Social media, society and technology 2017 –

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A Hot Seat for Facebook, an Empty Chair for Zuckerberg and a Vow to Share Secret Files
(NYT) He skipped the session, which was organized by a British committee investigating Facebook and the spread of misinformation. In Mr. Zuckerberg’s absence, officials spent more than three hours grilling a Facebook executive who stood in for him, criticizing the company’s influence on democracy, its distribution of false news and its use of personal user data.
“You have lost the trust of the international community,” said Charlie Angus, an official representing Canada. He was joined by policymakers from Argentina, Brazil, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore, France, Belgium and Britain.
The hearing was built up by panel members as a moment of international accountability for Facebook. While the panel has no authority to impose laws or fines, it was a rare collaboration to investigate a company that is facing scrutiny after revelations about privacy breaches and its role in spreading propaganda and fomenting ethnic strife.

31 October
Satoshi Nakamoto
Satoshi Nakamoto is not a real person. Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym of the creator of bitcoin. On Oct. 31, 2008, a white paper entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” appeared on the mailing list metzdowd.com. It bore the byline of one Satoshi Nakamoto, the address of a new website—bitcoin.org—and the outlines of the first decentralized digital currency.
Ten years after that famous post—and seven years since Satoshi stopped publishing on the internet and receded even further into anonymity—no one has conclusively proven his identity, despite many, many attempts.

29 October
Twitter Should Kill the Retweet
The feature derails healthy conversation and preys on users’ worst instincts.
(The Atlantic) Retweets prey on users’ worst instincts. They delude Twitter users into thinking that they’re contributing to thoughtful discourse by endlessly amplifying other people’s points—the digital equivalent of shouting “yeah, what they said” in the midst of an argument. And because Twitter doesn’t allow for editing tweets, information that goes viral via retweets is also more likely to be false or exaggerated. According to MIT research published in the journal Science, Twitter users retweet fake news almost twice as much as real news. Other Twitter users, desperate for validation, endlessly retweet their own tweets, spamming followers with duplicate information.

On Social Media, No Answers for Hate
(NYT) Over the last 10 years, Silicon Valley’s social media companies have expanded their reach and influence to the furthest corners of the world. But it has become glaringly apparent that the companies never quite understood the negative consequences of that influence nor what to do about it — and that they cannot put the genie back in the bottle.
The repercussions of the social media companies’ inability to handle disinformation and hate speech have manifested themselves abundantly in recent days. Cesar Sayoc Jr., who was charged last week with sending explosive devices to prominent Democrats, appeared to have been radicalized online by partisan posts on Twitter and Facebook. Robert D. Bowers, who is accused of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, posted about his hatred of Jews on Gab, a two-year-old social network.

20 October
Saudis’ Image Makers: A Troll Army and a Twitter Insider
(NYT) Saudi operatives have mobilized to harass critics on Twitter, a wildly popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed who was fired on Saturday in the fallout from Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations.
Many Saudis had hoped that Twitter would democratize discourse by giving everyday citizens a voice, but Saudi Arabia has instead become an illustration of how authoritarian governments can manipulate social media to silence or drown out critical voices while spreading their own version of reality.
One arm of the crackdown on dissidents originates from offices and homes in and around Riyadh, where hundreds of young men hunt on Twitter for voices and conversations to silence. This is the troll farm, described by three people briefed on the project and the messages among group members.
Its directors routinely discuss ways to combat dissent, settling on sensitive themes like the war in Yemen or women’s rights. They then turn to their well-organized army of “social media specialists” via group chats in apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, sending them lists of people to threaten, insult and intimidate; daily tweet quotas to fill; and pro-government messages to augment.

17 October
Anne Applebaum: Saudi Arabia’s information war to bury news of Jamal Khashoggi
(WaPost) Over the past several years, the Saudi government has fine-tuned a sophisticated information policy, one that bears a distinct resemblance to the sort used in other states that have also learned to use social media for social control. As in Russia — where these things were first pioneered on a grand scale — the Saudi government understands that it is useless to silence the entire Internet. Instead, the regime floods the Twittersphere with patriotic messages designed to drown out critical or credible information.
As in Turkey, pro-regime trolls also gang up and organize online attacks against anyone who disagrees. Saud al-Qahtani, a media adviser to the crown prince with more than a million followers, encourages fellow citizens to add the names of dissidents to an online blacklist. Individual snooping also takes place on Facebook, where requests from “friends” may really be from the state’s online spies, eager to get access to your information and your posts.

