Europe vs Facebook

The questions that Zuckerberg never answered, including this:

How will you be remembered: As one the three big internet giants along with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have enriched our world, or as the genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracy and society?

https://gizmodo.com/mark-zuckerberg-played-parliament-for-fools-and-theyre-1826227452

The Popularity Of ‘Westworld’ Points To Our Anxiety About AI

“If things play out with AI the way that they have done with Facebook, we’re in a lot of trouble.” Jonathan Nolan

Source: The Popularity Of ‘Westworld’ Points To Our Anxiety About AI, The Show’s Creators Say | Here & Now

The Facebook scramble to rewrite history

As Facebook scramble to try to head off prohibitive legislation in the UK, Europe and the USA, it’s trying to reinvent it’s history and mission.  I’m no Facebook historian, developer, professional watcher but it’s worth remembering some of it’s actual history, bugs, screw-ups and the often terrible defaults it implemented with new features.

I’d long imagined that Mark Zuckerberg was the embodiment of Zeke Hawkins character in the 1993 movie, Sliver. One of the things Hawkins said in the movies about his surveillance was the Google-esq:

We’ll do only good things.

All of the recent disclosures about access to Facebook data isn’t about hacking or other malicious activity, it is about poor design decisions; defaults in privacy that were good for Facebook but not for the user; and ultimately necessary for Facebook’s’ business model. They were not, as Facebook and Zuckerberg oft refer to them as data breaches.

As the voiceover says at the end of the Sliver trailer:

The view from the outside is nothing…. compared to the view…. inside.

My history with Facebook goes back to when it was “thefacebook”. I’d been a regular speaker and panelist at the Silicon Valley World Internet Center between 1998 and 2003 when I gave my last session on Open Source. The center was housed at Stanford University. Over my time there, I made contacts with many professional and personal contacts.

I started using livejournal as an emerging platform for “blogging” and tracking news for my then key triathlon interests in January 2004.  That April, through one of the contacts I’d made at the World Internet Center, I was offered a userid to take a look at “thefacebook”. I didn’t spend much time on it, it was fascile, juvenille and voyeristic. I wasn’t surprised to hear that in 2003, the Harvard University administration had charged Zuckerberg with breach of security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy.

That set the path that Facebook has followed since then, their design decisions, their defaults, everything has been aimed at making your information publicly available, searchable and collectable. As I texted a few days ago, none of this need happened if Facebook actually cared about privacy. Each and every time they implemented a new feature, they did so by setting the user privacy to the least private allowed.

While Facebook claimed they were not selling data, which was probably legally true, but they were always selling access to the data. If privacy was really central to Facebooks management of data, then they would have made the defaults very different than they did.

All those infuriating apps and quizzes that your “friends” were playing Farmville, Candy Crush, etc. let alone the apps that wanted to know actual personal information, like where you’d travelled to etc. For a while in 2007 there was even a class at Stanford known as the “Facebook class” where students, many of whom went on to make hundreds of thousands of US Dollars, were instructed on how to make Facebook apps.

As early as 2010, many of us were imploring people not to give companies like OK Cupid and apps like Lover of the Day access to your data, it was only ever going to end badly for someone.

Lover of the Day was installed nearly a million times. If every user that installed it had at least one hundred “friends” on Facebook,  that meant through a single app, four hundred million facebook users data could have been exposed and scraped. Even if “Lover of the Day” hadn’t overtly exploited this, it was totally naive rather than malicious.

By the end of 2010, there were hundreds of website scams that were, as far as I can see, just there to harvest your data, and that of your friends. There were numerous websites set up to track these, of which Facecrooks, was and still is one of the best.

When I got my Facebook data, before #DELETEFACEBOOK, I spent an hour searching through the data and my timeline to find interesting posts, pleas that I’d made to my friends about the lax controls, bad defaults and bad app choices they were making.In 2010 alone, I posted the following on my wall.

January 10th: “Well get used to it, the Facebook founder says your privacy is a relic of the past, everything should be public!”

March 2010: “So, not paying attention to the FB Privacy issue? Well last night the dumb ass’s made a change which made everyone’s email address public for about 30-mins even if you said not to or your settings… “

May 2010: “So yesterday Facebook blew their privacy yet again revealing private friend to friend conversations, allowing one friend to see outstanding friend requests of other friends…”

May 2011: When discussing the Symantec revelation that Facebook was leaking information to Third parties, I ended the post with – friends don’t give their friends personal information to strangers, don’t do the same on facebook!

By 2011, music streaming startup, Spotify, was known to be aggressively using and promoting their business through facebook by exploiting the weak/lax Facebook privacy. If anything, the US Government Federal Trade Commision hearings lead to facebook changes that were in marketing speak “more transparent” but reality, more opaque. They made it easier to stop sharing, but harder to know what was being shared.

In 2015, the scraping of user data was still rampant, I found a number of examples of warnings, mostly in so called “Big company” giveaways.

March 2015: Friends don’t invite friends invite to the SW Airlines ticket give away. It’s scam, they are harvesting Facebook id’s, friends lists and email addresses and who knows what else!

