Categories
The Internet & Media

Facebook Lets You See All the Data Collected on You

Facebook has launched a new tool to let you see all the data that’s been collected on you both on – and interestingly enoughoff the platform.

Facebook knows what you’re doing on other sites and in real life. This tool lets you see what it knows about you.

I haven’t had a personal Facebook account in over a year but I have an empty one that I use to manage Facebook Pages for my company and clients. The data I found there was interesting. I can only imagine what would be there for a regular/heavy user.

My stats showed many of the websites I’d visited via the browser I use at work – roughly 151 data sources, dating all the way back to June of 2019. At that point it simply said I’d reached ‘the end of my available activity’.

One of the interesting things I saw using the tool, you can further drill down and see what advertisers targeted ads at you and if you were specifically on their contact lists.

Categories
The Internet & Media

Facebook Co-Founder Says Break It Up

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has written an interesting opinion piece over at the New York Times, “It’s Time to Break Up Facebook”.

I’ve been off Facebook for over a year now and about six months ago stopped using Instagram and Messenger. While I had my own issues and struggles with social media use affecting my mental health and general disposition, what finally got to me was the realization that Facebook’s business model is at it’s core, unethical. While I could remain on the platform and dismiss it or monitor and curtail my use, I felt like using any of the products was a tacit endorsement of their business practices and that just didn’t sit right with me.

A few choice nuggets from the article, which I suggest you read in full if you’re at all interested in these things:

Mark’s (Zuckerberg) influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. He controls three core communications platforms — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — that billions of people use every day. Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares. Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered. He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.

Facebook makes its money from targeted advertising, meaning users do not pay to use the service. But it is not actually free, and it certainly isn’t harmless.

Facebook’s business model is built on capturing as much of our attention as possible to encourage people to create and share more information about who they are and who they want to be. We pay for Facebook with our data and our attention, and by either measure it doesn’t come cheap.

The most problematic aspect of Facebook’s power is Mark’s unilateral control over speech. There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people.

Facebook engineers write algorithms that select which users’ comments or experiences end up displayed in the News Feeds of friends and family. These rules are proprietary and so complex that many Facebook employees themselves don’t understand them.

You may be saying to yourself, “if you (meaning me) quit facebook, why still so much interest in it?” The simple fact is I find it fascinating. The story is – in its truest sense – far more engaging and interesting than science fiction. It’s a massive experiment being carried out on humanity in real-time. It’s like the car-crash of the digital age – one simply can’t look away. The interesting thing is that the majority of people are still in the car – and even when being told it’s about to crash opt to sit tight.

Categories
The Internet & Media

Dollars for Data

Do you ever stop to think about how much data is being collected on you daily by everyone from Google to your bank? Did you ever give them permission to do so? Well, in some cases you may have via the checkbox at that massive ‘Terms of Service’ document that no one reads, but the reality is that many companies were/are collecting data even without those, and sharing and selling it as well, in addition to analyzing it, primarily just to sell you product or keep you on the platform longer.

Whether they can ethically do all this, or should be doing it, is a massive discussion. That aside, many people are proposing that if large corporations are going to essentially use us individuals as data collection points – we should get paid for it.

Livia Gershon writes in her article We All Work for Facebook:

Writing in the Harvard Business Review with Jaron Lanier, a prominent critic of social media, Weyl argues that if Americans were paid for our data, many would make $500 to $1,000 a year the way things stand now (an estimate that the authors believe is low). If AI were to grow to represent 10 percent of the U.S. economy, Weyl and Lanier add, that amount could rise to $20,000 for an average family of four—though in that information economy, we’d all pay a little more for the services we use.

As a family of 6, I like that action. If we’re all gonna be digital zombies, lets at least pull down a decent salary while we do it.

The Rise of Digital Unions

Gershon notes that the best way to start demanding compensation from companies is for individuals to band together and deny the companies that which they’re seeking, until demands are met – to form unions.

Digital labor rights, like any labor rights, depend on workers’ ability to organize in pursuit of their interests. The idea of demanding pay for data depends on internet users coming together in something like a labor union or a craft guild, bargaining with data buyers and using strike threats to win contracts. Skilled translators or people with a specific medical condition might band together based on their knowledge of the value that their data could provide. Weyl suggested to me that users start with Wikipedia, since it has its own complicated, semi-democratic governance system.

At the end of his book, Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari presents the viewpoint that moving into the future, our society can take one of two paths; one that is dominated and driven by data or one that is founded and continues on a humanist philosophy. It would seem that unless we prefer the former, humans must come together to become more than just ‘cogs in the machine.’

Categories
Lost & Found

What I Think I Want You to Think About Me

I come across articles on the Internet all the time, daily, that I think “people have got to read this.” I share some of them, but I’m finding I share less and less. Many I just let them sink in and move along.

I remember reading a study some years back that determined people share content on Facebook and other social media sites not necessarily because they believe it, approve of it or even understand it, but because it in some way facilitates how they want to be perceived by others.

I want you to think I like the long articles.

Categories
The Internet & Media

They Got Instagram Now, Too

Back when I started dumping my social media accounts – for various reasons – the one I held on to the longest, almost a year longer than the others, was Instagram. I liked that it was primarily photo based and that seemed to invite people to post a different kind of content. There was little to almost no negativity – in my feed anyway – and it seemed to be a much more civil place than the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

I mostly followed outdoor gear and bike companies as well as athletes and my actual IRL friends, so it’s not surprising I didn’t see much else. Apparently it was there though, and continues to grow. I finally nuked my Instagram account a few months ago, primarily for personal reasons, but it seems that it has gone the path of Facebook now as well, so in retrospect, I’m glad I got out when I did.

An article in the Atlantic, Instagram is the Internet’s New Home for Hate, doesn’t paint a very rosy picture.

“Instagram is teeming with these conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes, all daisy-chained together via a network of accounts with incredible algorithmic reach and millions of collective followers—many of whom, like Alex, are very young.

“Following just a handful of these accounts can quickly send users spiraling down a path toward even more extremist views and conspiracies, guided by Instagram’s own recommendation algorithm.”

“Given the velocity of the recommendation algorithm, the power of hashtagging, and the nature of the posts, it’s easy to see how Instagram can serve as an entry point into the internet’s darkest corners. Instagram “memes pages and humor is a really effective way to introduce people to extremist content,” says Becca Lewis, a doctoral student at Stanford and a research affiliate at the Data and Society Research Institute. “It’s easy, on Instagram, to attach certain hashtags to certain memes and get high visibility.”

“In December, Wired reported that Instagram had become the “go-to” social network for the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm notorious for meddling in U.S. elections. A report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee declared that “Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency” to spread misinformation. “Instagram has the power of Twitter to broadcast out, but the infrastructure of Facebook supporting it,” says Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University who directs a center on digital forensics. “It has the best of all platforms.”

I’m glad that I left Instagram before I came across any of this stuff. I’d seen traces of it on Facebook, which is what prompted me to get off that finally. I think that quite possibly I could have continued to use both these platforms without encountering too much of this kind of content – I was pretty particular about who and what I followed – but at it’s core, I think my decision to leave was based around the fact that by using those platforms, I was tacitly endorsing both their business models and their standards of conduct – neither of which I felt comfortable doing anymore.