11 October
Made and Distributed in the U.S.A.: Online Disinformation
(NYT) In 2016, before the presidential election, state-backed Russian operatives exploited Facebook and Twitter to sway voters in the United States with divisive messages. Now, weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 6, such influence campaigns are increasingly a domestic phenomenon fomented by Americans on the left and the right. Politics has always involved shadings of the truth via whisper campaigns, direct-mail operations and negative ads bordering on untrue. What is different this time is how domestic sites are emulating the Russian strategy of 2016 by aggressively creating networks of Facebook pages and accounts — many of them fake — that make it appear as if the ideas they are promoting enjoy widespread popularity, researchers said. The activity is also happening on Twitter, they said.
Facebook purges hundreds of political spam accounts and pages
(Axios) Why it matters: Spam content often reflects society’s emotions and obsessions — like diet pill scams and celebrity gossip. Facebook’s finding an increase in spam activity around political content is a sign of how radicalized U.S. users have become around political extremes. Details: Facebook says the takedowns may have impacted more right-leaning hyper-partisan Pages, but many left-leaning hyper-partisan pages were removed, too.

27 September
Can you tell a fake video from a real one?
Artificial intelligence is emerging as the next frontier in fake news — and it just might make you second-guess everything you see.
(ABC au) … we’re used to turning on the TV or looking on Facebook and seeing footage of someone saying something and not having to question it.
It’s this trust that has allowed the rise of mass media broadcasters — even if people on TV said things you didn’t agree with, you could at least be sure they were the people saying it.
Aviv Ovadya is a technologist who sounded an early warning about the rise of fake news, well before the phrase became a White House favourite. In early 2016, Ovadya sounded the alarm about how vulnerable our digital world was to misinformation and manipulation, outlining a scenario that at the time sounded pretty far-fetched — social media had created an explosive breeding ground for misinformation that would have real-world consequences. … But for Ovadya, who is chief technologist at the Centre for Social Media Responsibility, the crisis gripping social media organisations pales in comparison to the threat machine learning and deepfakes could pose. He sees this as a fundamental shift in how we are able to interpret the world, and one we’re ill-prepared to face.
One of the scenarios Ovadya is most worried about doesn’t even require the technology for creating deepfakes to be 100 per cent convincing all the time. Instead, he’s concerned that the technology’s very existence could create a situation where people feel they can’t trust what they see — and that might allow those in power to use deepfake technology as a cover for their wrongdoing.

29 August
Trump complained about his Google results. Good thing he didn’t try that search from Europe.
(WaPost) So, what if Trump had decided to Google himself from an incognito browser on Wednesday morning from, say, Italy?
He almost certainly would have come across a piece published by the newspaper La Stampa with the headline: “Donald Trump says that Google is rigged but maybe he does not know how it works,” in which the author says technology rather than political bias explains which content is featured by Google. Readers would also have come across a story about an artist prohibiting Trump from using one of his songs, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling lashing out against Trump and a summary of Trump’s recent attacks on the European Union. Then there’s the story of Trump failing to properly draw the American flag.

31 July
Americans are now spending 11 hours each day consuming media
(Quartz) Americans now spend most of their waking hours watching TV, listening to music, using apps on their smartphones, or otherwise consuming media, a new study finds.
US adults are spending more than 11 hours a day on average—or about two-thirds of their waking time—consuming media in some form, Nielsen showed in its first-quarter 2018 report on US media consumption today (July 31). It measured, based on its representative panels of TV, radio, and digital households and consumers, activities like watching TV and DVDs, listening to the radio, visiting apps on a smartphone or tablet, and using the internet and game consoles. (The study did not include print formats like books or magazines.)

10 July
Alexa makes decision-making easier than ever—by making your choices for you
Ultimately, we have always wanted more choices for what we do and what we buy. But the future of voice shopping means that we risk giving up a lot of those choices. As consumers—and as a society as a whole—we have a choice in how we approach this next evolution of shopping. Let’s make sure that we’re doing it thoughtfully, and not sacrificing our abilities to choose altogether.
(Quartz) For commoditized products that rely on low prices instead of true brand loyalty, the impact will be huge. After all, how many granola brands do you really know by heart? The winners will be brands that have carved out unique niches in the market or those whose products have become synonymous with the category itself (like Kleenex or Q-Tips).
This is bad news for consumers as well as businesses. The more we keep buying the same products over and over again, the more we’ll start to see their competitors go out of business. In the long term, incidental loyalty means that we could start to see monopolies or duopolies for everyday items that are served up at the top of voice searches. Those endless shelves of razors and toilet paper? Those will be gone.
We’ll also stop happening upon new discoveries that delight the senses.

