Mitch Joel WARNING... LONG RANT! It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it. Canada’s…
Social media, society and technology 2016 – 2017
17 Things You Were Doing on the Computer in 2001
(and aren’t doing any more)
The meaning of life in a world without work
As technology renders jobs obsolete, what will keep us busy? Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari examines ‘the useless class’ and a new quest for purpose
(The Guardian) The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms. Consequently, by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.
The same technology that renders humans useless might also make it feasible to feed and support the unemployable masses through some scheme of universal basic income. The real problem will then be to keep the masses occupied and content. People must engage in purposeful activities, or they go crazy. So what will the useless class do all day?
One answer might be computer games. Economically redundant people might spend increasing amounts of time within 3D virtual reality worlds, which would provide them with far more excitement and emotional engagement than the “real world” outside. This, in fact, is a very old solution. For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions”.
As religions show us, the virtual reality need not be encased inside an isolated box. Rather, it can be superimposed on the physical reality. In the past this was done with the human imagination and with sacred books, and in the 21st century it can be done with smartphones. (8 May 2017)
Jack Ma: Robots will improve the lives of human workers in these 2 ways
(CNBC) … he is concerned about the number of jobs automation will take from humans. He predicts that the next 30 years will be “painful” for many. But, he adds, for those who can adapt to the demands of the changing labor market by learning new skills, life won’t be that bad.
1) Less time spent working
“Believe it or not, I think in the next 30 years, people will only work four hours a day,” Ma tells CNBC’s David Faber, “and maybe four days a week.”
2) More time for travel
Because automation will reduce the number of hours humans have to work, people will be able to travel more.
See also: What Mark Cuban, Bill Gates and others say you should study if you want a high-paying, robot-resistant job in the future
Just having your phone within reach makes you dumber
(Quartz) If the project you’re working on needs and deserves your full attention, put your phone away. No, really. Not just face down. Not just in a bag or a pocket. Get up, set the phone down in a different room—on silent, or maybe even just turn the thing off—and return to your desk, secure in the knowledge that your limited cognitive capacity just grew a little bit.
It’s well established that multitasking while using a smartphone drains energy and decreases performance (pdf). But new research shows that you don’t even have to interact with the phone for it to steal from your attention and cognitive abilities.
A New Kind of Tech Job Emphasizes Skills, Not a College Degree
(NYT) The skills-based concept is gaining momentum, with nonprofit organizations, schools, state governments and companies, typically in partnerships, beginning to roll out such efforts. On Wednesday, the approach received a strong corporate endorsement from Microsoft, which announced a grant of more than $25 million to help Skillful, a program to foster skills-oriented hiring, training and education. The initiative, led by the Markle Foundation, began last year in Colorado, and Microsoft’s grant will be used to expand it there and move it into other states.
Global ransomware attack causes chaos
(BBC) Companies across the globe are reporting that they have been struck by a major ransomware cyber-attack.
Ukrainian firms, including the state power company and Kiev’s main airport were among the first to report issues.
Jonathan Kay on the tyranny of Twitter: How mob censure is changing the intellectual landscape
Without intending to, Twitter’s culture warriors have created a sort of crowdsourced ideological autocracy ― and paradoxically, it’s left-wingers who are often targets
(National Post) The Writers Union of Canada and the University of British Columbia Fine Arts faculty do not operate gulags. Nevertheless, the idea that a whole career can fall victim to a single social-media message sent in a moment of anger or frustration — or even a bad joke — has produced an atmosphere of real terror that is compromising the art and intellect of Canada’s most creative minds. One can detect this effect in the soul-dead language and boilerplate phrases that writers instinctively adopt when they join the mob against others, or beg the mob for mercy by confessing their thoughtcrimes. We live in an age of irony; yet when the mob comes knocking, playfulness falls away from language, and all communication is reduced to the slogans of ideological tribalism.
What’s worse, our audience is suffering — because instead of producing content of interest to readers, listeners and viewers, the profession’s finest minds are primarily focused on avoiding mob censure. That is why there is such a sameness to the themes and causes celebrated in many of the special projects and personal essays that now appear in the media. On Twitter, the most doctrinaire takes on fashionable themes are greeted with praise, which pleases writer and editor alike. But web-site page-view data suggest that, among rank-and-file audience members who don’t live in Stupid Twitter-Land, the market for such fare is glutted.
A Trump Dividend for Canada? Maybe in Its A.I. Industry
(NYT) Trends in actual immigration will take time to show up conclusively, but the early evidence of a Trump effect is most apparent in a field like artificial intelligence, where Canada has been at the forefront of innovation and is seeking to build a large A.I. industry.
Not only are Canadian A.I. start-ups like Botler AI now building on interest in immigration and on homegrown talent, but major American technology companies, including Google, Microsoft and IBM, have also been adding to their A.I. research teams in Canada.
Your password is terrible and everyone wants to fix that
(Bloomberg) Headlines about mass data breaches have become ominously routine, and yet password convenience still trumps security for most people. That’s why, year after year, the world’s most popular log-on remains “123456,” a password so obvious it accounted for 17 per cent of the 10 million compromised passwords analyzed by Keeper Security, which sells a log-in management service.
The answer, of course, is to get rid of passwords altogether. Biometric technology — especially fingerprint scanners — have been steadily replacing the need to type in a password, which can easily be guessed by hackers wielding smart algorithms. Now, with the world increasingly embracing voice-activated devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, companies are starting to create technology that recognizes a person’s speech patterns. Facial recognition is starting to catch on as well.
Algorithms are failing Facebook. Can humanity save it?
Facebook doesn’t just enable communication, but sets the boundaries and rules around it. And its influence—whether on culture, on elections, or on anything else beyond its own digital borders—means that those decisions impact us all, whether or not we use it. And its influence—whether on culture, on elections, or on anything else beyond its own digital borders—means that those decisions impact us all, whether or not we use Facebook.
(Quartz) According to a Wall Street Journal tally, more than 50 acts of violence, including murders, suicides, and sexual assault, have been broadcast over Facebook Live since the feature launched 13 months ago. Until recently, it seemed the company’s only response to humanity’s inhumanity was the promise of better technology.
