Tag Archives: facebook

Resisting digital personalization

8 Jun

Reposted from Z Blogs.

There is always talk about how the internet is a magically decentralized system. Eli Pariser, the former head of the liberal, pro-Democratic Party group, MoveOn, challenges this notion in his 2011 book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You, in which he sounds off on the dangers of digital personalization. This article will review the book and also attempt to offer some methods of resisting digital personalization.

Pariser focuses much of his book around the ‘filter bubble.’[1] Basically, the filter bubble is a set of algorithms used on sites such as Twitter, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! to name a few.[2] Filtering is, as Pariser describes it, is personalized tailoring of information to your liking. Such personalization, he says, could narrow our thoughts because we are inundated with those perspectives that agree with our views, not those that challenge us. In addition, the storage of our personal information by private companies and corporations is used to blast personalized advertising at us and filter our content through ‘click signals.’ Pariser worries that such filtering concentrates the control of the internet in the hands of a few American multinational corporations.

Digital personalization itself is the subject of a recent Warner Brothers film, Her. On the surface, the movie is about a relationship between the lonely and rarely social protagonist Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who works for a company that writes letters for those in intimate relationships, and an operating system (OS) with artificial intelligence named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johanson). Theodore, who is still married to a wife he has been separated with for years, tells Samantha his deepest thoughts as he falls deeply in love with her, and gets his life back together. Samantha is one of the many OS’s, commercial products that purport to make people understand their lives better, which evolve to meet the needs of the user, and personalize the content, so that they feel like a trusted friend. However, they are deceptive since the OS’s are not really human and their artificial intelligence creates a ‘lock in’ to their technology.[3] They also suggest what you may like based on your activities, thoughts, a bit like the function on sites such as Facebook or Amazon saying ‘if you like this, then you’ll like this!’ Theodore finds out the true nature of Samantha when she tells him that she is talking to more than 8,000 at the same time as him and is in love with about 1/10 of them. He is shocked as he thought Samantha was only his and possibly commits suicide (its open to interpretation) as the film closes. In essence, this movie warns of the dangers of digital personalization and how it can control human life.

After reading through this book I was a bit depressed about the future predicament of netizens.[4] US netizens, as they are called, are likely concerned about personalized ads being directed toward them. However, there is little action to counter such digital personalization. Interestingly, there has been more concern about the NSA engaging in mass surveillance on Americans and the rest of the world through the massive public-private national security complex, than the collection of personal data by companies such as Google and Yahoo!. This is not to say that NSA mass surveillance is not important, but rather that it is connected to what can rightly be called corporate surveillance. In the second part of the recent FRONTLINE documentary, United States of Secrets, it notes how the personal information which the

NSA collected to spy on Americans and people across the world was first exploited and stored by American multinational tech companies to benefit their bottom line.

Still, there is one major difference between collection of personal information which is digitally personalized by American multinationals and the ‘collect it all’ doctrine of the NSA & its partners. Digital personalization, as noted by Pariser, has the potential to seep into every part of our lives, as noted in the movie Her (talked about two paragraphs ago). NSA surveillance on the other hand is not all-encompassing, as it would be impossible for the NSA to collect all the personal information of Americans. Rather it is based on the idea of social control, where the NSA collects enough information for everyone to feel like they are under surveillance. Despite these differences, NSA surveillance and digital personalization are deeply connected, which is, strangely enough, not pointed out by Pariser, who only mentions the NSA once in passing in the book. But the book does allude to the possibility that government would exploit personal information used by American multinationals for their own uses (which they have done).

In the last chapter of the book, Pariser outlines what he believes are effective strategies for resisting digital personalization. They are pretty moderate in general. They include breaking your digital habits (looking at different things every day) and using technology where you have more control of the filter bubble imposed on you by the certain service. Pariser, for example, says that Twitter is better than Facebook because you get to control ‘your’ filter bubble. He also advocates for implementing and enforcing the Nixon-era Fair Information Practices as well.[5] Also, he writes that “to rescue our digital environment from itself, we’ll ultimately need a new constituency of digital environmentalists—citizens of this new space we’re all building who band together to protect what’s great about it.”[6] In a hopeful tone, Pariser says that “if the great mass of us decide that an open, public-spirited Internet matters and speak up about it…the lobbyists won’t stand a chance” (which was the case with the defeats of SOPA, PIPA and CISPA)[6]. But he worries that a “small group of American companies may unilaterally dictate how billions of people work, play, communicate, and understand the world.”[7] He concludes with the though that for “all of us,” protecting the “early vision of radical connectedness [on the internet] and user control should be an urgent priority.”[7]

