Tags: facebook* + privacy*

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  1. 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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  2. Facebook's ability to figure out the "people we might know" is sometimes eerie. Many a Facebook user has been creeped out when a one-time Tinder date or an ex-boss from 10 years ago suddenly pops up as a friend recommendation. How does the big blue giant know?

    While some of these incredibly accurate friend suggestions are amusing, others are alarming, such as this story from Lisa*, a psychiatrist who is an infrequent Facebook user, mostly signing in to RSVP for events. Last summer, she noticed that the social network had started recommending her patients as friends—and she had no idea why.

    "I haven't shared my email or phone contacts with Facebook," she told me over the phone.

    The next week, things got weirder.

    Most of her patients are senior citizens or people with serious health or developmental issues, but she has one outlier: a 30-something snowboarder. Usually, Facebook would recommend he friend people his own age, who snowboard and jump out of planes. But Lisa told me that he had started seeing older and infirm people, such as a 70-year-old
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-28)
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  3. 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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  4. Since the earliest days of Facebook, social scientists have sent up warnings saying that the ability to maintain separate "contexts" (where you reveal different aspects of yourself to different people) was key to creating and maintaining meaningful relationships, but Mark Zuckerberg ignored this advice, insisting that everyone be identified only by their real names and present a single identity to everyone in their lives, because anything else was "two-faced."

    Zuck was following in the footsteps of other social network entrepreneurs who attempted to impose their own theories of social interaction on mass audiences -- danah boyd has written and presented extensively on the user rebellions of Friendster from people who wanted to form interest-based affinity groups and use pseudonymous identities for different activities, which Friendster rejected out of a mix of commercial concerns (it wanted users to arrange their social affairs to make it easier to monetize them) and fringe theories of social interaction.

    But while all the other social networks collapsed, Facebook thrived, and imposed the Zuckerberg model of "one identity, one context" on billions of users, who, research consistently finds, are made unhappy and angry by their use of the service, but are nevertheless psychologically compelled to continue using it, creating a vicious feedback loop that even Zuck has acknowledged as a risk to his business.

    In 2008, I found myself speaking with the big boss himself, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. I was in the second year of my Ph.D. research on Facebook at Curtin University. And I had questions.

    Why did Facebook make everyone be the same for all of their contacts? Was Facebook going to add features that would make managing this easier?

    To my surprise, Zuckerberg told me that he had designed the site to be that way on purpose. And, he added, it was "lying" to behave differently in different social situations.

    Up until this point, I had assumed Facebook's socially awkward design was unintentional. It was simply the result of computer nerds designing for the rest of humanity, without realising it was not how people actually want to interact.

    The realisation that Facebook's context collapse was intentional not only changed the whole direction of my research but provides the key to understanding why Facebook may not be so great for your mental health.

    The secret history of Facebook depression Dr Kate Raynes-Goldie/Phys.org »
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  5. "Continueremo a lavorare con le autorità francesi per garantire che gli utenti comprendano quali informazioni vengono raccolte e come vengono utilizzate", ha affermato WhatsApp in una dichiarazione inviata per posta elettronica. "Ci impegniamo a risolvere le diverse e talvolta contraddittorie preoccupazioni che hanno sollevato le autorità per la protezione dei dati, con un approccio comune a livello europeo prima che nuove norme sulla protezione dei dati a livello di blocco entrino in vigore nel maggio 2018".

    I trasferimenti di dati da WhatsApp a Facebook avvengono in parte senza il consenso dell'utente, ha ribadito l'ente francese che ha anche respinto le argomentazioni di WhatsApp secondo le quali l'azienda sarebbe soggetta solo alla legge degli Stati Uniti. Il monito francese, è "un avviso formale, non una sanzione", ma il colosso dei messaggi rischierebbe di incorrere in multe in una fase successiva.
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  6. Most of Facebook’s uncanny guesswork is the result of a healthy percentage of users simply handing over their address books.

    But that doesn’t mean Facebook hasn’t thought about employing users’ metadata more strategically to make connections between them. Patents filed by Facebook that mention People You May Know show some ingenious methods that Facebook has devised for figuring out that seeming strangers on the network might know each other. One filed in 2015 describes a technique that would connect two people through the camera metadata associated with the photos they uploaded. It might assume two people knew each other if the images they uploaded looked like they were titled in the same series of photos—IMG_4605739.jpg and IMG_4605742, for example—or if lens scratches or dust were detectable in the same spots on the photos, revealing the photos were taken by the same camera.

