Boing Boing 

Zuckerberg phones Obama to complain about NSA spying


The day after a Snowden leak revealed that the NSA builds fake versions of Facebook and uses them to seed malicious software in attacks intended to hijack "millions" of computers, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg telephoned President Obama to complain about the NSA's undermining of the Internet's integrity.

As many have pointed out, it would have been nice to hear Zuckerberg taking the Internet's side before his own stock portfolio was directly affected, but better late than never. Zuckerberg's post on his conversation excoriates the US government for its Internet sabotage campaign, and calls on the USG to "be the champion for the internet, not a threat." Curiously, Zuckerberg calls for "transparency" into the NSA's attacks on the Internet, but stops short of calling for an end to government-sponsored attacks against the net.

In the end, though, Zuckerberg calls on companies to do a better job of securing themselves and their users against intrusive spying. It's not clear how that will work for Facebook, though: its business model is predicated on tricking, cajoling, and siphoning personal data out of its users and warehousing it forever in a neat package that governments are unlikely to ignore. I'm told that 90% of US divorce proceedings today include Facebook data; this is a microcosm of the wider reality when you make it your business to stockpile the evidentiary chain of every human being's actions.

Read the rest

Whatsapp abused the DMCA to censor related projects from Github

Prior to Whatsapp's $19B acquisition by Facebook, the company sent a large number of spurious takedowns against projects on Github. In a DMCA notice served by Whatsapp's General Counsel to Github, a number of projects are targeted for removal on the basis that they are "content that infringes on WhatsApp Inc.'s copyrights and trademarks."

This is grossly improper. DMCA takedown notices never apply to alleged trademark violations (it's called the "Digital Millennium Copyright Act" and not the "Digital Millennium Trademark Act"). Using DMCA notices to pursue trademark infringements isn't protecting your interests -- it's using barratry-like tactics to scare and bully third parties into participating in illegitimate censorship.

The letter goes on to demand takedown of these Github projects on the basis that they constitute "unauthorized use of WhatsApp APIs, software, and/or services" -- again, this is not a copyright issue, and it is improper to ask Github to police the code its hosts on this basis. It is certainly not the sort of activity that the DMCA's takedown procedure exists to police.

So what about copyright infringement? In the related Hacker News thread, a number of the projects' authors weigh in on the censorship, making persuasive cases that they software did not infringe on any of Whatsapp's copyrights -- rather, these were tools that made use of the Whatsapp API, were proof-of-concept security tools for Whatsapp, or, in one case, merely contained the string "whatsapp" in its sourcecode.

There may well have been some legitimately infringing material on Github, but it's clear that Whatsapp's General Counsel did not actually limit her or his request to this material. Instead, the company deliberately overreached the bounds of the DMCA, with total indifference to the rights of other copyright holders -- the creators of the software they improperly had removed.

Unfortunately, there are no real penalties for this sort of abuse. Which is a shame, because Whatsapp has $19B in the bank that a smart lawyer who wanted to represent the aggrieved parties could certainly take a chunk out of.

(via Hacker News)

The most concise explanation yet for why Facebook's paying $19 billion for WhatsApp

As I wrote in my post when the news broke, it's all about growth.

Read Parmy Olson's Forbes story out today, which she began reporting long before the acquisition announcement: "The Rags-To-Riches Tale Of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp Into Facebook's New $19 Billion Baby"

[Via]. [Previously on Boing Boing].

What is exposed about you and your friends when you login with Facebook


(click to embiggen)

When you log in to a service with Facebook, the company exposes an enormous amount of sensitive personal information to the service's operator -- everything from your political views to your relationship status. What's more, logging into a service with Facebook also exposes your contacts' personal information to the service: their locations, political views, organizations, religion, and more.

...and here's what a brand knows when you login via facebook (via Dan Hon)

Euroteens embarrassed to be seen on Facebook

But their parents insist they use it, so their personal lives can be scrutinized by the olds. They'd prefer to be on Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat. "Facebook is basically dead and buried," says Daniel Miller, who led the extensive study.

