April 12, 2018

Crisis: On Zuckerberg and Facebook * 4,  On 21st  C  Tech and Media Monopolies


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from April 12, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, April 12, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from April 12, 2018
1. Mark Zuckerberg Is Either Ignorant or Deliberately Misleading Congress
2. I Downloaded the Information That Facebook Has on Me. Yikes.
3. “Facebook Doesn’t Sell Your Data. It Sells You”

4. Zuckerberg Pledges To Fix Facebook's Privacy Problems—No One Trusts
5. Who Will Take on the 21st Century Tech and Media Monopolies?

The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Mark Zuckerberg Is Either Ignorant or Deliberately Misleading Congress

This article is by Sam Biddle on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

After watching the Facebook founder and CEO’s 48-hour trip to Capitol Hill, there are two possible conclusions: Mark Zuckerberg deliberately misled Congress, or Mark Zuckerberg knows very little about his own company. Both are bad.

Again and again, before both Senate and House committees, Zuckerberg pleaded ignorance about the company he created and has controlled for 14 years. Zuckerberg wasn’t dodging questions about obscure corners of the company or corporate minutiae, but the most plainly fundamental aspects of Facebook’s business and privacy policies. Rather than the Congressional beatdown many had expected, the most striking aspect of Zuckerberg’s testimony wasn’t his painful apologias or excuse-spinning, but his ability to spend nearly 10 hours saying almost nothing. The hearings may prove to be sea change moments for Facebook and the greater data mining industrial complex, but it would be hard to say the public learned much of anything.

As to the first paragraph quoted above: Zuckerberg himself said he owns Facebook and made 70 billions of it for himself in the last 14 years. I conclude Zuckerberg (bolding added) ¨deliberately misled Congress¨.

And in fact this is illustrated by the next paragraph:

When Senator Kamala Harris asked Zuckerberg, on the subject of Cambridge Analytica, whether the company had any conversations about whether or not to inform the 87 million users affected, the CEO replied, “I don’t know if there were any conversations at Facebook overall because I wasn’t in a lot of them,” and finally “I don’t remember a conversation like that.”

When asked by Senator Maria Cantwell whether Facebook employees helped with the Cambridge Analytica work: “Senator, I don’t know.”

When asked about the role of Palantir, a data-mining defense contractor co-founded by Facebook board member and early Zuckerberg ally Peter Thiel: “I’m not really that familiar with what Palantir does.”

Zuckerberg acted similarly confused when asked whether Facebook does things it openly says it does on its own website. When Senator Roger Wicker asked Zuckerberg if he could confirm whether “Facebook can track a user’s internet browsing activity, even after that user has logged off of the Facebook platform,” the CEO replied “Senator — I — I want to make sure I get this accurate, so it would probably be better to have my team follow up afterwards.”

The answer is categorically, unequivocally yes, according to “If you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account and visit a website with the Like button or another social plugin, your browser sends us a more limited set of info.”

In brief, the liar Zuckerberg pretends he hardly knows anything about his very own Facebook, that he makes $500,000 an hour (!!!) with, and he did so - I believe, in the end - because (and here I quote from my Lie):

Most human lying is in fact done by the conscious non-saying of truths one does know but rather does not give voice to in public, whether from cowardice or self-interest. A large part of public lying - as in the tale of the emperor's clothes - is collective collaborative public non-saying of things, that may indeed be motivated by justified self-interest, as in dictatorships, or common politeness, but also by conformist egoism.
The majority of human beings is not much interested nor finds much profitable in true or probable ideas, but is much interested in pleasant illusions and profitable lies.

And the majority knows this very well, although they rarely admit it in public.

And the sad fact concerning lying - see Features of Moral Norms - is that the majority of human beings let themselves be deceived by lies they could rather easily have seen through, if only the lies they accept as if it were truths are the lies of their own leaders, or are the lies which support their own desires or delusions - which they then support with great moral pride as the socially and morally decent and moral thing to say and believe.