    It would result in all the people you’ve sent photos to, who then uploaded them to Facebook, showing up in one another’s “People You May Know.” It’d be a great way to meet the other people who hired your wedding photographer.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-13)
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  7. Facebook’s goal is to “push down the age” of when it’s acceptable for kids to be on social media, says Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. Golin says 11-to-12-year-olds who already have a Facebook account, probably because they lied about their age, might find the animated emojis and GIFs of Messenger Kids “too babyish,” and are unlikely to convert to the new app.

    Facebook launched Messenger Kids for 6-to-12-year olds in the US Monday, saying it took extraordinary care and precautions. The company said its 100-person team building apps for teens and kids consulted with parent groups, advocates, and childhood-development experts during the 18-month development process and the app reflects their concerns. Parents download Messenger Kids on their child’s account, after verifying their identity by logging into Facebook. Since kids cannot be found in search, parents must initiate and respond to friend requests.

    Facebook says Messenger Kids will not display ads, nor collect data on kids for advertising purposes. Kids’ accounts will not automatically be rolled into Facebook accounts once they turn 13.

    Nonetheless, advocates focused on marketing to children expressed concerns. The company will collect the content of children’s messages, photos they send, what features they use on the app, and information about the device they use. Facebook says it will use this information to improve the app and will share the information “within the family of companies that are part of Facebook,” and outside companies that provide customer support, analysis, and technical infrastructure.
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  8. Il 28 giugno 2016 la Hill aveva pubblicato un articolo in cui sosteneva che Facebook stesse utilizzando la geolocalizzazione degli utenti per migliorare i propri suggerimenti. Menlo Park inizialmente conferma (due volte, stando a quanto riporta Hill), precisando però che questo sarebbe solo uno dei fattori che determinano chi compare nella sezione “persone che potresti conoscere”, per poi fare dietrofront e dire che no, assolutamente, la geolocalizzazione non viene usata. Il che però non spiega in che modo il padre di un ragazzino con tendenze suicide, dopo aver frequentato un incontro di supporto, il giorno dopo si sia trovato tra i suggerimenti un altro dei genitori presenti.

    Kashmir Hill, che da qualche mese ormai tiene d’occhio la sezione “persone che potresti conoscere”, scaricando e stampando di volta in volta la lista di suggerimenti che le viene proposta (circa 160 nomi al giorno), ha tentato più volte di chiedere delucidazioni sul funzionamento dell’algoritmo. Dopo aver ragionevolmente ipotizzato che lo spunto per queste serie di nomi arrivasse da blocchi di informazioni vendute da data broker, un portavoce le risponde in modo piuttosto secco che “Facebook non utilizza informazioni di fornitori di dati per la sezione ‘persone che potresti conoscere’”. Nel frattempo raccoglie testimonianze di gente che con quella sezione non ha avuto interazioni del tutto felici. Hill racconta del caso di una prostituta, Leia (ovviamente uno pseudonimo), che ha visto comparire tra le “persone che avrebbe potuto conoscere” alcuni dei propri clienti. Questo nonostante avesse usato la massima cautela sul social, registrandosi con un indirizzo email accademico e non facendo mai menzione della propria professione. C’è poi il caso di una psichiatra che si è vista suggerire molti dei propri pazienti come possibili amici, due dei quali a loro volta sono comparsi l’uno nella lista di suggerimenti dell’altro. O quello di un avvocato che racconta di aver cancellato il proprio account dopo che tra le possibili amicizie aveva trovato il nome del difensore di una controparte in uno dei casi di cui si era occupato. I due avevano corrisposto solo tramite l’indirizzo email di lavoro, che Facebook non avrebbe avuto modo di ottenere per cessione volontaria dell’utente, visto che quest’ultimo non aveva dato il consenso per la condivisione dei proprio contatti.

    Tutto ciò è possibile perché oltre all’enorme mole di dati che forniamo volontariamente, Facebook immagazzina tutta una serie di altre informazioni su di noi e sui nostri contatti, che va a costituire il cosiddetto “shadow profile”. Immaginate un ipotetico iceberg, la cui punta sono i dati che cediamo di nostra spontanea volontà: ne rimane una gigantesca porzione nascosta, che è appunto utilizzata dal social non solo per decidere chi sarà la prossima persona a cui chiederemo l’amicizia, ma anche per arricchire il nostro pacchetto di preferenze e caratteristiche personali – pacchetto che andrà a migliorare le targhettizzazioni delle inserzioni.

