Instagram’s day in the doghouse December 19, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
- Instagram can share information about its users with Facebook, its parent company, as well as outside affiliates and advertisers.
- You could star in an advertisement — without your knowledge.
- Underage users are not exempt.
- Ads may not be labeled as ads.
- Want to opt out? Delete your account.
Instagram has since clarified its position, arguing that it never meant to appropriate users’ photos in this way and it is clarifying its language to assure its users of this. Whether Instagram really made a mistake or employed the trial balloon strategy usual for Facebook is a matter for debate.
“Instagram isn’t going to sell your photos, Facebook is going to use them to access data to further help them push more and more targeted ads,” said Kerry Morrison, CEO of Endloop Mobile, a Toronto-based app developer.
Facebook did buy Instagram–for $1 billion–remember?
So, whatever else it means, this faux pas by Instagram illustrates a couple of issues regarding privacy and free services on the Internet. First, terms of service may be changed at any time, particularly when a service provider is bought by another company. Second, the default will always be opt-out, that is, you are a part of the service’s monetization program unless you explicitly opt out (if that is even possible).
One way to opt out is to adopt a service that you pay for up front. However, opting out of a popular service is difficult and even costly, as Instagram is well aware. Many people have invested much time, effort, and money in setting up their Instagram accounts. Deleting those accounts would mean losing that investment and the connections that come with it. Another option might be to pay to opt out while remaining in the service. This solution might be reasonable, although it hardly seems to be in Facebook’s “DNA”.
Children on Facebook November 29, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
It is not news that some children lie to get accounts on Facebook. Young people tend to be intensely social and Facebook provides an means for connecting with friends when they are not otherwise available. However, the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires stringent safety and privacy controls to providers of services to children under 13. Since Facebook does not, by design, provide such strict control, it does not comply with the Act. Instead, it forbids children under 13 from joining the service.
(Deryk Hodge/Wikimedia commons)
If children under 13 join the service, Facebook has measures in place to remove their accounts. For example, users can report suspicious users using a reporting tool. According to Facebook, about 20,000 users per day are removed for violation of the age restriction. Whether or not this measure is adequate is a matter of controversy. As of last year, some 7.5 million under-age users were on the service in the US.
Facebook would like to allow young children to use its service and is exploring ways it might do so. According to Mark Zuckerberg, their motivation is that Facebook could be key in childhood education:
“Education is clearly the biggest thing that will drive how the economy improves over the long term,” Zuckerberg said. “We spend a lot of time talking about this.”
At least, getting more children on Facebook would be good for the company’s economy.
A new study of underage Facebook use provides more fuel for the fire. The issue concerns privacy measures that Facebook takes for users between 13 and 18 years of age:
Facebook has long said that it is difficult to ferret out every deceptive teenager and points to its extra precautions for minors. For children ages 13 to 18, only their Facebook friends can see their posts, including photos.
A child could be found, for instance, if she was 10 years old and said she was 13 to sign up for Facebook. Five years later, that same child would show up as 18 years old – an adult, in the eyes of Facebook — when in fact she was only 15. At that point, a stranger could also see a list of her friends.
As a result, the current situation creates an incentive for children to lie about their ages, a lie that then makes information about them publicly available a few years later when they, and their friends, are still minors. Without COPPA, children would be less likely to lie and would be subject to more stringent privacy measures for longer.
The situation provides an example of unintended consequences. In this case, a law that was designed to protect the privacy of minors tends to expose them instead because of the circumstances in which it operates. Such examples remind us that even the seemingly most rational and straightforward plans can fail due to limitations of knowledge or capacity to judge how our actions will turn out.STV202 , comments closed
TechCrunch reports on a new feature in Facebook that allows users to pay to put their updates in front of eyeballs. At present, the article reports, only about 12% of friends and followers see your status updates. This level of readership exists because Facebook employs a mechanism to rate the importance of incoming posts and prioritizes those with the highest importance. Currently, importance is calculated based on how close a friend you are to the poster, and how many likes and comments the post has attracted already. The new service, Highlight, allows you to jump the queue, as it were, by paying to have the priority of your postings enhanced.
(Ja nobasu/Wikimedia commons)
This approach to prioritizing access to attention could be controversial. As Josh Constine points out in the TechCrunch article, the new setup could alter, for the worse, users’ understanding of the value of updates:
… it could erode the site’s sense of community. On Facebook, what’s supposed to matter is how interesting your posts are, not how deep your wallet is.
In the present setup, the queue of status updates visible to any user is already a form of advertising; Facebook arranges things so that people will talk most about goods and services they might like to buy or sell – advertising packaged as a subtle form of peer pressure, as Jaron Lanier has pointed out. The Highlight system would make this covert form of advertising more overt, which users may regard as overly intrusive or uncool.
