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Face Force: Facebook’s Secret Foray to Boldly Go Where No Data Miner Has Been Before

May 28, 2019 Comments off

Facebook and the Enemy Within: T-Bone Burnett’s Keynote at SXSW 2019 — Artist Rights Watch

March 19, 2019 Comments off

 

As usual, Henry gives an extremely relevant and literate dissertation on the loss of humanity imposed on us by Big Brother’s youngest sibling, Mark Zuckerberg–the boy who wouldn’t grow up, but who instead created an app for Room 101.

Please listen to T Bone when you have a quiet hour to yourself.

 

Wendy! Wendy! Peter’s Off His Meds Again! CEO Madness Sets in At Facebook

November 16, 2018 Comments off

Emporer zuck

According to a team of long-time tech reporters in the New York Times (see Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis):

[Apple CEO Tim] Cook’s criticisms [of Facebook’s well known intrusive data harvesting for its addiction machine] infuriated Mr. Zuckerberg [aka the boy who wouldn’t grow up], who later ordered his management team to use only Android phones — arguing that the operating system had far more users than Apple’s.

True, except Android sucks and scrapes worse than Friendster.  I mean, Facebook.

Some people refer to the music business as being run by the same five crazy uncles–but truth, they don’t hold a candle to the FANGsters.

But Sheryl Sandberg’s performance in the role of Wendy Darling is getting a bit hard to watch as Peter Pan self destructs on the way to his own version of Casa Neverland.  But Zuck has that special stock that gives him 10 votes for every share (copied by Daniel Ek, by the way) so unless he wants to step down, Zuck ain’t going nowhere no matter how crazy his crazy gets.

zuck in moscow

Well…maybe there is a limit to crazy.  No koolaide for Facebookers.

Google’s European Campaign Contributions on Article 13

August 24, 2018 Comments off

RITTER

They want what every first term administration wants…a second term.

From A Clear and Present Danger, written by Tom Clancy (novel), screenplay by Donald Stewart, Steven Saillian and John Milius.

MTP readers will recall that both the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung have confirmed the efforts by Google to influence the vote on copyright reform in the European Union.  We called for that investigation on MTP and were mocked for doing so by the usual suspects.

Getting mocked by the usual suspects is how you know you’re onto something big, by the way.

But we owe a big thanks to the really stellar investigative work of Volker Rieck and David Lowery that exposed how Google uses astroturf front groups to “push its views” and for which it no doubt pays well.

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There is, of course, a political dimension to this exposé that has not been examined thoroughly yet.  It’s an important dimenstion because the Members of the European Parliament must stand for election next year, less than a year away.  And the Member of the European Parliament who certainly appears to be as close to Google as 1 is to 2 is the lone Pirate Party representative.

The Pirate Party is a creature of proportional representation, an interesting practice in Europe (and other places) that allows political parties with very small constitutencies to field candidates and sometimes get elected to legislative bodies such as the European Parliament.  The Pirate Party has one European Parliament representative elected from Germany, which is interesting because Google has also dropped a pile of influence-peddling cash in Germany according to the Google Transparency Project.

First, Google’s academic influence program in Europe has gone beyond funding existing academic institutions, as it does in the United States, to helping create entirely new institutes and think-tanks in key countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In those countries, executives from Google’s lobbying operation have helped conceive research groups and covered most, or all, of their budgets for years after launch.

Google policy executives have acted as liaisons to steer their research priorities and host public events with policymakers.

For example, Google has paid at least €9 million to help set up the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) at Berlin’s Humboldt University. The new group launched in 2011, after German policymakers voiced growing concerns over Google’s accumulated power.

The Institute has so far published more than 240 scholarly papers on internet policy issues, many on issues of central importance to Google’s bottom line. HIIG also runs a Google-funded journal, with which several Google-funded scholars are affiliated, to publish such research.

The Institute’s reach extends beyond Germany, or even Europe. HIIG previously managed, and still participates, in a global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers [Silicon Valley’s answer to the Confucious Institutes] to coordinate internet policy scholarship. Many are in emerging markets where Google is trying to expand its footprint, such as India and Brazil.

So it must be said that when Google was caught with its hand in the cookie jar on Article 13, that astroturf effort must be viewed as part of a larger Google policy laundering operation that may include influencing elections.  Certainly in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, one cannot simply ignore these dots and all are worthy of investigation for compliance with Europe’s campaign finance laws if nothing else.

For a minority political party representative of one in need of a message in the face of an imminent election, it simply cannot be ignored that garnering the finanical support of Google and Facebook’s astroturf operation for a campaign that directly or indirectly benefits a candidate may be welcome.

