Tags: facebook* + google*

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  1. Four companies dominate our daily lives unlike any other in human history: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. We love our nifty phones and just-a-click-away services, but these behemoths enjoy unfettered economic domination and hoard riches on a scale not seen since the monopolies of the gilded age. The only logical conclusion? We must bust up big tech.
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  2. I want to spend the bulk of my remaining time on another global problem: the rise and monopolistic behavior of the giant IT platform companies. These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.

    Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment. This is particularly nefarious because social media companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This has far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections.

    The distinguishing feature of internet platform companies is that they are networks and they enjoy rising marginal returns; that accounts for their phenomenal growth. The network effect is truly unprecedented and transformative, but it is also unsustainable. It took Facebook eight and a half years to reach a billion users and half that time to reach the second billion. At this rate, Facebook will run out of people to convert in less than 3 years.
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  3. Mark Zuckerberg also launched Facebook with a disdain for intrusive advertising, but it wasn’t long before the social network giant became Google’s biggest competitor for ad dollars. After going public with 845 million users in 2012, Facebook became a multibillion-dollar company and Zuckerberg one of the richest men on Earth, but with only a promise that the company would figure out how to monetize its platform.

    Facebook ultimately sold companies on its platform by promising “brand awareness” and the best possible data on what consumers actually liked. Brands could start their own Facebook pages, which people would actually “like” and interact with. This provided unparalleled information about what company each individual person wanted to interact with the most. By engaging with companies on Facebook, people gave corporate marketing departments more information than they could have ever dreamed of buying, but here it was offered up free.

    This was the “grand bargain,” as Columbia University law professor Tim Wu called it in his book, The Attention Merchants, that users struck with corporations. Wu wrote that Facebook’s “billions of users worldwide were simply handing over a treasure trove of detailed demographic data and exposing themselves to highly targeted advertising in return for what, exactly?”

    In other words: We will give you every detail of our lives and you will get rich by selling that information to advertisers.

    European regulators are now saying that bargain was a bad deal. The big question that remains is whether their counterparts in the U.S. will follow their lead.
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  4. urope has propelled past the United States when it comes to constraining the abuses of Big Tech. In June, the European Union fined Google $2.7 billion for steering web users to its shopping site, and investigations remain active over similar treatment on Android phones. European regulators fined Facebook for lying about whether it could match user profiles with phone numbers on its messaging acquisition WhatsApp. They demanded Apple repay $15.3 billion in back taxes in Ireland. And they forced Amazon to change its e-book contracts, which they claimed inappropriately squeezed publishers.
    AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    Trust-Busted: In 2002, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates had to testify at federal court in his company's antitrust case. The public trial led Microsoft to sfoten its aggressive strategy against rivals.

    Unfortunately, these actions were treated mainly as the cost of doing business. The Facebook fine totaled not even 1 percent of the $22 billion purchase price for WhatsApp, and it allowed the two companies to remain partnered. Government policy, in effect, has “told these companies that the smart thing to do is to lie to us and break the law,” said Scott Galloway in his presentation. Google’s remedy in the shopping case still forces rivals to bid for placement at the top of the page, with Google Shopping spun off as a stand-alone competitor. This does weaken Google’s power and solves the “equal treatment” problem, but it doesn’t protect consumers, who will ultimately pay for those costly bids. “The EU got a $2.7 billion fine to hold a party and bail out Greek banks,” said Gary Reback, an antitrust lawyer and critic of the EU’s actions. “No amount of money will make a difference.”

    However, one thing might: Europe’s increasing move toward data privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), scheduled for implementation in May 2018, empowers European web users to affirmatively opt out of having their data collected, with high penalties for non-compliance. Consumers will be able to obtain their personal data and learn how it is used. They can request that their data be erased completely (known as the “right to be forgotten”) as well as prohibited from sale to third parties. Platforms could not condition use of their products on data collection. A separate, not-yet-finalized regulation called ePrivacy would forbid platforms from tracking users across separate apps, websites, and devices.
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  5. this article analyses Google’s two main advertising systems, AdWords and AdSense, and proposes that these financial models have significant effects upon online discourse. In discussing AdWords, this article details some of the tensions between the local and the global that develop when tracing flows of information and capital, specifically highlighting Google’s impact on the decline of online language diversity. In outlining AdSense, this article demonstrates how Google’s hegemonic control prescribes which parts of the web can be monetised and which remain unprofitable. In particular, in drawing from existing studies, evidence is provided that Google’s AdSense programme, along with Google’s relationship with Facebook, incentivised the rise of fake news in the 2016 US presidential election. This work builds on existing scholarship to demonstrate that Google’s economic influence has varied and far-reaching effects in a number of contexts and is relevant to scholars in a range of disciplines. As such, this article is intended as a discursive introduction to the topic and does not require specific disciplinary background knowledge. In doing so, this article does not attempt to provide the final word on Google’s relationship to digital capitalism, but rather, demonstrate the profitability of a Post-Fordist perspective, in order to enable a wider engagement with the issues identified.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-02)
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  6. Earlier this month, writer James Bridle published an in-depth look at the underbelly of creepy, violent content targeted at kids on YouTube – from knock-off Peppa Pig cartoons, such as one where a trip to the dentist morphs into a graphic torture scene, to live-action “gross-out” videos, which show real kids vomiting and in pain.

