My last post to Facebook was almost a year ago on July 31, 2018, a day before Facebook turned off their API and prevented my website from interacting with their service. Other moral and ethical concerns with Facebook aside, I’ve got what I hope to be a useful method for people’s interactions with my Facebook account to come back to my site. This will let me better own and control my data while still interacting with people “stuck” on this problematic service.
This return post will serve as a test to see if I might return to and occasionally post there again.
When former Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes penned aNew York Times op-ed calling for the breakup of the platform, he was lauded by anti-corporate politicians and the press. Then came a series of hard questions: how exactly would breaking up Facebook, which owns WhatsApp and Instagram, address free speech concerns? Or help stifle the spread of propaganda on the platform? And how would American regulations affect the majority of Facebook users, who live in the global south? According to Michael Lwin, an American-born antitrust lawyer living in Yangon, Myanmar, US regulators should tread lightly. He and Bob speak about how calls to break up Facebook could have wide ranging unintended consequences, especially outside of the US.
As bad as Facebook is, there are some potential second and multiple-order effects to be careful of when considering breaking them up or heavily regulating them.
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.
>“If Facebook is providing a consumer’s data to be used for the purposes of credit screening by the third party, Facebook would be a credit reporting agency,” Reidenberg explained. “The [FCRA] statute applies when the data ‘is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for … credit.'” If Facebook is providing data about you and your friends that eventually ends up in a corporate credit screening operation, “It’s no different from Equifax providing the data to Chase to determine whether or not to issue a credit card to the consumer,” according to Reidenberg. ❧
“It sure smells like the prescreening provisions of the FCRA,” Reidenberg told The Intercept. “From a functional point of view, what they’re doing is filtering Facebook users on creditworthiness criteria and potentially escaping the application of the FCRA.” ❧
In an initial conversation with a Facebook spokesperson, they stated that the company does “not provide creditworthiness services, nor is that a feature of Actionable Insights.” When asked if Actionable Insights facilitates the targeting of ads on the basis of creditworthiness, the spokesperson replied, “No, there isn’t an instance where this is used.” It’s difficult to reconcile this claim with the fact that Facebook’s own promotional materials tout how Actionable Insights can enable a company to do exactly this. Asked about this apparent inconsistency between what Facebook tells advertising partners and what it told The Intercept, the company declined to discuss the matter on the record, ❧
Alongside these official responses, a loose collective of developers and techno-utopians that calls itself the IndieWeb has been creating another alternative. The movement’s affiliates are developing their own social-media platforms, which they say will preserve what’s good about social media while jettisoning what’s bad. They hope to rebuild social media according to principles that are less corporate and more humane.
Excited to see that the IndieWeb “hobby” I’ve been spending a lot of my time on for the past few years has made it into The New Yorker!
With all that has transpired between Facebook and the media industry over the past couple of years—the repeated algorithm changes, the head fakes about switching to video, the siphoning off of a significant chunk of the industry’s advertising revenue—most publishers approach the giant social network with skepticism, if not outright hostility. And yet, the vast majority of them continue to partner with Facebook, to distribute their content on its platform, and even accept funding and resources from it.
A very solid question to be asking and to be working on answers for.
Personally I feel like newspapers, magazines, and media should help to be providing IndieWeb-based open platforms of their own for not only publishing their own work, but for creating the local commons for their readers and constituents to be able to freely and openly interact with them.
They’re letting Facebook and other social media to own too much of their content and even their audience. Building tools to take it back could help them, their readers, and even democracy out all at the same time.
Sadly, based on what I’m seeing here, however, even CJR has outsourced their platform for this series to SquareSpace. At least they’re publishing it on a URL they own and control.
Read Chapters: The Ethics of Design, How Designers Destroyed the World, and Moving Fast and Breaking Things
I was very reticent about this book at first, but it is way more essential than I initially thought! I knew I was going to know almost all of the examples, and I’ve generally been right on that account so far, but he’s going beyond the problems with potential solutions. I was worried it was going to be something that I would appreciate and heartily recommend to others without getting much out of it myself, but it reads quickly and easily and there’s a lot here that I want to come back and ponder about further.
Despite the fact that I don’t feel like a professional web designer by trade, what he’s talking about here are standards of human care and interaction that anyone who makes anything should be thinking about on a daily basis. Whether you’re building or creating things for others or even making your own daily life, at heart, you’re designing something.
I also find myself thinking a lot about how people are building and designing technologies in the edtech space. May of the researchers, professors, and instructional designers I know are immersed in some of the ethics and morals behind using these technologies. Generally I hear them talking about what they “wish” they had as tools, but often they seem to be stuck with things they don’t really want and are then attempting to figure out ways around these technologies after-the-fact so that they can use them in an ethical manner. They really need to stand up, refuse to use what they’re given, and demand better design from the start. Even if they’re incapable of building their own tools, they’re slowly, but surely going to loose the war if they don’t move upstream to where the actual decisions are being made. Fortunately some of the work I see in the OER space is being done at the grass roots where people have more choice and say in the design, but I worry that if they’re not careful, those tools will be siloed off with bad design choices by for-profit companies as well.
The world is working exactly as designed. The combustion engine which is destroying our planet’s atmosphere and rapidly making it inhospitable is working exactly as we designed it. Guns, which lead to so much death, work exactly as they’re designed to work. And every time we “improve” their design, they get better at killing. Facebook’s privacy settings, which have outed gay teens to their conservative parents, are working exactly as designed. Their “real names” initiative, which makes it easier for stalkers to re-find their victims, is working exactly as designed. Twitter’s toxicity and lack of civil discourse is working exactly as it’s designed to work.The world is working exactly as designed. And it’s not working very well. Which means we need to do a better job of designing it. Design is a craft with an amazing amount of power. The power to choose. The power to influence. As designers, we need to see ourselves as gatekeepers of what we are bringing into the world, and what we choose not to bring into the world. Design is a craft with responsibility. The responsibility to help create a better world for all. Design is also a craft with a lot of blood on its hands. Every cigarette ad is on us. Every gun is on us. Every ballot that a voter cannot understand is on us. Every time social network’s interface allows a stalker to find their victim, that’s on us. The monsters we unleash into the world will carry your name. This book will make you see that design is a political act. What we choose to design is a political act. Who we choose to work for is a political act. Who we choose to work with is a political act. And, most importantly, the people we’ve excluded from these decisions is the biggest (and stupidest) political act we’ve made as a society.If you’re a designer, this book might make you angry. It should make you angry. But it will also give you the tools you need to make better decisions. You will learn how to evaluate the potential benefits and harm of what you’re working on. You’ll learn how to present your concerns. You’ll learn the importance of building and working with diverse teams who can approach problems from multiple points-of-view. You’ll learn how to make a case using data and good storytelling. You’ll learn to say NO in a way that’ll make people listen. But mostly, this book will fill you with the confidence to do the job the way you always wanted to be able to do it. This book will help you understand your responsibilities.
Has anyone read Mike Monteiro’s new book “Ruined by Design”? Sounds very IndieWeb in flavor… (or at least anti-silo/anti-corporate)