Getting Silicon Valley’s billions focused on motiviating the electorate around a particular issue of benefit to such a multinational bloc of monopolists might help motivate voters and guide them to the “right” candidate.  As one of the usual suspects noted:

When the European Commission announced its plans to modernize EU copyright law two years ago, the public barely paid attention. This changed significantly in recent months.

Which was perhaps one of the electoral objects of the astroturf exercise.

Considering that political campaigns in Europe are typically of quite limited duration compared to the US (sometimes as short as 25 days before polling day), coming up with a an issue campaign that a political candidate–especially an incumbent–can leverage to increase their profile has got to be golden–particularly if that campaign may not rise to the level of a restricted political contribution or electioneering has got to be disclosed.

If that issue campaign can draw funding and support from U.S. based multinational corporations like Google and Facebook leveraging their user networks and advertising clout, all the better for a vulnerable candidate.

Because in the end, what every incumbent wants is another term.  The Pirate Party already faces declining relevance and may lose the one seat they have in the European Parliament elections in a few months time.  Especially if the the Pirate Party already struggles to field a winner.  Faced with such an existential threat, who knows what compromises may get made and who knows what in-kind donations may surface.

Undisclosed compromises and in-kind donations.

Facebook’s Campbell Brown Demonstrates the Ontological Smugness of the Ship Jumper

August 15, 2018 Comments off

Emporer zuck

We’ve all experienced the sneering smugness of the executives at YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and Amazon looking down their noses at artists and labels (especially independents).  (Never a problem with Apple in my experience, by the way, gee I wonder why.)

But the ontological definition of smugness is often found in the smuggest of the smug–former executives from a business in one of the copyright categories who quisling their way into a job defending surveillance capitalism at one of the big social networks.  There is no better example than Campbell Brown.  Yes, that Campbell Brown, formerly of CNN.

Ms. Brown, you see, is now Facebook’s “global head of news partnerships” or something like that.  She’s the one that Facebook sends out to try to convince news organizations that Mark Zuckerberg isn’t out to destroy or at least censor them and their readers.

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According to multiple reports, in The Australian, The Sun, The Guardian and others, Ms. Brown is quoted as telling a group of Australian news media executives (this from Olivia Solon in The Guardian):

“We will help you revitalise journalism … in a few years the reverse looks like I’ll be holding your hands with your dying business like in a hospice,” she said, in comments corroborated by five people who attended the meeting in Sydney on Tuesday.

Now ask yourself this–how many times have you heard this exact kind of thing coming from Big Tech executives?  I know I’ve been hearing it since at least 1999 if not before.  That stuff is really, really getting old.

But wait, there’s more of the same.

During the four-hour meeting, Brown also talked about the company’s decision to prioritise personal posts from family and friends over journalistic content within the news feed. The move has hit some publishers who rely heavily on referrals from Facebook hard.

“We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic and referrals anymore. That is the old world and there is no going back – Mark wouldn’t agree to this,” said Brown.

Of course, the real problem is that because of a variety of safe harbors, it is difficult for news organizations to cut off “journalistic content” from Facebook altogether which is exactly what they richly deserve.  If you’re going to the hospice anyway, wouldn’t you rather go to that big news conference in the sky on your feet than on your knees?

And here’s the height of smugness from Ms. Brown:

The Australian also reported that Brown said that Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, “doesn’t care about publishers but is giving me a lot of leeway and concessions to make these changes”, although both Facebook and Brown vehemently deny this comment was made, referring to a transcript they have from the meeting.

Facebook would not release the transcript from the meeting.

Of course they wouldn’t.  They have all the data in the world that they sell to anyone with a pulse, but they’re not going to release that transcript.  Presumably this is on the advice of Facebook’s soon-to-be-departed general counsel, the eponymous Mr. Stretch, he of the Dickensian name.

The upshot of the story would appear to be self-aggrandizement by Campbell Brown–who many would have thought better of–that your business is dying unless you deal with me because Mr. Big is too big for you but has deputized me to throw you some scraps.

Even though Ms. Brown and Facebook deny the event ever happened that way, I have to say that it all rings very true to me.  I think it will ring true to anyone who has dealt with those who jump ship but then go sell themselves based on their past work experience to a buffoon like Zuckerberg (who kowtows like Bozo to authoritarian regimes, literally).  Amazing what a few stock options will do to elevate one’s opinion of oneself.

All that’s missing is for the journalist trades to hail Ms. Brown’s expertise and deal making ability simply because she was once a passenger on the ship she jumped from.  That would complete the ontological smugness of it all.