Early in the company’s history, Zuckerberg referred to Facebook as a “utility,” a piece of “information infrastructure.” In a letter to potential shareholders in 2012, he compared the social network to the printing press and the television.
But television manufacturers and printing press makers have no reason to understand the difference between a historical photo and a piece of pornography, to consider how to classify photos of breastfeeding mothers, or to debate whether an exception should be made for Donald Trump’s hate speech. They merely make the tools for distributing content.
Ion Valaskakis: The 4 new Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
Automation, Algorithms, Auto-Manufacturing and Amazon
This is the hard truth: these 4 Horsemen may not bring the Apocalypse (and completely replace your job), but they will make sure the world needs far fewer of you and change the nature of what you do. You can be sure that anything in your job description that can be reduced to rules (boilerplate legal advice), pattern recognition (a doctor’s diagnosis) or data-driven decision making (your manager) will be.
Overall, they will soon kill all “average” tasks. Anything that you currently do that can be outsourced to software today (and robots and drones tomorrow) will be.
Pierre Nantel: La culture québécoise est en jeu, et pendant ce temps Joly hésite
(Le Devoir) l’accès à la culture québécoise se rétrécit lorsqu’on se fie à des plateformes Web déréglementées. Les trentenaires d’aujourd’hui ont grandi en écoutant Passe-Partout, mais les enfants d’aujourd’hui ne trouveront sur Netflix ni Passe-Partout, ni le défunt Salmigondis, ni la prochaine série éducative conçue au Québec. Une génération qui ne se reconnaît plus dans la production de télé et de cinéma québécois, c’est une érosion annoncée de nos valeurs.
Car les diffuseurs en ligne, contrairement à TVA, Énergie ou MusiquePlus, n’ont aucune obligation de mettre en valeur le contenu d’ici. Demandez à Mélanie Joly si elle osera proposer de telles obligations, comme l’a déjà imaginé l’Union européenne
The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI
(MIT Technology Review) No one really knows how the most advanced algorithms do what they do. That could be a problem.
As the technology advances, we might soon cross some threshold beyond which using AI requires a leap of faith. Sure, we humans can’t always truly explain our thought processes either—but we find ways to intuitively trust and gauge people. Will that also be possible with machines that think and make decisions differently from the way a human would? We’ve never before built machines that operate in ways their creators don’t understand. How well can we expect to communicate—and get along with—intelligent machines that could be unpredictable and inscrutable? These questions took me on a journey to the bleeding edge of research on AI algorithms, from Google to Apple and many places in between, including a meeting with one of the great philosophers of our time.
What is “brain hacking”? Tech insiders on why you should care
Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked, says a former Google product manager.
(Sixty Minutes) Have you ever wondered if all those people you see staring intently at their smartphones — nearly everywhere, and at all times — are addicted to them? According to a former Google product manager you are about to hear from, Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked. He is one of the few tech insiders to publicly acknowledge that the companies responsible for programming your phones are working hard to get you and your family to feel the need to check in constantly. Some programmers call it “brain hacking” and the tech world would probably prefer you didn’t hear about it. But Tristan Harris openly questions the long-term consequences of it all and we think it’s worth putting down your phone to listen.
Designing for Seniors, Respect Required
(Website Magazine) They’re the most rapidly growing demographic on the Internet, now with over 60 percent of American seniors online and still growing, according to Pew Research. In the next decade as Baby Boomers continue to shift toward the senior spectrum, we will continue to see expanded growth in this demographic. Given the upcoming generation of seniors is expected to be the wealthiest yet, it would be imprudent not to cater to this demographic.
In designing for seniors it is important to recognize that they can face physical challenges in using technology and may have difficulties learning new technologies. Key areas where design considerations can be made are for vision and hearing, motor control, cognitive processing, and recognizing seniors may have a lack of experience with technology.
The good news is websites that are better designed to accommodate seniors are generally better for everyone. Let’s take a look at a few sites that are getting it right. (March 2017)
Set up a VPN in 10 minutes for free—and yes, Americans urgently need one, thanks to Congress
(Quartz) Soon every mistake you’ve ever made online will not only be available to your internet service provider (ISP) — it will be available to any corporation or foreign government who wants to see those mistakes.
Thanks to last week’s US Senate decision and yesterday’s House decision, ISPs can sell your entire web browsing history to literally anyone without your permission. The only rules that prevented this are all being repealed, and won’t be reinstated any time soon (it would take an act of Congress).
You might be wondering: Who benefits from repealing these rules? Other than those four monopoly ISPs that control America’s “last mile” of internet cables and cell towers?
No one. No one else benefits in any way. Our privacy (and our nation’s security) have been diminished so a few mega-corporations can make a little extra cash.
Now We Know Why Microsoft Bought LinkedIn
Satya Nadella is on a crusade to change Microsoft’s reputation, and hiring Reid Hoffman is his money move.
(Back Channel) It’s impossible to overestimate the significance of this move for Microsoft. CEO Satya Nadella is three years into a turnaround that few people believed possible.
Nadella must do more than fix the company’s business. He must turn around Microsoft’s lethargic, boastful, go-it-alone reputation — … Microsoft must establish itself as a smart place to do great work. In other words, in Silicon Valley it’s gotta be cool.
There are few people in Silicon Valley as connected to its heart as Hoffman. In fact, Hoffman may be the Valley’s heart—a rhythmic muscle responsible for the optimal circulation that keeps it in good health. With a phone call or an email, Hoffman can get just about anyone in tech within minutes.
(Quartz) Snap is on a streak. Shares of Snapchat’s parent company climbed 11% on Friday after soaring 44% the day before in their market debut. Already, the public offering has made a lot of people very rich: Snap’s cofounders, its longtime employees and venture capitalists, and—in a double win for teens—a private high school in Mountain View.
Now that one proverbial unicorn has departed Silicon Valley’s enchanted wood, the question is whether more will follow. With nearly 200 startups valued at $1 billion or more, a lot of investor money is riding on it. In San Francisco, guessing which company will go first—Uber or Airbnb? Palantir or Pinterest?—has become a trendy parlor game.
