“Don’t be evil” was the mantra of the co-founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the graduate students who, in the late 1990s, had invented a groundbreaking way of searching the web. At the time, one of the things the duo believed to be evil was advertising. There’s no reason to doubt their initial sincerity on this matter, but when the slogan was included in the prospectus for their company’s flotation in 2004 one began to wonder what they were smoking. Were they really naive enough to believe that one could run a public company on a policy of ethical purity?
AMONG THE MEGA-CORPORATIONS that surveil you, your cellphone carrier has always been one of the keenest monitors, in constant contact with the one small device you keep on you at almost every moment. A confidential Facebook document reviewed by The Intercept shows that the social network courts carriers, along with phone makers — some 100 different companies in 50 countries — by offering the use of even more surveillance data, pulled straight from your smartphone by Facebook itself.
Offered to select Facebook partners, the data includes not just technical information about Facebook members’ devices and use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, but also their past locations, interests, and even their social groups. This data is sourced not just from the company’s main iOS and Android apps, but from Instagram and Messenger as well. The data has been used by Facebook partners to assess their standing against competitors, including customers lost to and won from them, but also for more controversial uses like racially targeted ads.
Reminder: What about the idea of creating a stand-alone version of a page builder plugin like Beaver Builder with a layer of IndieAuth and Micropub on top that would make it a potential Micropub client? I’ve pitched the idea that Medium.com could quickly be turned into a micropub client, why not these? Create a page and it’s general layout in a page building client and then send the payload to your website without the need to have the code running directly on your website!
I briefly spitballed the general idea of this with Robby McCullough today.
There’s also the potential that an IndieAuth/Micropub set up could be created to give advertising platforms the ability to access smaller portions of a website to essentially inject advertising into a site’s sidebars, footers, or content directly, maybe on a pay-per-pixel basis. I’d really have to implicitly trust an advertisement server to allow this however.
Another day, another podcasts startup attracting significant investment, amid the wider excitement around the spoken-word format. This time it’s a Los Angeles-based startup called Luminary, which is launching a slate of more than 40 podcasts including the likes of Lena Dunham, Malcolm Gladwell, Trevor Noah and Conan O’Brien as hosts. What’s more, the New York Times reports that Luminary has already secured nearly $100m of funding.
Its CEO Matt Sacks certainly has all the right lines when it comes to signifying ambitions, too. “We want to become synonymous with podcasting in the same way Netflix has become synonymous with streaming,” he said. “I know how ambitious that sounds. We think it can be done, and some of the top creators in the space agree.”
The way Luminary has gone after some of the most prominent podcasters to create their next shows for its company mirrors what Spotify is doing – there’s something of a land-grab going on for anyone who’s proven their ability to engage listeners with this format. Luminary isn’t just a producer though: it’s launching its own app, which will offer an $8 monthly subscription for ad-free access to its entire lineup. The app will also have an ad-supported free section.
Shoshana Zuboff is the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. She talks with Leo Laporte about how social media is being used to influence people.
Even for the people who are steeped in some of the ideas of surveillance capitalism, ad tech, and dark patterns, there’s a lot here to still be surprised about. If you’re on social media, this should be required listening/watching.
I can’t wait to get the copy of her book.
Folks in the IndieWeb movement have begun to fix portions of the problem, but Shoshana Zuboff indicates that there are several additional levels of humane understanding that will need to be bridged to make sure their efforts aren’t just in vain. We’ll likely need to do more than just own our own data, but we’ll need to go a step or two further as well.
The thing I was shocked to not hear in this interview (and which may not be in the book either) is something that I think has been generally left unmentioned with respect to Facebook and elections and election tampering (29:18). Zuboff and Laporte discuss Facebook’s experiments in influencing people to vote in several tests for which they published academic papers. Even with the rumors that Mark Zuckerberg was eyeing a potential presidential run in 2020 with his trip across America and meeting people of all walks of life, no one floated the general idea that as the CEO of Facebook, he might use what they learned in those social experiments to help get himself (or even someone else) elected by sending social signals to certain communities to prevent them from voting while sending other signals to other communities to encourage them to vote. The research indicates that in a very divided political climate that with the right sorts of voting data, it wouldn’t take a whole lot of work for Facebook to help effectuate a landslide victory for particular candidates or even entire political parties!! And of course because of the distributed nature of such an attack on democracy, Facebook’s black box algorithms, and the subtlety of the experiments, it would be incredibly hard to prove that such a thing was even done.
I like her broad concept (around 43:00) where she discusses the idea of how people tend to frame new situations using pre-existing experience and that this may not always be the most useful thing to do for what can be complex ideas that don’t or won’t necessarily play out the same way given the potential massive shifts in paradigms.
Also of great interest is the idea of instrumentarianism as opposed to the older ideas of totalitarianism. (43:49) Totalitarian leaders used to rule by fear and intimidation and now big data stores can potentially create these same types of dynamics, but without the need for the fear and intimidation by more subtly influencing particular groups of people. When combined with the ideas behind “swarming” phenomenon or Mark Granovetter’s ideas of threshold reactions in psychology, only a very small number of people may need to be influenced digitally to create drastic outcomes. I don’t recall the reference specifically, but I recall a paper about the mathematics with respect to creating ethnic neighborhoods that only about 17% of people needed to be racists and move out of a neighborhood to begin to create ethnic homogeneity and drastically less diversity within a community.