25 June
Rapidly expanding fact-checking movement faces growing pains
(WaPost) Political fact-checkers from more than 50 countries gathered [in Rome] to take stock of a fast-growing journalistic movement that has gained clout and influence while attracting criticism and heightened skepticism in an increasingly partisan age.
Facebook has enlisted 24 fact-checking organizations in 14 countries to help weed out fake news on the social network, while policymakers and parliamentarians in Brazil, Italy and Spain, and at the European Union, have sought advice from fact-checkers on the challenge of misinformation. Google now highlights fact checks in its search results and Bing has developed a special fact-checking page that features recent fact checks.
“A dark cloud hangs over us,” said Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), the umbrella organization that organized the meeting, when he opened the three-day conference on June 20. “The disaffection and distrust that have plagued mainstream media outlets for many years is now spilling over to fact-checkers. In Turkey, the Philippines and especially Brazil it broke out in the form of concerted campaigns aimed to vilify fact-checking as an instrument.”

30 April
WhatsApp Co-Founder Leaving Facebook Amid User Data Disputes
(NYT) “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible,” Mr. Koum wrote in a blog post after he had sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $19 billion. “If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it.”
Now, instead of changing his values, Mr. Koum is leaving Facebook. … Mr. Koum had grown increasingly concerned about Facebook’s position on user data in recent years. Mr. Koum was perturbed by the amount of information that Facebook collected on people and had wanted stronger protections for that data, the person said.

13 April
How Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony lurched from easy ride to headache
Facebook founder was lost for words as representatives asked questions about user tracking
(The Guardian) As Mark Zuckerberg left Congress on Tuesday after testifying to the Senate, he may have felt relieved. The four-hour Q&A session had been largely dominated by mundane questions of fact about how Facebook works, requests for apologies and updates he had already given and was happy to repeat, and shameless begs for the social network’s cash pile to be used to expand broadband access in senators’ home states.
Less than 24 hours later, however, a very different pattern of questioning in front of 54 members of the House of Representatives suggested a much more worrying outcome for Facebook – that this could be the week its crisis moves from being about mistakes in the past to inherent problems in the present. Perhaps, the representatives implied, Facebook doesn’t just have a problem. What if it is the problem? …
Mistakes can be fixed, apologies given and investigations launched, leaving the company free to move on. But deliberate, calculated actions such as tracking users around the net to better advertise to them when they return to the social network, or collecting data on non-users to work out how other users know one another, are harder to dismiss.

11 April
Watching Congress Try to Friend Mark Zuckerberg
By Mattathias Schwartz
(The New Yorker) On Wednesday, the C.E.O. of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and throughout the hearing, many of the committee’s fifty-four members appeared starstruck. Instead of seeing Zuckerberg ask for forgiveness, we saw the opportunism of elected officials who wanted something from Zuckerberg.
On Tuesday, Senator John Kennedy, of Louisiana, summed things up pretty well. “There are going to be a whole bunch of bills introduced to regulate Facebook,” he told Zuckerberg. “It’s up to you whether they pass or not.”
Kennedy was articulating something that is an open secret in Washington: that members of Congress will have very little say in how the emerging law around privacy and technology will be written. It will be mostly up to Zuckerberg and his peers in the tech industry. Zuckerberg could, Kennedy said, “spend ten million dollars on lobbyists and fight us,” or he could try actually to do something about data breaches, foreign propaganda, and all the other problems that have taken root on his platform. The hearings themselves, with Zuckerberg going through the motions of submitting himself to public scrutiny, were little more than ceremony. As long as the tech industry is willing to throw its money around to get what it wants, few on the Hill will dare take it on.
What Was Missing from Mark Zuckerberg’s First Day of Congressional Testimony
By Adrian Chen
(The New Yorker) Facebook has undertaken a remarkable campaign to fix its image, and Zuckerberg’s appearances on Capitol Hill—on Tuesday before the Senate, on Wednesday before the House—are a part of that. The company’s former motto, “Move fast and break things,” Zuckerberg noted in the hearing, has now become “Move fast with stable infrastructure.” There seems to be a faith, expressed most strongly by the Democrats, that in partnership with the new-and-improved Zuckerberg these problems can be regulated away. Yet Facebook’s business model and leadership structure are still there. The company is still, as Tim Wu recently pointed out in the Times, a machine for “maximizing the harvest of data and human attention.” Coöperating in the fantasy that it has our best interests in mind heightens the danger it poses.

