Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 9th, 2018

Why Zuckerberg’s 14-Year Apology Tour Hasn’t Fixed Facebook

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Mark Zuckerberg is so good at apologizing for harm to his customers because he’s had so much practice making such apologies—and the problems are never fixed because they stem from his business model.

Zuckerberg is like an abuser: apologizes profusely after each incident, but the incidents continue to recur. In this case, the abuse victims are Facebook users.

Zeyner Tufekci writes in Wired:

IN 2003, ONE year before Facebook was founded, a website called Facemash began nonconsensually scraping pictures of students at Harvard from the school’s intranet and asking users to rate their hotness. Obviously, it caused an outcry. The website’s developer quickly proffered an apology. “I hope you understand, this is not how I meant for things to go, and I apologize for any harm done as a result of my neglect to consider how quickly the site would spread and its consequences thereafter,” wrote a young Mark Zuckerberg. “I definitely see how my intentions could be seen in the wrong light.”

In 2004 Zuckerberg cofounded Facebook, which rapidly spread from Harvard to other universities. And in 2006 the young company blindsided its users with the launch of News Feed, which collated and presented in one place information that people had previously had to search for piecemeal. Many users were shocked and alarmed that there was no warning and that there were no privacy controls. Zuckerberg apologized. “This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it,” he wrote on Facebook’s blog. “We really messed this one up,” he said. “We did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them.”

Then in 2007, Facebook’s Beacon advertising system, which was launched without proper controls or consent, ended up compromising user privacy by making people’s purchases public. Fifty thousand Facebook users signed an e-petition titled “Facebook: Stop invading my privacy.” Zuckerberg responded with an apology: “We simply did a bad job with this release and I apologize for it.” He promised to improve. “I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better,” he wrote.

By 2008, Zuckerberg had written only four posts on Facebook’s blog: Every single one of them was an apology or an attempt to explain a decision that had upset users.

In 2010, after Facebook violated users’ privacy by making key types of information public without proper consent or warning, Zuckerberg again responded with an apology—this time published in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “We just missed the mark,” he said. “We heard the feedback,” he added. “There needs to be a simpler way to control your information.” “In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use,” he promised.

I’m going to run out of space here, so let’s jump to 2018 and skip over all the other mishaps and apologies and promises to do better—oh yeah, and the consent decree that the Federal Trade Commission made Facebook sign in 2011, charging that the company had deceptively promised privacy to its users and then repeatedly broken that promise—in the intervening years.

Last month, Facebook once again garnered widespread attention with a privacy related backlash when it became widely known that, between 2008 and 2015, it had allowed hundreds, maybe thousands, of apps to scrape voluminous data from Facebook users—not just from the users who had downloaded the apps, but detailed information from all their friends as well. One such app was run by a Cambridge University academic named Aleksandr Kogan, who apparently siphoned up detailed data on up to 87 million users in the United States and then surreptitiously forwarded the loot to the political data firm Cambridge Analytica. The incident caused a lot of turmoil because it connects to the rolling story of distortions in the 2016 US presidential election. But in reality, Kogan’s app was just one among many, many apps that amassed a huge amount of information in a way most Facebook users were completely unaware of.

At first Facebook indignantly defended itself, claiming that people had consented to these terms; after all, the disclosures were buried somewhere in the dense language surrounding obscure user privacy controls. People were asking for it, in other words.

But the backlash wouldn’t die down. Attempting to respond to the growing outrage, Facebook announced changes. “It’s Time to Make Our Privacy Tools Easier to Find”, the company announced without a hint of irony—or any other kind of hint—that Zuckerberg had promised to do just that in the “coming few weeks” eight full years ago. On the company blog, Facebook’s chief privacy editor wrote that instead of being “spread across nearly 20 different screens” (why were they ever spread all over the place?), the controls would now finally be in one place.

Zuckerberg again went on an apology tour, giving interviews to The New York Times, CNN, Recode, WIRED, and Vox (but not to the Guardian and Observer reporters who broke the story). In each interview he apologized. “I’m really sorry that this happened,” he told CNN. “This was certainly a breach of trust.”

But Zuckerberg didn’t stop at an apology this time. He also defended Facebook as an “idealistic company” that cares about its users and spoke disparagingly about rival companies that charge users money for their products while maintaining a strong record in protecting user privacy. In his interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, Zuckerberg said that anyone who believes Apple cares more about users than Facebook does has “Stockholm syndrome”—the phenomenon whereby hostages start sympathizing and identifying with their captors.

This is an interesting argument coming from the CEO of Facebook, a company that essentially holds its users’ data hostage. Yes, Apple charges handsomely for its products, but it also includes advanced encryption hardware on all its phones, delivers timely security updates to its whole user base, and has largely locked itself out of user data—to the chagrin of many governments, including that of the United States, and of Facebook itself.

Most Android phones, by contrast, gravely lag behind in receiving security updates, have no specialized encryption hardware, and often handle privacy controls in a way that is detrimental to user interests. Few governments or companies complain about Android phones. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it came to light that Facebook had been downloading and keeping all the text messages of its users on the Android platform—their content as well as their metadata. “The users consented!” Facebook again cried out. But people were soon posting screenshots that showed how difficult it was for a mere mortal to discern that’s what was going on, let alone figure out how to opt out, on the vague permission screen that flashed before users.

