Google, Facebook, and Twitter are platforms. So are some retail sites. What does that mean? It means that they provide the means for people to use their technology to create things for themselves. Most of the time, this is a good thing. People can communicate in ways they never could before such platforms. Likewise, people can sell things to people they never could.
Now these platforms are in a bind, as you can see in this piece and in other places: Google, Facebook, and Twitter Sell Hate Speech Targeted Ads. They are in a bind partly due to their own approach, by boasting of their ability to use AI to stop such things. They should have been much more humble. AI as it currently stands will only take you so far. Instead of relying on things like AI, they need to have better governance mechanisms in place. Governance is a cost of organizations, and often times organizations don’t insert proper governance until flaws like this start to occur.
That said, this particular piece has several weaknesses. First up, this comment: “that the companies are incapable of building their systems to reflect moral values”. It would be remarkable for global companies to build systems to reflect moral values when even within individual nations there is conflicts regarding such values. Likewise the statement: “It seems highly unlikely that these platforms knowingly allow offensive language to slip through the cracks”. Again, define offensive language at a global level. To make it harder still, trying doing it with different languages and different cultures. The same thing occurs on retail sites when people put offensive images on T shirts. For some retail systems no one from the company that own the platform takes time to review every product that comes in.
And that gets to the problem. All these platforms could be mainly content agnostic, the way the telephone system is platform agnostic. However people are expecting them to insert themselves and not be content agnostic. Once that happens, they are going to be in an exceptional bind. We don’t live in a homogenous world where everyone shares the same values. Even if they converted to non-profits and spent a lot more revenue on reviewing content, there would still be limits to what they could do.
To make things better, these platforms need to be humble and realistic about what they can do and communicate that consistently and clearly with the people that use these systems. Otherwise, they are going to find that they are going to be governed in ways they are not going to like. Additionally, they need to decide what their own values are and communicate and defend them. They may lose users and customers, but the alternative of trying to be different things in different places will only make their own internal governance impossible.
No doubt this game of cat and mouse will go on for some time. For Adblock to prosper, they need to block ads on Facebook. Likewise, for Facebook there is too much money at stake to allow Adblock to block their ads. For details on this, see: Adblock Plus and (a little) more: FB reblock: ad-blocking community finds workaround to Facebook
One thing for sure: developers from both sides will be pushing out changes on a regular basis as this battle heats up.
Of course, behind such tactics, the deeper questions are left unresolved, questions around business models and the viability of services without access to advertising revenue.
Do you find it weird when you search for something, then go to other sites, and it seems like the product is following you around? Do you worry that sites are tracking information about you and you want to stop it?
I’d like to say there is an easy way to put an end to such tracking, but it doesn’t seem to be so. If anything, companies like Facebook, Google and others have a big financial interest in tracking you, regardless of what you think, and they are going to make it hard for you to put an end to it all.
That said, if you still want to take action, I recommend these links. They highlight tools you can use and steps you can take to limit tracking. You don’t have to be technical to read them, but you have to be comfortable making changes to your system.
- How to prevent Google from tracking you – CNET – this may be the best article that I read. Mostly focused on Google. There are useful links to tools in here and plugins you can use, like Disconnect and Ghostery. Somewhat technical.
- Facebook Is Tracking Your Every Move on the Web; Here’s How to Stop It – This Lifehacker article has more on how to deal with Facebook tracking you than Google, but it is also good.
- How to Stop Google, Facebook and Twitter From Tracking You – this piece from ReadWrite talks mostly about the Disconnect tool, but it does it in conjunction with discussion of some other tools. Seems less technical than the first two, if you found the first two links too hard to follow.
- How to Stop Google From Tracking You on the Web on NDTV Gadgets has tips that are more manual in nature, if you don’t want to download tools. Also some good information on how to deal with mobile phone tracking.
- Delete searches & browsing activity – Accounts Help via Google comes straight from the source of the tracking.
Some thoughts of my own:
- Consider using two browsers: one for your Google use (e.g. Chrome) and one for other uses (e.g. Firefox or Safari). The non-Google browser you can lock down with blockers and other tools, while the Google oriented browser could be limited to just what you need to integrate with Google.
- Avoid sites that track you, like Facebook.I know, it isn’t easy. If you have to go on Facebook — you get a call from a sibling asking why you haven’t commented on the new baby pictures there — limit yourself to a few thumbs up and leave it at that. (Knowing Facebook, they will still find a way to do something with even that data.)
- If you are really concerned, avoid Google altogether and use other search engines, like DuckDuckGo, and other email services, such as Outlook.com. There can still be tracking, but in theory this should make it harder.
- If you use any of tools, get into a habit of using them and keeping them up to date.
- Don’t forget to do the same thing on your mobile devices. Facebook can track your activity on your mobile phone, regardless of what you may be doing on the web. You can be tracked via apps just as easily as you can be tracked from your browser.
- If you do anything else, install the Disconnect plug in and then activate it and go to a newspaper site. You will be amazed just how much tracking is going on. (Also, you do NOT have to sign up for the premium version to get it working.)
Posted in advice, facebook, google, IT
Tagged advice, browsers, computers, Facebook, google, privacy, tracking, twitter
Over at the – New York Times is a good article on how Facebook is being used as a serious tool for academics. For example:
In other words, Facebook — where users rate one another as “hot or not,” play games like “Pirates vs. Ninjas” and throw virtual sheep at one another — is helping scholars explore fundamental social science questions.“We’re on the cusp of a new way of doing social science,” said Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard sociology professor who is also part of the research. “Our predecessors could only dream of the kind of data we now have.”
There’s lots of great examples in the article: On Facebook, Scholars Link Up With Data
Touchgraph can do a very interesting visual representation of your social network ala Facebook. For example:
To try this yourself, go their web site TouchGraph | Products: Facebook Browser
One thing interesting about FB is that you can start to see interesting patterns and behavoirs. Some of them are just random, but it is interesting. For example, a colleague from work and my mom recently changed their photos:
I think it is interesting that they both chose flowers and at the same time. It could be random, but I believe there is something more to it than that.
I was looking up someone on FB today, and by accident I came across someone I hadn’t seen since I worked at the Dalhousie gymnasium in the early 80s. While that is approximately 25 years ago, I still recognize her, and when I saw her photo, I remember what she used to look like, even though we were just acquaintances and I hadn’t thought about her since I left university.
Now this is not a new phenomenon. People used to leave a community and then return much later and recognize people. What is different, though, is the breadth and depth of how this can be done and how it will be done. Breadth: as more and more people join social networking sites like Facebook, you will be able to see MANY more people you haven’t seen in ages. Depth: you will be able to find out much more about them than you could in typical social settings. You can see their friends, their families, what they do, etc.
has a great column on the effects social networking site, Facebook, is having on family dynamics. It will be interesting to see FB transform from a college dorm party to a family wedding.
Here’s the article:
Facebook: watching the watchers
Facebook has a very simple API to put things in your profile. Can you guess it from looking at this link to the great video by The Postal Service? 🙂