The issue also brings to mind the discussion of the ethics of queues in Michael Sandel’s new book, What money can’t buy. Sandel notes that people tend to object to certain forms of queue jumping, such as paying scalpers $100s for tickets to campsites in public parks like Yosemite that are sold by the government for $20 a piece. There are basically two objections:
- The payments make the system unfair, since many campers cannot afford the scalpers’ prices.
- The payments undermine the purpose of the park. Since affluent campers can jump ahead in the queue, the less affluent are effectively barred from a resource that is meant to be universally available.
As Sandel observes, the effect is to break down the egalitarian nature of camping in public parks, which then undermines the basic sense of equality among all citizens that such public amenities are supposed to promote.
The Highlight system, if generally adopted, is vulnerable to the same sort of criticism. Allowing some posters to push their updates ahead in the queue could be regarded as unfair and as contrary to the purpose of the posting system. Of course, Facebook is a private company not a public amenity. However, users have been conditioned to view it as a free amenity and so could balk at the change anyway.
Facebook says that Highlight is merely a test, a trial balloon:
“We’re constantly testing new features across the site. This particular test is simply to gauge people’s interest in this method of sharing with their friends.”
So, it may not materialize in the end. Whatever the outcome of this test, it provides an interesting illustration of the general problem of organizing queues and how people perceive them in terms of fairness and purpose. (More material on queues and the ins and outs of their design can be found in The psychology of waiting lines by Donald Norman.)
What does Facebook owe its users? February 16, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
There is an interesting little segment on NPR in which the irrepressible Jaron Lanier argues that Facebook should pay its users. Well, that is, some of its users.
What Lanier has in mind is not a sort of socialist scheme in which Facebook owes its users wages in compensation for their labors on its behalf (the users do generate most of the content). After all, the users are compensated by being provided with Facebook’s services. Instead, Lanier views the current arrangement as being, in a way, too socialist! That is, users are bartering their labors in exchange for Facebook’s services, and a bartering economy is not a solid foundation for the world of the future. Indeed, this arrangement is actually undermining Facebook’s business model, on which it monetizes the content generated by users through selling advertising directed at them:
As we move from an information age to an information economy, people are getting poorer. That’s because even though they’re building social networks, he explains, they’re not being paid in wages. The haves who control the servers reward the have-nots with likes and friends. It’s a prehistoric bartering system, he says, not full-fledged capitalism.
Well, people without spending money are probably not worth advertising to. In Lanier’s view, it would be better if Facebook simply paid users or, at least, the users who generate the most popular content. Also, it could charge users for access to its services, and thus make up what it would forgo in advertising revenue.
It is clear that this proposal will not fly, not anytime soon. Facebook is heavily committed to its current business model. However, the argument contains some interesting points worth examining. The first point concerns the focus on downplaying the role of advertising in Facebook’s (or the future Internet’s) business model. Lanier proposes that Facebook should instead make its money through a system of wages and charges. Some service providers, such as YouTube, do engage in this sort of exchange. Then again, so do advertisers. Here, I am thinking of the phenomenon of the haul video, in which companies pay people to talk up their wares on the Internet, e.g., on Youtube, in exchange for products or money. If Facebook went to the model that Lanier suggests, it is possible that advertisers would still play a dominant role in its economy through indirect means such as this one, that is, paying people to talk up their stuff on Facebook. If that is true, then Lanier’s proposal might not produce the desired effect.
Lanier’s argument also raises a broader issue, the issue of what Facebook owes to its users or to society in general. He maintains that Facebook’s current model is impoverishing its users. The evidence cited is a general downturn in the welfare of users as Facebook profit has climbed. Of course, this argument, as it is presented, is not persuasive. It is true that Facebook profit has increased during an economic downturn, but it does not follow that Facebook has contributed to that problem. Neither does it follow that Facebook has not; the matter is merely inconclusive. One might point to confounding issues, such as globalization, to explain decreases in the effective income of Facebook users, for example.
Beyond the epistemological issues, there is a moral one. Does Facebook owe prosperity to its users? The conventional view of a capitalist economy is one where the social duty of companies is to make money, in addition to avoiding fraud, anticompetitive practices, and other forms of malfeasance. Suppose that Facebook’s success is contributing to the impoverishment of its users. Would that be unfair to the users? Would it be violating the social contract? I think you could make a reasonable case for the answer “yes”, provided that Facebook becomes a dominant force in the marketplace, which, it is worth adding, it seems poised to do. Of course, anyone wanting to make money from Facebook’s success could soon buy stock. However, the cost of getting into stocks, not to mention the possible price of the stock itself, could lock out a substantial portion of the service’s users.
So, I am skeptical of Lanier’s proposal for Facebook but I do think that his argument gives us some important things to think about as we progress into the new economy.
