Facebook and Twitter: Russia Targets US Social Media

January 22, 2019

Russia has initiative proceedings against Facebook and Twitter. The allegation is that social networks did not explain “how and when” Russian users’ personal data would be localized. CNBC reports that Facebook is in touch with the government agency bringing the legal action. CNBC states:

The new rules provide the Russian government with the ability to block websites that illegally process Russian citizens’ personal data. The communications regulator can also issue small fines to firms that fall foul of its data laws.

Facebook and Twitter may find that vacationing in Russia could become problematic. Does it seem as if American companies are in constant legal trouble in Europe? Both companies may have money, so why not go where the money is—by legal means, of course.

Perhaps Russia will offer a discount on the financial penalty if Facebook and Twitter place their servers in Moscow. Do you think someone in Mr. Putin’s IT unit will think of this idea?

I do.

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2019

Google Hangouts: Dead or Alive?

December 27, 2018

First came the announcement that Google Hangouts was on its way out. Then came data loss and an earlier than planned shut down.

But the Beyond Search goose is confused. Is Google Hangouts a winner or an “also participated” ribbon winner? Though we know it lags behind Zoom.us, a similar service, the IBTimes reports, “Google Has No Plans to Retire Messaging Platform Hangouts, Says G Suite Product Lead.” Reporter Rohit RVN writes:

“There were rumors on the internet last week that Google had decided to shut the Hangouts messaging platform in 2020. Many opined that the search engine giant, which failed to take on Facebook and Twitter with Google+ social media platform, has now given up on challenging more popular messenger applications WhatsApp and Telegram, among others. However, Scott Johnston, a product lead in G Suite at Google (Hangouts Meet & Chat, Google Voice), has rubbished the reports about the company planning to close Hangouts. Johnston took to Twitter and claimed that Google has no immediate or long-term plans to retire Hangouts.”

So, they say it’s more of a transition than a shuttering. Johnson also emphasized that the Google plans to help existing users of the “Classic” Hangouts make a smooth transition to its G Suite counterparts. The write-up goes on to mention that Google has recently begun beta testing Duplex, an AI feature, on Pixel phones in certain pilot cities. We’re told the tool can perform advanced functions, like making dinner reservations.

Useful for many. But the Beyond Search goslings are okay just pecking around the murky pond. Low tech, but the method works.

Cynthia Murrell, December 27, 2018

Quote to Note: Experts from UK Take a Look at US Social Media

December 17, 2018

I read “Silicon Valley’s ‘Belated and Uncoordinated’ Efforts at Dealing with Russian Fake News Revealed.” The report was created by experts in the UK and leaded to the Washington Post.

Here’s a quote which suggests the principal finding:

“Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike,” the authors of the report wrote.

The idea is that technology is neutral until a person figures out how to use it as a weapon or to his or her advantage.

In the case of social media, the companies managed as if they were high school science clubs’ entries in a Science Fair, have created some interesting tools. A few of the tools are similar to the wizard who creates a death ray, uses it to cook a burger, and gives the gizmo away at a yard sale. A clever person picks it up and starts vaporizing the pets and the neighbors.

Remember that technology is neutral mantra. That’s something repeated by individuals who have not read The Technological Bluff by Jacques Ellul.

Does one want to access “all the world’s information”? Not me. Selectivity, editorial controls, policy controls, and informed decision making are helpful.

Anyone remember that Pandora’s box thing? In January 2019, Beyond Search is switching focus, and we are introducing a Web log to complement our video series “DarkCyber.”

Times, they are a-changin’.

Stephen E Arnold, December 17, 2018

India and Its Spicy View of WhatsApp

November 2, 2018

Spam is a pain for your inbox, feed, social network messages, and pretty much anything else you do online. One of the worse things about spam messages is when someone does not know how to identify spam from the real stuff. According to Reuters, the Indian government is getting fed up with spam, says the article, “WhatsApp To Clamp Down On ‘Sinister’ Messages In India: Ravi Shankar Prasad.”

Facebook apparently said it would develop tools to help the Indian government detect spam and other content with the purpose of sparking mass hysteria. India is not any different from other countries when it is whipped into a frenzy: people get angry, there is collateral damage, and people get hurt. WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels commiserated with India’s chief information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Prasad wants Facebook to design a way to track rabble rousing messages’ origins. The IT minister does not think it is rocket science to figure a message’s origins, seemingly not knowing what work is required in order to read the metadata and program the code.