For IPO hopefuls, Snap’s reception should be promising. The markets have not only shrugged off Snap’s many question marks—its dubious billing as a “camera company,” 2016 net loss of $514 million, and tyrannical capital structure—but also wasted no time in pushing its market cap past that of HP and Discover.
And yet private tech darlings still have a good reason to stay private: a growing hoard of cash to keep them going. Private equity funds had stockpiled $754 billion of uninvested money as of June 2016, and venture capital funds had $121 billion. Those investors have grown more selective in deploying capital, but only where the risk is highest. That’s left young startups starved for financing while richer, late-stage companies like Uber and Airbnb gorge themselves on cash.
This means that rather than funding bold bets, investors are increasingly stashing their money in the biggest and most established ones—arguably stifling innovation instead of fostering it, as well as reducing those big startups’ incentive to go public. That means fewer opportunities for those outside the rarefied air of Silicon Valley to share in the fortune, as Snap’s investors have.
Artificial intelligence could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. We’re completely unprepared for the societal changes that are coming.
Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?
We are in the middle of a technological upheaval that will transform the way society is organized. We must make the right decisions now
(Scientific American) The digital revolution is in full swing. How will it change our world? The amount of data we produce doubles every year. In other words: in 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind through 2015. Every minute we produce hundreds of thousands of Google searches and Facebook posts. These contain information that reveals how we think and feel. Soon, the things around us, possibly even our clothing, also will be connected with the Internet. It is estimated that in 10 years’ time there will be 150 billion networked measuring sensors, 20 times more than people on Earth. Then, the amount of data will double every 12 hours. Many companies are already trying to turn this Big Data into Big Money.
The field of artificial intelligence is, indeed, making breathtaking advances. In particular, it is contributing to the automation of data analysis. Artificial intelligence is no longer programmed line by line, but is now capable of learning, thereby continuously developing itself. … in the coming 10 to 20 years around half of today’s jobs will be threatened by algorithms. 40% of today’s top 500 companies will have vanished in a decade. …
Everything started quite harmlessly. Search engines and recommendation platforms began to offer us personalised suggestions for products and services. This information is based on personal and meta-data that has been gathered from previous searches, purchases and mobility behaviour, as well as social interactions. While officially, the identity of the user is protected, it can, in practice, be inferred quite easily. Today, algorithms know pretty well what we do, what we think and how we feel—possibly even better than our friends and family or even ourselves. Often the recommendations we are offered fit so well that the resulting decisions feel as if they were our own, even though they are actually not our decisions. In fact, we are being remotely controlled ever more successfully in this manner. The more is known about us, the less likely our choices are to be free and not predetermined by others.
Facebook’s new mission: Mend the world. CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s public letter, “Building Global Community,” in a remarkable break with the past, appears to recognize the harm—echo chambers, hate-mongering, and so on—that has been done through Facebook. Buzzfeed’s Alex Kantrowitz and Mat Honan interview him and find “one intense human being” determined to use his awesome power for good instead.
BuzzFeed: We Talked To Mark Zuckerberg About Globalism, Protecting Users, And Fixing News
The Zuck Doctrine: The Facebook founder has announced a plan to more actively use his platform’s power to intervene in people’s lives in real ways. BuzzFeed News talked to him about the role his company plays in a changing world.
Jeremy Kinsman: The Trump Tsunami
(Policy Magazine) The erosion of the primacy of fact-based evidence in debating public choices in our democracies is probably the biggest issue to come out of this election tsunami.
Celine Cooper: Fake news in the ‘post-truth’ era
One of the late-breaking stories of 2016 was a Buzzfeed News Analysis that found that during the final three months of the U.S. presidential election campaign, fake election news on Facebook outperformed real news. In other words, false stories got more engagement — clicks, likes, shares, comments — than real stories from such major news outlets as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post and NBC News. Increasingly, the lines between true and false are barely perceptible — Our inability to tell them apart could have similarly grotesque consequences. …
The Internet may be the crucible of the post-truth era, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Originally heralded as a vehicle to democratize information so that it was no longer the exclusive domain of the elite, the experts and authorities, it was supposed to bring people closer together. In many cases, it has done so. But it has also created cyber tribes — groups that communicate and share information with each other, and often distrust other groups — that exist in separate echo chambers. Facebook’s algorithms facilitate this by prioritizing content in line with what (and who) you have clicked, liked and shared in the past.
(The Atlantic) Fake News: One tactic of which the Kremlin stands accused is promoting the spread of misinformation with the help of social-media trolls. Facebook is now taking steps to prevent that spread, with a tool that will flag certain links as “Disputed by 3rd Party Fact-Checkers.” The new feature will likely help to contain false stories spread by unwitting users—yet for those most suspicious of media, it might only confirm their belief that mainstream institutions are conspiring against them. Elsewhere in the social-media world, Trump’s Twitter feed has become a powerful platform—and not only for the president-elect himself. Each time he tweets, bots and fact-checkers alike compete to be the first to reply—because true or false, the information spread in that space will have an extraordinary reach and influence
This might almost be funny – if it were not such a sad reflection on the president-elect’s character.
The 289 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List
Google, democracy and the truth about internet search
Tech-savvy rightwingers have been able to ‘game’ the algorithms of internet giants and create a new reality where Hitler is a good guy, Jews are evil and… Donald Trump becomes president
(The Guardian) “Journalism is failing in the face of such change and is only going to fail further. New platforms have put a bomb under the financial model – advertising – resources are shrinking, traffic is increasingly dependent on them, and publishers have no access, no insight at all, into what these platforms are doing in their headquarters, their labs. And now they are moving beyond the digital world into the physical. The next frontiers are healthcare, transportation, energy. And just as Google is a near-monopoly for search, its ambition to own and control the physical infrastructure of our lives is what’s coming next. It already owns our data and with it our identity. What will it mean when it moves into all the other areas of our lives?”
