54 posts categorized "Facebook"

How long should it take Facebook to give users control over their personalities?

Reference is hereby made to the post here of Saturday last, Facebook's own healthcare.gov-like debacle.

The issue before us is, how long should it take Facebook to build a control that notifes a user that her name and/or likeness has been used to endorse a product or service, and to allow that user to kill the use of her personality rights in that ad?

8480754834_888d738c9b_zTo paraphrase the Facebook spokesperson quoted in the NYTimes article prompting Saturday's post, "these things take time."

I reached out to five coders I know and highly respect, got answers from four of them, and will attribute quotes to two of them, with permission:

Dan Carleton told me that building this feature is not as complicated as, say, fixing healthcare.gov:

"So what they are talking about is adding a system where you can be notified if you appear in one of these ads, and they’re adding a preference that you can opt out of appearing in these ads, right? So they already have a generalized system for sending different kinds of notifications to users, they already have a generalized system for tracking privacy settings and opt-in and opt-out, right? So those two major components are already there. So this is just a new type of notification they need to send people that appear in one of these ads, and a new bit they need to be able to flip per person as to whether or not they want to be in one of these ads, and then they just have to propagate the value of that bit down into the ad-serving platform. It just doesn’t seem that hard. It’s mostly a matter of priority. As a feature, in terms of surface area, in terms of how big a team you would need to accomplish it, in terms of just the integration issues you have to work through, it doesn’t seem like the team would have to be that large. Maybe four people working on it for a month and a half?"

Jason Thane told me that the problem is not really a technical one:

"A company like Facebook likely has many tiers of test and measurement for any new features that end up deployed as part of their product. So, though such a feature may be simple to build from a technical perspective, the challenge probably lies in crafting the messaging and positioning within the product such that the feature won't produce the kind of resentment several of their other privacy-related features have in recent memory. That's a taller order than any specific technical hurdle."

A third friend told me he couldn't comment, given something he is working on right now for a different company.

A fourth friend told me my knowledge of what actually happens, on the ground, on Facebook, is out of date:

"I took a look around Facebook and I can't find any examples of names or likenesses being used in onsite advertising anymore. I don't see it as an option in the advertising setup anymore either. I remember this summer when I was running . . . ads you would see social information about who was playing, liking the application but I'm not seeing it anymore."

Photo: zombieite / Flickr.

Facebook's own healthcare.gov-like debacle

You may recall how earlier this year Facebook settled a class action lawsuit brought by plaintiffs complaining of the use - unauthorized and uncompensated - of their names and likenesses in advertising.

(Venkat Balasubramani wrote the best post I have seen about this settlement. Here's the link.)

In Lanierian terms, Facebook's arrogance in pursuing a business model that treats users like cattle - if not to be slaughtered, then to be skinned for their likenesses - is part of the pattern by which those in charge of networks aggrandize property rights in data while denying that data has value for those contributing it.

But I digress.

3621423073_0a73e7f14a_zAs part of the settlement of the case, Facebook agreed to let users know when their names were being used to promote an ad, so that users could opt out of further distribution of the ad.

The New York Times has a story today, by Mark Mazzetti, stating that Facebook has yet to put this control into effect.

The article quotes a Facebook spokesperson, Jodi Seth, as saying the following: "The innovative controls we agreed to in connection with the settlement take time to build."

I don't buy it.

I'm going to ask several software engineers I know what they think about this answer.

This isn't healthcare.gov we're talking about here. Presumably very robust metric collection systems are already in place, to report on how user personalities are being monetized. The additional effort to give users a kill button, how hard is that effort, technically?

Photo:  Frédéric BISSON/ Flickr.

The importance of Twitter being unimportant

Speaking of Facebook, consider this sentence in an interesting New York Times article about Twitter's anticipated IPO:

"Messages flow in continuously, most recent on top, without regard to their importance."

It's describing how the Twitter service works.

The voice is, of course, objective journalistic indifference (or affectation of such), but how loaded is that final clause, "without regard to their importance."

6a01156e3d83cb970c019aff5d02f9970bThe implication is that each unique message must be evaluated and its order arranged (other than by time) to escape the gravitational shame of randomness.

Or, more insidiously, that user curation (both by sender and recipient, the latter having chosen which users may publish to the stream) does not compute.

An algorithm might rank messages with due regard to importance. The importance to an advertiser, say.

My fundamental problem with Facebook was that I had no idea whose agenda was cherry-picking the stream. I knew the agenda wasn't mine.