 

 

 

 

Thank You Senator @MarkWarner, but Senator @RonWyden is the Perfect Leader in the Fight Against Behavioral Addiction

August 13, 2018 Comments off

Senator Mark Warner has released (or leaked) a comprehensive plan to combat fake news and foreign manipulation of the American electorate through Silicon Valley.  Unfortunately, however appealing or appalling some of Senator Warner’s proposals are, it’s likely that he may just be expanding the game of whack-a-mole that Silicon Valley loves so much.  We’ve seen the whack-a-mole movie before and we know how it ends.  They won’t help, you spend money to fight them, and if you ever look like you might be winning, they outspend you on lobbying to create a new safe harbor.

Senator Wyden Can Help Solve the Fundamental Problem With Social Media

There is a more fundamental problem with Silicon Valley that the Congress is actually well-suited to address, probably needs no new laws, and if fixed would go a long way to addressing some of Senator Warner’s issues—the problem of addiction and how Silicon Valley profits from creating that behavioral addiction to smartphones, likes, views, retweets and other fakery that turns the science of addiction on its head.

And the really good news is that there is one currently serving U.S. Senator who is the perfect person to take on this issue, one Senator who has shown his chutzpah in the past, and one Senator who above all others is well suited to deal with the problem of behavior addiction for corporate profit—Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon.

It was Senator Wyden who created that classic exchange in 1994 between the heads of the Big Tobacco companies which you’ve probably seen where Senator Wyden got each of them to say that nicotine was not addictive, only to discover that these companies used biological and behavioral research to make their product as addictive as possible (see The Insider, a film about Big Tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand portrayed by Russell Crowe).  

The tobacco class actions resulted in a $3.4 billion payment over 25 years–in 1997 dollars.  We know how much Big Tech hates real class actions they don’t control, but face it–a comparable settlement today would be chump change for the most valuable companies in commercial history.

This is why Ron Wyden is the perfect Senator to reprise his role of champion of public health by holding Silicon Valley’s feet to the fire.  And let’s face it—there’s lots of material to work with in the business of social media that is founded on fakery, well beyond Senator Warner’s recommendations.

YouTube’s Fakery on Display Again

It’s not surprising that fake YouTube views are again in the news in what is becoming a series of exposes on the fakery in social media.  The latest deep dive into the skullduggery behind fake views is by Michael H. Keller in the New York Times and is recommended reading by Artist Rights Watch.

Everyone in the record business who has been paying attention has seen a version of this story play out many, many times for many, many years.  Remember the radio promotion exec who always seems to get the same adds at that same stations for a few weeks?  And when the plays stop, the exec says “the record is not reacting”?  Fake YouTube views are essentially the same scam—with two exceptions. The scale is vastly bigger at YouTube and no DJ has the motto “don’t be evil.”

Mr. Keller’s post ends with this provocative conclusion:

View-selling sites continue to advertise with apparent impunity. A post on the YouTube Creator Blog warning users against fake views has numerous comments linking to view-selling sites.

“The only way YouTube could eliminate this is if they removed the view counter altogether,” said Mr. Vassilev, the fake-view seller. “But that would defeat the purpose of YouTube.”

That’s an interesting proposition.  Why would removing the view counter defeat the purpose of YouTube?  Aren’t we told that artists can’t reach an audience without YouTube?  So isn’t the purpose of YouTube to reach an audience rather than produce public views information?  Granted, the person making that assertion is a fake view seller and not a YouTube representative, but a YouTube representative would likely never say such a thing even if they knew it to be true.  Why not?

Behavioral Addiction Additives 

One reason might be that the view counter, friend counters, the likes, the retweets, the various measurements that demonstrate the re-enforcement of acceptance by “friends”, are an important component of what makes YouTube addictive, just like tobacco companies added ammonia and other chemicals to tobacco to increase its addictive powers.  And the evidence is starting to come in suggesting that it is that addiction that is the real purpose of YouTube and other social media sites.

One source of that evidence is from Professor Adam Alter of the NYU Stern School of Business whose book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked describes in shocking detail just how devious sites like YouTube and Facebook are in delivering the dopamine fix to our brains, and worse yet to our children’s brains.  As Professor Alter told the New York Times:

Today, we’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many “likes” our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to….

We are engineered in such a way that as long as an experience hits the right buttons, our brains will release the neurotransmitter dopamine. We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more.

And of course those buttons include YouTube subscriber and view counts, Facebook friends and likes and the various other feedback mechanisms that enforce a measurement of popularity.  So far, social media is good business as Spotify billionaire Sean Parker tells us:

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” 

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said.