WhatsApp’s biggest market is India with a 200 million strong market and where, quite astonishingly, people forward more content than any other country. The

“There are also concerns that supporters of political parties could use social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread false messages in the run-up to India’s national elections in 2019.In July, WhatsApp said message forwards will be limited to five chats at a time, whether among individuals or groups, and said it will remove the quick forward button placed next to media messages.”

India appears to be fond of social interaction. One’s reputation, education, connections, and family status may make the difference between success and failure. Social networks are more complex than anything we experience in Kentucky. No surprise that WhatsApp will be put to interesting uses.

Whitney Grace, November 2, 2018

Reconstructing a Hack

November 2, 2018

Investigations into the 2016 US elections are still going to occur long after President Donald Trump is out of office. The question non-tech savvy people are asking, however, is how did the Russian hackers hack the election? OS News takes a look at the answer in, “How they Did It: GRU Hackers vs. US Elections.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller assembled a grand jury to investigate the hacking and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced an indictment against twelve of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff aka GRU. GRU is short for “Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye.” The twelve GRU members are charged with “active cyber operations with the intent of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.”

How was the indictment made?

“The allegations are backed up by data collected from service provider logs, Bitcoin transaction tracing, and additional forensics. The DOJ also relied on information collected by US (and likely foreign) intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Reading between the lines, the indictment reveals that the Mueller team and other US investigators likely gained access to things like Twitter direct messages and hosting company business records and logs, and they obtained or directly monitored email messages associated with the GRU (and possibly WikiLeaks). It also appears that the investigation ultimately had some level of access to internal activities of two GRU offices.”

Trump expressed doubt that Russia was involved in hacking the elections after he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit meeting. The US director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, however, concluded that Russia was involved. Trump is trusting Putin over his own people. Trump is also victim bashing and blaming the DNC and DCC for not being prepared for this sort of attack and ignoring advice from third parties who said this could happen.

More hacking? Probably.

Whitney Grace, November 2, 2018

Google Plus: A Moment of Contemplation and Reflection

October 24, 2018

If you miss Google Plus, you will want to read “Goodbye, Google+: A Eulogy for the Last Great Social Network.”

Here’s my favorite part of the write up:

Over its 20-year history, Google has succeeded wildly with products in a great many businesses: Search, Gmail, YouTube, Android and others. But it tends to fail with products that involve public social interaction. In fact, it’s earned a reputation as something of a social site serial killer. High-profile failures include Orkut, Buzz, and Wave. But even more obscure social properties also got “sunsetted” by Google: Spaces, Profiles, Wildfire, Jaiku, Schemer, Lively, Hello, Dodgeball, Aardvark, Friend Connect, Latitude, Talk, Helpouts and others.

Hell-pouts? Hmm.

Image result for crash and burn

The write up finds much to like in Google Plus. Obviously the author was in the minority because Facebook remained unphased by Google Plus. With lots of Xooglers working at Facebook, why worry? These sneaker wearers knew what “putting wood behind Google Plus” really meant I hypothesize.

The main point of the write up is that Google Plus was super in 2014. As each year tumbled by, the meh factor increased.

So, Google Plus? Meh, who cares.

Stephen E Arnold, October 24, 2018

Learn about Microsoft LinkedIn: Get a Job, Make a Sale

October 22, 2018

How many times a month do you receive invites from acquaintances to join LinkedIn? LinkedIn is supposed to be Facebook with a professional skew, but nobody ever uses it other than to spy on people. What if it had another use, like the newest social media game? The Outline wrote the ultimate walkthrough and FAQ guide to LinkedIn. You need to check it out at, “How To Beat LinkedIn: The Game.” The Outline’s article is described as “a strategy guide for using a semi-pointless network in all the wrong ways” and it is awesome, because it treats LinkedIn like a videogame.

