Facebook: It Does Do Interesting Things

July 11, 2018

Look at Facebook from the vantage point of a grandmother looking at her grandchildren, and Facebook looks one way. Check out the company as a developer with special access to Facebook users, and Facebook looks another.

I read “Russian Company Had Access to Facebook User Data Through Apps.” Then I read “Facebook Introduced Secretive New Developer Terms to Prevent Another Cambridge Analytica.” The headline seems encouraging.

Put these stories against the background of Facebook’s US$600,000 fine for its unintentional, wow-we-are-sorry Cambridge Analytica misadventure.

What is Facebook?

In the US, Facebook is a success story, operating like any well oiled, money making machine. Outside the US, the UK and EU may see the firm differently. Companies do not get fined if it stays within the bright white lines of laws and regulations.

The question is, “What’s the correct way to pursue revenue via online information services?”

The answer, it seems is to do whatever is expedient. Do what can be done and apologize if those bold actions run over a baby deer or take out a flock of geese focused on their computing devices.

What’s the trajectory of these “act first, apologize later” tactics?

For one thing, we have increasing censorship. China, it appears, has cracked down on some aspects of the digital life. Other countries dabble with information control. Iran and Turkey have been innovative.

The epicenter of “act now, apologize later” seems to be centered in a relatively small number of companies. So what’s not to like about secret developer deals and disruption? Think of the opportunities.

Stephen E Arnold, July 11, 2018

Data in One or Two Places: What Could Go Wrong?

July 11, 2018

Silos of data have become the term du jour for many folks thinking about search and machine learning. By piling all that info into one convenient place, we can accomplish amazing feats. However, as those silos get larger and start gobbling up smaller silos, what are we left with? This was a concern brought up in a recent Tech Dirt think piece, “The Death of Google Reader and the Rise of Silos.”

According to the story:

“Many people have pointed to the death of Google Reader as a point at which news reading online shifted from things like RSS feeds to proprietary platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It might seem odd (or ironic) to bemoan a move by one of the companies now considered one of the major silos for killing off a product…”

While this piece holds a pseudo-funeral for Google Reader and, somewhat poignantly, points that this is the downfall of the Internet it overlooks the value of silos. Maybe it’s not all so bad?

That’s what one commentator for the Daily Journal pointed out remarking on the amount of innovation that has come about as a result of these mega silos. Clearly, there’s no perfect balance and we suspect your opinion on silos depends on what industry you are in.

Federation of information seems like a good idea. But perhaps it is even better when federation occurs in two or three online structures? If data are online, those date are accurate. That’s one view.

Patrick Roland, July 11, 2018

Online Memory: What Is Out There?

July 6, 2018

Facebook is an excellent company for most people. However, there are a handful of people who struggle to accept Facebook’s approach to reality. What happens when a chunk of digital memory becomes almost permanent?

The aftermath of the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” law that allows people to petition search engines and other data aggregators to delete search results on them permanently removed. While some believe this infringes on various forms of free speech, others believe this is a way for crime victims to reclaim their lives. Quartz shares how Google and Facebook are not the only Web companies being petitioned in the article, “Meet Profile Engine, The ‘Spammy’ Facebook Crawler Hated By People Who Want To Be Forgotten.”

According to the article, Google had the most Facebook results removed from its search engine, while the second most Web site to be requested to delete results is Profile Engine. Profile Engine started in 2007 and allows users to track down people on social network. It used to be a Facebook search engine, but the Profile Engine declared that Facebook was “spammy” and did not make truthful statements. Interesting assertion.

Profile Engine and Facebook had an argument, which resulted in a court battle. The two companies split, but Facebook is contractually obligated to keep feeding Profile Engine results. Facebook does not do this. In the meantime, Profile Engine stopped updated content around 2011. Facebook is not the only one that finds the Profile Engine interesting. There are many posts online about how to remove yourself from Profile Engine.

“Profile Engine is perhaps the worst of its kind, but not the only one that people across Europe are trying to expunge themselves from. Badoo, a London-based social network for meeting new people, had 2,206 results removed. Yasni—”News, pictures & links for any person. Find anyone on the internet with the world’s largest free people search”—had almost 3,000 results suppressed through its French and German subsidiaries. In other words, this battle of ownership of personal data is not going away anytime soon.”

Profile Engine was donated to the Internet Archive, so now all the results are located there. Effort may be needed to get information removed from the Internet Archive. It takes  time and patience for Google to forget. Facebook type content may be almost permanent as well.

Whitney Grace, July 6, 2018

Looking for News Like the Hawaii Volcano Eruption?

June 28, 2018

With the problem of fake news online, the news itself has often made headlines of late. We’ve noticed a couple different news-related moves from big players: TechCrunch reports on Google’s recent project in, “Google Experiments in Local News with an App Called Bulletin.” We learn that Apple, meanwhile, plans to integrate its recent acquisition, magazine aggregator Texture, into Apple News and an upcoming subscription service in, “Apple Said to Plan a ‘Netflix for News’ in Latest Push” at the Daily Herald.

