This week, my selection of four interesting items I’ve come across during the week is a little different. For two reasons.
The first is that I’m doing this on a Saturday morning and the second is that rather than blog posts or articles, these are all podcast episodes, as well as a few related links chucked in for good measure.
I’m a big podcast listener and I tend to have something in my ears a lot of the time. Recently I’ve been looking into data privacy and security, related to the big tech behemoths: Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (known as ‘GAFA’ apparently). It’s these big three that tend to be the target of attention when we’re talking about online data. Big data.
Anyway, I’ve heard some surprising, fascinating and occasionally worrying things.
It’s clear that there’s something going on at the moment regarding this topic. Ever since the last US elections, Facebook has been a target in terms of the way in which Russian groups managed to share fake news and advertising. How much the man in charge knew about this, we’re still to find out.
However, it seems there’s a lot more to the Facebook conversation than fake news.
Sean Parker, the original president of Facebook, yesterday admitted that they always knew they were developing a potentially ‘addictive’ platform and “exploited ‘a vulnerability in human psychology'”, according to The Guardian. He revealed his worries about the platform’s affect on society as a whole:
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways.”
Meanwhile, also in the US, Senator Al Franken gave a widely reported speech asking: “How did big tech come to control so many aspects of our lives?”. He suggested that it was about time there was more of an open conversation about the power wielded by the big tech platforms, and what could be done to control their ownership of such a huge percentage of online content traffic, paraphrasing the oft repeated quote:
“We are not their customers, we are their product.”
All very high minded.
Curiously, it was part of an event organised by the Open Markets Institute. This think tank is led by Barry Lynn, a journalist whose whole team was fired from another similar group, New America. They sent him and them packing after outspoken criticism of Google, who incidentally are known to have provided New America with funding, via boss Eric Schmidt, who has also served on the board. No conflict of interest there, just a coincidence. Apparently.
Think tanks need funding. Who pays? Who needs to exert influence? This is a question raised in the discussion of this topic here on the Freakonomics podcast.
It’s all related to a wider conversation that’s going to go on, clearly. The ‘GAFA’ group is more powerful than virtually any government – and they know all about you! But how interested are the ‘general public’? How interested are you? I recently pondered this kind of thing here.
OK, that’s a long preamble, I’ll keep the rest short. Here’s my list. These are all quite focused on Facebook.
I recommend listening in this order, but you are free to do what you want. Or are you?
- Is Privacy Dead? – from BBC podcast The Inquiry.
- How Powerful is Facebook’s Algorithm? – also from The Inquiry.
- Facebook’s war on free will – from The Guardian’s Long Read section, available in article or podcast format.
- Manipulation – from TED radio hour (first half more relevant to this topic, but the rest is interesting anyway.
OK, that’s a wrap, as they say. Many thanks for reading! Please join (start?) a discussion below if you have any thoughts about any of these articles. And share away as you wish.