4 April
Facebook estimates 87 million affected in Cambridge Analytica scandal
(Axios) Facebook has increased the number of people it says may have been impacted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal from 50 million in earlier reports to 87 million and will begin telling people if their information may have been improperly shared.
Why it matters: Facebook today is announcing nine changes its (sic) taking to how it shares data in response to the data improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. Earlier today the company updated its terms of service for first time since 2015.

27 March
Whistle-blower alleges AggregateIQ involved in dirty-tricks campaigns worldwide
(Globe & Mail) Mr. Wylie highlighted AIQ’s alleged role in the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria, saying the company distributed violent content on social media to discredit Muhammadu Buhari, who was running against then-president Goodluck Jonathan. The videos included “content where people were being dismembered, where people were having their throats cut and bled to death in a ditch,” Mr. Wylie told the committee. Other videos showed people being burned alive and still more had “incredibly anti-Islamic and threatening messages, portraying Muslims as violent.” Despite the ads, Mr. Buhari won the election.
Mr. Wylie also alleged the company used hacked computer information in an election in St. Kitts and engaged in questionable data-harvesting practices in Trinidad. And he alleged that AIQ participated in a scheme to help the Vote Leave campaign in Britain exceed spending limits during the Brexit referendum in 2016.

23-24 March
‘A grand illusion’: seven days that shattered Facebook’s facade
(The Guardian) In the wake of the revelations that Cambridge Analytica misappropriated data collected by Dr Aleksandr Kogan under the guise of academic research, Facebook has scrambled to blame these rogue third parties for “platform abuse”. “The entire company is outraged we were deceived,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
However in highlighting the apparent deceit, the company has been forced to shine a light on its underlying business model and years of careless data sharing practices.
Commentary: Here’s one way to help Facebook protect data
(Reuters) Companies like Facebook are as vital to modern life as highways, airplanes and rail lines, writes Matt Laslo. For that reason, the U.S. federal government needs to designate them as critical national infrastructure and help them protect users’ data. “At the very least that could renew trust in these companies, but it would also be in their own self-interest because when they’re breached again – and it will happen again – then they can pass the blame up the chain to Washington, where it rightfully belongs.”

21 March
YouTube introduces stricter policies on gun videos
(The Hill) This week, the video-streaming platform said it will ban videos that promote websites selling guns and gun accessories including bump stocks — a controversial device that can be attached to semiautomatic rifles to significantly increase rate of fire. It will also ban videos that show how to assemble firearms.
“While we’ve long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories, specifically, items like ammunition, gatling triggers, and drop-in auto sears,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement.
Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica crisis
(The Hill) Zuckerberg said his company would take new steps to prevent other actors from using its platform in the way that Cambridge Analytica did, including investigating apps with similar access to user data, restricting developers’ data access and being more transparent with data collection.
Moving forward, the company said it will ban developers that do not comply with audits on what Facebook user data they have, strip developers of access to data they have on users who haven’t used their apps in three months and introduce an easily accessible tool to let users figure out what data apps are acquiring from them.

20 March
Does Cambridge Analytica have my data? I have no idea. That’s the problem.
by Anne Applebaum
(WaPost) Cambridge Analytica, like every other political consultancy in existence, does have access to a new kind of delivery system: the amazing marketing tool known as Facebook. Cambridge Analytica used it both legally (Facebook not only allows but encourages all marketers, whether pushing xenophobia or soap, to “target” their advertising at people whom they think might particularly appreciate it) and possibly illegally: The company surreptitiously gained access to the Facebook data of 50 million people through a fake research project and used it to fine-tune its delivery of fear and smears. Worse, Facebook knew about this purported violation of its platform policies in 2015, yet chose not to suspend the company from the network until the story was exposed this month.
… Until now, we’ve been focused on the ways in which Russian operatives manipulated the Internet. But they are hardly alone. Covert political advertising makes a mockery of election laws in every country that has them. As Turnbull put it so eloquently, the new practitioners of propaganda don’t want their old-fashioned smear campaigns to look like “propaganda,” because if it did, you might ask, “Who’s put that out?” But “Who’s put that out?” is exactly what voters have the right to know. If the Internet platforms won’t conform to that minimal standard on their own, it’s time to regulate them.

19 March
How to delete your Facebook account once and for all
This is the tough love you were looking for.
To permanently delete your account, go to this page. To deactivate your account, go here. Just be warned, Facebook uses a weird combination of psychology and desperation to try and prevent you from quitting.