Google’s Bulletin is a place for members of a community to post local news and event notices.  TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez suspects it’s also another attempt by Google to squeeze into the Social Media space. She observes:

“The move to delve into local news would have Google competing with other services where people already share news about what’s happening locally. Specifically, people tend to tweet or live stream when news is breaking …. Meanwhile, if they’re trying to promote a local event …  it’s likely that they’ll post that to the business’s Facebook Page, where it can then be discovered through the Page’s fans and surfaced in Facebook’s Local app. And if Google aims to more directly compete with local news resources like small-town print or online publishers or Patch, it could have a tougher road. Hyperlocal news has been difficult to monetize, and those who have made it work aren’t likely interested in shifting their limited time and energy elsewhere.”

Over at the Daily Herald, reporters Mark Gurman and Gerry Smith Bloomberg note that Apple cut 20 Texture workers shortly after acquiring the company, but we’re cautioned against reading too much into that. The article notes:

“An upgraded Apple News app with the subscription offering is expected to launch within the next year, and a slice of the subscription revenue will go to magazine publishers that are part of the program, [sources] said. … A new, simplified subscription service covering multiple publications could spur Apple News usage and generate new revenue in a similar manner to the $9.99 per month Apple Music offering.”

Will enough folks pay per month for news, like they do for (other) online entertainment? Perhaps now, when it is prudent to be skeptical, people are willing to pay up to 10 bucks a month for a trusted name. We shall see.

What’s clear is that when one looks for “news” about the Hawaii volcano, few of the online news services are useful. In order to keep up to date, old fashioned search, review, and read processes are the norm. Want current videos about the eruption on YouTube? Good luck with that too. Comprehensiveness may be impossible with free or low cost services, but chronological tags and spam content filtering could be helpful.

For slow moving lava, what’s the rush?

Cynthia Murrell, June 28, 2018


Researchers Use Google Trends Data to Gauge Economic Uncertainty

May 14, 2018

Repository for economic research Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA) announces the paper, “Google ItUp! A Google Trends-Based Uncertainty Index for the United States and Australia.” We are intrigued by this use of Google Trends data. The introduction specifies:

“This paper constructs Google Trends-based uncertainty indices (GTU indices henceforth) for the United States and Australia. These indices are based on uncertainty-related keywords frequently mentioned in reference economic documents like the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book for the United States and the Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Statement for Australia. These documents gather information on current economic conditions based on interviews with key business contacts, economists, and market experts (among other sources). Hence, they are likely to be a good proxy of entrepreneurs’ uncertainty as regards future business conditions. …

And we noted this statement:

“Google Trends data are freely available in real time. The first characteristic facilitates the replicability of scientific analysis, while the second one is consistent with the idea of constructing leading indicators, which is relevant for sharpening the identification of causal relationships.”

The paper, available as a PDF here, is credited to researchers at Italy’s University of Padova and at the University of Melbourne in Australia. It describes how the team constructed their “GTU index,” their verification procedures, and their conclusions, followed by an informative list of references. We also learn that the Australian Research Council provided financial support for this research. The PDF noted above is freely accessible, so navigate there for more information.

Cynthia Murrell, May 14, 2018

Finally Some Good News About Parental Oversight

May 12, 2018

We do not like being the bearer of bad news and anxiety about the internet and our life on the internet, but that is normally where the action is. So, it feels quite rewarding to report on a story that has a real happy ending, especially for children. YouTube recently beefed up its oversight of kids’ videos, according to a recent How-To Geek post, “New YouTube Kids Setting Allows Only Videos Viewed by Actual Humans.”

According to the story:

“Parents: you can now set YouTube Kids to only show videos verified to be kid-friendly by an actual human being.

“The setting is opt-in: you have toggle the “Approved content only” option for each of your children under “My Kids.” Once you do the YouTube Kids app will be limited only to videos confirmed as kid friendly by a human reviewer.”

Don’t get us wrong, this is a great step toward protecting our kids from videos that look as if they are geared toward younger viewers, only to find they are violent, sexualized, or worse. However, putting humans in charge of what is and is not appropriate for kids is sort of like Facebook putting humans in charge of what is and is not considered hate speech. It’s a move toward a real solution, but it is not yet all the way there. Let’s hope YouTube keeps developing this idea.

Patrick Roland, May 12, 2018

Houston, We May Want to Do Fake News

May 2, 2018

The fake news phenomenon might be in the public eye more, thanks to endless warnings and news stories, however that has not dulled its impact. In fact, this shadowy form of propaganda seems to flourish under the spotlight, according to a recent ScienceNews story, “On Twitter, The Lure of Fake News is Stronger than Truth.”

According to the research:

“Discussions of false stories tended to start from fewer original tweets, but some of those retweet chains then reached tens of thousands of users, while true news stories never spread to more than about 1,600 people. True news stories also took about six times as long as false ones to reach 1,500 people. Overall, fake news was about 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news.”