Silicon Valley Has an Empathy Vacuum
By Om Malik
(The New Yorker) Otto, a Bay Area startup that was recently acquired by Uber, wants to automate trucking—and recently wrapped up a hundred-and-twenty-mile driverless delivery of fifty thousand cans of beer between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. From a technological standpoint it was a jaw-dropping achievement, accompanied by predictions of improved highway safety. From the point of view of a truck driver with a mortgage and a kid in college, it was a devastating “oh, shit” moment. That one technical breakthrough puts nearly two million long-haul trucking jobs at risk. Truck driving is one of the few decent-paying jobs that doesn’t require a college diploma. Eliminating the need for truck drivers doesn’t just affect those millions of drivers; it has a ripple effect on ancillary services like gas stations, motels, and retail outlets; an entire economic ecosystem could break down. …
It is time for our industry to pause and take a moment to think: as technology finds its way into our daily existence in new and previously unimagined ways, we need to learn about those who are threatened by it. Empathy is not a buzzword but something to be practiced. Let’s start by not raging on our Facebook feeds but, instead, taking a trip to parts of America where five-dollar lattes and freshly pressed juices are not perks but a reminder of haves and have-nots. Otherwise, come 2020, Silicon Valley will have become an even bigger villain in the popular imagination, much like its East Coast counterpart, Wall Street.
Donald Trump, editor-in-chief of the fake news movement
Trump has in the past defended his false statements by saying, “All I know is what’s on the internet.” Now he is positioning himself as editor-in-chief of the fake news movement, soon to be bolstered [by] the imprimatur of the US presidency.
(Quartz) “Report: Three Million Votes in Presidential Election Cast by Illegal Aliens; Trump may have won popular vote.” That piece has been shared on Facebook more than 50,000 times.
Despite debunkings by outlets like Snopes and PolitiFact, the story continued to spread among Trump supporters online, with headlines like “BREAKING: Massive Voter Fraud Uncovered – Trump May Have Won Popular Vote By LANDSLIDE” and “Illegal Immigrants Cast a Ridiculous Number of Votes.” Most cited the InfoWars article.
Then, on Nov. 27, the voter-fraud claim was tweeted by Trump himself. He didn’t cite a source, so it’s impossible to know how this bit of misinformation made its way to the president-elect, but his language was similar to a Nov. 24. blog post by the hard-right Gateway Pundit
Fake News and the Internet Shell Game
(NYT) As the late-19th-century mathematician W. K. Clifford noted in his famous essay, “The Ethics of Belief,” ambivalence about objective evidence is an attitude corrosive of democracy. Clifford ends the essay by imagining someone who has “no time for the long course of study” that would make him competent to judge many questions. Clifford’s response is withering: “Then he should have no time to believe.”
And we might add, tweet.
(Quartz weekend edition) Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” its word of the year this week, and suddenly everyone is talking about the problem of “fake news.” Well, OK, not “suddenly”; the US did just elect a president whose whole strategy was based on it. (And still is; his campaign manager this week denied Donald Trump ever called for a registry of Muslims, though he did so explicitly, on camera.)
But the fake news problem does now look even worse than we thought. Not only were Macedonian teenagers making a fast buck by publishing fake pro-Trump news (oh, and so was a guy in Arizona, who claims he hates Trump, but the money was good); a BuzzFeed analysis found that fake news got more engagement on Facebook than the top real news stories.
Now Facebook is under fire for exacerbating the fake-news problem; CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in denial; and Germany is worried that Russian-led fake news and hacking could disrupt its own election next year. (“Welcome to the club, guys,” say countries (paywall) with weaker media institutions, where truth fell victim to Facebook’s algorithm years ago.)
The good (real) news: Facebook and Google are going to starve the most egregious fake-news peddlers of ad dollars. Journalists are banding together against the threat. Some Facebook staff are rebelling against Zuckerberg. Some college kids even hacked together a solution over a weekend. (Yay!)
But even if Facebook shuts down the Macedonian teens, it won’t cut out extremist behemoths like Breitbart, or even more moderate partisan sites on either side. And that’s the real problem. Liberals and conservatives in the US—and in many countries—already live in two entirely different news realities. As Orwell observed long ago, totalitarianism destroys the “common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal.” We’ve done that job for it.— Gideon Lichfield
An Extremely Helpful List of Fake and Misleading News Sites to Watch Out For
(New York Magazine) As Facebook and now Google face scrutiny for promoting fake news stories, Melissa Zimdars, a communication and media professor from Merrimack College in Massachusetts, has compiled a handy list of websites you should think twice about trusting. …
Be warned: Zimdars’s list is expansive in scope, and stretches beyond the bootleg sites (many of them headquartered in Macedonia) that write fake news for the sole reason of selling advertisements. Right-wing sources and conspiracy theorists like Breitbart and Infowars appear alongside pure (but often misinterpreted) satire like the Onion and The New Yorker’s Borowitz Report.
Facebook’s Fight Against Fake News Was Undercut by Fear of Conservative Backlash
Gizmodo has learned that the company is, in fact, concerned about the issue, and has been having a high-level internal debate since May about how the network approaches its role as the largest news distributor in the US. The debate includes questions over whether the social network has a duty to prevent misinformation from spreading to the 44 percent of Americans who get their news from the social network. …
A New York Times report published Saturday cited conversations with current Facebook employees and stated that “The Trending Topics episode paralyzed Facebook’s willingness to make any serious changes to its products that might compromise the perception of its objectivity.” Our sources echoed the same sentiment, with one saying Facebook had an “internal culture of fear” following the Trending Topics episode.
The sources are referring to a controversy that started in May, when Gizmodo published a story in which former Facebook workers revealed that the trending news team was run by human “curators” and guided by their editorial judgments, rather than populated by an algorithm, as the company had earlier claimed.
Google Has Been Serving You Fake News, But Promises To Do Better
(HuffPost) Google’s search engine highlighted an inaccurate story claiming that President-elect Donald Trump won the popular vote in last week’s election, the latest example of bogus information spread by the Internet’s gatekeepers.