I think that Pariser’s call to action to protect “radical connectedness” on the internet and resist digital personalization should be applauded. However, I feel that he does not go far enough. Companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and others who are exploiting user information and selling it to advertisers and, at times, giving it to the government, are simply “digital imperialists…[who] violate the basic right to privacy…[and constitute] part of the globalization of the surveillance state.”[8] Pariser’s book is a reminder of the increasing control of the internet by corporate power, but he does not mention, sadly, the “corporate concentration of the [online] blogosphere” or the growing power of a small number of internet service providers (mostly American multinationals) in the US. [8] To be fair, Pariser is focusing on digital personalization and highlighting its dangers in his book, not the issues I just talked about. On the other hand, I agree with Pariser’s view that as users, we should choose services which give us more power over our information flow: Twitter instead of Facebook, a digital dictatorship. Additionally, efforts to fight government or corporate censorship, through the law or otherwise, should be fought off.

Still, it is not enough to just leave Tumblr (before Yahoo! took it over), Blogspot (after Google introduced an intrusive new privacy policy), or permanently delete your Facebook account as I have done. Rather, it is better to support privacy-centered and open-source technology that gives people power. On top of this, there should be a push for a more democratic internet, with communities building “next-generation networks that are directly accountable to residents and local businesses,” and owned municipally, by cooperatives, nonprofits, or otherwise, as advocated by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). This may not be perfect, but its a better alternative than the status quo. Such a challenge to what is exists is the reason why “publicly owned high-speed internet” in Wilson, North Carolina, and Thomasville, Georgia have been attacked by the corporate bill-mill called ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). In the end, while it is clear that the internet is a free marketeer’s dream, there must a concerted effort for the people to exert control of the internet, hopefully without government structures, to fight off further efforts to privatize the net.

Notes:

[1] Other than Pariser’s book, most of the results are interviews with Pariser or reviews of his book. But there are also other articles like ‘Algorithms and the Filter Bubble Ruining Your Online Experience?‘ on Huffington Post, and ‘Tim Berners-Lee: Facebook could fragment web‘ in The Guardian.

[2] Much of the internet is tied into digital personalization, even constituting sites like the main feed on academia.edu (you can somewhat control it), Myspace (yes its still around), and others.

[3] Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: what the Internet is hiding from you (p. 40). New York: Penguin Press. Pariser defines this as “the point at which users are so invested in their technology that even if competitors might offer better services, it’s not even worth making the switch” (40).

[4] Michael Hauben defines this term, also called Net Citizen, as someone who exists “as a citizen of the world thanks to the global connectivity that the Net makes possible [since]…you physically live in one country but you are in contact with much of the world via the global computer network.” TechTarget adds that a netizen is a “a citizen who uses the Internet as a way of participating in political society” or an “internet user who is trying to contribute to the Internet’s use and growth.”

[5] Pariser, 239-40 and more directly defined the summary of the report of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems in July 1973 as the following: “[1]There must be no personal data record keeping systems whose very existence is secret. [2] There must be a way for an individual to find out what information about him is in a record and how it is used. [3] There must be a way for an individual to prevent information about him that was obtained for one purpose from being used or made available for other purposes without his consent. [4] There must be a way for an individual to correct or amend a record of identifiable information about him. [5] Any organization creating, maintaining, using, or disseminating records of identifiable personal data must assure the reliability of the data for their intended use and must take precautions to prevent misuse of the data.”

[6] Pariser, 242.

[7] Ibid, 243.

[8] My article on Nation of Change titled ‘The Digital Imperialists Strike Back.’

Any excuse will serve a tyrant: Facebook’s authoritarian censorship

25 Jun

In light of the recent revelations of the PRISM program by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, it is important to highlight the censorship of one of the biggest internet giants, Facebook. Luckily, I have already left this site, which I believe, like AR is really just a mental hospital we are all patients in and has massive surveillance. Here’s some recent news about their censorship.

With the news of protests in Turkey, there has been instances of censorship by Facebook. Adbusters recently wrote:

“A global call for #OccupyGezi solidarity protests went live earlier today. The event page on Facebook gained 5,000 attendees in its first hour. We’ve been hearing reports since this morning that Gezi park protest event pages and related posts are being taken down by Facebook. Activists from around the world have told us that their messages and even accounts were deleted. We have the proof. The following page has been removed. Translated into ten languages, all that remains is this screen capture.”

Richard Stallman, the “father” of the free software movement notes the following:

Facebook blocked links to the humor site lamebook which Facebook is trying to crush…Facebook deleted a statement by a human rights group, then said that was a mistake. That Facebook invited the group to post the statement again — instead of undoing the deletion — demonstrates arrogance. However, the problem here goes deeper. It is not good for human rights groups (or anyone’s) statements to be posted using a platform where statements are censored. Facebook censorship guidelines have been leaked. They include political censorship catering to various countries that do not respect freedom of speech. Facebook has censored political satire aimed at the UK unemployment agency and its associated organizations, apparantly at the request of a target of the satire…Facebook has mysteriously closed several pages of anti-budget-cut activists in the UK.”