It was followed by a long bullet list of ways you could tell if the giveaway was a scam. My post ended in

If don’t doesn’t have at least two of those it’s a scam… It’s not harmless, it’s like showing up at an orgy and not using a condom.

When Zuckerberg and Facebook try to rewrite history claiming these were a breach of trust, or they didn’t sell data, or they acted as soon as they were notified, I don’t know what the hell they are talking about. They knew, they just didn’t care until the politicians got hurt, and now the optics look really bad.

Next. What should be done.

The Data that Google has

In the push-back over the Facebook privacy scandal, many are also asking questions about the data other platforms have. Many commentators draw a parallel to Google. For my part, this is valid at least as far as tracking, visiting locations etc. goes. Since I have a Google Phone, with a Google Fi service, and I use Google Maps, I pretty much expect them to track me.

GoogleIn addition, in my prior home I had Google Fiber, plus add in all the Youtube videos, if you watch movies or listen to music on Google Play; they have my calendar; all my files in Google Drive; as much as I try not to have my photos in the cloud, they’ve almost certainly got some of them in Google Photos. I typically avoid using Google Search directly, as for the most part, my search history seems a definitive list of things I’m interested in, but it’s much more subjective than that. I prefer startpage for search.

I don’t read ebooks, but they’d have them if I did; of course I use a few Google Groups; and so on. So, it’s a pretty exhaustive list. You do need to take care if you decide to download your Google information from google.com/takeout – It can get pretty big, pretty quickly if you’ve purchased books, films, music and make extensive use of drive, in addition to all the metadata, you’ll also get all the content.

Despite all this, I feel like Google have not crossed the trust boundary. They may be using and aggregating all this data to sell to advertisers, but it’s not all clear how. It certainly isn’t obvious from the adverts. So for now, I trust Google to “Don’t be evil“.

Zuckerberg/Facebook called to UK Parliament

Of course as a US Citizen, Zuckerberg can’t be compelled to attend. There can be so many serious consequences to not attending that Rubert Murdoch and other News International Executives attended when they were called.
 

FCC and Net Neutrality – Fraud in your name?

After this weeks hugely disappointing repeal of the net neutrality. The ACLU has their take on the repeal, here.

I’m more concerned though with the claim that up to 2-million comments supporting the repeal were submitted to the FCC using fraudulent identities. I actually don’t don’t think it would have made any difference given what we know about the commission members who voted in favor of repeal.

Still, I wanted to be sure my comment was actually the comment I submitted, and no one else had submitted a comment using my identity. You can check here. Simply add your name to the form and click search. You’ll have to go through the comments submitted by people with the same name to check your comment is there, or that a comment was submitted on your behalf. Make sure to check all the people with your name, lots of comments seem to have been submitted using older addresses.

If you find a comment submitted that claims to be from you, that you did not authorise someone else to submit, or did not submit your self, please do 2-things

  1. Complete the remainder of the form to lodge a complaint
  2. Write, preferably a paper letter, to you States Attorney General.

A number of US States Attorney Generals are suing the Federal government over this issue. However, many have not joined that effort, including mine, Colorado.

Here is my comment, as submitted.

US Broadband and cable Internet access is already one of the most expensive in the developed world. It is also fragmented and suffers from overcharging for access to services. This proposal will only allow this to get worse, and potentially hamper both the development of small business services, and the use and consumption of both those and existing services. This must NOT be allowed to proceed. I write as a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and Member of the IBM Academy of Technology, and more recently, a Senior Distinguished Engineer and Executive Director at Dell Inc.

And finally the Presidents Tweet. Because I assume #NetNeutrality is too complex for him to understand, he assumes it’s too complicated for everyone else. Note the #NetNeutality auto-correct/mistype in the Presidents tweet. Explain it? He can’t even type it.

Fear of Automation

ZDNet has a good summary of a few recent reports on automation, a subject I’ve covered here more than once.

The more interesting survey report is from a Harris Poll for ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace.

ZipRecruiter’s nationwide data shows 60% of job seekers believe fears around robots taking away jobs are overhyped while 2 in 5 employed job seekers (41%) believe their current job will be automated within their lifetime.

This is more than likely because workers asked, don’t see the big picture. They don’t get involved with decisions and discussions about how to cut cost and risk from their workflow.

I’m not saying that we’ll wake up one day and everything will be taken over by robots, that’s not the case at all. It’s worse than that, automation is insidious and for the most part, invisible.

The ZDNet article by  for Robotics also links to recent reports from MckInsey and Redwood Software. Greg points out that:

  • 4 in 5 job seekers agree that the current technology boom has left certain people (84%) and cities (78%) behind.
  • Half of job seekers (50%) say the introduction of the Internet has generally done more harm than good. Employed job seekers are more likely to agree with this sentiment than unemployed job seekers (53% employed vs. 40% unemployed).
  • 2 in 5 job seekers (44%) believe there is no such thing as a bad technological advancement.

What this ignores, for the 50% that thinks the Internet is good, is that without it, and the automation and communication it has enabled, the workplace would be very different today. And that is one way the creep of insidious automation has been taking over.

