Quite a Recipe: Zuck-ini with a Bulky Stuffed Sausage

September 28, 2022

Ah, the Zuckbook or the Meta-thing. I can never remember the nomenclature. I thought about the estimable company after I read “Meta Defends Safe Instagram Posts Seen by Molly Russell.” I suppose I should provide a bit of color about Ms. Russell. She was the British school girl who used the digital Zuck-ini’s Instagram recipe for happiness, success, and positive vibes.

However, in Ms. Russell’s case, her journey to community appears to have gone off the rails. Ms. Russell was 14 when she died by suicide. The Meta-thing’s spokesperson for the legal action sparked by Ms. Russell’s demise said:

Ms Lagone told the inquest at North London Coroner’s Court she thought it was “safe for people to be able to express themselves” – but conceded two of the posts shown to the court would have violated Instagram’s policies and offered an apology about some of the content. Responding to questioning, she said: “We are sorry that Molly viewed content that violated our policies and we don’t want that on the platform.”

Move fast and break things was I believe a phrase associated with the Zuck-ini’s garden of delights. In Ms. Russell’s case the broken thing was Ms. Russell’s family. That “sorry” strikes me as meaningful, maybe heart felt. On the other hand, it might be corporate blather.

Macworld does not address Ms. Russell’s death. However, the article “Despite Apple’s Best Efforts, Meta and Google Are Still Out of Control.” The write up explains that Apple is doing something to slow the stampeding stallions at the Meta-thing and Googzilla.

I noted this passage:

There is a great potential for this [data gathered by certain US high-technology companies] information to be misused and if we in the United States had any sort of functional government, it would have made these sales illegal by now.

My question: What about the combination of a young person’s absorbing content and the systems and methods to display “related” content to a susceptible individual. Might that one-two punch have downsides?

Yep. Is there a fix? Sure, after two decades of inattention, let’s just apply a quick fix or formulate a silver bullet.

But the ultimate is, of course, is to say, “Sorry.” I definitely want to see the Zuck-ini stuffed. Absent a hot iron poker, an Italian sausage will do.

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2022

Greetings, Zuck: Fancy a Chat about Cambridge Analytica?

September 27, 2022

The right to be forgotten does not apply to the Cambridge Analytic matter. “MPs Formally Request Zuckerberg Answer Questions” reports:

Mark Zuckerberg has been sent a formal request to appear before MPs and answer questions regarding a growing scandal about user data.

Will the Zucker cooperate? I circled this passage:

Mr Collins [Damian Collins MP, the chair of the culture committee] wrote that the DCMS committee “has repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and in particular about whether data had been taken without their consent. “Your officials’ answers have consistently understated this risk, and have been misleading to the Committee,” Mr Collins informed Mr Zuckerberg. “It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process.”

I drew a yellow underline around several words and phrases:

  • Repeatedly asked
  • Data taken
  • Without their [Facebook users I presume] consent
  • Understated this risk

No bit time semantic sentiment analysis is required to get the idea that Mr. Collins is not going to give the Zucker a like.

But the best phrase in the article is Mr. Damien’s analysis of how the Zuckbook implements its operations. Here’s the phrase:

Catastrophic failure of process

Will the Zucker show up? Nah, that’s where Nick Clegg. Is it true that Mr. Clegg enjoys slippery eel, olive oil, and salted butter tea sandwiches? The MPs may not enjoy these, however. Mr. Damien will want bloody red meat carved from the cows in line for slaughter. But that’s just my opinion, just my opinion.

Zuck tartare, anyone?

Stephen E Arnold, September 27, 2022

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

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

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

Ad Duopoly: Missing Some Points?

September 19, 2022

The newspaper disguised as a magazine published “The $300B Google Meta Advertising Duopoly Is Under Attack” is interesting. The write up is what I would expect from a couple of MBAs beavering away a blue chip consulting firm. If you are curious, read the story for which you will have to pay. The story sparked some comments on HackerNews. These are interesting and some of the comments contain more insightful information than the Under Attack write up itself. Here’s a few comments to illustrate this point:

  • Sam Willis: To some extent I disagree with this, not that Google+Meta are under attack, but that the threat is coming from competitors. I’ve spent most of the last 10 years earning my living from an e-commerce business I own. The online advertising industry is unrecognisable from when we started. My thesis, in beef, is that the industries excessive uses of personalised data and tracking lead to increased regulation, and then a massive pivot to even more “AI” as a means to circumvent that (to some extent). The AI in the ad industry now, I believe, is detrimental to the advertiser. It’s now just one big black box, you put money in one side and get traffic out the other. The control and useful tracking (what actual search terms people are using, proper visible conversion tracking of an ad) is now almost non-existent. As an advertiser your livelihood is dependent on an algorithm, not skill, not intuition, not experience, not even track record. Facebook, Google and the rest of the industry were so driven by profit at all cost, and at the expense of long term thinking, they shot themselves in the foot. Advertisers are searching for alternatives, but they are all the same.
  • Justin Baker 84: Usually people need to get ripped off a few times before they accept that fact that Google is no longer a good actor.
  • Missedthecue: I get billed for so many accidental clicks.
  • Heavyset: Google Knows Best™ and lack of real competition or regulation means they can do whatever they want.
  • Prepend: I remember talking to some friends in Google and but estimated their error/fraud rate to be about 1/3 of ad revenue. But they have no motivation to fix it and no one outside Google has the data to tell.
  • MichaelCollins: Organizations that are trying to do something disreputable or shameful (or just something that could be construed that way by a nontrivial portion of the population) often come up with sweet little lies about their motives that help their employees sleep better at night. It’s not about making money by serving ads, it’s about “organizing the world’s data”. It’s not about winning defense contracts to put military hardware into space, it’s about “colonizing mars to save humanity”. It’s not about printing money by getting poor people to sign up for 50,000% APR payday loans, it’s about “providing liquidity to undeserved communities”. Etc.
  • Addicted: If you don’t pay Google/Facebook you’re absolutely screwed. You will lose no matter how good the product is. What this actually means is that now companies have to pay a Google/Meta tax simply to enter the playing field. And once they enter the playing field. And once you enter the playing field, the only winners will be the ones who pay them the highest amount of money. So a smaller business, which in the past could potentially use some ingenuity, or target a specific niche audience to get some traction and then build word of mouth and let the product do the talking, doesn’t even stand a chance now because they simply cannot differentiate themselves as your exposure is entirely dependent on how much money you give Google/Meta.

Dozens of useful comments appear in the HackerNews post. Worth scanning them in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, September 19, 2022

Meta: The Efflorescence of Zucking

September 19, 2022

Years ago a colleague of mine and I spent a couple of days with Pat Gunkel. Ah, you don’t know him? Depending on whom one asks, he was either an interesting person or a once-in-a-generation genius. I have in front of me a copy of “The Efflorescent World View.” (Want to buy a copy handed to me by Mr. Gunkel? Just write us at benkent2020 at yahoo dot com. It’s a collectible because only a few of Mr. Gunkel’s books are findable in our wonderful, search-tastic online world.) The image below shows what an actual Gunkel book from his office looks like:

gunkel cover 300 pix

I thought about Mr. Gunkel when I read “Meta Shares Plunged 14% This Week, Falling Close to Their Pandemic Low.” Mr. Gunkel’s method involved creating lists. Lots of lists. I think he would have found the challenge of cataloging Mr. Zuck’s impressive achievements; for example:

  • The reference stock plunge
  • Implementing an employee management technique in which employees learn that some of them should not be Zuckers
  • The “make friends with your neighbors in Hawaii” actions
  • The elimination of personal cubes and work spaces in Meta’s offices
  • The renaming of the company to celebrate the billions invested in what eGame developers have been doing for — yeah, how long — for decades
  • Thinking about charging for its unpopular clone of a really popular app. (Genius with a twist of Zuck? Yes!)

But what’s an “efflorescence”? Some may ask. I have a big fat book on the subject. Let me summarize: One might say a gradual flowering. Others might suggest that it represents a culmination.

My hunch is that the year 2022 marks the efflorescence of the Zuckbook, the knock off of TikTok, and the push to make WhatsApp a superapp for good and evil.

The efflorescence of Zucking. Too bad Mr. Gunkel is no longer with us to undertake this project. He was, I must say, very interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, September 19, 2022

Meta and Kids: Approach Costs $400 Million and Counting

September 15, 2022

I read that the lovable Facebook Instagram WhatsApp outfit has been fined $400 million. What is the charge? I know it seems like duplication, but the Metaverse believer has been struggling IRL (in real life). The issue is the firm’s “handling of children’s privacy settings on Instagram.”

Meta Faces $402 Million EU Fine over Instagram’s Privacy Settings for Children” reports:

The fine stems from the photo sharing app’s privacy settings on accounts run by children.

Meta will loose a flock of solicitors before writing a check.

My thought is that some GenZ person should write a version of Ulysses. Instead of a geezer wandering around, the protagonist could be Mr. Zuckerberg. Imagine the literary references possible. The charming Donatien Alphonse François and the detail oriented Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing, among others could populate the new work. Dump James Joyce’s lame allusions and get with the program.