    These videos are being produced and added to YouTube by the thousand, then tagged with what Bridle calls “keyword salad” – long lists of popular search terms packed into their titles. These keywords are designed to game or manipulate the algorithm that sorts, ranks and selects content for users to see. And thanks to a business model aimed at maximising views (and therefore ad revenue), these videos are being auto-played and promoted to kids based on their “similarity” – at least in terms of keywords used – to content that the kids have already seen. That means a child might start out watching a normal Peppa Pig episode on the official channel, finish it, then be automatically immersed in a dark, violent and unauthorised episode – without their parent realising it.

    YouTube’s response to the problem has been to hand responsibility to its users, asking them to flag videos as inappropriate. From there, the videos go to a review team that YouTube says comprises thousands of people working 24 hours a day to review content. If the content is found to be inappropriate for children, it will be age-restricted and not appear in the YouTube Kids app. It will still appear on YouTube proper, however, where, officially, users must be at least 13 years old, but in reality, is still a system which countless kids use (just think about how often antsy kids are handed a phone or tablet to keep them occupied in a public space).

    Like Facebook’s scheme, this approach has several flaws: since it’s trying to ferret out inappropriate videos from kids’ content, it’s likely that most of the people who will encounter these videos are kids themselves. I don’t expect a lot of six-year-olds to become aggressive content moderators any time soon. And if the content is flagged, it still needs to be reviewed by humans, which, as YouTube has already acknowledged, takes “round the clock” monitoring.

    When we talk about this kind of challenge, the tech companies’ response is often that it’s simply the inevitability of scale – there’s no way to serve billions of users endless streams of engaging content without getting it wrong or allowing abuse to slip by some of the time. But of course, these companies don’t have to do any of this. Auto-playing an endless stream of algorithmically selected videos to kids isn’t some sort of mandate. The internet didn’t have to become a smorgasbord of “suggested content”. It’s a choice that YouTube made, because ad views are ad views. You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelette, and you’ve got to traumatise a few kids to build a global behemoth worth $600bn.
    Facebook asks users for nude photos in project to combat revenge porn
    Read more

    And that’s the issue: in their unblinking pursuit of growth over the past decade, these companies have built their platforms around features that aren’t just vulnerable to abuse, but literally optimised for it. Take a system that’s easy to game, profitable to misuse, intertwined with our vulnerable people and our most intimate moments, and operating at a scale that’s impossible to control or even monitor, and this is what you get.

    The question now is, when will we force tech companies to reckon with what they’ve wrought? We’ve long decided that we won’t let companies sell cigarettes to children or put asbestos into their building materials. If we want, we can decide that there are limits to what tech can do to “engage” us, too, rather than watching these platforms spin further and further away from the utopian dreams they were sold to us on.
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  7. Similarly, GOOG in 2014 started reorganizing itself to focus on artificial intelligence only. In January 2014, GOOG bought DeepMind, and in September they shutdown Orkut (one of their few social products which had momentary success in some countries) forever. The Alphabet Inc restructuring was announced in August 2015 but it likely took many months of meetings and bureaucracy. The restructuring was important to focus the web-oriented departments at GOOG towards a simple mission. GOOG sees no future in the simple Search market, and announces to be migrating “From Search to Suggest” (in Eric Schmidt’s own words) and being an “AI first company” (in Sundar Pichai’s own words). GOOG is currently slightly behind FB in terms of how fast it is growing its dominance of the web, but due to their technical expertise, vast budget, influence and vision, in the long run its AI assets will play a massive role on the internet. They know what they are doing.

    These are no longer the same companies as 4 years ago. GOOG is not anymore an internet company, it’s the knowledge internet company. FB is not an internet company, it’s the social internet company. They used to attempt to compete, and this competition kept the internet market diverse. Today, however, they seem mostly satisfied with their orthogonal dominance of parts of the Web, and we are losing diversity of choices. Which leads us to another part of the internet: e-commerce and AMZN.