The incorrect results were shown Monday in a two-day-old story posted on the pro-Trump “70 News” site. A link to the site appeared at or near the top of Google’s influential rankings of relevant news stories for searches on the final election results.
Google acknowledged the problem, although as of mid-afternoon Monday, the link to “70 News” remained prominent in its results.
Although Google rarely removes content from its search results, the company is taking steps to punish sites that manufacture falsehoods. In a move disclosed Monday, Google says it will prevent its lucrative digital ads from appearing on [such] sites. … The action could give sites a bigger incentive to get things right or risk losing a valuable source of revenue.
Google to Bar Fake-News Websites From Using Its Ad-Selling Software
False news stories became an issue during the recent presidential election
(WSJ) Google said Monday that it is updating its policies to ban Google ads being placed “on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose” of the website. The policy would include sites that distribute false news, a Google spokeswoman said.
The “Facebook impact” on elections is real, and significant—just look at Hong Kong’s last vote
By Vivienne Chow & Heather Timmons
(Quartz) Like citizens in elsewhere in the world, some of Hong Kong’s 7.8 million residents have grown increasingly distrustful of their local television broadcast channel, and its politically allied newspapers. So Facebook became the medium of choice for information when these voters were deciding who to support. Many candidates and political analysts published live broadcasts and creative short films, held realtime Q&As, and sent clips of debates on TV and radio, directly to Facebook’s 5 million active users in Hong Kong (link in Chinese).
The plague of fake news is getting worse — here’s how to protect yourself
(CNN Money) The rise of social media has had many upsides, but one downside has been the spread of misinformation. Fake news has become a plague on the Web, especially on social networks like Facebook. As I said on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN, unreliable sources about this election have become too numerous to count.
So that’s what I recommended a “triple check before you share” rule.
New web sites designed to trick and mislead people seem to pop up every single day. For their creators, the incentives are clear: more social shares mean more page views mean more ad dollars.
But the B.S. stories hurt the people who read and share them over and over again. Many of these fakes reinforce the views of conservative or liberal voters and insulate them from the truth. The stories prey on people who want to believe the worst about the opposition.
A recent BuzzFeed study of “hyperpartisan Facebook pages” found that these pages “are consistently feeding their millions of followers false or misleading information.”
The less truthful the content, the more frequently it was shared — which does not bode well for the nation’s news literacy during a long, bitter election season.
These sites aren’t going away, so it’s up to Internet users to spot fake news and avoid spreading it.
Fact-checking sites like Snopes can help — they are devoted to ferreting out hoaxes and tricks.
Twitter is a cultural success and a business failure
(Quartz) In its 10 years of existence, the site has evolved from a curiosity to an indispensable part of the global communications landscape. If there were any doubts about its centrality to the pubic discourse, they’ve been dispelled by the current US presidential campaign. Donald Trump’s late-night binges on Twitter have driven the news cycle, political partisans are waging war across the platform, and emails released by Wikileaks show just how much care rival Hillary Clinton’s team puts into crafting her tweets.
And yet, despite all its success, Twitter is looking more and more like a business failure. The company hasn’t had a profitable quarter in the three years since it went public, it was unable to find a buyer recently during a very public attempt to sell itself, and, according to Bloomberg, it’s now planning on laying off 8% of its employees, about 300 workers. More ominously, user growth is stalling. Twitter’s base of 313 million monthly active users has been little changed for about a year while social media peers like Facebook and Snapchat continue to grow.
James Parker on the world of Pokémon Go:
(The Atlantic Magazine) They call this “augmented reality,” and we’re going to be seeing a lot more of it. The harmlessly bobbing Pokémon, trailing their clouds of gamer nostalgia, are harbingers no doubt of far heavier perceptual tamperings and disruptions. (Zombies. Porn. Snickering mind-gaps to haunt your handheld.) “We came with an idea about seeing the world with new eyes,” says John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic, the creator of Pokémon Go. “The basic notion was there’s a lot of cool history and lore and unknown secrets in your own neighborhood that you don’t know about.” PokéPeople have told me of their enriched attachment to their surroundings, their eyes opened by the game to local curiosities. But later that night, further on in my Poké-odyssey, wandering between PokéStops on an especially dowdy stretch of Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue and peering into the sterile phone-world I was holding in my hand, I suffered acutely from the opposite sensation: that once you’ve bought into the game, once you’re out there on the Pokésavannah, looking for boosted reality, a street devoid of Pokémon is lifeless, and basically pointless. (November Issue)
AT&T Agrees to Buy Time Warner for $85.4 Billion
(NYT) the rise of online outlets like Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube and the shift of younger customers from traditional media have pressured media companies to seek out consolidation partners. These media companies are anticipating drops in fees from cable service providers and declining revenue from advertisers. Getting bigger would give them more negotiating leverage with both service providers and with advertisers.
(The Atlantic) What Broke the Internet? Web users in much of the eastern U.S. this morning found their connections slowing to a crawl as a DDoS attack caused outages and other technical problems on more than a dozen major sites, including Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Netflix, PayPal, Verizon, Comcast, and The New York Times. A second attack followed later in the day and appeared to shut sites down in France, Japan, the U.K. A DDoS attack floods a website with junk traffic so it can’t process visits from ordinary people. This time, the attackers targeted a DNS (domain-name service) provider, a company that manages the infrastructure connecting websites’ addresses to their servers. That’s why so many different sites went down at once—in a successful large-scale attack unlike any other seen before
A Tangled Web: It’s not clear who was behind the attacks, whether it was individual hackers or even a foreign government. But whoever it was stands to do serious damage: Internet outages cost companies tens of thousands of dollars for every hour their sites are shut down. In a year that’s already seen apparent attempts to tamper with the U.S. presidential election through cyberattacks, voter registration and early voting could also be affected. Meanwhile, the new season of Netflix’s series Black Mirror provides an often-disturbing look at how technology permeates and shapes the human world. It’s food for thought for today—if you can get online to watch it.