Back to the article:

It was only in the House session that anyone called out Zuckerberg’s unwillingness to act like he’s been running Facebook since 2004, when Representative Debbie Dingell blasted the CEO:

As CEO, you didn’t know some key facts. You didn’t know about major court cases regarding your privacy policies, against your company. You didn’t know that the FTC doesn’t have fining authority, and that Facebook could not have received fines from the 2011 consent order. You didn’t know what a shadow profile was. You didn’t know how many apps you need to audit. You did not know how many other firms have been sold data by Dr. Kogan, other than Cambridge Analytica and Eunoia Technologies, even though you were asked that question yesterday. And yes, we were all paying attention yesterday. You don’t even know all the kinds of information Facebook is collecting from its own users.

Is it really possible that the CEO of a company could be so unaware of what his company does from day to day? Again, these weren’t cases about unlikely scenarios or what-ifs, but the fundamentals of the business. So again, Mark Zuckerberg seems to have either lied to Congress (by omission, perhaps) or not have very much beyond a Wikipedia-level level of familiarity with his own company.

Of course he lied, lied, and lied - by ommission and by falsely pretending ignorance about very central facts about Facebook and its policies.

This is from the ending:

Zuckerberg’s Congressional debut is already being hailed by pundits as a win for the executive and his advertising company, if only because the worst case scenario of him crying or falling over didn’t come to pass. But if Zuckerberg can get away with evasion, omission, and deception before members of Congress, what chance for accountability do Facebook’s two billion users around the world possibly have?

Well... my estimate for the ¨chance for accountability do Facebook’s two billion users around the world possibly have?¨ differs extremely little from 0. And this is a recommended article.
2. I Downloaded the Information That Facebook Has on Me. Yikes.

This article is by Brian Chen on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

When I downloaded a copy of my Facebook data last week, I didn’t expect to see much. My profile is sparse, I rarely post anything on the site, and I seldom click on ads. (I’m what some call a Facebook “lurker.”)

But when I opened my file, it was like opening Pandora’s box.

With a few clicks, I learned that about 500 advertisers — many that I had never heard of, like Bad Dad, a motorcycle parts store, and Space Jesus, an electronica band — had my contact information, which could include my email address, phone number and full name. Facebook also had my entire phone book, including the number to ring my apartment buzzer. The social network had even kept a permanent record of the roughly 100 people I had deleted from my friends list over the last 14 years, including my exes.

I think this is quite interesting and indeed did an article on what Facebook and Google download and know about people (see here): it seems as if Facebook has at least 600 to 800 MB of data on most people (at the very least!!) and Google has 6 to 8 GB of the same.

Incidentally: 600 to 800 MB is about 600 to 800 volumes of an ordinary Penguin Classics; 6 to 8 GB is a 1000 times as much: 600.000 to 800.000 volumes of an ordinary Penguin Classics. On each and every one.

And in my opinion, all these data were stolen - very consciously, also - by Facebook and Google, and should never have fallen in their hands.

Here is more:

How Facebook collects and treats personal information was central this week when Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, answered questions in Congress about data privacy and his responsibilities to users. During his testimony, Mr. Zuckerberg repeatedly said Facebook has a tool for downloading your data that “allows people to see and take out all the information they’ve put into Facebook.”

But that’s an overstatement. Most basic information, like my birthday, could not be deleted. More important, the pieces of data that I found objectionable, like the record of people I had unfriended, could not be removed from Facebook, either.

“They don’t delete anything, and that’s a general policy,” said Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of DuckDuckGo, which offers internet privacy tools. He added that data was kept around to eventually help brands serve targeted ads.

Yes indeed - and Zuckerberg clearly lied. Here is how Facebook steals your private data:

Facebook Retains More Data Than We Think

When you download a copy of your Facebook data, you will see a folder containing multiple subfolders and files. The most important one is the “index” file, which is essentially a raw data set of your Facebook account, where you can click through your profile, friends list, timeline and messages, among other features.

One surprising part of my index file was a section called Contact Info. This contained the 764 names and phone numbers of everyone in my iPhone’s address book. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that Facebook had stored my entire phone book because I had uploaded it when setting up Facebook’s messaging app, Messenger.