    Come vengono raccolte queste informazioni? Stando a quanto riporta Hill, nel momento in cui si decide di utilizzare il servizio “Trova amici” si accetta di trasmettere tutti i propri contatti a Facebook. Il che significa: numeri di telefono (se si utilizza l’app per mobile), indirizzi email (se si usa in desktop o da cellulare), nomi ed eventuali soprannomi degli intestatari. Avete appena ceduto a terzi tutta la vostra rubrica. Questi contatti vengono quindi messi a confronto e incrociati. Se anche un solo indirizzo email e numero di telefono tra quelli che avete appena ceduto è presente nella rubrica di un qualsiasi altro utente – che deve però a sua volta aver accettato di condividere i contatti – allora sarete reciprocamente suggeriti come amici. Se il vostro nome è salvato nella rubrica di un user che dà il proprio consenso per caricarla online, il vostro contatto entrerà nel sistema con il vostro nome e cognome, che voi abbiate o meno deciso di caricare i dati su Facebook.

    Tornando al caso dell’avvocato citato prima, com’è possibile che gli sia stato proposto come amico un altro legale con cui ha corrisposto solo tramite la propria mail lavorativa? Non serve nemmeno che l’avvocato in questione decida di condividere i propri contatti. Basta che un qualsiasi altro utente abbia quella mail salvata sotto il nome del legale e che la condivida con Facebook. A questo punto il sito, avendo il suo nome, cognome e indirizzo email, è in grado di metterlo in contatto con qualsiasi altro utente in possesso di quella stessa mail. Nel caso in questione, il legale di controparte.

    Gli shadow profile non sono una novità. L’iniziativa Europe v. Facebook aveva presentato un reclamo formale già nel 2011 (vi vengono elencate sette istanze in cui Facebook, con sede in Irlanda, avrebbe violato la legge irlandese per la protezione dei dati personali), ma la questione è esplosa nel giugno 2013, quando un bug colpì il social media rendendo pubblici indirizzi email e numeri di telefono privati di 6 milioni di utenti. Molti fra questi non avevano condiviso volontariamente le proprie informazioni. Scaricando il proprio file personale da Facebook, si potevano vedere non solo i dati “ufficiali” relativi alla propria lista di amici, ma anche i loro shadow profile. Il bug, insomma, ha dimostrato l’esistenza di un profilo ombra la cui esistenza si ipotizzava già da un paio di anni.

    Pensate a tutti i numeri che avete salvati in rubrica. Pensate a tutte le persone che avete visto una volta e di cui avete salvato il contatto, per un motivo o per l’altro. Se voi o le persone in questione caricate le vostre rispettive info su Facebook, i vostri profili saranno aggiornati. E così i suggerimenti diventeranno sempre più accurati, fino a includere qualsiasi pittoresco individuo che per qualche ragione ha anche un solo contatto in comune con voi. Tale profilo finirà per costituire una sorta di cronologia della vostra rubrica, con tutte le informazioni annesse a quest’ultima.

    Complice una piattaforma che non sempre dà prova di tutta la trasparenza che decanta, siamo convinti che tutto ciò che Facebook sa di noi sia frutto di interazioni dirette e delle nostre scelte consapevoli. In molti casi, purtroppo, ciò si rivela un clamoroso errore.

    Questo è uno di quei casi. L’elenco di “persone che potresti conoscere”, in realtà, non è altro che una delle possibili dimostrazioni di ciò che Facebook potrebbe conoscere su di voi.
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  9. The point is that Facebook has a strong, paternalistic view on what’s best for you, and it’s trying to transport you there. “To get people to this point where there’s more openness – that’s a big challenge. But I think we’ll do it,” Zuckerberg has said. He has reason to believe that he will achieve that goal. With its size, Facebook has amassed outsized powers. “In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” Zuckerberg has said. “We have this large community of people, and more than other technology companies we’re really setting policies.”

    Without knowing it, Zuckerberg is the heir to a long political tradition. Over the last 200 years, the west has been unable to shake an abiding fantasy, a dream sequence in which we throw out the bum politicians and replace them with engineers – rule by slide rule. The French were the first to entertain this notion in the bloody, world-churning aftermath of their revolution. A coterie of the country’s most influential philosophers (notably, Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte) were genuinely torn about the course of the country. They hated all the old ancient bastions of parasitic power – the feudal lords, the priests and the warriors – but they also feared the chaos of the mob. To split the difference, they proposed a form of technocracy – engineers and assorted technicians would rule with beneficent disinterestedness. Engineers would strip the old order of its power, while governing in the spirit of science. They would impose rationality and order.