EuroMaidan: a Facebook revolution in the streets of Kiev

In Kiev, Ukraine, Daniel Kovzhun is a 37 year-old, remarried father of two, a partner in an IT firm, and a political rebel. He trusts only one news source: "I am either out there, on barricades, or I am in Facebook."Read the rest

Facebook monitors unposted comments

Matthew says: "Facebook says it is within its terms of service to see what users are typing even when the status or comment is never posted on the social network.

Facebook has confirmed it tracks users' unpublished posts after two Facebook researchers disclosed that they had tracked the activity of about 5 million random users."

Facebook now OK with beheading videos, but nudity stays verboten

It's easy to make a mountain out of Facebook's explicit OK to posting videos of people being beheaded. Tabloids see such lowest-common-denominator topical material as a threat to their own product, and their outrage seeks to impose their own limitations upon the competition. But it's also true that Facebook still bans nudity and other sexual content. As the matter is therefore one of editorial judgment, rather than protecting users' free speech, what does Facebook's editorial judgment say about its audience?

Facebook-fooling shirts to foil auto-tagging


Simone C. Niquille's REALFACE Glamoflage shirts are designed to confound Facebook's face-recognition software by covering you in famous faces when you venture into public. The project was sparked by a(nother) privacy-undermining Facebook terms-of-service change, this one allowing the company to auto-tag the people in the photos you upload. The shirts were part of FaceValue, a master's thesis in design at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, and Niquille's explanation of her work is fascinating:

Read the rest

Pro-tip for jurors: don't write on Facebook about your intent to convict defendant

Two jurors in England will spend August in jail after one asserted a defendant's guilt on Facebook—"I've always wanted to Fuck up a paedophile & now I'm within the law!"—and the other blabbed to co-jurors about researching their case online. [BBC]

What walled gardens do to the health of the Web, and what to do about it

David Weinberger took great notes from what sounds like a barn-burner of a talk by Anil Dash at Harvard's Berkman Center on what has happened to the net, and where it's headed:

“We have a lot of software that forbids journalism.” He refers to the IoS [iphone operating system] Terms of Service for app developers that includes text that says, literally: “If you want to criticize a religion, write a book.” You can distribute that book through the Apple bookstore, but Apple doesn’t want you writing apps that criticize religion. Apple enforces an anti-journalism rule, banning an app that shows where drone strikes have been.

Less visibly, the laws is being bent “to make our controlling our data illegal.” All the social networks operate as common carriers — neutral substrates — except when it comes to monetizing. The boundaries are unclear: I can sing “Happy Birthday” to a child at home, and I can do it over FaceTime, but I can’t put it up at YouTube [because of copyright]. It’s very open-ended and difficult to figure. “Now we have the industry that creates the social network implicitly interested in getting involved in how IP laws evolve.” When the Google home page encourages visitors to call their senators against SOPA/PIPA, we have what those of us against Citizens United oppose: now we’re asking a big company to encourage people to act politically in a particular way. At the same time, we’re letting these companies capture our words and works and put them under IP law.

A decade ago, metadata was all the rage among the geeks. You could tag, geo-tag, or machine-tag Flickr photos. Flickr is from the old community. That’s why you can still do Creative Commons searches at Flickr. But you can’t on Instagram. They don’t care about metadata. From an end-user point of view, RSS is out of favor. The new companies are not investing in creating metadata to make their work discoverable and shareable.

[berkman] Anil Dash on “The Web We Lost” (via Beyond the Beyond)

Positive externalities thrive online

My latest Guardian column is about positive externalities, the value that bystanders get from the stuff you're already doing:

That's the crux of this irrational fear of positive externalities: "If something I do has value, I deserve a cut." It's one thing to say that someone who hires you to do a job, or purchases your product, should pay you money. But positive externalities are the waste-product of something we were already going to do. They're things that you have thrown away, that you have thrown off, that you have generated in the process of enjoying yourself and living your life.

The mania to internalise your positive externalities is the essence of cutting off your nose to spite your face. I walk down the street whistling a jaunty tune because I'm in a good mood — but stop as soon as I see someone smiling and enjoying the music. I keep my porchlight on to read by on a warm night, but if I catch you using the light to read your map, I switch it off, because those are my photons — I paid for 'em!