And this is on how ¨The Ad Industry¨ works:

The Ad Industry Has Eyes Everywhere

What Facebook retained about me isn’t remotely as creepy as the sheer number of advertisers that have my information in their databases. I found this out when I clicked on the Ads section in my Facebook file, which loaded a history of the dozen ads I had clicked on while browsing the social network.

Lower down, there was a section titled “Advertisers with your contact info,” followed by a list of roughly 500 brands, the overwhelming majority of which I had never interacted with.

And this is about Google:

What About Google?

Let’s be clear: Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what information tech companies have collected on me.

Knowing this, I also downloaded copies of my Google data with a tool called Google Takeout. The data sets were exponentially larger than my Facebook data. For my personal email account alone, Google’s archive of my data measured eight gigabytes, enough to hold about 2,000 hours of music. By comparison, my Facebook data was about 650 megabytes, the equivalent of about 160 hours of music.

Yes, but as I explained above: Text takes far fewer bytes than sound, and what Facebook + Google know about Chen equal 600.000 to 800.000 volumes of ordinary texts.

Also, in case it interests you: I wrote a great amount of text in my life, but all of what I wrote is considerably less than a single GB. And if I were a user like Chen, Google has more than 7 times as many data on me as I wrote texts in 50 years of my life

Once again, I am very glad that I was born in 1950 and not later. And this is a strongly recommended article, in which there is considerably more than I quoted.

3. “Facebook Doesn’t Sell Your Data. It Sells You”

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced off with lawmakers in a marathon 5-hour hearing Tuesday about how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission, in efforts to sway voters to support President Donald Trump. We speak with Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor of information and library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Her book is titled “Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.”
Yes indeed (and if I review an article from Democracy Now! I generally start with the introduction because these are good).

Here is Tufekci:

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: So, what was really interesting yesterday is that the senators started asking questions that sounded fine, and probably because the staffers sort of prepared the questions well, and then they got lost in asking the questions. They weren’t able to understand how Facebook actually worked. They kept asking sort of technically weird questions that didn’t make sense.

And even more striking, there were times that Facebook’s own CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, couldn’t answer fairly basic questions on how the platform worked. For example, he was asked, “Can Facebook track users across devices? Does Facebook track people’s browsing or their activities when they’re logged out?” The answers to both are yes, and Zuckerberg struggled and said, “I’ll have my team get back to you.”
I think Zuckerberg clearly lied: Of course he knew; he just didn´t want to say so. Here is more on Zuckerberg´s - ¨the dumb fucks trusted me¨: Zuckerberg about his ¨members¨ - enormous dishonesty:

And I wrote a piece recently for Wired, too, where I listed the 14 years of apologies. So this isn’t even the first time Facebook CEO is apologizing. He’s been apologizing nonstop, before even Facebook was founded. He was apologizing for the previous version of—the initial prototype for Facebook, Facemash.

So, I mean, 15 years later in, we’re finally starting to deal with the kind of power, a platform with 2 billion users, a pretty much significant amount of information flow, socialization, civic functions, politics happens. I did find it quite interesting that there’s finally some questions on its power, whether it had competition, how—you know, because Facebook is essentially without competition at this point. That’s what makes it partly so powerful.

Yes indeed. Here is more:

So, the second thing about the privacy controls is, Facebook does two things here. One, they keep trying to say, “We give you control. We give you control. We’ll keep the data ourselves.” And even if you take that at face value—but as the Cambridge Analytica app scandal sort of shows you, they weren’t—but even if they do this, from going forward, what happens is, it’s quite hard for people to understand exactly what kind of data is collected, and a lot of their controls have been obscure. Like, there’s no one little click saying, “Do not collect data about me.” It’s like you have to kind of figure out. You have to go into a million different menus. And, you know, I have a technical background. I’ve been studying this stuff for a long time. And I sometimes get lost in the weeds of their menus and can’t figure out how to do this. How is an ordinary person supposed to figure this out?

The answer is simple: Ordinary persons will not be able to figure this out; ordinary persons generally will not even try; and besides knowing little to very little about computing, most people (including me) lack both the patience and the knowledge to read and comprehend legal texts (that also enter, whether you are shown them or not).