Of course, as one Silicon Valley entrepreneur who also survived the Dot Bomb Implosion once told me, there’s something really wrong about a world in which Sean Parker is a billionaire.

Do Fake Views Produce Fake News?

Here’s a couple thoughts about the fake view issue.  First, why doesn’t Google refund the sums spent on fake views?  Maybe not to the repeat user PR firms but at least to the individuals who were lured in by the promise of fake views who didn’t know any better?  Or would they prefer to put together one of their pre-packaged fake class actions that funnels money to their favorite shills in cy pres awards?

But going forward, what is so unusual about getting rid of view counters, friend counters, like counters, follower counters, and so on?  Twitter did something similar when they stopped the counter on Twitter linking buttons.  If YouTube is really such a great tool for consumer engagement, do we think fans are going to stop watching videos of the artists they love just because they don’t have a counter telling them what’s popular when there’s a better than 50/50 chance the counter is a fraud to begin with?

Let’s face it—one reason YouTube music videos are popular is because artists and labels drive traffic to YouTube.  That helps the view count as much as anything else.

Also, it’s not like there’s no ranking going on.  Google can rank YouTube videos in search with no problem.  Of course, they’re so good at ranking in the background that they are being fined for it by the European Commission. 

Senator Wyden, Where Art Thou?

While I appreciate Senator Warner’s effort, the real rock star in taking on Silicon Valley could be Senator Ron Wyden.  The addiction issue would be a perfect opportunity for his consumer protection legacy with tobacco addiction to enter the digital age.

Must read: @creativefuture: #PlatformResponsibility Starts with Facebook – but All of Silicon Valley Must Step Up — Artist Rights Watch

April 17, 2018 Comments off

More excellent argumentation from Creative Future.

Last month, CreativeFuture asked you, our followers, what you thought about platform responsibility. Little did we know that, in the meantime, the issue would start taking over the front pages of our newspapers and websites!

In a nutshell, the issue is whether Google, Facebook, and their Silicon Valley peers should take responsibility for the ways their platforms are used to violate our laws and harm society.

Even before the House and Senate passed landmark legislation to demand accountability from the tech giants and even before Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica mess exploded, we asked your views on a few simple questions that came down to one thing: do you believe that Google and Facebook should be more responsible?

The answer, overwhelmingly, was that you do – and you had a lot to add in response. Here are just some of your comments:

  • “The organizations who own these platforms make enormous profits. They have a responsibility to make sure the platforms are not being used to harm others.”
  • “They have the greatest ability to do so. And a moral responsibility. Just because it’s a newer technology doesn’t exempt them.”
  • “Because if they are able to control it, and I believe that they can, then they should be held accountable and responsible if they don’t.”
  • “They are providing the service that is being used for these malicious acts. They are responsible! They need to find a solution and be held accountable!”
  • “Violations of the law should be prosecuted. To avoid prosecution, they should take proactive steps to prevent violations.”
  • “They created these platforms, they should be responsible for them. They are beyond wealthy from them and can afford to police them. U.S. laws should apply everywhere in the U.S., including [the internet]!”
  • “Times change, services change, service providers change. Rules must keep up with changes.”
  • “Hostile foreign governments are using internet social platforms to publish untrue propaganda in order to destabilize our nation … if they can’t or won’t [monitor their platforms], they should be heavily fined and shut down. It is their responsibility for doing business in this country.”
  • “Responsibility is part of having a business.”
  • “[Google and Facebook] are no different from any other corporation which has the responsibility not to enable breaking the law. They are complicit and just a guilty as those breaking the law.”
  • “I can’t believe we even have to ask this question. I am sick and tired of corporations bearing no responsibility for the effects of their services on people. If a crime is occurring and the corporation looks the other way, that cannot be allowed any longer.”
  • “They don’t want the responsibility of accountability because complying would eat into profits with no returns. So, it will NEVER happen unless it is legislated.”
  • “The internet has become perhaps the single most important source of information and communication in the world. It cannot just rake in profits and not be responsible for what they have created.”

This week, on April 10 and 11, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify twice before Congress on the issues facing his company, and Silicon Valley generally. We expect that Zuckerberg will be very well prepped by his army of lawyers. We anticipate that he will try to reassure Congress that Facebook is doing all it can to (1) protect the privacy of its users; (2) prevent foreign influence on its advertising networks; and (3) stop rampant violations of the law from being carried out on their platform.

But Congress should not settle for head-pats and platitudes. They need to ask some hard and direct questions. We hope they will include the following…

Read the post on Creative Future

 

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