Also tangentially touched on here, but not discussed directly, I can’t help but think that all of this data with some useful complexity theory might actually go a long way toward better defining (and being able to actually control) Adam Smith’s economic “invisible hand.”
There’s just so much to consider here that it’s going to take several revisits to the ideas and some additional research to tease this all apart.
Smartphone apps track a staggering amount of data about our whereabouts every day. That data has become a hot commodity.
Just the national security implications for this alone should require regulations of these tech companies.
Turns out, a lot of it, actually.
Weblogs: A new source of News
An awesome “old” and prescient post about blogging and journalism. It’s interesting to look at this through the modern lens of social media and IndieWeb. Of course this article was written at a time when IndieWeb was the only thing that existed.
Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia
media organizations would do well to incorporate them [blogs] into their Web sites as an important new addition to the journalistic toolkit. ❧
December 21, 2018 at 08:09PM
Regular readers of Gillmor’s eJournal will recognize his commitment to user participation. “One of the things I’m sure about in journalism right now is that my readers know more than I do,” he says. “To the extent that I can take advantage of that in a way that does something for everyone involved ó that strikes me as pretty cool.”
One fascinating aspect of Gillmor’s Weblog is how he lifts the veil from the workings of the journalism profession. “There have been occasions where I put up a note saying, ‘I’m working on the following and here’s what I think I know,’ and the invitation is for the reader to either tell me I’m on the right track, I’m wrong, or at the very least help me find the missing pieces,” he says. “That’s a pretty interesting thing. Many thousands more people read my column in the newspaper than online, but I do hear back from a fair number of people from the Weblog.” ❧
My listen post
December 21, 2018 at 08:20PM
Anyone who’s dealt with networks knows that the network knows more than the individual.” ❧
December 22, 2018 at 09:15AM
Man, this is a beast that’s hungry all the time.” ❧
December 22, 2018 at 09:18AM
While many blogs get dozens or hundreds of visitors, Searls’ site attracts thousands. “I partly don’t want to care what the number is,” he says. “I used to work in broadcasting, where everyone was obsessed by that. I don’t want an audience. I feel I’m writing stuff that’s part of a conversation. Conversations don’t have audiences.” ❧
December 22, 2018 at 09:22AM
“The blog serves as a kind of steam valve for me,” he says. “I put stuff out there that I’m forming an opinion about, and another blogger starts arguing with me and giving me feedback, and I haven’t even finished what I was posting!” ❧
December 22, 2018 at 09:24AM
The Weblog community is basically a whole bunch of expert witnesses who increase their expertise constantly through a sort of reputation engine.” ❧
December 22, 2018 at 09:28AM
His dream is to put a live Web server with easy-to-edit pages on every person’s desktop, then connect them all in a robust network that feeds off itself and informs other media. ❧
December 22, 2018 at 09:31AM
He suggests that struggling sites like Salon begin broadening their content offerings by hosting user-created Weblogs, creating a sort of farm system for essayists. “Salon could highlight the best ones on page one and invest time and effort in the ones that are inspiring and exceptional.” ❧
December 22, 2018 at 09:35AM
Indeed, Winer says his most gratifying moments come when he posts an entry without running the idea by his colleagues first. “It can be a very scary moment when you take a stand on something and you don’t know if your argument holds together and you hit the send button and it’s out there and you can’t take it back. That’s a moment that professional journalists may never experience in their careers, the feeling that it’s just me, exposed to the world. That’s a pretty powerful rush, the power to publish as an individual.” ❧
December 22, 2018 at 09:36AM
Just hit that sparkle, fam
Apparently so many people are using shortcuts like “filter:follows -filter:replies” from a few months back that they’ve decided to fix their UI.
Of course the article indicates that it seems to be higher engagement (aka clicks for advertising) as the motivator rather than simply making a stronger and more usable product:
Keith Coleman, vice president of product at Twitter, told The Verge that in tests, users who had access to the easy toggle participated in more conversations than average.
In the Wild West of “influencer” marketing, there are few protections and plenty of easy marks.
Of the multi-billion dollar business and the issues with needing to give away one’s password to be tracked within this field, the real loss here seems to be that Instagram isn’t building infrastructure for their users to take advantage of these opportunities. Even if they were only taking a small fraction of the income for facilitating the market, they’re missing out on hundreds of millions.
It’s not mentioned here, but the fact that there are businesses built around the idea of “link in bio” means that Instagram really isn’t innovating on their platform.
Is Instagram really so deaf to the needs of their userbase?
Go indie, go punk, call it web, notice the good support, and offer an alternative to the old-school, advertising-based, closed internet.
A clarion call on the open internet for more of the open internet (aka IndieWeb.)
Friday's plunge sends Yelp to a 52-week low and makes for the stock's worst day of trading since going public in 2012.