(Quartz) The map of the internet. Much like highways and tunnels, the internet is a vast global infrastructure made up of wires, cables, and machines. But what does it look like? And how does it work? In this 11-part series our reporters explore how the explosion in online video has quietly rewired the internet, how humble latex laid the foundations for the global web, how authoritarian countries apply censorship using “choke points,” and more besides. (8 October 2016)
Teachers debate the merits of smartphones in classrooms
According to headmaster Brayden Plummer, the key to successfully dealing with this issue is schools being consistent enforcing their policies. He believes not having a phone in his small school has fostered a mindful presence in class.
“Technology is a huge influence on children’s lives no matter where they’re from, but there’s a life outside of that… be present with the people that are right beside you,” says Plummer.
“I think that’s something that is becoming lost.”
To take control of your email inbox, think about it like your IRL mailbox
(Quartz) … numerous experiments have shown that humans tend to adhere to the rule of reciprocity in social interactions. At its most basic level, this means that we want to respond to a positive action with another positive action. If someone does a favor for us, we want to return the favor, even if—and this is the crucial distinction—that favor wasn’t something we necessarily wanted. … This is where advances in technology clash with the rule of reciprocity. We still feel a strong desire to reciprocate when someone sends us a message, yet we rarely have the bandwidth to respond to every single message. The upshot? That nagging sensation of email guilt.
Wait, Privacy Is Cool Again?
Over-sharing is over, as signs indicate the ‘Age of Narcissism’ coming to a close
(The Tyee) … until social media was added to TV, magazines, newspapers, film and radio, I don’t think the dehumanizing side of fame really sunk in with most people — it turns you into a commodity. And now it makes you a cheap commodity. In another era, there was some connection between fame and wealth. That is no longer true.
In a time where anyone can be famous, celebrity is losing its cachet — and its value. As an article on “influencers” revealed last year, it is quite possible to be Internet famous as a vlogger, with tens of thousands of YouTube subscribers and Instagram followers, and make nary a cent from the infamy.
… it’s clear that the 20th century’s mass-media driven obsession with putting yourself on display is coming to close. The Victorian side of my nature would like to believe that is because people suddenly woke up and realized it’s tacky! (I live in hope.) At the very least I want to believe that the first truly digital generation is savvier than its predecessors. That, perhaps, an entire life lived online has made them smarter, faster and wise beyond their years.
But it may just be as simple as rare things always being more desirable and fashionable. When anyone and everyone gets to be famous all the time, perhaps privacy is the new black?
Can an App Make Staying in Touch Too Easy?
A new tool lets you tell your friends you’re thinking about them with just a tap, “no words needed.”
(The Atlantic) the progression of communication platforms that make it increasingly easier to get in touch made me wonder whether it’s time to apply the brakes. As we try to mine the good feelings we get from connecting with our friends with less and less effort, at some point, perhaps we won’t be connecting with them at all—just tricking ourselves into thinking that we are
An app called Thoughts … promises to let me “share [my] thoughts and feelings with friends instantly, without having to make a call, send a text message or write a single word.”
Several years ago, the author Jonathan Safran Foer wrote an essay for The New York Times called “How Not to Be Alone.” In the piece, he describes the evolution of communication technology as a string of “diminished substitutes” that allowed humans to connect with each other increasingly easily when they couldn’t meet face-to-face. Telephones, answering machines, the internet, text messaging—each new development made it more convenient to say something to someone without being in the same place at the same time. But then, Foer wrote, something changed.
… A funny thing happened: We began to prefer the diminished substitutes. It’s easier to make a phone call than to schlep to see someone in person. Leaving a message on someone’s machine is easier than having a phone conversation—you can say what you need to say without a response; hard news is easier to leave; it’s easier to check in without becoming entangled. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up.
Shooting off an e-mail is easier still, because one can hide behind the absence of vocal inflection, and of course there’s no chance of accidentally catching someone. And texting is even easier, as the expectation for articulateness is further reduced, and another shell is offered to hide in. Each step “forward” has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.
In an angry, tech-savvy world, where do think tanks fit in?
As pockets of discontent flourish around the world and information is shared at a rapid pace, what is the role of think tanks today?
OpenCanada’s Catherine Tsalikis reports from the Global Think Tank Summit in Montreal.
… think tanks … are having an existential crisis. Advances in technology and globalization have “democratized the access to and dissemination of ideas and information”. Funding is often an issue, as organizations struggle to stay independent. In other words, it’s harder than ever for researchers and fellows to engage policymakers and – more importantly, many at the conference say – the public.
Historically, policy was left to ‘elite’ groups of people with knowledge of a particular subject. Now, in the internet age, “the conversations about policy are much bigger, and the general public gets involved. Part of the anger we’re seeing is from people outside of those usual, elite circles, saying that they want to be a part of the conversation. And they may or may not have the same ideas as the policy elites.”
“Right now, what’s framing people’s ideas are often soundbites, activist websites, brief bits in the media…how do you give people more substance? And you have to believe that people actually want substance. You have to believe in democracy, that average people are capable of assimilating well done, concise but also substantive pieces of information.”
Bridging the communications gap
Participants at this week’s summit appear to be united on one thing: that the traditional, long-form PDF as a method of conveying ideas is not long for this life. In the age of information overload, how do think tanks share research that is often complex and confusing with the public?
Selee and his colleagues at the Wilson Center have studied the importance of Canada and Mexico from an American perspective. They soon realized that what started as an elite conversation needed to be taken outside of the Beltway.
“We spend a lot of time on the road,” Selee says, “talking to people in other cities and using social media, reports that are easily accessible, a lot of graphics … you don’t get away from the PDF that specialists read, but you repurpose it into fun talks with anecdotes, you write op-eds in local newspapers, you do graphics, you do 140-character tweets, try to hook it onto other things that are happening.”
Celine Cooper: ‘Distraction sickness’ in a hyper-wired world
Do you ever question whether you have an unhealthy human relationship with the online world?
We live in a time where the intersections of technology and public life can be exciting, collaborative and creative. But many are also starting to wonder whether our relationship with technology needs to be re-calibrated.
