.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

Robots Write Poems for Better or Verse

September 23, 2022

Remember studying the Romantic poets and memorizing the outputs of Percy Bysshe Shelley? What about Lord Byron and his problematic foot which he tucked under a chair as he crafted “Don Juan.” What about that cocktail party thing by TS Eliot? No, well, don’t worry. Those poets will not have traction in the poetical outputs of 2022 and beyond.

Robots Are Writing Poetry, and Many People Can’t Tell the Difference” reports:

Dozens of websites, with names like Poetry Ninja or Bored Human, can now generate poems with a click of a key. One tool is able to free-associate images and ideas from any word “donated” to it. Another uses GPS to learn your whereabouts and returns with a haiku incorporating local details and weather conditions (Montreal on December 8, 2021, at 9:32 a.m.: “Thinking of you / Cold remains / On Rue Cardinal.”) Twitter teems with robot verse: a bot that mines the platform for tweets in iambic pentameter it then turns into rhyming couplets; a bot that blurts out Ashbery-esque questions (“Why are coins kept in changes?”); a bot that constructs tiny odes to trending topics. Many of these poetry generators are DIY projects that operate on rented servers and follow preset instructions not unlike the fill-in-the-blanks algorithm that powered Racter. But, in recent years, artificial-intelligence labs have unveiled automated bards that emulate, with sometimes eerie results, the more conscious, reflective aspects of the creative process.

The main point of the article is not that Microsoft’s smart software can knock out Willie-like sonnets. The article states what I think is a very obvious point:

There is no question that poetry will be subsumed, and soon, into the ideology of data collection, existing on the same spectrum as footstep counters, high-frequency stock trading, and Netflix recommendations. Maybe this is how the so-called singularity—the moment machines exceed humans and, in turn, refashion us—comes about. The choice to off-load the drudgery of writing to our solid-state brethren will happen in ways we won’t always track, the paradigm shift receding into the background, becoming omnipresent, normalized.

The write up asserts:

as long as the ability to write poems remains a barrier for admission into the category of personhood, robots will stay Racters. Against the onslaught of thinking machines, poetry is humanity’s last, and best, stand.

Wrong. Plus, Gen Z wizards can’t read cursive. Too bad.

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2022

Cyber Crime and Automation: Bots, Bots, and More Bots

September 23, 2022

With tools now available at the cybercrime boutique Genesis Market, online theft, fraud, and extortion have become user-friendly. It is no wonder the problem is growing faster than ever. Insider spoke with someone who knows a thing or two about the topic and reports, “A Former Cybercriminal Who Once Worked with—and Betrayed—the Secret Service Says the Easy Access to Bots Is One of the Biggest Threats on the Internet Right Now.” Now rehabilitated, ex-hacker Brett Shannon Johnson now works at a fraud prevention company. Writer Samantha Delouya tells us:

“[Johnson] told Insider he worries that shady corners of the web, like bot marketplace The Genesis Market, have made it easier for inexperienced criminals to commit complicated financial crimes. ‘You’ve got sophisticated tools that 98% of cybercriminals simply don’t use, and what scares me right now is we’re seeing that change [to more use],’ Johnson said. Johnson says these bot marketplaces can deliver everything a low-level hacker would need to commit complicated financial crimes. ‘When you visit a Genesis Market, you can search for the target that you’re wanting to get. Chase, Bank of America, Google, Walmart …. you can search for the target. It will deliver the bots that are accessing credentials for that target… So I buy the bot, and the bot delivers everything that I need,’ Johnson added.”

Delouya notes cryptocurrencies have been an especially juicy target recently. With these tools at the ready, Johnson suspects, the challenging economy will motivate many otherwise law-abiding folks to try their hand at financial crimes. For the rest of us, let this be a reminder to stay on top of security best-practices. Have you changed your important passwords lately?

Cynthia Murrell, September 23, 2022

Twitter and Software Robots: Elon, How a-Bot That Study from Israel?

