Accumulating Data

Dissent in Facebookistan; verifying white supremacists on Twitter; and more.

  • A rebellion in Facebookistan? Sean Parker, the ex-founder of Napster who guided young Mark Zuckerberg through the early days of Facebook, tells Mike Allen of Axios that the platform was built by “consciously” “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” because it was focused on figuring out “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” Now Parker says he’s a conscientious objector from social media and worries “what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

  • It’s great to finally get such candor from a Facebook co-founder, especially one like Parker who has put a lot of his time and money into trying to build platforms for social good like Causes and Brigade. Maybe Parker, whose Facebook stock helped make him a billionaire, would like to put some money behind an effort to really force Facebook to change?

  • Related: Jaron Lanier, one of the pioneers of virtual reality, has a great way of explaining why he avoids social media (to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times): “The popular [platforms] are designed for behavior modification. It’s like, why would you go sign up for an evil hypnotist who’s explicitly saying that his whole purpose is to get you to do things that people have paid him to get you to do, but he won’t tell you who they are?” Don’t miss his explanation for the internet’s obsession with cat videos…

  • If you’ve ever wondered how Facebook’s People You May Know tool recommended you connect with someone who you have an unusual or even secret connection to, one the company couldn’t possibly have gotten from you, read Kashmir Hill’s article for Gizmodo on how the social network collects “shadow profile information.” Even non-users are in there. She writes:

    That accumulation of contact data from hundreds of people means that Facebook probably knows every address you’ve ever lived at, every email address you’ve ever used, every landline and cell phone number you’ve ever been associated with, all of your nicknames, any social network profiles associated with you, all your former instant message accounts, and anything else someone might have added about you to their phone book. As far as Facebook is concerned, none of that even counts as your own information. It belongs to the users who’ve uploaded it, and they’re the only ones with any control over it.


  • Facebook should spend less time trying to break into China, and more time addressing how its rapid spread in countries like Myanmar and Cambodia is harming local minority groups and journalism efforts, Christina Larson writes for Foreign Policy magazine.

  • In Australia, Facebook is piloting an effort in partnership with the country’s e-safety commissioner, asking its users to send it nude photos of themselves so that it can prevent the sharing of revenge porn, Olivia Solon reports for The Guardian. The company would “hash” the images to prevent any unwanted sharing of images that closely match the originals, using a tool called PhotoDNA that was originally developed by Microsoft and is now used to clamp down on images of sexually abused children.

  • Election news: Nineteen Colorado cities and counties voted Tuesday to exempt themselves from a state law prohibiting municipal broadband services, expanding the total that have rejected the state law (which was passed with the backing of the big telcos), Tamara Chuang reports for The Denver Post. In Fort Collins, voters also approved a measure that will allow the city to issue $150 in securities and debt to pursue the best way to offer high speed internet service to its residents.

  • Twitter agonistes: A month ago, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said, yet again, that the platform was committed to eliminating hate symbols, violent groups and tweets that glorify violence” but Tuesday the company gave white supremacist Jason Kessler, the organizer of the August Charlottesville hate rally, a verified account. Monique Judge, a staff writer for the Root, is furious and rightly so.

  • Opposition watch: Joshua Brustein reports for Bloomberg on the ACLU’s ongoing efforts to build its grassroots organizing arm,

  • Writing for, Civic Hall Labs board member Allison Fine argues that it’s time for women to up how they play the game of money, influence and power.

  • Support! Wear your values! Civic Hall organizer-in-residence Sherry Hakimi has launched GenEquality, her new nonprofit dedicated to activating gender equality with and for everyone. To kickstart their work, get a T-Shirt with one of their brilliant slogans; sales are only open for the next two weeks.

  • Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow Briana Vecchione, a regular here at Civic Hall, reflects on the end of her tenure. She’s off to get a PhD, with a focus on fairness, accountability and transparency in machine learning. Best of luck!

  • Apply: The Council of Urban Professionals Fellows Program is looking for “purpose-driven professionals of color” to participate in its one-year leadership development experience. Deadline is November 12.

  • Your moment of zen: Happy Birthday, Carl Sagan!