On Apple phones, however, Facebook couldn’t harvest people’s text messages because the permissions wouldn’t allow it.

In the same interview, Zuckerberg took wide aim at the oft-repeated notion that, if an online service is free, you—the user—are the product. He said that he found the argument that “if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth.” His rebuttal to that accusation, however, was itself glib; and as for whether it was aligned with the truth—well, we just have to take his word for it. “To the dissatisfaction of our sales team here,” he said, “I make all of our decisions based on what’s going to matter to our community and focus much less on the advertising side of the business.”

As far as I can tell, not once in his apology tour was Zuckerberg asked what on earth he means when he refers to . . .

Continue reading.

I notice a pattern here: apologize, but continue the same behavior. Zuckerberg should be removed.

In addition the US should adopt the same privacy controls as the EU enforces. (I know: the US cannot, because the corporations that control the country will not allow it.)

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2018 at 1:40 pm

3 Steps to Avoid Giving Biased Feedback

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Tim Herrera writes in the NY Times:

Two weeks ago in this newsletter we talked about why it’s difficult to hear negative feedback. One of the main reasons is that most of us are awful at delivering negative feedback, so it becomes a vicious, self-reinforcing circle that trains us to avoid what would make us better at work and in life.

But I left out a key piece of giving effective feedback: being aware of our unconscious biases. In a perfect world, our feedback would always be objective and fair, but often our criticism is influenced in ways we don’t realize. So this week I’ve invited Steph Mitesser — who helpfully pointed this out, and who organizes the Women’s Employee Resource Group at her office — to talk about getting beyond our unconscious biases when giving feedback to make it more helpful and constructive for everyone involved.

When was the last time you got unhelpful or biased feedback? I want to hear about it! Tweet me at @timherrera or email me at tim@nytimes.com.

Take it away, Steph!

***

Recently, a female colleague shared a frustrating experience with me: A male tech lead told her the engineers (who are mostly male) were afraid to talk to her because she’s an attractive woman; they called her “unapproachable.” She was speechless and had no idea how to address his concerns.

I hear stories about unfair and unhelpful criticism from my female co-workers often, and research backs up these anecdotes: In one studyacross 28 companies, 76 percent of critical feedback given to women included comments on her personality — e.g., a woman was “abrasive” — while only 2 percent of negative reviews for men included such comments.

These experiences don’t just frustrate women, they keep them from reaching their full potential. And when we give women advice for dealing with this problem, it burdens them to fix something that isn’t their fault and diverts time and energy from their work.

Frankly, it’s more efficient just to give women (and everyone!) better feedback in the first place. You may never completely erase gender bias from your critiques, but being more thoughtful, objective and specific will help a lot.

Use the right criteria. Before commenting on your colleague’s work, make sure you understand the most important skills for her job. If you don’t know, ask her manager. Otherwise, you’ll probably fill this gap with more subjective (and more biased) critiques.

Appropriate criteria helps you avoid personality judgments, which reflect your personal preferences rather than the job requirements. We naturally gravitate toward certain personalities at work, but it’s nearly impossible to tie subjective traits like “approachability” or “humor” to job performance. If you can’t give specific examples of how the trait affected her work, leave it out. Similarly, give examples for how she can act on your feedback; otherwise, you likely won’t help her improve.

Take the time to vet your criticismsKatie Stricker, a career coach, recommends asking these questions before sharing feedback:

1. How does this apply to the work she’s meant to do or the product she’s supposed to deliver?

2. How would I apply this feedback to anyone in the company?

You can also talk through your critique with another colleague to get her perspective, as long as you frame the conversation about professional development and not gossip.

You don’t need to just criticize. “We tend to associate ‘feedback’ with ‘negative feedback.’ But feedback should really be continuous and include both positives and negatives,” Ms. Stricker said. “If we make feedback more organic, frequent and well rounded, it becomes a bit less loaded for everyone.”

While criticism should be thoughtful and measured, don’t let anxiety about biases prevent you from giving regular feedback. In the wake of #MeToo, men have expressed to me that fear of saying something sexist leads them to say nothing. Silence won’t help anyone grow. But by making good-faith efforts to reduce bias from your feedback and to have open and honest conversations with your co-workers, your feedback is much more likely to be well received. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2018 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Trump supporters do not follow the news

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We always suspected it, but Politico‘s Shawn Musgrave and Matthew Nussbaum back it up with this fascinating chart:

Take a minute to examine the chart. There are more counties toward the left and also lower circulation rates primarily because of population density: there are a great many sparsely populated counties, which is how Trump won an enormous number of counties—the great majority, represented in the chart by small red disks; the counties Clinton won are represented by small blue disks. But Clinton received over 2 million more votes than Trump: she won many fewer counties, but the counties had much greater population.

Their article begins:

President Donald Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may be rooted in statistical reality: An extensive review of subscription data and election results shows that Trump outperformed the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn’t do nearly as well in areas with heavier circulation.