17 March

The absolute must-read and cornerstone of almost all recent reporting is the very long and worthwhile Guardian piece: The Cambridge Analytica Files — ‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower . The Guardian’s Cambridge Analytica Files are the go-to source these days. CBC has a number of stories linked from Canadian whistleblower on why he exposed ‘problematic’ Facebook data misuse by Trump consulting firm

12 March
Expert warns of “terrifying” potential of digitally-altered video
(CBS News) It’s part of a wave of doctored audio and video now spreading online.
“The idea that someone could put another person’s face on an individual’s body, that would be like a homerun for anyone who wants to interfere in a political process,” said Virginia Senator Mark Warner. He believes manipulated video could be a game-changer in global politics. Warner is asking the major tech companies to work with Congress to rein in false news, and now also false video.
… And there is an Adobe program that can create new audio from written text.
“Right out of the gate, that’s terrifying,” Farid said. “I mean, that is just terrifying. Now I can create the president of the United States saying just about anything.”
Adobe calls this an “early-stage research project.” While the company acknowledges the potential for “objectionable use,” it believes “the positive impact of technology will always overshadow the negative.”
CBS News reached out to a number of tech companies for comment and heard back from Reddit and Facebook. Both companies are aware of this false video phenomenon and are looking for ways to regulate it.

8 March
Obama in Talks to Provide Shows for Netflix
(NYT) Mr. Obama has long expressed concerns about how the flow of information — and misinformation — has the power to shape public opinion. In the last several months, Mr. Obama has discussed with technology executives and wealthy investors the threats to American democracy from the manipulation of news.
He has seethed privately and publicly, about what he says is the manipulation of news by conservative outlets and the fractured delivery of information in the internet age.

19 February
How an Alt-Right Bot Network Took Down Al Franken
White nationalist provocateurs, a pair of fake news sites, an army of Twitter bots and other cyber tricks helped derail Democratic Senator Al Franken last year, new research shows
(Newsweek) While everyone has been focused on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to support Donald Trump, the Franken takedown originated in—and was propelled by—a strategic online campaign with digital tentacles reaching to, of all places, Japan. Analysts have now mapped out how Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden’s initial accusation against Franken became effective propaganda after right-wing black ops master Roger Stone first hinted at the allegation.

16 February
How IT Threatens Democracy
By Kofi A. Annan
(Project Syndicate) Social media could be just the start of a slippery slope leading to an Orwellian world controlled by Big Data Brother, accelerated by convergence with the sensors in our devices and rapid advances in artificial intelligence. Some authoritarian regimes are already marshaling these developments to exercise control on an unprecedented scale.
If even the most technologically advanced countries cannot protect the integrity of the electoral process, one can imagine the challenges facing countries with less know-how. In other words, the threat is global. In the absence of facts and data, the mere possibility of manipulation fuels conspiracy theories and undermines faith in democracy and elections at a time when public trust is already low.
The printing press, radio, and television were all revolutionary in their day. And all were gradually regulated, even in the most liberal democracies. We must now consider how to submit social media to the same rules of transparency, accountability, and taxation as conventional media. …
Technology does not stand still, and nor should democracy. We have to act fast, because digital advances could be just the start of a slippery slope leading to an Orwellian world controlled by Big Brother, where millions of sensors in our smartphones and other devices collect data and make us vulnerable to manipulation.

5 February
This simple solution to smartphone addiction is now used in over 600 U.S. schools
(WaPost) “What degree of privacy can we expect in a public sphere?”
The topic is complicated, but the answer he came up with was simple: Ditch the phones.
[Graham Dugoni ]founded a company, Yondr, whose small, gray pouches swallow phones and lock them away from the fingers and eyes of their addicted owners. Since it started in 2014, hundreds of thousands of the neoprene pouches have been used across North America, Europe and Australia. … At this point, more than three-quarters of adults in the United States possess a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. It has become “a path of least resistance,” Dugoni said, even as it erodes age-old group dynamics.

25 January
At Davos, George Soros tears into Facebook and Google
(Quartz) “Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy. The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called “the freedom of mind.” There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it. This may have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated. This danger does not loom only in the future; it already played an important role in the 2016 US presidential elections.
But there is an even more alarming prospect on the horizon. There could be an alliance between authoritarian states and these large, data-rich IT monopolies that would bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developed system of state-sponsored surveillance. This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined.” (The New Yorker) How George Soros Upstaged Donald Trump at Davos

2 January
Will 2018 Be the Year the Internet Kills Old Media?
Experts share their fears—and their hopes—for another year of reckoning with the digital apocalypse
Mike Allen, Axios co-founder: “Will social platforms truly reward — with real monetization — publishers who produce first-class, worthy content without trashy, clunky web pages, annoying pop-up ads and hidden trackers that slow load times?”
Clay Shirky, an Internet expert at New York University: “Most of what’s in a paper has more than adequate substitutes online, from display ads and sports pages to the horoscope and classifieds. The one irreplaceable function—actual journalism—has to be supported by the people who need it. 2018 will tell us if there are enough people who care enough to keep that journalism alive.”