Guest Post: Do you “like” Facebook? :) or :( October 17, 2011Posted by Scott Campbell in : Uncategorized , comments closed
Today we have a special guest post from an STV student! For personal reasons that will be obvious, they’ve asked to remain anonymous here.
I used to use Facebook fairly liberally in the past, but have now scaled back as I have come across the phenomenon of “Facebook Depression”. Facebook’s explicit quantitative indicators – the famed Like button – along with the comments that follow – or the lack thereof – can potentially propel a person towards depression.
On this social networking megalopolis, many users typically post photos, links, and updates about their social lives. I didn’t really post aspects of my social life, rather, I tried to encourage good deeds or foster knowledge sharing. In encouraging good deeds, I once posted a link about donating to a charity, and subsequently realized how lonely I can feel when people don’t Like or Comment on my links.
When I posted the charity link, I got Zero Likes and Zero comments. Zero. I received absolutely no support in this virtual space, and then realized that Facebook gives very explicit quantitative indicators of social support. By doing so, Facebook subconsciously makes you engage in “upward social comparison”, the age old idea of “Johnny got 100% on his test, and I got 80%”. Except in the case of Facebook, it becomes, “Johnny got 10 Likes, I got 0 Likes, Don’t my friends support me?”
Too much upward social comparison can potentially lead to depression, and in the case of Facebook, like my case, that is very true. It makes me feel that either people don’t like me, people don’t support me, or they’re not listening to what I have to say. Inevitably, this made me depressed, and I’m not alone in this observation. As this article points out, “Facebook can enhance feelings of social connectedness among well-adjusted kids, and have the opposite effect on those prone to depression.” To those prone to depression, Facebook’s quantitative indicators and social comparisons can make things worse.
I guess this is what happens when we transplant social activities onto the digital realm. You get an “in your face” number of Likes and Comments, and if that number is Zero, it can be a very painful feeling. Especially if you were expecting some support.
“Likes” on social networking sites or search engines or newspapers are all ways of quantifying what that was previously quite difficult to measure. However, as this person notes, these quantifying processes can produce unexpected and undesirable results. I’m sure there are benefits to the entities distributing and collecting “Like” buttons across the web, but there are costs as well, particularly to those people who might not measure up. Another way of putting it: if ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise…
Thanks to the student who contributed this observation. I’d invite any of our readers or STV students to contribute their own thoughts or ideas for future posts!
Does your gear do some of your thinking for you? December 13, 2010Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV203, STV302 , comments closed
A little piece from NPR highlights how social media sites like Facebook can distract people from work, thus making them less productive:
Nielsen, the media research firm, calculated that one in every 4 1/2 minutes online is spent on blogs and social networking sites.
So, Fred Stutzman, a software developer, created an application to combat all of this time wasting. It’s called Anti-Social.
Enable Anti-Social and it’s impossible to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and any other site you specify — without rebooting your computer.
Whether the app is really effective remains to be seen.
(Image courtesy of Kimkha via Wikimedia Commons.)
The Anti-Social app relates to a previous thread on human augmentation. Human beings have always been dependent on technology for survival. What is remarkable about apps like Anti-Social is the extent to which computerized gadgets are becoming integrated into our mental functioning. The point of Anti-Social, after all, is to outsource an individual’s attention-allocation mechanism to his or her gear. We rely more and more on Facebook to tell us what information is notable, and then on things such as Anti-Social to avoid becoming too engrossed in Facebook activity.
But Anti-Social seems rather crude: It shuts down Facebook access entirely. Mark Zuckerberg would probably say that it needs to get “social.” So, how about a filter app that uses inputs from your friends to figure out which updates and posts to ignore?
Anyway, the notion of cognitive prostheses with such power over your mind raises an interesting metaphysical issue: Can these prostheses actually become part of your mind? Would you say that your mind is contained entirely in your head? Or does it extend outwards, into your body or even into your gear? The view that your mind, perhaps just the unconscious part, is not limited to your noggin is known as embodied cognition or externalism. Have a look at Andy Clark’s recent piece in the New York Times on this perspective of the mind-body relation. If your mind really can extend into external stuff, especially computerized stuff, then you can radically alter the character and content of your mind by installing new apps like Anti-Social. Changing your mind has never been easier!
Stephen Colbert outs our Robot Overlords and Aaron Sorkin October 1, 2010Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
Well, if you did not catch the Colbert Report yesterday, allow me to point you there. In the opening segment, Colbert plugs his March to keep fear alive by discussing how recent developments in robotics are bringing the coming robocalypse closer to reality. Be afraid, be verrrry afraid!
He then discusses the new movie, The Social Network with filmmaker Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin expresses the view that Facebook merely provides people with a fancy way of re-packaging themselves for general consumption. When challenged by Colbert with the claim that people invent themselves all the time (so what’s wrong with Facebook providing this opportunity then?), Sorkin replies:
“I do think that socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality TV is to reality.”