September 22, 2022

How many bots or software robots does it take to boost a concept? Apply either the Diddle Coefficient or the Finagle Constant to get the necessary result. Okay, just joking. I read “A New Israeli Study of Twitter’s Fake Users Suggests Elon Musk Might Be Right.” The write up reports:

A new study conducted by CHEQ, an Israel-based cybersecurity firm, estimates at least 12 percent of Twitter users are likely fake…. Twitter claims fake accounts and bots comprise less than 5 percent of its roughly 200 million daily active users.

Plus, get this:

Fake users are particularly prevalent in Twitter’s overseas markets, the larger study found.

Interesting. The write up describes the study which could be:

  1. A way to get Mr. Musk’s attention for a business purpose
  2. A way for the Israeli company releasing these Musk-supporting data to get some PR traction
  3. Data which helps make clear what type of information can be gleaned from online ad clicks.

In my opinion, I pick item number 2. A research report is a much better way to promote Israeli business than the methods used by the NSO Group. (Just kidding, of course.)

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

TikTok: A Slick Engine to Output Blackmail Opportunities

September 22, 2022

Some topics are not ready for online experts who think they know how sophisticated data collection and analytics “work.” The article “TikTok’s Algorithms Knew I Was Bi before I Did. I’m Not the Only One” provides a spy-tingling glimpse into what the China-linked TikTok video addiction machine can do. In recent testimony, TikTok’s handwaver explained that the Middle Kingdom’s psychological profile Ming tea pot is just nothing more than kid vids.

The write up explains:

On TikTok, the relationship between user and algorithm is uniquely (even sometimes uncannily) intimate.

This sounds promising: Intimate as in pillow talk, secret thoughts, video moments forgotten but not lost to fancy math. The article continues:

There is something about TikTok that feels particularly suited to these journeys of sexual self-discovery and, in the case of women loving women, I don’t think it’s just the prescient algorithm. The short-form video format lends itself to lightning bolt-like jolts of soul-bearing nakedness…

Is it just me or is the article explaining exactly how TikTok can shape and then cause a particular behavior? I learned more:

I hadn’t knowingly been deceiving or hiding this part of me. I’d simply discovered a more appropriate label. But it was like we were speaking different languages.

Weaponizing TikTok probably does not remake an individual. The opportunity the system presents to an admin with information weaponization in mind is to nudge TikTok absorbers into a mind set and make it easier to shape a confused, impressionable, or clueless person to be like Ponce de Leon and explore something new.

None of this makes much sense to a seventh grader watching shuffle dance steps. But the weaponization of information angle is what make blackmail opportunities bloom. What if the author was not open about the TikTok nudged or induced shift? Could that information or some other unknown or hidden facet of the past be used to obtain access credentials, a USB stuffed with an organization’s secrets, or using a position of trust to advance a particular point of view?

The answer is, “Yep.” Once there is a tool that tool will be used. Then the tool will be applied to other use cases or opportunities to lure people to an idea like “Hey, that island is just part of China” or something similar.

In my opinion, that’s what the article is struggling to articulate: TikTok means trouble, and the author is “not the only one.”

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

Mastodon: An Elephant in the Room or a Dwarf Stegodon in the Permafrost?

September 22, 2022

Buzzkill and Crackpot have been pushing Mastodon for years. If you are familiar with the big elephant, you know that mastodons are extinct. If you are not familiar with distributed mastodon, that creature is alive and stomping around. (The dwarf stegodon Facebook may become today’s MySpace.

Chinese Social Media Users Are Flocking to the Decentralised Mastodon Platform to Find Community amid Crackdown at Home” explains once one pays up to access the write up:

Mastodon, an open-source microblogging software, was created by German developer Eugen Rochko in 2017 as a decentralised version of Twitter that is difficult to block or censor. It was partially a response to the control over user data exerted by Big Tech platforms, and the source code has since been used for many alternative platforms catering to those disaffected with mainstream options.