It starts with a little history about how LinkedIn started in 2002, has around 530 millions users, and Microsoft bought in 2016 for $26.2 million. The “game” is described as:

“For those unfamiliar, LinkedIn is a 2D, turn-based MMORPG that sets itself apart from its competitors by placing players not in a fantasy world of orcs and goblins, but in the treacherous world of business. Players can choose from dozens of character classes (e.g., Entrepreneurs, Social Media Mavens, Finance Wizards) each with their own skill sets and special moves (Power Lunch; Signal Boost; Invoice Dodge). They gain “experience” by networking, obtaining endorsements from other users, and posting inspirational quotes from Elon Musk.”

LinkedIn’s goal is to connect with as many people as possible to further one’s career to gain vaguely defined social capital, and build an illusion of importance among its users. The guide helps your craft the best strategy to winning the game. The steps include crafting the ultimate businessman with ivy league schools, being located in a big city, and using stock businessmen photos. Then you need to connect with as many other players as possible. Unfortunately players are limited to 30000 connections and 3000 connections requests. You can grow your network by powering through the game for a few hours everyday by fishing for employees at big corporations and sending them requests. Eventually the more people will accept them, then your influence will grow.

The third important strategy is to spam the LinkedIn feed with fake work anniversaries. This is done by creating up to twelve fake jobs, the limit you can have. The fourth step is even more important, because you need to lie, lie, and lie some more as you inflate your credentials and importance. At this point, corporate recruiters are going to start engaging with you and then you can start a LinkedIn endorsement company.

LinkedIn: An interesting service.

Whitney Grace, October 22, 2018

Facebook: A Rhetorical Punching Bag for Real Journalists

October 17, 2018

I got a kick out of “Facebook’s ‘Spam Purge’ Is Silencing Genuine Debate, Political Page Creators Say.” Years ago I had a teacher named George Harris, I believe. His favorite ploy was to craft “Have you stopped beating your wife?” questions. Nifty game. My response to him was to shift the assumption up a level and direct the question to his inner psychological processes; for example, “That’s interesting. Why do you ask?” He did not like my refusal to play his game. I think he longed for a car battery and, alligator clips, a bucket of water, and some rope. Fascinating idea, but he was a teacher and the methods of interrogators were beyond his reach.

The Guardian story reminded me of good old George. The psychological motivation is not difficult to discern. Facebook is an online information system which makes money by selling ads. Unlike the good old world of “real” journalism, Facebook apologizes and continues on its merry way.

The Facebook money machine had humble beginning in a dorm. The idea was to get information about individuals who might—a conditional idea—want to meet up in the student union and actually talk. From this noble idea has emerged a company which makes some ad starved newspapers green with envy.

The response is to point out that Facebook does not do a good job of balancing information for its users. Of course, when Facebook makes a decision, that decision is going to annoy some of the two billion Facebookers. Even better is that if Facebook does nothing, the company has abrogated its moral responsibility.

News flash: This is a company invented in a dorm and has not outgrown its original DNA.

I learned in the write up:

As a private entity, Facebook can enforce its terms however it sees fit, says the ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman. But this can have serious free speech consequences, especially if the social network is selectively enforcing its terms based on the content of the pages. “Drawing the line between ‘real’ and ‘inauthentic’ views is a difficult enterprise that could put everything from important political parody to genuine but outlandish views on the chopping block,” says Eidelman. “It could also chill individuals who only feel safe speaking out anonymously or pseudonymously.”

I can hear the snorts of laughter in my mind’s reconstruction of several real British newspaper professionals talking about the spike on which Facebook finds itself impaled.

Jolly good I say.

The write up invokes pathos, annoyance, and shock. These are useful rhetorical tricks, particularly when presented by individuals who have been injured in service to their country.

And the coup de grace:

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Well done, old chap. Indeed. Now about throttling your children and that ad revenue, you yob?

Stephen E Arnold, October 17, 2018

Google and Social Media: An Orkut for 2018

October 9, 2018

The Google knew that it lacked person specific information at scale. Sure, the company had browser histories, ad click data, and info generated by cross correlation—but it was not specifically:

  • An individual
  • The personal details of that individual
  • The connections (friends I suppose) of an individual

Also, the individual did not have a unique identifier. Think of this as a Google issued social security number.

The fix was to acquire Orkut and solve these data problems.

Orkut found some traction. If you follow Brazilian law enforcement, Orkut became a service of interest and utility. After a long slow decline, Orkut faded in 2014.