    This dream has captivated intellectuals ever since, especially Americans. The great sociologist Thorstein Veblen was obsessed with installing engineers in power and, in 1921, wrote a book making his case. His vision briefly became a reality. In the aftermath of the first world war, American elites were aghast at all the irrational impulses unleashed by that conflict – the xenophobia, the racism, the urge to lynch and riot. And when the realities of economic life had grown so complicated, how could politicians possibly manage them? Americans of all persuasions began yearning for the salvific ascendance of the most famous engineer of his time: Herbert Hoover. In 1920, Franklin D Roosevelt – who would, of course, go on to replace him in 1932 – organised a movement to draft Hoover for the presidency.

    The Hoover experiment, in the end, hardly realised the happy fantasies about the Engineer King. A very different version of this dream, however, has come to fruition, in the form of the CEOs of the big tech companies. We’re not ruled by engineers, not yet, but they have become the dominant force in American life – the highest, most influential tier of our elite.

    There’s another way to describe this historical progression. Automation has come in waves. During the industrial revolution, machinery replaced manual workers. At first, machines required human operators. Over time, machines came to function with hardly any human intervention. For centuries, engineers automated physical labour; our new engineering elite has automated thought. They have perfected technologies that take over intellectual processes, that render the brain redundant. Or, as the former Google and Yahoo executive Marissa Mayer once argued, “You have to make words less human and more a piece of the machine.” Indeed, we have begun to outsource our intellectual work to companies that suggest what we should learn, the topics we should consider, and the items we ought to buy. These companies can justify their incursions into our lives with the very arguments that Saint-Simon and Comte articulated: they are supplying us with efficiency; they are imposing order on human life.

    Nobody better articulates the modern faith in engineering’s power to transform society than Zuckerberg. He told a group of software developers, “You know, I’m an engineer, and I think a key part of the engineering mindset is this hope and this belief that you can take any system that’s out there and make it much, much better than it is today. Anything, whether it’s hardware or software, a company, a developer ecosystem – you can take anything and make it much, much better.” The world will improve, if only Zuckerberg’s reason can prevail – and it will.

    The precise source of Facebook’s power is algorithms. That’s a concept repeated dutifully in nearly every story about the tech giants, yet it remains fuzzy at best to users of those sites. From the moment of the algorithm’s invention, it was possible to see its power, its revolutionary potential. The algorithm was developed in order to automate thinking, to remove difficult decisions from the hands of humans, to settle contentious debates.

    The essence of the algorithm is entirely uncomplicated. The textbooks compare them to recipes – a series of precise steps that can be followed mindlessly. This is different from equations, which have one correct result. Algorithms merely capture the process for solving a problem and say nothing about where those steps ultimately lead.

    These recipes are the crucial building blocks of software. Programmers can’t simply order a computer to, say, search the internet. They must give the computer a set of specific instructions for accomplishing that task. These instructions must take the messy human activity of looking for information and transpose that into an orderly process that can be expressed in code. First do this … then do that. The process of translation, from concept to procedure to code, is inherently reductive. Complex processes must be subdivided into a series of binary choices. There’s no equation to suggest a dress to wear, but an algorithm could easily be written for that – it will work its way through a series of either/or questions (morning or night, winter or summer, sun or rain), with each choice pushing to the next.

    Facebook would never put it this way, but algorithms are meant to erode free will, to relieve humans of the burden of choosing, to nudge them in the right direction. Algorithms fuel a sense of omnipotence, the condescending belief that our behaviour can be altered, without our even being aware of the hand guiding us, in a superior direction. That’s always been a danger of the engineering mindset, as it moves beyond its roots in building inanimate stuff and begins to design a more perfect social world. We are the screws and rivets in the grand design.
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  10. La relazione dell’Autorità garante per la protezione dei dati personali non fa alcun riferimento con quei toni così banali ad “allarmi”, sottolinea invece le grandi questioni in campo, anzi raccontando i risultati ottenuti lavorando sulle discipline, le garanzie, il dialogo coi player, seguendo le linee guida dei gruppi dell’Unione. Se il mainstream dev’essere sempre quello dell’allarme e dei titoli fuorvianti, inutile lamentarsi della disintermediazione e dello strapotere delle piattaforme di social media.
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