2016

16 December
Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are manipulating our lives and threatening our democracy
(CBC Radio Ideas) The internet began with great hope that it would strengthen democracy. Initially, social media movements seemed to be disrupting corrupt institutions. But the web no longer feels free and open, and the disenfranchised are feeling increasingly pessimistic. Dr. Taylor Owen argues that the reality of the internet is now largely one of control, by four platform companies Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple — worth a combined $2.7 trillion — and their impact on democracy is deeply troubling.
“Far from the decentralized web imagined by its founders, the internet of today is mediated by four global platforms companies: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. These companies shape our digital lives, and increasingly what we know, how we know it, and ultimately who we are. They determine our public sphere, the character of our civic discourse, and the nature of our democratic society.”

Disney and 21st Century Fox are preparing for what will be the largest-ever show-business merger: Disney will acquire most of Fox’s assets and transform the media market in a way that could be dangerous for streaming companies, consumers, and even Disney itself.
Everybody Should Be Very Afraid of the Disney Death Star
The first episode of the Streaming Wars is over. The rebels won. Now the empire strikes back.
(The Atlantic) The yuletide haul includes some of the most famous properties in television and film. In the transfer of power, Disney would receive the 20th Century Fox film studio, including the independent film maestros at Fox Searchlight (Best Picture Oscar–winners include: Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave, and Birdman), the X-Men franchise, Fox’s television production company (worldwide hits include: The Simpsons, Modern Family, and Homeland), the FX and National Geographic cable channels, and regional sports networks, including the YES Network that broadcasts New York Yankees games. Disney also acquires a majority stake in the TV product Hulu, which it may use to kickstart its entry into the streaming wars


14 December
New York state AG to sue over net neutrality reversal
(Reuters) – New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and at least two other state law enforcement chiefs said on Thursday he would lead a multi-state legal challenge to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission vote to reverse landmark 2015 net neutrality rules.
The attorney generals of Washington state and Pennsylvania also said they planned to file suit.
The Internet Association, a trade group representing companies such as Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc and the American Civil Liberties Union both said they opposed the reversal and were weighing legal options after the 3-2 vote by the FCC.
The ACLU said it “and our allies will be fighting back in every possible arena to restore these crucial protections.”
US regulator scraps net neutrality rules that protect open internet
Decision a major victory for FCC chair and Trump appointee Ajit Pai
Critics warn plan will hand control of the web to big cable companies
Net neutrality’s advocates argue that an open internet has been essential to the creation of today’s web, and has allowed companies like Skype to compete with telecoms providers and Netflix to change the media landscape. They say the removal of the rules will affect consumers worldwide.
Cable companies have attempted to block or slow competing services in the past, and the rules were meant to prevent such cases arising in future. Removing the rules, critics argue, will stifle the online innovations that have been enjoyed by people worldwide and set a dangerous precedent for other countries looking to take firmer control of the internet or to hand oversight to corporations.
Evan Greer, campaign director for internet activists Fight for the Future, said: “Killing net neutrality in the US will impact internet users all over the world. So many of the best ideas will be lost, squashed by the largest corporations at the expense of the global internet-using public.”
Michael Cheah of Vimeo said: “ISPs probably won’t immediately begin blocking content outright, given the uproar that this would provoke. What’s more likely is a transition to a pay-for-play business model that will ultimately stifle startups and innovation, and lead to higher prices and less choice for consumers.”
The FCC just voted to repeal its net neutrality rules, in a sweeping act of deregulation
(WaPost) Federal regulators voted Thursday to allow Internet providers to speed up service for some apps and websites — and block or slow down others — in a decision repealing landmark, Obama-era regulations for broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon.
The move to deregulate the telecom and cable industry is a major setback for tech companies, consumer groups and Democrats who lobbied heavily against the decision. And it marks a significant victory for Republicans who vowed to roll back the efforts of the prior administration, despite a recent survey showing that 83 percent of Americans — including 3 out of 4 Republicans — opposed the plan.
Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission and its two other GOP members on Thursday followed through on a promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules, which sought to force Internet providers to treat all online services, large and small, equally. The agency also went a step further, rejecting much of its own authority over broadband in a bid to stymie future FCC officials who might seek to regulate providers. …
The result is a comprehensive redrawing of the FCC’s oversight powers in the digital age, at a time of rapid transformation in the media and technology sectors.
The move is also a prominent example of the policy shifts taking place in Washington under President Trump. With Republicans controlling the levers of government, federal policy has swung to the right, in some respects eclipsing what would have been considered middle-of-the-road conservative positions just a decade ago, said Jeffrey Blumenfeld, co-chair of the antitrust and trade regulation practice at the law firm Lowenstein Sandler.