But Google had other “social media” designs; for example, those crazy folks from New York City playing Dodgeball. Then there was Jaiku. Too bad there was not a Jaiku-er in chief like Twitter enjoys today. Next up was Wave, which I found interesting. Anyone remember Googler Alon Halevy’s Transformic ideas?  And Buzz? What about Buzz?

Now — drum roll — Google Plus or the service which killed the ability to specify AND in Boolean Google search syntax is heading down the Google sliding board.

I recall that Google Plus or Google + (isn’t that clever? using a reserved character for a name) was the future of Google. In its early days, there were 500 employees working on Google Plus, but that number grew. As I understand it, one’s compensation was linked to one’s outputs for Google Plus. Forbes calculated that in its formative stage, Google shoveled about $500 million into the service that would deliver particularized data. See “Google+ Cost $585 Million To Build (Or What Rupert Paid For MySpace).”

What’s up with Google Plus?

An alleged security lapse or gap (you decide which word fits the situation) has caused Google Plus to do a simple math process. Convert that plus to a minus. Works.

Buzzfeed News— a real news source — reported that “Google Is Shutting Down Google+ After It Discovered A Bug That Exposed Personal Information.” It seems that the security conscious company included a “breach” which shared user’s private data with apps. (More info on this at this link.)

Several observations/questions:

First, Google seems to struggle with the social media thing. It does sell online advertising, but the Facebook-type of service is a struggle. The me-too and let’s acquire approach simply has not worked. I hesitate to use the word “failure.” Maybe challenge is better?

Second, why did a security breach occur? My personal view is that people embrace projects, work on them, hunt for more interesting projects, and move on. Over time, the projects are lost in a mist of “non coolness.” Bugs are ignored; interface decisions are good enough; and interns make decisions, saying, “Wow, Google thinks I am smart. I can do this!” Right on, worker bee, right on.

Third, Google’s social media plays have been created as world services. Facebook was a dating app for a couple of Harvard whiz kids. Google’s social has been reactionary, rarely moving in a positive manner to an attainable goal. No wonder people on the team chugged along for a while and then headed off to more fun projects. Being a perpetual number two to Facebook is galling. Many Googlers just went to Google, including some high profile Googlers like its chief operating officer.

Fourth, why wasn’t security better? My view is that security has been perceived as “part of the Googleplex.” Obviously it wasn’t, and none of the Googlers realized it. Perhaps they were too busy running from meeting to meeting, looking for another assignment, starting venture capital firms, playing table tennis, or updating their Facebook page. Priorities can be a challenge.1

Net net: Google Plus may live on in a different role, sort of like Google Glass has become a super industrial and business success.

What happens if I view Google Plus through Google Glass?

I see a winner.

Stephen E Arnold, October 9, 2018

Social Media and the Violence Thing

September 11, 2018

I read “Can Facebook Really Drive Violence?” Interesting question for some. The write up states:

Recent reporting has probed the link between virtual hate and real world action. But the connection remains murky.

I recall a trick one of my professors at the one horse university I attended. She substituted other words in an assertion and then asked the same question, stood back, land let the logic of 18 year olds prevail. For instance:

Does the telephone drive teenage smoking?

Intriguing because substitution can reveal the tenuousness of human logic.

Set aside the collegiate penchant for rediscovering logical reasoning. A trend can become more obvious thanks to social media and fake news. With careful selection of facts and suppositions, it sure seems as if behavior can be organized and amplified when certain types of information flow. NBC News reported that “Social Media Rumors Trigger Violence in India; 3 Killed by Mobs.”

According to the story:

“Mobs of villagers killed at least three people and attacked several others after social media messages warned that gangs of kidnappers were roaming southern India in search of children, police said Friday.

And NBC added:

“Authorities said there was no indication that such gangs actually existed.”

This “event” caught the attention of some. The Indian Government has reached out to WhatsApp and demanded that they begin filtering out fake news stories. Google and Facebook have already begun attempting to police themselves. If the Indian government’s move to take control over fake news proves successful, expect to see other nations to follow suit and put stronger demands upon social media outlets.

Ah, perception. Information flow can have an impact, just not what some anticipate.

Stephen E Arnold, September 11, 2018

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