    AMZN does not focus on making profit.
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  8. Quando Facebook dichiara un miliardo di utenti, il mondo non sarà mai più come prima: ogni azienda deve esserci, attratta dall’idea di poter mandare messaggi gratis ai propri fan. Ben presto non più gratis, bensì pagando, per la gioia degli investitori.

    Il confine fra contenuti e pubblicità sembra ormai un ricordo del passato.
    Il futuro è la televisione

    Google e Facebook continuano la propria corsa, all’apparenza inarrestabili. Negli Stati Uniti, il duopolio porta a casa 3 dollari su 4 della “pubblicità” (si fa per dire: è direct marketing) su Internet, e addirittura il 99% dei nuovi investimenti sul web.

    Il problema è che questo filone aureo (si fa per dire) si è ormai esaurito.

    Google e Facebook hanno un rapporto price per earning che è il doppio di quello di altre aziende media americane, ma non hanno più praterie davanti a sé da conquistare e facili e prevedibili guadagni futuri che possano giustificare un elevato rapporto P/E.

    Per difendere il proprio titolo in Borsa, devono attaccare la pubblicità di tipo brand.
    E la pubblicità di tipo brand non va sui banner, non va sui social e non va sui video delle Mentos, bensì in televisione, su programmi come serie TV, film e sport.

    Google o Facebook dovranno reinventarsi come produttori di contenuti di qualità, come ha già iniziato a fare Netflix. Ma che vantaggio competitivo possono vantare Google o Facebook su Disney (ABC), Comcast (NBC), Viacom (CBS) o Time Warner (HBO)?
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  9. When it comes to human beings — what motivates them, how they interact socially, to what end they organize politically — figures like Page and Zuckerberg know very little. Almost nothing, in fact. And that ignorance has enormous consequences for us all.
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  10. The FT reports on Wednesday that “Facebook and Google have announced they will restrict advertising on online platforms with fake news, after a furore over the role of such stories in last week’s US presidential election.”

    The following is a personal view and thus not representative of the wider views of the FT, so no doubt biased to whatever cultural norms impacted my formative years — among them being of Polish descent, being brought up Catholic, having staunchly anti-communist parents, experiencing a youthful rebellion against that framework and later moderating to a middle ground. With that out of the way…

    Surely having Facebook and Google restrict advertising on subjective grounds is the worst possible outcome of this entire affair?

    The idea all-powerful platforms like Google and Facebook should be charged with the responsibility of strategically filtering and determining what constitutes fake news is not just questionable but frightening in the Orwellian Newspeak sense of the word.

    Habermas’ most profound observation is that the formation of the public news arena is intimately connected to the rise of the coffee houses and stock exchanges. This is because it is only on the stock exchange that the full range of conflicting views collide to forge a clearing price. Repression or manipulation of information flow, meanwhile, only ensures that the clearing price will be off to someone’s advantage and to someone else’s disadvantage.

    Interestingly, back in the 90s and noughties, when the internet was first becoming a thing, media academics would often ponder whether this new form of information exchange represented the reconstitution of a public sphere in a digital form (especially in light of Herman/Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent critique, which argued the advertising funding model had skewed the public debate and turned the industry into a corporate propaganda outlet). Mostly, they erred towards the notion it did not precisely because it captured a small slice of the population and had a tendency to compartmentalise discussion rather than broaden it.

    Based on all that, if Facebook and Google moves to filter “fake news” it will only exacerbate the problem because these institutions will always be governed by commercial interest not public duty. That as a whole makes them inequipped to judge what news is fit for publication and which is not. What it does do in the long run is open the door to an even more sinister advertising propaganda model than that which inspired Herman/Chomsky’s Manufacture of Consent.

    In that light, here’s some commentary from Habermas about what aspects of salon and coffee-house culture constituted a public sphere (and which I’d argue are lacking today):

    However exclusive the public might be in any given instance, it could never close itself off entirely and become consolidated as a clique; for it always understood and found itself immersed within a more inclusive public of all private people, persons who- insofar as they were propertied and educated — as readers, listeners, and spectators could avail themselves via the market of the objects that were subject to discussion. The issues discussed became “general” not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility; everyone had to be able to participate.

    What of the uneducated and unpropertied or too poor to engage in the market for objects, you ask? According to Habermas, they were brought into the public sphere by way of festival gatherings, theatre performances and the music halls, all of which spurred public debate.

    In a highly atomised and compartmentalised culture, however — where even workplace gatherings don’t bring people together because everyone is being encouraged to “work for himself” in the gig economy or from home — there seem to be ever fewer occurrences where we, the public, have no choice but to interact with those who disagree with us.

    This in turn encourages the cultivation of safe spaces, which in turn twists our perception of reality into something it simply is not.
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