Yeah, Twitter has ads. I hate them. I report them as spam. I take modest measures to signal to the Twitter servers that I'm the kind of person they want to go easy on with the ads.

When the Gates Foundation buys Twitter, the company - and why not go public; it will facilitate such a move - the ads will be gone, and we will truly have a messaging service of no importance.

So much liberty, so little imagination

"This is not the behavior," writes Venkat Balasubramani in a post published earlier this week about Facebook's settlement of a class action lawsuit involving misappropriation of user personality rights, "of someone who even makes any pretenses about having its users' interest at heart."

6a01156e3d83cb970c019aff578897970cThe post is on Venkat's and Eric Goldman's blog, and it is excellent. If you still use Facebook, you should read this post and make yourself look at how at least some of the dog food is made. It is (was?) a fascinating case, raising precisely the central issues in Jaron Lanier's critique of the co-opting of the internet by the lords of the cloud.

Though Lanier himself, at least in his last book, suggested that network effects make participation in Facebook practically compulsory. (I dissent from that view.)

Venkat goes on to write: "I would expect more from a company whose push for expansion ostensibly depends on getting online people who are not otherwise connected to the internet, but that's neither here nor there. Oddly, users don't seem to care much."

Well, at least outsiders can rant.

Putting Facebook at the center of your online personality is like putting the editorial page of an important newspaper at the disposal of Vladimir Putin. It may be intoxicating, but good luck unpacking all the hidden agendas.

Subliminal advertising

Many kids are back to school today, so let's go ahead and give ourselves a structured, in-class assignment in writing and critical thinking.


Here's the assignment: write 150-250 words, comparing and contrasting the two quotes below (the first from an article in the Washington Post yesterday about Jeff Bezos's plan on improving the business-viability of the publication, and the second from Facebook's terms of service).

Bezos: "I’m skeptical of any mission that has advertisers at its centerpiece."

Facebook legal: "You understand that we may not always identify paid services and communications as such."

Extra points given for any witty snarkism that fits in 140 characters without resorting to non-standard abbreviations.

Photo: woodleywonderworks / Flickr.

Peer-to-peer commerce

I finished the Lanier book, or "thought collage."

Near the end, Lanier speculates as to who might take leadership and reform the broken economics digital value-compression.

One of his candidates is Facebook. This choice resonates with me, as, years ago, I thought that company could overthrow advertising. But at that time, at least, it lacked imagination and ambition.


"What if," Lanier asks, Facebook "prioritized peer-to-peer commerce?" He goes on:

"If advertising is to be the dominant business that earns profits online, then our horizons are limited. As more and more activities become dominated by cloud software, there will be fewer pre-network products left to advertise. For the moment we advertise computers, phones, and tablets, for instance. Someday, however, these items might be spit out of 3D home printers running off of open designs coming from the cloud. Then there would be no company left in the loop to pay for the ads.

. . .

"Facebook ought to be well motivated to find ways to grow the economy [since advertising has limited revenue potential]. Only a single person controls the company, so the means is present to overcome resistance from scaredy-cats on the board or among shareholders."

If that happens, I might re-join.

Spying vs. stealing

Imagine Facebook had to pay you for using any information about you.

Instead of balancing "personal privacy" against some super-secret corporate imperative to profile you for the purposes of manipulating you, instead of that, your individual interests, and Facebook corporate interests, were perfectly aligned.

MV5BMTk4OTE2NjU1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzQ5MDQ1Ng@@._V1_SY317_CR46,0,214,317_You and Facebook were partners in the monetization of your information, your personality.

In short, your information was your intellectual property.

In the privacy paradigm, Facebook may or may not get the "balance" - between your interests and its commercial imperatives - exactly right, but Facebook alone controls all exclusive intellectual property rights.

In the personal-information-as-intellectual-property paradigm, Facebook must account to you for how your information is processed and exploited. No "balancing act" required; simple commercial reporting obligations ensure accountability.

If we thought about our information this way, and if our commercial relationships with large web services were built to meet such expectations, it would be harder for companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, etc., to cooperate with government requests for all the data that runs through the corporate servers.

"That data does not belong to us," they could say. Depending on their contract with customers, they might also say, "It is, however, available for a premium fee."

Some people might be willing to sell their information to the government in exchange for good and valuable consideration - say, a federal income tax credit. For some, maybe patriotism would be sufficient consideration.

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