That’s an interesting set of data. However, anyone quick to blame spambots for this amazing proliferation of fake news needs to give it a second look. According to research, bots are not as much to blame for this trend than humans. This is actually good news. Ideally, changes can be made on the personal level and we can eventually stamp out this misleading trend of fake news.

But if fake news “works”, why not use it? Not even humans can figure out what’s accurate, allegedly accurate, and sort of correct but not really. Smart software plus humans makes curation complex, slow, and costly.

That sounds about right or does it?

Patrick Roland, May 2, 2018

Geotargeting: Getting Popular

May 1, 2018

Businesses, governments, and organizations are asking, “How can AI be used?” The better question to ask is, “What can AI not do?” Along with spying on the Chinese’s good behavior and people’s personal information on social media, the Smart Data Collective posted that “Malicious AI? Report Shines Dark Light On Geotargeting.”

What is geotargeting? Geotargeting is using locations specific data to keep a close eye on selected targets. Social media data plays a part too. It is astonishing and creepy how much AI can pull from information placed on the Internet. Ever since Russia intervened in the 2016 election, policymakers are cracking down on data-based marketing. What is even worse is that hackers are already using AI against the innocent.

New policies are being put into place and Mark Zuckerberg is even being held (hopefully) accountable for how Facebook has taken advantage of data.

“People are growing more and more suspicious of AI. The new malicious AI report, which was written by 26 experts from academia, industry, and 12 other fields, identifies AI as a potential culprit in the threat to “political security.” The report says that AI “can automate tasks involved in surveillance” by analyzing “mass-collected data,” which it can use to create propaganda and deceptive content, such as misleading videos and fake news. The more trolls and hackers use AI to threaten the political security of democracies, the more likely democracies and companies are to regulate the use of big data.”

One scary AI trick is geotargeting, where companies can push advertising directly to customers’ and law enforcement can track people of interested all based on a persons’ cell phone data. Bad actors can use geotargeting for personal drone attacks. Scary! There are not any amendments currently protecting AI, so the legal ramifications are still up in the air.

Remember, however, that AI is a neutral tool. Humans are creatures of habit. Plotting geo-behaviors can be a useful, insightful exercise.

Whitney Grace, May 1, 2018

An Interesting Use of Instagram

April 22, 2018

There is an opioid dealer nearby. In fact, this drug kingpin is not standing on the corner or lurking on college campuses, this supplier is right at your fingertips. Thanks to a recent article, the plague of drug sales through popular and public social media platforms has caught the attention of some powerful people. We learned about these developments in a recent Wired article, “One Woman Got Facebook to Police Opioid Sales on Instagram.”

While it’s a little confusing, the basic story goes that one woman who discovered opioid sales on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) reached out to Facebook, urging them to take action, through a rival social platform, Twitter. The tactic worked, even getting the FDA involved.

According to the story:

“It shouldn’t take this much effort to get people to realize that  you have some responsibility for the stuff on your platform…A 13 year old could do this search and realize there’s bad stuff on your platform — and probably has — you don’t need the commissioner of the FDA to tell you that.”

However, the act of policing drug sales on social media platforms and the dark web is not as easy as one might think. Yes, they shut down offending accounts, but beyond that there is little that can be done. According to the story, it outlawed certain hashtags, like it had done before. “Instagram previously restricted the drug-related hashtags, #Xanax and #Xanaxbar and banned #weedforsale and #weed4sale.”

It’s a small step, but hopefully one that will lead to greater and greater progress. For more information, learn more about CyberOSINT (the Dark Web) here.

Patrick Roland, April 21, 2018


Online Shopping: Held Back by HTML and Google. Hmmm.

April 20, 2018

e-Commerce has certainly marginalized some traditional retail stores. But, Main Street still exists and so do the some shops. What works in Silicon Valley, does not work very well in some cities. Think Peoria, Illinois.

The new monopolists have found their niche. The question becomes, “Why are there some functions and businesses which have not be more dramatically changed by online?” We were surprised to read the views of one expert who claims two reasons: HTML and Google. According to a Tech Crunch piece, “The Sudden Death of the Website.” The reason is that HTML is not robust enough to handle e-Commerce’s demands, but also Google is the problem:

“The second problem with the Web is Google. When we started to build websites in the ’90s, everyone was trying to design their virtual stores differently. On one hand, this made them interesting and unique; on the other, the lack of industry standards made them hard to navigate — and really hard to “index” into a universal card catalog.”

Hardly convincing stuff. But according to other experts, search isn’t the only thing slowing down e-commerce. The big data powering Amazon and others has allowed for fast shipping and hassle-free returns. According to Forbes, that’s actually what will take down e-commerce. They describe the return policies as a ticking time bomb and use LL Bean’s recent decision to stop no-questions asked returns as an example.

There you have it: HTML and Google. Unfortunately the Beyond Search goose is not convinced. Some digital magic does not make sense in rural Kentucky. Walking to the local store works pretty well because what works in San Mateo does not work in Harrod’s Creek.

Cynthia Murrell, April 20, 2018

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