Archive | February, 2017

Zuckerbergs thoughts on how Facebook might rule the world

Ten days ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a very long policy letter, that has been nagging my mind ever since. (Link»)

The ambition is – of course – to make Facebook even bigger and more important in our lives. This also means making the totally dominant social media player even bigger and more important in our lives. I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with that.

Facebook is a very special sort of social engineering, an invisible force guiding us trough social relations, news, politics, community activities, business, and culture. And here I get the impression that Facebook would like to become the curator of our lives.

Going forward, we will measure Facebook’s progress with groups based on meaningful groups, not groups overall. This will require not only helping people connect with existing meaningful groups, but also enabling community leaders to create more meaningful groups for people to connect with.

So, some Facebook groups are to be more important than others? One factor to define a »meningful group« seems to be »real« off-line events. For me, who am a small player in an international network promoting a free and open internet along with civil rights and liberty, this is a disheartening approach. Almost all our work is done online, with the occasional international conference. Nevertheless, together we make a difference – and our work is often the only way to make a real impact when it comes to politics and law making in these fields. Should we matter less?


And what about this:

The guiding principles are that the Community Standards should reflect the cultural norms of our community, that each person should see as little objectionable content as possible, and each person should be able to share what they want while being told they cannot share something as little as possible. The approach is to combine creating a large-scale democratic process to determine standards with AI to help enforce them.

For those who don’t make a decision, the default will be whatever the majority of people in your region selected, like a referendum. Ofcourse you will always be free to update your personal settings anytime.

I see the point. But wouldn’t this be creating new »filter bubbles« based on geography and cultural traditions? Will this not hamper human intellectual evolution? Will this not contribute to conformity? Isn’t the beauty of the Internet that it is truly global? Ars Technica dubs the approach outlined by Zuckerberg being »gerrymandering the Internet«.

I would also say that this would be a way to subordinate the individual to majority rule by default settings. Thus, reducing freedom and moving power away from the private person to a faceless collective. And – are we really comfortable with AI handling such delicate matters?

Wouldn’t this be a dream for totalitarian regimes – to be able to single out the ones who have changed their settings in ways that are no longer in line with most other people?


Ars Technica makes another valid point:

Zuckerberg adds that he’s thinking of creating “worldwide voting system” for Facebook users which could then be used as a template for how “collective decision-making may work in other aspects of the global community.” That’s a vague formulation. But coming on the heels of his comments about politicians with Facebook engagement, he sounds like he’s floating the idea of turning Facebook into the infrastructure for managing elections.

Putting our democratic system in the hands of Facebook? Really? I don’t think so.


And don’t forget to put the Zuckerberg manifesto in context. This is a company who has the creator of a very powerful tool for mass surveillance analysis (used by e.g. the FBI, CIA, NSA and GCHQ) – who also happens to be an advisor to the illustrious US President – on its’ board of directors.


I fully understand that running an operation like Facebook is a highly complicated and delicate task. Maybe even impossible.

But the real answer must be competition. Not that many years ago Facebook didn’t even exist. And in an unknown number of years ahead there will be something else – or, I hope, a multitude of alternatives. That is hopeful. But it doesn’t exclude Facebook from scrutiny right now, right here.

We simply do not want the Skynet experience.


• The Zuckerberg manifesto »
• Ars Technica (Op-ed): Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto is a political trainwreck »


You cannot and should not legislate against »fake news«

Bad journalism and propaganda have plagued publishing and governments for thousands of years. Donald Trump’s violently-adversarial relationship with facts and Vladimir Putin’s warehouses full of paid internet trolls have simply taken the conversation to an entirely new level in the internet age. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that many of the folks who believe they can somehow legislate this problem away may be doing more harm than good.

Techdirt: ‘Fake News’ Now Means Whatever People Want It To Mean, And Legislating It Away Is A Slippery Slope Toward Censorship »


Swedish Pirate Bay case slowing to a halt?

At the end of 2014 Swedish police confiscated dozens of servers which many believed to belong to The Pirate Bay. The authorities later confirmed that an investigation involving copyright crimes was ongoing, but not much progress has been reported since. According to the prosecutor, the case isn’t getting any stronger, as the statute of limitations for several key crimes is expiring.

Torrentfreak: Pirate Bay Prosecution In Trouble, Time Runs Out For Investigators »


Germany: No liability for open WiFi

Wenn Gäste illegale Downloads starten, müssen Cafébetreiber keine Gerichtskosten mehr fürchten. Das soll ein neuer Gesetzentwurf regeln, der auch klarstellt: Es gibt weiterhin keine Passwortpflicht für offene Netze.

So, it seems that operators (cafés, hotels, etc.) of open WiFi nets in Germany no longer will be held liable or risk legal costs if it is used by someone for e.g. illegal downloads.

Nor will there be any requirement as such for password protection. However, a court or a national authority can issue an order against a WLAN operator to prevent the repetition of an infringement.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Weniger Haftungsrisiken für offene W-Lan-Netze »


Meanwhile, in the war on terror

THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE proudly announced the first FBI terror arrest of the Trump administration on Tuesday: an elaborate sting operation that snared a 25-year-old Missouri man who had no terrorism contacts besides the two undercover FBI agents who paid him to buy hardware supplies they said was for a bomb — and who at one point pulled a knife on him and threatened his family.

There have been many reports (and at least one documentary film) about the FBI framing people who probably are not that dangerous at all – just to be seen doing something.

Law enforcement should focus on real terrorist, not creating their own ones.

The Intercept » Trump’s first terror arrest: A broke stoner the FBI threatened at knifepoint »


EU tech still used to suppress democracy

In order to prevent dictatorships from abusing European technology to crack down on political opposition, the EU started regulating the export of surveillance technology a few years ago. But that has far from stopped the exports to problematic countries, a cross-border investigation reveals.

A problem is that non-democratic countries use European standard configurated IT-systems – that have mass surveillance functions as a default feature. Europe’s exports of spy tech to authoritarian countries revealed »


Trump, CIA, NSA, Palantir, Facebook & the common denominator

In the demo, Palantir engineers showed how their software could be used to identify Wikipedia users who belonged to a fictional radical religious sect and graph their social relationships. In Palantir’s pitch, its approach to the VAST Challenge involved using software to enable “many analysts working together [to] truly leverage their collective mind.” The fake scenario’s target, a cartoonishly sinister religious sect called “the Paraiso Movement,” was suspected of a terrorist bombing, but the unmentioned and obvious subtext of the experiment was the fact that such techniques could be applied to de-anonymize and track members of any political or ideological group.

The Intercept describes the (partly CIA financed) Palantir mass surveillance analysis software.

As if the above is not chilling enough, consider that Palantir owner Peter Thiel has become an advisor to President Trump and is on the board of directors at Facebook.

The Intercept: How Peter Thiel’s Palantir helped the NSA spy on the whole world »