Features attractive to those eager to avoid big tech include, says the report:

Older posts are also difficult to resurface, as there is no free text search, only searching for hashtags. This is by design and encourages users to be more comfortable sharing their thoughts in the moment without worrying about how that information will be used in the future. Blocking content is also difficult for the Great Firewall because it is shared across instances. Alive.bar might be blocked, but people on another domain can follow users there.

Will Chinese uptake of Mastodon cause the beast to multiply and go forth? With censorship and online incivility apparently on the rise, yep.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

Facebook Reassures Users It Does Not Keep Data, Of Course

September 22, 2022

I bet Facebook, Google, Apple, and other big tech companies have an entire segment of their publicity department constantly writing press releases about how they do not sell nor store user data. Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink. They do. The Intercept intercepted another such damage control piece this time from the mouths of Facebook engineers: “Facebook Engineers: We Have No Idea Where We Keep Your Personal Data.”

Two Facebook engineers were interrogated at the hearing regarding the Cambridge Analytica lawsuit about mishandling user information. The engineers were asked the crucial question: “What information, precisely, does Facebook store about us, and where is it?” They responded that they did not know.

Court-appointed, subject matter expert Daniel Garrie grilled the Facebook engineers and neither could tell him in which of Facebook’s fifty-five subsystems user information was stored. They also were unable to answer how to track down every bit of data associated with a single user account. The Facebook engineers are either speaking the truth or were coached, just like the publicity department:

“…Meta spokesperson Dina El-Kassaby told The Intercept that a single engineer’s inability to know where all user data was stored came as no surprise. She said Meta worked to guard users’ data, adding, ‘We have made — and continue making — significant investments to meet our privacy commitments and obligations, including extensive data controls.’”

The lawsuit has been going on for four years. When the court asked Facebook to provide the plaintiff’s information, it gave the same data that can be downloaded from the “Download Your Information” tool. Facebook told the court that any information not included in the provided data was outside the lawsuit’s scope:

“…ignoring the vast quantities of information the company generates through inferences, outside partnerships, and other nonpublic analysis of our habits — parts of the social media site’s inner workings that are obscure to consumers. Briefly, what we think of as “Facebook” is in fact a composite of specialized programs that work together when we upload videos, share photos, or get targeted with advertising. The social network wanted to keep data storage in those nonconsumer parts of Facebook out of court.”

The judge disagreed in 2020 and told Facebook they had to share everything they gathered on the Internet used to monetize information. The Facebook team, however, claims they cannot point to the exact subsystem or application because the social media platform is too complex. Garrie was flabbergasted that a diagram did not exist.

Facebook denies that it even understands how its systems work to avoid data privacy laws.

Facebook’s immensity is unmappable. If the territory is unknown, how can one accept a Facebook statement about what is and is not held within that territory? Ah, El Zucko is surprisingly consistent in my opinion.

Whitney Grace, September 22, 2022

Anyone Remember the Google and Its Magic Algorithms?

September 21, 2022

Outfits like Foundem and the French tax authority wondered why the findability of their products and services was poor. I recall hearing from one or more Googlers the message that manual changes to search results were not part of the grand plan. The algorithms have more than 100 factors which make such determinations. Heck, I even included about 120 of these in my monograph published by the late and lamented publishing outfit Infonortics. In the Google Legacy I summarized these numerical recipes and pointed out that Google’s super secret system and method determined Google quality, Google relevance, and Google appropriateness. I did the research for that monograph in 2003 and 2004.

How times change! In 2015, the phrase “right to be forgotten” gained traction. In early 2022, Spain complained about the Google right to be forgotten process.

I read “Google App Starts Rolling Out Results about You to Help Remove Personal Information.” The article points out:

For some today, opening the Google app on Android and tapping your profile avatar in the top-right corner reveals a new “Results about you” menu item. This takes users to a page that explains how they can request Google remove Search results that contain phone number, home address, email, or other PII.