Then there is this:

The second thing is, by promising to keep the data completely secure from now on, they’re still not dealing with the fact that they are collecting an enormous amount of data. And that is not just what you voluntarily share.

Yes indeed. And since I have read several reports of ordinary users of Facebook and Google who did try to find out how many data Facebook and Google collect from each and everyone of their users, I will presently settle it by assuming Facebook has on average 700 MB of data on each and every user, and Google 7 GB (a thousand times as much).

And incidentally: Most of the data will be about ads you clicked, or so I presume, but my main point is that most of that data is linked to personal data that identify you, your address, your mails, your sites, your history, everything you know, value and desire, your pictures (including the pornographic pictures of any of your friends) and anything else that uniquely locates you in time and place.

Here is more on what Facebook steals from you:

And when people were downloading their Facebook database this week, as a result of the scandal, and thinking, “What’s in there?” a lot of people found that every single text message they had sent on their Android phone—you know, they’re just messaging their parent or their girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever—it’s all in Facebook’s databases.

Then there is this:

Now, a lot of people mistakenly think that Facebook sells your data. Facebook doesn’t sell your data. Facebook sells you. Right? Facebook is selling your attention. And it’s selling people’s attention screen by screen, so you don’t really get to see on a global level what’s going on.

Well... I´d say that Facebook steals everything it can from you, and effectively treats you not as a person but as a slave who gets fed the propaganda and the advertisements its AI decided you should see. Also, I do think that Facebook does sell your data to various advertisers (but Facebook keep its actions hidden from its members).

Here is the last bit I quote from this fine aticle, and it is from its ending:

We could enter into a phase of what I term “surveillance authoritarianism,” where we don’t face the kind of 1984 model, where there’s open totalitarianism, where we’re kind of dragged off in the middle of the night, kind of situation. But we’re silently and quietly, and person by person, screen by screen, nudged and manipulated according to our individual vulnerabilities. That kind of authoritarianism would even be hard to realize.

Here I am not quite certain what Tufekci has in mind, but I do know of a somewhat similar idea, namely the concept of inverted totalitarianism that Sheldon Wolin thought applied to the USA. And here is a link to a file from 2014 on my site that gives you considerable background about it.

And this is a
strongly recommended article.

4. Zuckerberg Pledges To Fix Facebook's Privacy Problems—No One Trusts Him

This article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before nearly half the Senate Tuesday may mark a historic turning point for Silicon Valley.

Members of both parties expressed substantive concerns about how high-tech’s surveillance economy preys on privacy and elevates propaganda—followed by wide skepticism that Facebook and the tech sector can be trusted to fix these problems without new federal regulations.

“If you and other social media companies don’t get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore,” said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, shortly after the hearing began. “Online companies like Facebook are tracking our activities and collecting information… Facebook has a responsibility to protect this personal information.”

Well... in the first place, at least from the content of Zuckerberg´s testimony, that consisted mostly of ¨I don´t know¨ (very fundamental things about Facebook) and propaganda about His Nobility Of Purpose (and he makes $500,000 an hour by His Nobility Of Purpose), I do not infer that this ¨may mark a historic turning point for Silicon Valley¨. I may be mistaken, but not on the basis of the ignorance Zuckerberg pretended.

And in the second place, Sen. Bill Nelson seems mistaken to me: It is not that ¨Facebook has a responsibility to protect this personal information¨; it is that Facebook should have no right whatsoever to steal all this personal information, and that this can be - technically speaking - quite easily done by encrypting everything.

There is also this in the article:

There’s much more than rebuilding trust on the privacy front before Congress as is considers how to respond to the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. There’s the issue of who owns their online information—individuals or platforms.

As Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana told Zuckerberg, his oft-repeated statement Tuesday that individuals own their data, “sounds really good to me, but in practice, let’s think about this for a second. You’re making about 40 billion bucks a year on the data. I’m not making any money on it. It feels like you own the data. In fact, I would say that the data that was breached through Cambridge Analytica… My guess was is few if any Americans knew that information was being breached. If I owned that data, I know it’s being breached.”  