It is possible that the new Ulysses could span several 1,000 page volumes, include hyperlinks to Instagram videos, links to Facebook pages about dance classes and playground equipment, and recycle some really delightful WhatsApp messages.

I find legal disputes semi interesting. Those involving US big technology firms with ideals about creating a really really better world can be a tad tedious tedious.

The information about financial damages is, on the other hand, amusing to a company which probably spends more on off site meetings in a single month. Why not slap a couple more zeros on that fine?

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2022

Facebook Wants to Help Wikipedia with Factoid Accuracy

September 12, 2022

Yes, Facebook is an arbiter of truth.

Researchers have a love-hate relationship with Wikipedia. They love that it is a constantly updated, digital encyclopedia with quick search and reference tools, but hate its inaccuracies. SinguarlityHub discusses how Facebook wants to change Wikipedia’s unreliability: “Meta Is Building An AI To Fact-Check Wikipedia-All 6.5 Million Articles.”

Wikipedia’s editors wrote: “The online encyclopedia does not consider itself to be reliable as a source and discourages readers from using it in academic or research settings.” Most basic information on Wikipedia is true, but it is good to double-check information, but most people do not do that. Facebook armed with its new Meta facade is working on an AI to verify all of Wikipedia’s information.

The AI would fact-check the information in the articles, but it works differently than expected:

“Meta’s model will “understand” content not by comparing text strings and making sure they contain the same words, but by comparing mathematical representations of blocks of text, which it arrives at using natural language understanding (NLU) techniques. What we have done is to build an index of all these web pages by chunking them into passages and providing an accurate representation for each passage,’ Fabio Petroni, Meta’s Fundamental AI Research tech lead manager, told Digital Trends. ‘That is not representing word-by-word the passage, but the meaning of the passage. That means that two chunks of text with similar meanings will be represented in a very close position in the resulting n-dimensional space where all these passages are stored.’”

Thankfully the AI’s learning dataset of four million Wikipedia citations is cleaner and better than what other AI have learned from in the past. The dataset is also constantly being updated. The developers are also teaching the AI how to distinguish a reliable source from a bad one, i.e. a scientific paper vs. a conspiracy theory article.

The Meta team said no one has used AI to verify Wikipedia’s information before. It is great that Facebook is doing the world a favor by fact-checking Wikipedia, but what will Facebook correct in the Facebook Wikipedia information?

Whitney Grace, September 12, 2022

Meta: Grade School Behavior?

September 9, 2022

Despite being the domain of Baby Boomers and conspiracy theorists, Facebook is still a powerful tech company. Facebook is not afraid to sell out its users despite proclamations of loving support, but Apple Insider discusses its hypocritical behavior: “Facebook Is fine When Punishing Others Financially, But Cries When Others Do It To Them.”

Zuckerberg and his company processes behaviors similar to an elementary school bully: it acts big and tough, but when it is confronted and injured Facebook runs away crying. Facebook is acting like the aforementioned bully, because Apple has affected its profits. Apple changed its privacy policies, thus preventing Facebook from harvesting dollars from user data.

Despite Facebook claiming it does not sell data, it does. Apple added the Apple App Tracking Transparency to mobile devices, so users can prevent third-party Web sites (i.e. Facebook) from sharing data. Facebook did not like that, so Zuckerberg threatened to take Apple to court, then changed his mind. He decided to ruin other companies’ bottom lines to save his own. Facebook released data that showed users are reading less, so the company will not pay publishers for news articles.

This has led large media companies to fire writers and switch over to video production:

“But Facebook had exaggerated its figures by between 150% and 900%. Facebook denies this, but it later settled a lawsuit brought by advertisers over the issue. Facebook paid out $40 million then, but some publishers who had pivoted to video simply could not move back and did not recover. While there are forces beyond Facebook that contributed to this, the University of North Carolina said that even before the coronavirus, 20 newspaper businesses were closing every month.”

Facebook has now turned to VR, but is riding on the backs of creators to drive funding for the platform. Facebook was critical of Apple’s 30% commission fee from its app store purchases, so when Apple discovered Facebook’s Meta fees they had to say something:

“’Now — Meta seeks to charge those same creators significantly more than any other platform,’[said Apple Senior Director of Corporate Communications Fred Sainz.] ‘[Meta’s] announcement lays bare Meta’s hypocrisy. It goes to show that while they seek to use Apple’s platform for free, they happily take from the creators and small businesses that use their own.’”

Would a neutral observer use the word “hypocritical” to describe some Meta actions? Sure, and may add the term “zucker squeeze.”

Whitney Grace, September 4, 2022

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