Worse still: the infectious idea of internalising externalities turns its victims into grasping, would-be rentiers. You translate a document because you need it in two languages. I come along and use those translations to teach a computer something about context. You tell me I owe you a slice of all the revenue my software generates. That's just crazy. It's like saying that someone who figures out how to recycle the rubbish you set out at the kerb should give you a piece of their earnings. Harvesting positive externalities involves collecting billions of minute shreds of residual value – snippets of discarded string –and balling them up into something big and useful.

If every shred needs to be accounted for and paid for, then the harvest won't happen. Paying for every link you make, or every link you count, or every document you analyse is a losing game. Forget payment: the process of figuring out who to pay and how much is owed would totally swamp the expected return from whatever it is you're planning on making out of all those unloved scraps.

Why trying to charge for everything will kill online creativity

Social media turns into boring old media

Warren Ellis, always a shrewd observer of online media, supposes that we've reached peak social media, the point at which exciting new communications forms ossify into dull media titans:

Twitter alters its terms of access to its information, thereby harming the services that built themselves on that information. Which was stupid, because Twitter gets fewer and fewer material benefits from allowing people to use its water. And why would you build a service that relies on a private company’s assets anyway? Facebook changes its terms of access regularly. It’s broken its own Pages system and steadily grows more invasive and desperate. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, just went through its first major change in terms of service. Which went as badly as anyone who’s interacted with Facebook would expect. As Twitter disconnected itself from sharing services like IFTTT, so Instagram disconnected itself from Twitter. Flickr’s experiencing what will probably be a brief renaissance due to having finally built a decent iOS app, but its owners, Yahoo!, are expert in stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Tumblr seems to me to be spiking in popularity, which coincides neatly with their hiring an advertising sales director away from Groupon, a company described by Techcrunch last year as basically loansharking by any other name.

This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media, with Big Media problems like cable-style carriage disputes. Frame the Twitter-Instagram spat in terms of Virginmedia not being able to carry Sky Atlantic in the UK, say (I know there are many more US examples).

His closing remark is "I wonder if anyone’s been thinking twice about giving up their personal websites." Good question.

The Social Web: End Of The First Cycle

Facebook claimant charged with fraud

Paul Ceglia, the New York businessman who claimed to own half of Facebook, was charged with fraud Friday over evidence presented in the case. [BBC] Previously.

If Twitter was like Facebook

People give Twitter plenty of guff, but at least its promoted tweets program is straight-up advertising--unlike the awful "pay to reach your own followers" stunt that Facebook is pulling.

Facebook fan-pages broken, but FB will unbreak them for a price


Writing in the New York Observer, Trust Me, I'm Lying author Ryan Holiday says that Facebook has deliberately broken its fan-page service so that only a small number of registered fans see status-updates. If "brands, agencies and artists" want to reach all the people who've signed up for status-updates, they have to pay for "sponsored posts." As Holiday notes, this is a large conflict of interest for the service: the worse it works, the more they can charge to fix it.

It’s no conspiracy. Facebook acknowledged it as recently as last week: messages now reach, on average, just 15 percent of an account’s fans. In a wonderful coincidence, Facebook has rolled out a solution for this problem: Pay them for better access.

As their advertising head, Gokul Rajaram, explained, if you want to speak to the other 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important.”

In other words, through “Sponsored Stories,” brands, agencies and artists are now charged to reach their own fans—the whole reason for having a page—because those pages have suddenly stopped working.

This is a clear conflict of interest. The worse the platform performs, the more advertisers need to use Sponsored Stories. In a way, it means that Facebook is broken, on purpose, in order to extract more money from users. In the case of Sponsored Stories, it has meant raking in nearly $1M a day.

Holiday goes on to point out problems with other services, including Twitter and Craisglist. His focus is on the cost to advertisers, but there's also the cost to users, who believe that they are getting the news they signed up for, and instead are getting the news that a deep-pocketed firm can afford to put before them. For further reading, see Eli Pariser's Filter Bubble.

Broken on Purpose: Why Getting It Wrong Pays More Than Getting It Right (via MeFi)

(Image: C&T Program Fan Club Insert, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dcmatt's photostream)