Business of War

Google workers say they want out of the business of war; now Facebook exposed 2.2 billion; and more.


  • A provocation: “In retrospect, I wish we pushed service design rather than open data a decade ago,” David Sasaki tweeted the other day, prompting responses from others in the civic tech/open data community, including Martin Tisné and Mark Headd.

  • Civicist contributing editor An Xiao Mina was on Refinery29’s Strong Opinions Loosely Held podcast recently discussing memes, censorship evasion strategies, and misinformation ecosystems on the season three episode, “The Great Firewall of China.” Listen here or here.

  • Tech workers unite: Thousands of Google employees have signed a letter protesting the company’s work on artificial intelligence that could be used by the Pentagon to refine their drone program, Scott Shane and Daisuke Wakabayashi report for The New York Times. “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the letter declares.

  • You can read the full letter here.

  • Life in Facebookistan: The company has had some accounting to do, and the numbers being thrown around are huge. Yesterday, in a post by Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer about ways in which they plan to restrict data access to third-party apps, they announced in a footnote that Cambridge Analytica had access to around 87 million profiles—well over previous figures, 50 million and 270,000. Then, in a call with the press, Mark Zuckerberg said nearly all 2.2 billion users could have had their information scraped through the site’s old search function, although he clarified that this was a separate issue from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Rachel Kaser reported for The Next Web.

  • The fact-checking partnership between Facebook and various news partners launched last year is an uneasy one, Mike Ananny reports for the Columbia Journalism Review. “What I uncovered is a partnership in which news organizations negotiate their professional missions with Facebook’s, and struggle to understand the coalition’s impact,” Ananny writes. “Both Facebook and the news organizations want to improve the quality of online media. But while the fact-checkers largely define their motivations in terms of public service and journalistic ethics, Facebook is looking to adhere to its official community standards.”

  • Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall opines that Nasim Aghdam’s violence is part of Big Tech’s current crisis. “My point is that while this is an individual tragedy by someone who was angry, unhinged and had access to a weapon—like all the other mass shootings—it is also at almost every turn connected to all the trends and collisions and turbulences roiling America’s (and the world’s) love affair with social media platforms that suddenly look all-powerful and are struggling to find a balance between being private companies and having power (and one imagines responsibility) that is more like a government,” Marshall writes. “When you have large groups of embittered people — even more so when they are creative people or crazies who spend countless hours producing videos for YouTube — one of them is going to connect that bitterness to their own unhingedness and do something terrible.”

  • Something that struck me the other day, reading Sundar Pichai’s message to Google employees, was the phrase “this unimaginable tragedy.” The whole tragedy of the thing is precisely how imaginable mass shootings are in our country!

  • Job board: The New York State Office of the Attorney General is looking for a privacy and data security research engineer. Learn more here.