Bringing Jobs Back to the USA

As the GOP push through their tax bill, without any transparency, one of the big ticket items is corporate tax breaks.

My opinion is the government are really wasting their time, and our money giving tax breaks, especially to companies to repatriate their overseas earnings, in some kind of swap for jobs. No such thing will happen, sure there will be a few winners here and there, but nothing substantial and certainly nothing overtime.

If the government wanted to do this, they’d have been better creating an incentive program, which gave them tax deductions for each net new job they created, the longer their total employment numbers were up, net new, the lower the tax rate on repatriation would go.

I posted the following on twitter… but in a debate about it today, realized I’d left the link off for the NPR article. Here it is.

Google Pixel trade-in is a scam

and if it’s not, Google should be ashamed how poorly the program is being run.

the google offer – 5-days

I’d exchanged my Nexus 5x phone earlier this year as I’d dropped it and the screen was broken. The replacement 5X showed up in a few days, but I never really spent any time customizing it, and hadn’t even loaded up a few key training apps. When the Pixel 2 was announced I figured I’d upgrade and then set that up with everything. The Pixel 2 had a decent trade-in and I figured as a non-working, semi-retired person that would be good to take advantage of.

The Pixel 2 arrived, and in a separate mailing the trade-in offer. That had the same “promise” that I’d signed up for on the web site, evaluation within 5-days of receiving your phone.

and it’s on it’s way

I sent the phone after taking a full set of pictures, and factory resetting it as instructed. It arrived in Atlanta on October 30th.

I waited, and waited, and waited. On November 17th, I called Google on their (855) 836-3987 number and asked what was the delay? The agent I spoke to helpful confirmed that the phone had indeed been received, but that it hadn’t yet been 14-business days and so no payment was due. Also, although my phone had been received on October 30th, it hadn’t reached the dept. that was evaluating the phones until Nov. 2nd. (thats my problem?)

I waited, and waited, still nothing. On  Wednesday 29th I called Google again via their (855) 836-3987 number and had a terse but direct conversation. They owed me the full trade-in value and as a semi-retired person I could no longer afford to wait for the refund. The agent said she’d escalate and call me back. She did, she said they were backlogged and she’d escalate my case #4-3161000019796.

On Friday, I received this in the mail, they’ll evaluate in in another 10-15 days! It won’t affect the estimate I received??

This program is a shambles. I’m happy for Google that the trade-in has been such a success they are running 45-days(at least) behind on evaluations. It’s also not my fault that the 3rd party they’ve contracted with isn’t performing up to their contract.

As a solid google customer, this is my 3rd google phone, I’m a Google Fiber customer, and was considering switching to Google Fi this month. I can’t in good faith.

 

The machines are coming – 2049?

It is notoriously difficult to predict the future. I lived my life at IBM, following Alan Kays 1982 aphorism

The best way to predict the future is to invent it

In my career I got many things right, and many things wrong. While Amazon was still a small time bookseller, and Youtube for the most part didn’t exist, it was obvious both business models would thrive. While I couldn’t convince IBM to pursue either of these opportunities with ny success, we demonstrated the technology perfectly. My “Wired for Life
Presentation contains some of my wins, and many of my losses.

It was much easier to build on these, especially the societal impact in my 2003 “Trends and Directions” presentation.  Societal impact is much easier to predict as you can demographic data, current trends and it’s pretty easy to extrapolate. Technology adoption is much harder.

Many of these predictions are not useful, after all who needs  a robot to write high school essays? Many though will continue to fundementally change work and life as we know it.

What they are though is a signal in the way the World Economic Forum predicts the technology will develop, and to some degree it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Watching this and reading many of the “machines are coming” articles that have been published over the past 5-years, it’s easy to become depressed about the rise of automation, AI, and robots. In a year when the sequel for Blade Runner will finally appear on our screens, there are some key things to remember.

  1. There is no magic, no silver bullet – If they can’t explain it, or worse don’t understand it, they have not invented it. Machine learning is great, but the machines can only learn with the machine learning constraints they have.
  2. Listen to the doubters – Doubt is very different to dismissal. People who dismiss possibility out-of-hand either don’t understand the opportunity and the potential, or are afraid of the change. It’s the doubters who have thought things through and understand the problems and the weaknesses.
  3. Don’t fear automation – If you do, you will be left behind. Learn, adapt, change; if possible work to invent the future By all means be a doubter, don’t be a dismisser.
  4. Find a problem, don’t start with a solution – AI, Robotics, Big Data, Machine Learning, Algorithms, Neural Networks are all speciality fields, grabbing onto them and asking how can we use them isn’t useful. The more specific you can be about a problem that needs solving, the easier it will be to identify the correct technology.
  5. Be Human – the more we automate, the more important human interaction becomes. The more empathy you have for someone who has a problem, the more likely you are to be able to understand how to solve it. Empathy, the arts, sports and human interaction are all fields where robotics and automation are least likely to take over.

More Human than Human – Dr Eldon Tyrell, The Tyrell Corporation