Large Amounts Of

A very bad plan to solve car break-ins in SF; the hackathon illusion; and more.


  • Heads up! Early bird tickets for Personal Democracy Forum 2018 are now on sale. Go here to see who’s speaking and to register.

  • Life in Facebookistan: CEO Mark Zuckerberg has posted a statement responding to what he calls “the Cambridge Analytica situation.” A few observations:

  • Um, how did this line get past everyone? He writes, “The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago.” If those were taken years ago, why didn’t they prevent this from happening?

  • He says the company is going to investigate “all apps that had access to large amounts of information” before 2014, when Facebook ostensibly tightened its controls, and conduct “a full audit” of any with suspicious activity. This is a well written way of saying, “we are going to look at a few of the tens of thousands of apps we allowed developers to make, find a few bad apples, and move along.” If your privacy was violated, but not by an app that accessed “large amounts” of user information (whatever that means), Facebook isn’t promising you anything.

  • He also says Facebook will end app developer access to a user data if they haven’t used that app in 3 months. This is a good idea. Why wasn’t it implemented years ago?

  • Tech critic Anand Giriharadas replied to Zuckerberg, “Since it seems to be hard for you to use words like ‘sorry’ and ‘apologize,’ I did you a solid by editing your statement for you.” Nicely done!

  • David Kirkpatrick, the author of The Facebook Effect, who has generally been a friend to Zuckerberg in the press, urged Zuckerberg to take direct questions from the press instead of “hid[ing] behind a facebook post when you lead a company that many of us now fear is jeopardizing democracy at a global scale.”

  • Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp, says its time to delete Facebook. Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion; Acton left in 2017. His co-founder, Jan Koum, is still on the Facebook board.

  • Don’t delete Facebook, April Glaser of Slate writes. Demand tough government regulation instead.

  • “You can’t just repeat, ‘We’re making the world more open’ over and over and over again while democracy is burning,” commented Tristan Harris, founder of the Center for Humane Technology. Hyperbole, much?

  • The very smart and funny Paul Ford has a very smart and funny opinion piece in Bloomberg calling for the creation of a Digital Protection Agency that would help people protect their data and clean up ongoing toxic data spills.

  • I’m with Ford but I’d go a step further. We need a digital public square that isn’t built on private servers.

  • On the other hand, it’s hard enough to get people to care about the environment (except when they are directly victimized). Can we get people to care as much as about their data? Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, certainly hopes so.

  • “Facebook knows everything about its users—but in some ways it knows nothing about its developers.” That gem of observation comes via Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein of Wired, updating their reporting on the internal crisis at the tech company. One could add, “and advertisers” and the observation would be complete.

  • If you are hoping that the Federal Trade Commission is about to lower the boom on Facebook for violating a 2011 consent decree it signed with the agency, don’t hold your breath. As David Dayen reports for The Intercept, until Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) releases a hold on several nominees for the FTC board, the agency won’t be able to take any action in the matter. Schumer is holding back because he wants to make sure that his nominee, who was previously his chief counsel, doesn’t get left behind in the confirmation process. As Dayen also notes, the FTC has been a pretty weak regulator of late, so even with a full compliment of commissioners, the odds of it taking a tougher approach, absent more public pressure, are low.

  • One stock analyst thinks consumers “have largely become desensitized to data-privacy related issues” and thus predicts Facebook’s stock is not only going to rebound from its recent drop, it’s going to jump even higher, Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed shares. Don’t you love Wall Street?

  • In addition to explaining further what the Obama 2012 campaign did with Facebook data, Rayid Ghani, its former chief data scientist, has several useful ideas for what’s needed to address the larger issues raised by the Cambridge Analytica mess. See in particular what he has to say about “dark posts” on Facebook—an option that advertisers can use if they don’t want posts they sponsor to be easily traced back to them.

  • A spokesman for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) says his presidential campaign hired Cambridge Analytica during the primary because they were assured that “all data used by them were obtained legally,” Todd Gillman and Katie Leslie report for The Dallas Morning News. At least Cruz’s people know that data is plural.

  • Given all the focus on Cambridge Analytica and how Facebook has failed to protect user privacy, you probably missed this look ahead from BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, Jane Lytvynenko, and Lam Thuy Vo, who report on how Facebook Groups are being used to spread misinformation, plan harassment campaigns, and radicalize people. It’s a look ahead because Zuck has decided that in pursuit of fostering more “community” the site is going to make content from Facebook Groups more prominent. As if we need more filter bubbles and polarization.

  • Speaking of looking ahead (and getting worried), this thread from Google deep learning scientist Francois Chollet should scare the bejeebers out of you. Add AI to digital information consumption, plus behavioral targeting and you may get: “mass population control.” (h/t Erica Joy)

  • The New York Times reporters covering the Facebook story are all denying changing one of their stories to be less critical of Sheryl Sandberg. Good.

  • Speaking of bad ideas from tech billionaires, Civic Hall organizer-in-residence Justin Cohen takes apart a very problematic tweet from VC Jason Calacanis who imagines he knows exactly how to solve San Francisco’s rash of car break-ins.

  • This is civic tech: Accurate criminal justice data in the U.S. is hard to come by because its collection is so localized, as Amy Bach of Measures for Justice explains in this New York Times op-ed. The good news is that Florida, which has some of the best transparency laws in the country, is now moving to fix that problem.

  • Mozilla has opened applications for its 2018-19 Fellows program. Open web activists, scientists and researchers, and tech policy professionals are encouraged to apply.

  • Is this civic tech? A new study by two academic sociologists finds that hackathons “create fictional expectations of innovation that benefits all,” while basically getting people to work for free, Erin Griffith reports for Wired.

  • This is definitely not: How algorithms that determine how much health care disabled people should get are wrecking many lives, as reported by Colin Lecher for The Verge.