Moderators for large platform tell all, reveal good will, frustration, marginalization

Alex Feerst, Medium's head of trust and safety, conducted a long, wide-ranging interview with senior content moderation staffers with experience at Dropbox, Google, Facebook, Reddit, Pintrest, and many unnamed platforms; the interview is very frank and reveals a group of people with a deep, real-world commitment to protecting users as well as defending free speech. Read the rest

#FixItAlready: EFF's wishlist for fixing tech's worst privacy and security choices

Android should let users deny and revoke permissions; Apple should let people encrypt Icloud backups, Twitter should end-to-end encrypt DMs; all these and more appear on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's #FixItAlready page, which calls out Big Tech's biggest players for their biggest security and privacy fumbles, and explains in clear terms why these changes are needed. Read the rest

Adam Ruins Big Tech: how monopolies, DRM, EULAs, and predatory tactics have delivered our dystopian future

The latest episode of the always-outstanding Adam Ruins Everything (previously) is my favorite yet: a wide-ranging look at the way that tech has exploited policy loopholes to monopolize control over repairs, features, parts and consumables; to spy on users; to use predatory pricing to crush competitors; to avoid taxation; and to become a force for oligarchic control. Read the rest

A successful no-platforming means we can talk about Alex Jones again

Zeynep Tufekci (previously) says that Big Tech's "engagement maximization" algorithms meant that any time you talked about Alex Jones critically, the algorithms would start relentlessly recommending that you watch some Alex Jones videos, because they were so well designed to please the algorithms by sucking up our attention. Read the rest

Big Tech got big because we stopped enforcing antitrust law (not because tech is intrinsically monopolistic)

Tim Wu (previously) is a legal scholar best known for coining the term "Net Neutrality" -- his next book, The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (previously) challenges the accepted wisdom about today's digital monopolists, which is that they grew so big because of some underlying truth about online business ("first-mover advantage," "network effects," "globalism," etc). Instead, Wu argues that the reason we got digital monopolies is that we stopped enforcing anti-monopoly rules against digital companies (and then against all kinds of companies). Read the rest

All the economists who told the FTC we shouldn't break up Big Tech are paid by Big Tech

From the Open Markets Institute's Mat Stoller and Austin Frederick, who analyzed the FTC's panel, "The Current Economic Understanding of Multi-Sided Platforms," in which economic experts told the regulator that Big Tech's monopoly power just isn't a problem: "every single economist testifying on the issue of corporate concentration derived income, directly or indirectly, from large corporations. Beyond that, the hearing itself was held at the Antonin Scalia Law School, which is financed by Google and Amazon." Read the rest

Why Do-Not-Track browser settings are useless and what to do about it

The long fight over Do-Not-Track followed a predictable trajectory: a detailed, meaningful pro-privacy system was subverted by big business, and then published as a "standard" that offered virtually no privacy protections. Read the rest

New York City! I'm onstage tonight with Radiolab's Jad Abumrad (Swarthmore, you're next!)

A reminder that I'm wrapping up my Columbia University lecture series tonight at 5PM, when I'm appearing onstage with Radiolab's Jad Abumrad at the lecture theater in Pulitzer Hall (RSVP here); and then I'm heading to Swarthmore tomorrow, to give a talk at the Lang Performing Arts Center Room (LPAC) 101 Cinema from 7-9PM. Both talks are free. Read the rest

Hate-speech detection algorithms are trivial to fool

In All You Need is “Love”: Evading Hate Speech Detection, a Finnish-Italian computer science research team describe their research on evading hate-speech detection algorithms; their work will be presented next month in Toronto at the ACM Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Security. Read the rest

Want the platforms to police bad speech and fake news? The copyright wars want a word with you.

There are lots of calls for the platforms to police the bad speech on their platform -- disinformation and fake news; hate speech and harassment, extremist content and so on -- and while that would represent a major shift in how Big Tech relates to the materials generated and shared by its users, it's not without precedent. Read the rest

Facebook kremlinology: Instagram founders' exodus signals immanent facebookization

Facebook's acquisition spree -- including huge-dollar payouts for Instagram and Whatsapp -- was supposed to shore up the company's crumbling user base by creating a "family" of semi-independent companies with diverse approaches to business, sharing a back-end of engineering, marketing and other resources, but offering very different propositions to users. Read the rest

Big Tech is building a $80B capex wall around its empire

Big Tech companies -- like all the apex predators of all the world's concentrated industries -- is swimming in cash; but unlike those other firms, Big Tech is not using the cash merely for financial engineering; it's doing actual engineering, sinking $80B this year into capital expenditures that will form a wall around the industry's incumbents, which new firms will have to scale in order to challenge them. Read the rest

My closing Decentralized Web Summit keynote: "Big Tech's problem is Big, not Tech"

Back in August, I gave the closing keynote at the second Decentralized Web Summit, entitled "Big Tech's problem is Big, not Tech; the Internet Archive released video right afterwards, but now they've cleaned up the video and rereleased it for your viewing pleasure. Read the rest

Big Tech is losing the public's trust in just the same way that Big Finance has

Writing in the New York Times, Nathaniel Popper notes a new current running through our discourse: the idea that Big Tech is not to be trusted, and should be broken up. Read the rest

"Free market" conservatives, aghast at Big Tech's hostility, become overnight Roosevelt-style trustbusters

They say "a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged" -- whether or not that's true, it's becoming abundantly clear that "a trustbuster is a neoliberal who's been on the wrong side of the online platforms' monopoly power" -- Big Tech was the first beneficiary of Reagan's assault on anti-trust law and has perfected a number of next-generation, bleeding-edge tactics for suppressing competition during 40 years' worth of free rein. Read the rest

Big Tech's active moderation promise is also a potential source of eternal commercial advantage over newcomers

Farhad Manjoo (previously) writes in the New York Times about his cautious optimism that the big platforms are finally taking some steps to prevent harassment, but he also worries that this is setting the stage for a new era in tech, one in which the rules guarantee that Big Tech never has to worry about being challenged by upstarts. Read the rest

Sign of the times: Big Tech comes together to create interoperability tool so users can move between services

Once upon a time, online services differentiated themselves from competitors by promising not to lock their users in (memorably, Flickr offered an API that would let you export all your photos, your social graph and the comments and other metadata to any other service that had a similar API), but as slumbering antitrust regulators allowed wave after wave of mergers and acquisitions, so tech become Big Tech, walled gardens made a roaring comeback, with services quietly shelving the ability to move between them. Read the rest

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