But this isn’t all. In 2012, parts of a censorship list were leaked and they include:

“A secret list curated by social network giant Facebook was published online recently after an employee for one of the company’s third-world contractors, upset at his poor working conditions and meager wage, decided to fight back. The document reveals exactly what Facebook’s censorship brigade looks for on the social network, which boasts over 850 million users spanning the globe. Referred to internally as the “bible,” the list prioritizes deletion of materials pertaining to Holocaust denial, graphic nudity, depictions of any sexual fetish, racial slurs and bullying — all of which are unsurprising — but a few of the other entries are raising eyebrows. Namely, female nipples or even the impressions of nipples under clothing are unacceptable to Facebook censors, whereas male nipples are fine. Images of breast feeding, too, are forbidden if they show an exposed nipple. “Crushed heads” and mutilated limbs are also fine, so long as the person posting such images does not express delight and no internal organs are visible. The list specifically says that on this point, no exceptions would be made for news media. Also verboten: images of bodily fluids, including ear wax and pus; dead animals; advocacy of violence; advocacy of eating disorders; racial jokes where “the humor is not evident”; and “any photoshopped images of people, whether negative, positive or neutral”; “pixelated or black-barred content showing nudity or sexual activity”; “digital/cartoon nudity”; and images of drunk or sleeping people with “things drawn on their faces.” All that aside, images depicting marijuana use are fine, unless an individual appears to be growing, buying or selling the drug. “Art nudity” is okay, and so are videos of schoolyard fights — unless the video was posted with the intent to humiliate another user…Facebook has long been criticized by free speech activists for barring images of breast feeding and deleting accounts created by Palestinian resistance groups, but since it is a private company, Facebook is allowed to obstruct virtually any content it wishes.”

Also note these things as well:

All I can say is that Facebook is not only as Julian Assange put it, the biggest spying machine ever created but it is the biggest “digital dictatorship” which participates in digital imperialism (selling and giving your private information to advertisers and the intelligence community which shares it with private companies) and is inherently undemocratic like every tech giant. That is all.

The manifesto of the #facebookfive

28 May

This was translated using Google Translate.

On 15th May [they] were arrested at their homes, in the province of Barcelona [(]​​Yolanda, Cindy, John, Xavier and Joseph[)] by order of the Spanish National Court in a police operation that resulted also record, smashing and seizure of material from several sites Catalan anarchists.

Accused of committing crimes of terrorist group membership, praising terrorism, recruitment and indoctrination and storage of explosive substances, imposed on them currently serving remand prison in Soto del Real (Madrid) away from their family and friends, Low FIES third grade.

The responders made ​​such allegations are: The alleged involvement of these five anarchists Facebook pages (Solidarity Front Black Flag and Barcelona, ​​among others) that the state and regional police forces as “terrorist gangs”-despite did not demonstrate activity outside networks -; their attendance at demonstrations in which there have been incidents and dissemination of opinions “that have aimed to disseminate the ideas subversive to incite and / or commit crimes against State and capitalist interests “(Writ of 17/05/2013).

Moreover, the prosecution believes that the material seized in their homes reinforces these accusations: Flags and shirts with iconography anarchist, libertarian philosophy books, gasoline in the garage, screws of various kinds, Valencian firecrackers and rockets whose marketing is legal.

In connection with these events from this platform by releasing the five anarchists arrested in Barcelona, ​​whose purpose is the dissemination and reporting of the unjust situation in which they find themselves, manifiestamos:

1. Which, given the “evidence” on which they are based, such charges are disproportionate to reach the ridiculous and extremely unfair, which highlights once again the lack of validity of the current political system, the imperious will repressor of the ruling class, deeply DNA Spanish fascist state and the latent lack of political independence of our judicial system.

Two. Which, that despite incriminárseles such crimes are not anti-terrorism law has been applied and has followed its usual procedure in such cases reveals the judicial circus that our partners are involved and the lack of serious evidence that lead to common sense to think that they are terrorists.

Three. Which his arrest and continued detention clearly reflects a desire repressive and ideological persecution to those who reject the current political regime, which is absolutely unacceptable and unjustifiable.

For all these DEMAND THE IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF ANARCHIST FIVE OF BARCELONA and appeal to the solidarity of all those who, like them, reject the unjust economic system, political and social set. That is why we ask for your help and support to diffuse the situation by Yolanda, John Silvia, Joseph and Xabier, no one is left who can not rough assembly of political, media and police who have been victims of.

We back our colleagues, friends, parents. We love home free, with yours.

https://freedomforthefive.wordpress.com/manifiesto/

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