13 December
Koch nonprofit president’s anti-net neutrality campaign
For the past three years, American Commitment, a small nonprofit with ties to the donor network spearheaded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has been actively opposing net neutrality with social media, commentaries, and a little-known coalition whose members include other Koch nonprofits and prominent conservative groups.
FCC vote won’t end net neutrality fight
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote this week to repeal net neutrality won’t end the fight over the regulation.
Opponents are already lining up to sue the agency, which voted 3-2 to scrap the rules on Thursday, while Democrats are pushing legislation that would prevent the repeal from going into effect.
The FCC said that the net neutrality repeal has to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget before it can go into effect — a process that could take months.

12 December
France is banning mobile phones in schools
(WEF) On Sunday, France’s education minister announced that mobile phones will be banned from primary, junior, and middle schools, calling it a matter of “public health.” While phones are already prohibited in classrooms in France, starting in September 2018 students won’t be allowed to use them on breaks, at lunch, or between lessons either.
“These days, the children don’t play at break time anymore,” Jean-Michel Blanquer said, according to the Local, an English-language publication. “They are just all in front of their smartphones and from an educational point of view, that’s a problem.” …
Research is on Bloomberg—and the French government’s—side. According to a 2015 working paper (pdf) published by the London School of Economics, schools that banned mobile phones saw test scores for their 16-year-olds improve by 6.4%, or the equivalent of adding five days to the school year. “We found that not only did student achievement improve, but also that low-achieving and low-income students gained the most,” economists Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy told the BBC.

5 November
Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire’s Twitter and Facebook Investments
Leaked files show that a state-controlled bank in Moscow helped to fuel Yuri Milner’s ascent in Silicon Valley, where the Russia investigation has put tech companies under scrutiny.
(NYT) Obscured by a maze of offshore shell companies, the Twitter investment was backed by VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank often used for politically strategic deals. And a big investor in Mr. Milner’s Facebook deal received financing from Gazprom Investholding, another government-controlled financial institution, according to the documents.

3 November
‘We’re designing minds’: Industry insider reveals secrets of addictive app trade
A look at the science behind the ‘technological arms race’ to keep people fixated on their phones
(CBC Marketplace) The average Canadian teenager is on track to spend nearly a decade of their life staring at a smartphone, and that’s no accident, according to an industry insider who shared some time-sucking secrets of the app design trade.
CBC Marketplace travelled to Dopamine Labs, a startup in Venice, Calif., that uses artificial intelligence and neuroscience to help companies hook people with their apps.
Named after the brain molecule that gives us pleasure, Dopamine Labs uses computer coding to influence behaviour — most importantly, to compel people to spend more time with an app and to keep coming back for more.
Co-founder Ramsay Brown, who studied neuroscience at the University of Southern California, says it’s all built into the design.

20 October
How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media
(NYT) For all the suspicions about social media companies’ motives and ethics, it is the interaction of the technology with our common, often subconscious psychological biases that makes so many of us vulnerable to misinformation, and this has largely escaped notice.
Skepticism of online “news” serves as a decent filter much of the time, but our innate biases allow it to be bypassed, researchers have found — especially when presented with the right kind of algorithmically selected “meme.”
Stopping to drill down and determine the true source of a foul-smelling story can be tricky, even for the motivated skeptic, and mentally it’s hard work. Ideological leanings and viewing choices are conscious, downstream factors that come into play only after automatic cognitive biases have already had their way, abetted by the algorithms and social nature of digital interactions.