A well-known Internet blogger named Andrew Sullivan recently published a fine piece in New York magazine. It is titled I Used to Be a Human Being. He is a self-described “manic information addict,” and his essay delves into what he calls his “distraction sickness.” He talks about how the once inconceivable pace of information consumption — a constant, frenetic, unbridled barrage of images, click-bait, news, propaganda and gossip — has become the new normal in our Western culture. Distraction follows us wherever we go. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
He argues that this hyper-wired world, while it has certain benefits, is affecting our health and happiness. Our human relationships are slowly being displaced by virtual interactions. We ourselves have been replaced by multiple online versions of curated lives.
Andrew Sulivan I Used to Be a Human Being
An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too (New York Magazine 18 September)
Study links internet addiction to mental health problems
(RCI) A new study suggests that 42 percent of 18-year-old students are addicted to the internet and they have more mental health problems than those who are not. Researchers at McMaster University devised a new measure to determine addiction based on models used for alcohol and drug dependence, and they applied it to a sample of 254 students.
“We’re not sure which came first,” says Michael Van Ameringen, professor of psychiatry at McMaster University. “Is it that these people, because of previous anxiety and mood symptoms that led them to internet use or is it the other way around—because they are so caught up in the internet that they develop these symptoms. It’s not clear from this type of study.”
Yahoo confirms 500 million email accounts hacked in 2014
Users who haven’t changed passwords since breach encouraged to do so
A “state-sponsored” hacker managed to steal access to half a billion Yahoo email accounts in 2014, the company admitted Thursday.
The data stolen may have included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and hashed passwords but may not have included unprotected passwords, payment card data or bank account information, the company said.
The size of the breach makes the hack the largest ever recorded in terms of the number of accounts accessed.
Vice Media Announces Plans For New “Advocacy-Driven” Channel Called Vice Impact
The impending launch ofVice Impact, a new channel that focuses on issues-oriented journalism, with an editorial and a video component.
Set to launch this winter, the media giant will aim to bring nonprofit, brands, and reporters together with the new effort.
Vice Impact will launch in the coming months in partnership with Collectively.org and Speakable, and they’ll be working with organizations including the United Nations Foundation, UN SDSN, Water Defense, The Solutions Project, the Alexandra Soros Foundation, The Pratt Foundation, Project Everyone, Global Citizen and RED. Vice’s Katherine Keating will be publisher of the new channel.
Here’s Why Facebook Removing That Vietnam War Photo Is So Important
(Fortune) The social network’s size and influence—particularly for younger users who increasingly get their news there—means it plays a huge role in determining what people see or read about the world around them.
In effect, it has taken over the role that newspaper editors used to play in deciding what photos to show and which headlines to include. And it wants to host more and more of the world’s media content through partnerships like Instant Articles and Facebook Live.
The problem is that Facebook isn’t driven by the kind of news judgement or journalistic principles by which most newspapers and other traditional media outlets are driven. So far, it refuses to admit that it has any such responsibilities.
… it arguably plays a stronger role in information dissemination and consumption than any media outlet has in the history of modern media.
There’s an assumption when reading a newspaper that the editors in charge are interested in informing people about what’s happening in the world, even if that information is disturbing or offensive to some. But there’s no such assumption with Facebook because it denies that it is a media entity or that it has any duty to inform.
What the Renaissance can teach us about our disruptive age
(CBC The Current) From the internet to smartphones, the financial crisis to the refugee crisis, Donald Trump to Brexit, author Chris Kutarna believes the forces shaping our world today have been seen before — about 500 years ago.
Can the high-tech hunt for terrorists stop lone wolf attacks?
(PBS Newshour) Take a look at the room 9/11 built: The operations center at the National Counterterrorism Center aggregates data in hopes that analysts will be able to predict the next terrorist attack. With the advent of “social media intelligence,” answers are everywhere, but the challenge is piecing them together. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports.
“… what connecting the dots means to me is dealing with the huge, huge volume of publicly available or open source or unclassified information that’s out there that may have terrorism relevance.
“… the work we’re doing now with our partners in the intelligence community often doesn’t involve really, really sensitive intelligence. It involves looking at Twitter or looking at some other social media platform and trying to figure out who that individual behind that screen name, behind that handle might actually be and whether that person poses a threat to the United States.”
The data is hiding in plain view. All it takes is patience, persistence and a little bit of technical know-how to find it. For instance, many Islamic State fighters do not disable the geographic tracking capability built into their mobile phones.
Hacking Your Phone
“Any system can be broken it’s just knowing how to break it.”
Sharyn Alfonsi reports on how cellphones and mobile phone networks are vulnerable to hacking
(CBS 60 Minutes) A lot of modern life is interconnected through the Internet of things — a global empire of billions of devices and machines. Automobile navigation systems. Smart TVs. Thermostats. Telephone networks. Home security systems. Online banking. Almost everything you can imagine is linked to the world wide web. And the emperor of it all is the smartphone. As we first told you last April, you’ve probably been warned to be careful about what you say and do on your phone, but after you see what we found, you won’t need to be warned again
We were invited for a rare look at the inner workings of security research labs. During the day, the lab advises Fortune 500 companies on computer security. But at night, this international team of hackers looks for flaws in the devices we use everyday: smartphones, USB sticks and SIM cards. They are trying to find vulnerabilities before the bad guys do, so they can warn the public about risks. At computer terminals and work benches equipped with micro lasers, they physically and digitally break into systems and devices.
Sharyn Alfonsi: If you just have somebody’s phone number, what could you do?
Karsten Nohl: Track their whereabouts, know where they go for work, which other people they meet when– You can spy on whom they call and what they say over the phone. And you can read their texts.
The case for taking our politicians off Twitter
That may not seem transparent. But politicians on Twitter are making our politics more riven
(Maclean’s) There is an odd but noticeable paradox about the Internet: that spending time using a medium that offers us virtually all the information known to humankind doesn’t actually make us any smarter. In fact, the opposite seems to occur. Why might that be? It might have something to do with how reason is treated online—or not, as is more often the case.