No, it should not be an ¨issue of who owns their online information—individuals or platforms¨ for if the platforms do, the individuals are effectively treated as slaves by them, who have no personal right on keeping or protecting any private information.

And Sen. John Tester spoke quite truly.

5. Who Will Take on the 21st Century Tech and Media Monopolies?

This article is by Justin Anderson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Facebook is under fire for (among other things) its involvement with Cambridge Analytica, a British data analytics firm funded by hedge fund billionaire and major Republican party donor Robert Mercer and formerly led by President Trump’s ex–campaign manager and strategist Steve Bannon. Cambridge Analytica harvested data from over 87 million Facebook profiles (up from Facebook’s original count of 50 million) without the users’ consent, according to a report by the London Observer (3/17/18) sourced to a whistleblower who worked at Cambridge Analytica until 2014.

The users’ personal data was gathered through a survey app created by a Cambridge Analytica–associated academic named Aleksandr Kogan, who used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk micro-work platform and Qualtrics survey platform to gather and pay over 240,000 survey-takers. The data collected was then used by Cambridge Analytica to comb through the political preferences of the survey takers and their Facebook friends, without their knowledge, to create individual “psychographic models” that would then allow for entities (like the Trump presidential campaign) to target them with personalized political advertisements and news.

Yes indeed - and I copied this because this is clear (and well-edited!) information. I also - once again - point out that the findings about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are far more convincing than Hillary Clinton´s bullshit that ¨the Russians did it¨.

And no, I am not saying that the Russians don´t hack, for every state´s ¨security services¨ aka the state´s own terrorists does try to hack what they can; I am saying that in more than 1 1/2 years of inestigations there has been found very little evidence that the Russians did succeed in influencing the American elections of 2016, while now there has been found reams and reams of evidence that Facebook, Cambdridge Analytica, the Mercers, and Stephen Bannon (who worked as Trump´s chief strategist during the elections) did get the means to address tens of millions of Americans with personalized political propaganda.

Back to the article:

The Data Duopoly and the Media Oligopoly

Fueling the scandal is Facebook’s dominant position in advertising, the source of almost all of the company’s $40 billion in annual revenue. Alphabet, the parent company of Google (whose ad revenue totals over $74 billion annually), and Facebook arguably maintain a duopoly over digital advertising. Together, the two internet giants account for just under 60 percent of all non-China digital ad revenues in the world in 2017, according to eMarketer, a digital research firm. Similarly, the two companies are also responsible for 70 percent of referral traffic for web publishers.
These remarks are all simply true.

Here is more on the very few who command most of the internet:

Today, there are only a few dominant players in each industry:
  • Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft rule the social media, search, e-commerce and digital advertising domains.
  • Comcast, Verizon, Charter and AT&T are the only internet service providers in most locations throughout the US, and often don’t compete
    with one another in specific regions and cities.
  • Comcast, the Walt Disney Company (which recently acquired 21st Century Fox), News Corp, Time Warner and National Amusements (owner of CBS and Viacom) have conglomerated the majority of US media and entertainment properties.
While these companies have vertically integrated themselves to staggering degrees in their industries, what’s worse is the increasing pace at which they have sought to consolidate horizontally across sectors. Social media, internet and phone service providers, newspapers, television, radio, sports, magazines, book publishers and streaming services are all increasingly intertwined below just a few owners, creating conflicts of interest in pricing and providing content.
Precisely so. Here is the last bit I quote from this fine article:
Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s record on antitrust doesn’t look much different. While Obama did block some consolidation efforts, including the mergers of AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as that of Comcast and Time Warner, many large media and technology mergers and acquisitions during the Obama years have resulted in corporate behemoths with the power to stifle innovation, discourage competition and increase prices. These mergers and acquisitions include Comcast and NBC Universal, AT&T and DirecTV, Charter and Time Warner Cable, Facebook and Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, Microsoft and LinkedIn, and Live Nation and Ticketmaster, among manyothers.
Again precisely so. There is considerably more in this article, that is strongly recommended.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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