So what?

My opinion is that Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind or AGYD has the tools, knobs, and dials to makes it smart systems perform like puppets in the hands of a digitally literate puppet master. If my view is accurate, some hypothetical notions can be outlined; for instance:

  1. AGYD can “steer” what enters its systems and what goes out to its partners, advertisers, and users. Does this mean that oversight of AGYD is needed? The European Union seems to think so it appears.
  2. AGYD’s protestations about objectivity and doing good stuff for its users could be rephrased this way: Google does good stuff for Alphabet, itself, YouTube, and DeepMind. If this hypothesis is close enough for horse shoes, what does ethical behavior mean in the AGYD datasphere?
  3. Are AGYD’s systems “smart” or are these systems just following instructions. How should algorithms like those in use at AGYD be viewed: [a] Harmless science club stuff, [b] Applied weaponized information methods, [c] a Rube Goldberg system which allows a large number of adjustments as long as the money generating functions are not impaired?, or [d] some other view?

These three points are observations and probably a reflection of my skepticism about “magical” technology. Google may be more like Houdini than Einstein.

Stephen E Arnold, September 21, 2022

Apple Prepares to Core, Halve, and Quarter the Zuckbook

September 21, 2022

Last year Apple smugly changed its privacy policy so iOS users now choose whether to allow their Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) to be tracked. Naturally, most say no. This is an expensive problem for Meta, which has historically made a lot of money targeting users via their IDFA on Facebook and Instagram. Now Apple is preparing another blow to its rival, according to MarketWatch‘s piece, “Apple Already Decimated Meta’s Ad-Tech Empire. Now, It’s Homing In on Facebook’s Advertisers, Too.” Reporter Shoshana Wodinsky points to a pair of virtual help-wanted signs to support her assertion:

“MarketWatch found two recent job postings by Apple that suggest the company is looking to build out its burgeoning ad-tech team with folks who specialize in working with small businesses. Specifically, the company says it’s looking for two product managers who are ‘inspired to make a difference in how digital advertising will work in a privacy-centric world’ and who want to ‘design and build consumer advertising experiences.’ An ideal candidate, Apple said, won’t only be savvy in advertising and mobile tech, and advertising on mobile tech, but will also have experience with ‘performance marketing, local ads or enabling small businesses.’ The listings also state that Apple’s looking for a manager who can ‘drive multi-year strategy and execution,’ which suggests that Apple isn’t just tailing local advertisers but will likely be tailing those advertisers for a while. And considering how some of those small brands are already looking to jump ship from Facebook following Apple’s privacy changes, luring them off the platform might be enough to hamper Meta’s entire business structure for good, ad-tech analysts said.”

If true, this move is the second jab in a one-two punch for advertisers. Cutting off their IDFA-based user data is believed to have hurt small businesses—not just the many that advertised on Facebook, but those advertising on other platforms too, from Google to Pinterest. This left the door wide open for Apple to come sauntering to the rescue—after creating the problem in the first place. Many advertisers will surely accept the deliverance anyway; Facebook has conditioned them to tolerate the whims of a digital despot as inescapable, however detrimental they may be.

Analyst Eric Seufert suspects Apple’s moves are about more than money. He tells Wodinsky:

“I think the revenue piece [of the ad market] is less important to Apple than just breaking up Facebook’s total ownership of distribution on mobile. Ads are a revenue opportunity, but, more importantly, they’re a discovery mechanic. And suddenly Facebook was determining which apps got downloaded, not Apple. My sense with all this is that they care about the revenue, but I don’t think that was the primary driver. I think it was about the power.”

Ah yes, a good old power struggle. With advertisers large and small playing the pawns. Who will come out on top? Well, A is for Apple and Z is for … losers?

Cynthia Murrell, September 21, 2022

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