See the clip here. What does he mean? That Facebook interactions are scripted and shallow compared to the alternative? Is he right? Is that a bad thing?
Sign up and pay up July 13, 2010Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
We have noted before how social media have changed the workplace. Now comes news about how social media has changed debt collection. This NPR story describes how debt collectors use social media like Facebook to track down debtors. The story tells how Isaac Vicknair, a chronic debt scofflaw, eluded paying back his student loan (among other things) for years, that is, until his employer, a vendor of solar panels, requested that he use Facebook to meet other people in the field:
He put his contact information on his account. It didn’t occur to him that it could lead to trouble.
“So within one day of putting my work information on Facebook, the secretary gets a call from some lady who totally gets my name wrong, and I pick up the phone, and they’re like, ‘Is Mr. Isaac Vicknair there?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve heard this call before.’ Lots of times,” he says.
Rumbled! Apparently, debt collectors are onto this Facebook thing too.
The Canadian media scholar Marshall McLuhan is famous for his apothegm: The medium is the message. Let’s take it to mean that a new medium presents us with a kind of new language for understanding and interacting with the world; that is, a new way of thinking about things (and new things to think about too). Social media like Facebook have given us a novel concept of friendship: anyone with whom we are connected. In this sense, a debt collector is just as good a friend as your most intimate acquaintance. Yet, the older sense of someone whom you know reasonably well and with whom you share common goals and interests lingers and, sometimes, causes confusion and a few laughs.
Avoidr: The flip side of Foursquare June 30, 2010Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
As you may know, Foursquare is a service that allows you to “check in” to locations using your smartphone. As a result, other subscribers to the service can find out where you are. This location awareness gives people to opportunity to meet if they are so inclined.
Foursquare is one realization of the use of IT for social networking. Like other social networking services, such as Facebook, it transmits information about you to your circle of friends as defined by your “social graph”. One issue with these services is that they tend to be all-or-nothing, e.g., you are either a friend or a fan to someone else, or else nothing. Many levels and kinds of relationship in the real world are not represented. This design decision is explicitly meant to encourage transparency, the unconditional sharing of information. Instead of reflecting relationships in the real world, Facebook friendships and the like are a new kind of relationship without the same nuance.
One of the most immediate difficulties of the social graph view of relationships is privacy, that is, control of an individual over the information that others have about them. Privacy controls are provided but they can be difficult to use and understand.
Enter a new plugin called Avoidr, created by Jesper Andersen. Avoidr allows you to nuance the information you use on Foursquare according to nuances in your real-world relationships with people. For example, it follows the locations of people whom you would rather not see and creates a list of places where you should not go. Basically, Avoidr creates a new social category, the “frenemy” if you like, to set beside “friend” and “fan”.
Here is how Andersen describes his view of the service:
On a somewhat less serious level, Andersen sees Avoidr as an intermediate stop on the way to defriending someone — it’s a kind of defriending-in-training. “I’m not against Foursquare,” he says. “It’s more that social networks should take into account that friendships ebb and flow.”
So, if you have an ex, a former boss, or someone to whom you owe money that you would rather not see today, then perhaps Avoidr is for you.
The service also raises interesting questions for the future form of social networking: Is it the beginning of a new trend in social networks, re-assertion of some of the status quo before Facebook, instead of the vision a simplified and radically transparent future?STV202 , comments closed
Probably you have heard that the government of Pakistan has ordered Internet service providers in the country to block Facebook access. The reason is a Facebook page that encourages people to post pictures of Muhammed:
The Facebook page at the center of the dispute — “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” — encourages users to post images of the prophet on May 20 to protest threats made by a radical Muslim group against the creators of South Park for depicting Muhammad in a bear suit during an episode earlier this year.
My point is not to comment on the Facebook event nor on the Pakistani government’s reaction to it. But there is an aspect to the controversy that connects to a technology-and-society concept, namely motivated design. The objection to depictions of Muhammed, as the Wiki page has it, concerns idol worship.
The key concern is that the use of images can encourage idolatry, where the image becomes more important than what it represents.
So, if people regarded depictions of Muhammed as merely a means to remind them of his life and activities, all would be well, I assume. The worry is that this means could come to be regarded as an end-in-itself, something desirable for its own sake: Believers would value the images instead of what they represent. A ban on depictions is necessary to prevent this from happening, or so the argument goes.
Well, the thought pattern identified by this concern is real enough. However, motivated design is a problem only when evidence against the acceptability of the design is readily discounted. I would guess that, because this Facebook event is manifestly a provocative show of disrespect for the beliefs of at least some Muslims, no one is likely to regard the images produced as idols.