3 October

Does Even Mark Zuckerberg Know What Facebook Is?
The same company that gives you birthday reminders also helped ensure the integrity of the German elections.
(New York Magazine) We can talk about its scale: Population-wise, it’s larger than any single country; in fact, it’s bigger than any continent besides Asia. At 2 billion members, “monthly active Facebook users” is the single largest non-biologically sorted group of people on the planet after “Christians” — and, growing consistently at around 17 percent year after year, it could surpass that group before the end of 2017 and encompass one-third of the world’s population by this time next year. Outside China, where Facebook has been banned since 2009, one in every five minutes on the internet is spent on Facebook; in countries with only recently high rates of internet connectivity, like Myanmar and Kenya, Facebook is, for all intents and purposes, the whole internet.
In a recent essay for the London Review of Books, John Lanchester argued that for all its rhetoric about connecting the world, the company is ultimately built to extract data from users to sell to advertisers. This may be true, but Facebook’s business model tells us only so much about how the network shapes the world. Over the past year I’ve heard Facebook compared to a dozen entities and felt like I’ve caught glimpses of it acting like a dozen more. I’ve heard government metaphors (a state, the E.U., the Catholic Church, Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets) and business ones (a railroad company, a mall); physical metaphors (a town square, an interstate highway, an electrical grid) and economic ones (a Special Economic Zone, Gosplan). For every direct comparison, there was an equally elaborate one: a faceless Elder God. A conquering alien fleet. There are real consequences to our inability to understand what Facebook is. Not even President-Pope-Viceroy Zuckerberg himself seemed prepared for the role Facebook has played in global politics this past year. In which case, how can we be assured that Facebook is really safeguarding democracy for us and that it’s not us who need to be safeguarding democracy against Facebook? (1 October)

Google and Facebook Failed Us
The world’s most powerful information gatekeepers neglected their duties in Las Vegas. Again.
(The Atlantic) In the crucial early hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, it happened again: Hoaxes, completely unverified rumors, failed witch hunts, and blatant falsehoods spread across the internet. But they did not do so by themselves: They used the infrastructure that Google and Facebook and YouTube have built to achieve wide distribution. These companies are the most powerful information gatekeepers that the world has ever known, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for their active role in damaging the quality of information reaching the public.
Alexis C. Madrigal details why algorithms aren’t up to handling breaking news.

29 September
Google Conducting Broad Investigation of Russian Influence
Google also talking with congressional officials who are investigating Russian interference in election
By Jack Nicas and Robert McMillan
(WSJ) Google is conducting a broad internal investigation to determine whether Russian-linked entities used its ads or services to try to manipulate voters ahead of the U.S. election, according to a person familiar with the matter, a move that comes after Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. said Russian actors used their sites.
Zuckerberg’s Preposterous Defense of Facebook
(NYT op-ed) A more astute observer of American politics than Mr. Zuckerberg might consider that Mr. Trump’s comments are part of an effort to depict Facebook as anti-conservative, lest outrage about the company’s role in the 2016 election prompt the site to adopt policies that would make a repeat of 2016 more difficult.
For those of us who are tolerant of a wide range of ideas and arguments, but would still like deception and misinformation to not have such an easy foothold in society, Mr. Zuckerberg’s comments do not inspire hope. Indeed, people across the political spectrum should be able to agree that not making it so easy, and so lucrative, for fake news to spread widely is better for all of us, since fake news isn’t necessarily a right-wing phenomenon.

7 August
How to Mentor From Miles Away
Dispensing with the usual meetups over coffee, two biomedical engineers created a platform to more easily connect young people with professional guidance.
(The Atlantic) In 2011, Keshia Ashe and Tiffany St. Bernard, who both work in the biomedical-engineering field, co-founded ManyMentors, an “e-mentoring” nonprofit that connects tech professionals with young people interested in the field. Potential mentees cover a broad spectrum of ages, from middle-schoolers to college students. The organization, which has over 400 mentors and mentees, started in Connecticut and has branched out to New Hampshire and upstate New York.
Ashe compares the program to a social network: Students use an app to pick a track, such as academic success or college prep, and that shapes how they’ll be mentored. For The Atlantic’s mentorship series, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with Ashe about how her organization nurtures online-only relationships and how she thinks about networking. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

4 August
BlackBerry’s reign in Ottawa draws to a close
(Globe & Mail) If you’re a government employee in the National Capital Region and you’re reading this newsletter on a smartphone, there’s a good chance that the smartphone you’re scrolling through is a BlackBerry. The Canadian technology company has long been the go-to provider of secure mobile devices to federal bureaucrats but its grip on the market is about to change. The Globe has learned that Shared Services Canada, the department in charge of overseeing IT for the federal government, is set to offer alternatives to bureaucrats over the next 18 months as part of “a new approach to mobile service to better serve its clients, use new technology and adapt to changes in the marketplace.” Samsung and its line of Android-powered smartphones was the first to be approved by Shared Services, but only after two years and several tests showed that Samsung’s phones passed military-grade requirements. For the Korean tech giant, Canada will become the 30th government to use the Samsung Knox security software. If you want to keep your BlackBerry, however, you should be able to —  Shared Services said the smartphones will be available until the department’s inventory of devices is emptied.

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