The idea that debate on Twitter is polarized is a cliché now, but the impact of that is worth spending time to consider. Polarization means people are becoming more and more entrenched in their ideas, or in ideas that reinforce those they already have. We may not even seek these out deliberately—though who we choose to follow on Twitter is.
New Twitter rules to loosen 140-character limit, add visibility
Name of account and media items like video and pictures no longer included in character limit
Twitter is changing the rules around how people are allowed to tweet on the social messaging platform, and some of the changes will lead to permitting longer tweets.
The social media company has had a 140-character limit for tweets since its founding in 2006, but under new rules unveiled Tuesday, some tweets will be able to go above that limit.
Opinion: The case for launching a digital invasion against ISIS
The cybersecurity threat from Islamic State and the group’s supporters requires a global, coordinated effort to decimate their entire digital and online apparatus.
By Kyle Matthews, and Chantalle Gonzalez, Contributors
(CSM) While Defense Department officials said that the US began dropping “cyberbombs” on Islamic State last month, the online threat posed by the terrorists deserves an even more profound response: a global, coordinated assault on their entire digital apparatus.
The US and its allies have been reluctant to talk publicly about offensive operations in cyberspace, but now is the time to put the West’s collective technical superiority to work in an all-out cyberwar against the Islamic State.
That effort shouldn’t just be limited to targeting the outfit’s central command. It should include identifying and exposing the transnational network of pro-IS hacking groups, their leaders, their alliances, and how they are working in concert with Islamic State leadership.
In the future, computers will be trained like dogs. Machine learning could spell the end of software coding as we know it
(Wired) … in the mid-1950s, a group of rebellious psychologists, linguists, information theorists, and early artificial-intelligence researchers came up with a different conception of the mind. People, they argued, were not just collections of conditioned responses. They absorbed information, processed it, and then acted upon it. They had systems for writing, storing, and recalling memories. They operated via a logical, formal syntax. The brain wasn’t a black box at all. It was more like a computer.
More about Facebook’s influence
Could Facebook Rig the 2016 Election?
(The Atlantic) Facebook occupies a remarkably large role in people’s daily lives. In the United States, 72% of online adults have a Facebook account, and these users spend as nearly as much time on the site per day (39 minutes) as they do socializing with people face-to-face (43 minutes). The scope of the social network’s power also extends to media—particularly digital media—where 40% of all news traffic in the U.S. now originates on the site.
How Facebook Could Tilt the 2016 Election – It would only take one little button.
(The Atlantic) “If Facebook’s effects on voter turnout are as large as this research suggests, then Facebook could easily skew the 2016 election. By selectively presenting the “I Voted!” button to some voters, for instance, it could juice turnout among reliably Democratic demographics without increasing it among their Republican counterparts. As my colleague Derek Thompson has detailed, “the single best predictor of Trump support in the GOP primary is the absence of a college degree.” Facebook knows many of our educational histories all too well. By only encouraging educated users to head to the polls—or by only inspiring urban voters in some states—it could change the contest.”
Johns Hopkins researchers poke a hole in Apple’s encryption
(WaPost) Apple’s growing arsenal of encryption techniques — shielding data on devices as well as real-time video calls and instant messages — has spurred the U.S. government to sound the alarm that such tools are putting the communications of terrorists and criminals out of the reach of law enforcement.
But a group of Johns Hopkins University researchers has found a bug in the company’s vaunted encryption, one that would enable a skilled attacker to decrypt photos and videos sent as secure instant messages.
This specific flaw in Apple’s iMessage platform probably would not have helped the FBI pull data from an iPhone recovered in December’s San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack, but it shatters the notion that strong commercial encryption has left no opening for law enforcement and hackers, said Matthew D. Green, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University who led the research team.
(Quartz) Back in 1999, Lou Gerstner, then chairman of IBM, prophesied (paywall) that pure internet companies were “fireflies before the storm.” Maybe, he said, “one or two of them will be profitable,” but it would be giants of industry like IBM, Ford, and Wal-Mart that would lead the charge in online commerce.
Gerstner, of course, was both right and wrong. Many dotcom firms were indeed fireflies. But a few (including Amazon, which he witheringly dismissed as “a very interesting retail concept”) have become behemoths, and many more are profitable, while IBM is struggling.
Gerstner’s words seem to echo now, as each week brings fresh bad news for Silicon Valley’s would-be “unicorns.” There are layoffs at LivingSocial, warnings about LinkedIn, and pivots at valet-parking startups. The “Uber for X” model rarely works except when X = Uber. Valuations are shrinking, funding is falling, and there’s ill-concealed glee at the signs that yet another tech bubble is, if not exactly bursting, at least looking distinctly deflated.
But that schadenfreude, just like the hype that preceded it, makes it easy to forget that there’s another Silicon Valley, away from the capricious world of dating and laundry apps. It’s the unsexy, stolid companies that build the hidden but immensely complex and costly infrastructure—cloud storage, AI, data analytics, and other things—of a digital world.
Those companies run the gamut from newish firms like Google and Facebook to “old” ones like Microsoft and perhaps even GE. It encountered bafflement when it set up a software-development arm in the Bay Area (what, no office nap rooms?). But it’s trying to build the computer systems—the “Internet of Really Big Things”—that will run 21st-century industry.
Whether GE succeeds or—like IBM—is overtaken by newer, nimbler peers, remains to be seen. Either way, long after “unicorn” has become as archaic a pejorative as “dotcom,” there’ll still be serious money in Silicon Valley, doing serious things.—Gideon Lichfield
How GE Exorcised the Ghost of Jack Welch to Become a 124-Year-Old Startup
(Bloomberg) A decade after taking over, Jeff Immelt’s long bet on the Internet of Really Big Things seems to be paying off.
The sickness at the hearts of Flipkart and Snapdeal
Something rotten at the heart of Indian tech. Investors are starting to ask hard questions about the performance of India’s e-commerce giants, Flipkart and Snapdeal, and that’s starting to squeeze funding for the entire tech sector, writes Itika Sharma Punit. But in Bengaluru as in the Bay Area, a little skepticism right about now is probably a healthy thing.