“If things play out with AI the way that they have done with Facebook, we’re in a lot of trouble.” Jonathan Nolan
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.
Great work, completely agree except the last paragraph opt-out. Want the feature? You need to opt-in. This is Facebook problem. Everytime they [Facebook] change something, they take the best default for them not the user, not privacy.
— Mark Cathcart (@cathcam) April 8, 2018
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.
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.
In 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“.
Official now: UK Commons committee writes to Mark Zuckerberg asking him to get on a plane and front an inquiry in London. pic.twitter.com/VHxd2opClh
— Mark Di Stefano 🤙🏻 (@MarkDiStef) March 20, 2018
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.
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
- Complete the remainder of the form to lodge a complaint
- 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.
I would pay good money to see all those people complaining about Obama’s FCC chairman voting to repeal #NetNeutality actually explain it in detail. I’d also bet most hadn’t heard of it before this week. #outrage
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) December 15, 2017
ZDNet has a good summary of a few recent reports on automation, a subject I’ve covered here more than once.
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.
- 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.
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.
Full transparency, I really benefitted from share options during the last tax holiday for corps. Bringing money back.Over 10-year period ibm lost 100,000 US jobs. Anyone thinks it will be different this time, isnt thinking at all. #GOPTaxScam #GOPTaxPlan https://t.co/IH4qxvIH1M
— Mark Cathcart (@cathcam) December 2, 2017
And it wasn’t just ibm… And it won’t be this time. Most of the companies effected already have billions of dollars in the USA and could create jobs now. Share options are not evil, they do act as a great motivator, I know. However, 90% of the value goes to the top 1%
— Mark Cathcart (@cathcam) December 2, 2017
NPR reached out to seven tech giants – Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Oracle, Cisco – to ask, would they use repatriated money to create jobs in the U.S.? Not a single one would make a commitment on the record
— Mark Cathcart (@cathcam) December 2, 2017
And I know I played a big part in that, encouraging, promoting, cajoling and educating senior management and execs that there was a tidal wave of tech coming from India and China, and if they were not on it, they’d be drowned by it…
— Mark Cathcart (@cathcam) December 2, 2017
But that still doesn’t make it right to cut tax that is needed to supports schools medical and welfare, infrastructure and more, when there is already enough money slushing around. #GOPTaxScam #GOPTaxPlan
— Mark Cathcart (@cathcam) December 2, 2017
and if it’s not, Google should be ashamed how poorly the program is being run.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
It’s not strictly true, I will have a facebook ID again in the coming months, but it will be an output only ID. By that I mean it will be an ID that I can post things to, but little more than that.
As I said in my “evil empire” post, I’ve become more and more concerned about not just what data they collect, but what you can learn from it. They sell our data, and it’s pretty easy to drill down on the data and learn all sorts of things, even though the data is supposed to be anonymous.
The problem with this is not just what facebook can tell, it’s that to a degree it is a very biased view of who we are. For the longest time, the standing joke was:
if it’s not on facebook, it didn’t happen
But you know that’s not true. When was the last time you posted about your intimate desires, or genuine mistakes, or arguments you had with important people in your life, or private details of your dealings with banks, managers and so on. These all go to make up who you are, what makes you tick.
What facebook has is a simple snapshot, someone who is vastly different online than offline. Yeah, facebook knows I’m liberal, likely not religious, I read the Guardian and the New York Times and probably trust them for news as I spend more time reading articles. Facebook knows I have a generally negative view of the new President and it thinks it know what products and brands I “like“. The data says my “psychological gender” is more male than feminine, but not by much; I’m pretty laid back but do get emotional.
Our data is sold in bulk, using specialised tools, you can target data geographically, based on numerous categories. It is supposed to be anonymised when sold, but it’s relatively simple to identify. This week in Ireland the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] was trying to defend our privacy rights, when facebook moves our data between Europe and the USA. Europe has much stronger data protection rights. Facebook of course argued against that.
If you are not convinced, watch this video from the creators of Data Selfie, a chrome extension, see how what you do [on facebook], leaves a data trail to the person you are [on facebook].
The lack of control over our data is seriously concerning. Even though I’ve already deleted the primary facebook app from my phone, as well as Messenger. You can’t even see the data, I fear that facebook has data I can’t control, can’t delete, and somewhere in a facebook data center, I have a twin, someone I don’t know.