POLITICO’s findings — which put Trump’s escalating attacks on the media in a new context — were drawn from a comparison of election results and subscription information from the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry group that verifies print and digital circulation for advertisers. The findings cover more than 1,000 mainstream news publications in more than 2,900 counties out of 3,100 nationwide from every state except Alaska, which does not hold elections at the county level.

The results show a clear correlation between low subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election, both against Hillary Clinton and when compared to Romney in 2012. Those links were statistically significant even when accounting for other factors that likely influenced voter choices, such as college education and employment, suggesting that the decline of local media sources by itself may have played a role in the election results.

That gives new force to the widely voiced concerns of news-industry professionals and academicians about Trump’s ability to make bold assertions about crime rates, unemployment and other verifiable facts without any independent checks. Those concerns, which initially were raised during the campaign, were largely based on anecdotes and observations. POLITICO’s analysis suggests that Trump did, indeed, do worse overall in places where independent media could check his claims.

The White House declined to comment for this story, but Trump and his campaign officials have made no secret of their preference for partisan national outlets and social media to mainstream outlets of all types. When dealing with local media, Trump sometimes opted for local TV and radio stations owned by conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, has said Sinclair agreed to have their stations broadcast interviews with Trump without commentary — which includes fact checks. (Sinclair has said it offered the same deal to Clinton, but she didn’t do any interviews.)

Now, as president, Trump is openly touting Sinclair, even though his own Federal Communications Commission is wrestling with whether to approve its effort to vastly expand its reach by buying Tribune Broadcasting. And in praising Sinclair, as in many other areas of policy and politics, Trump is utilizing social media rather than speaking directly to reporters, a method of communication that Trump considers essential to his success.

“I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” Trump told Fox Business Network in October. Without it, he said at the time, he “would never … get the word out.”

POLITICO’s analysis shows how he succeeded in avoiding mainstream outlets, and turned that into a winning strategy: Voters in so-called news deserts — places with minimal newspaper subscriptions, print or online — went for him in higher-than-expected numbers. In tight races with Clinton in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, the decline in local media could have made a decisive difference.

To assess how the decline in news subscriptions might have affected the presidential race, POLITICO made a county-by-county comparison of data from AAM. Almost all daily newspapers report their subscription numbers, print and online, to AAM for verification in order to sell to advertisers. (Some of the smallest outlets do not, though, including weekly publications.) After ranking the counties on subscription rates, POLITICO compared election results between counties with high and low subscription rates, and used regression analysis to determine the correlation between news circulation and election results.

Among the findings:

• Trump did better than Romney in areas with fewer households subscribing to news outlets but worse in areas with higher subscription rates: In counties where Trump’s vote margin was greater than Romney’s in 2012, the average subscription rate was only about two-thirds the size of that in counties where Trump did worse than Romney.

• Trump struggled against Clinton in places with more news subscribers: Counties in the top 10 percent of subscription rates were twice as likely to go for Clinton as those in the lowest 10 percent. Clinton was also more than 3.7 times as likely to beat former President Barack Obama’s 2012 performance in counties in the top 10 percent compared to those in the lowest 10 percent — the driest of the so-called news deserts.

• Trump’s share of the vote tended to drop in accordance with the amount of homes with news subscriptions: For every 10 percent of households in a county that subscribed to a news outlet, Trump’s vote share dropped by an average of 0.5 percentage points.

To many news professionals and academics who’ve studied the flow of political information, there’s no doubt that a lack of trusted local media created a void that was filled by social media and partisan national outlets.

“Without having the newspaper as kind of ‘true north’ to point you to issues, you are left to look for other sources,” said Penny Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who has closely studied the decline of local media. “And because of the dramatic rise in social media, that ends up being your Facebook friends.”

Rick Tyler, who served as communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) presidential campaign, had a front-row seat for the rise of Trump, and noted that for many Trump supporters, the candidate himself was the most trusted source of news.

“What he’s doing is he is becoming the source and they believe him,” Tyler said. “It doesn’t matter if the people they don’t believe say he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s breakthrough is that he’s unencumbered by the truth.”

Trump himself communicates directly to about 50 million followers on Twitter, and during the presidential primaries,his Twitter following was larger than the total number of votes he received in becoming the Republican Party nominee. His number of Twitter followers far exceeds the number of subscribers for all news outlets, print and digital, in the country — 35 million for weekday and 38 million on Sundays as of 2016, according to AAM figures.

In late December, Trump wrote on Twitter: “I use Social Media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair ‘press,’ now often referred to as Fake News Media. Phony and non-existent ‘sources’ are being used more often than ever. Many stories & reports a pure fiction!”

***

Starting in the 1970s, when the control of the nominating process shifted from party elites to primary-election voters, a common sight at rallies, conventions and debates was small groups of journalists, men and women, most of them having traveled in from Washington, gathering to compare observations. Together, they would decide what news had been made — which candidate handled himself better, which exchanges were the most relevant, which assertions were the most questionable.

In the days before the Internet, about a dozen news outlets dominated national political coverage. They included the major television networks, weekly news magazines, The Associated Press, and about a half-dozen newspapers. Wire services such as The New York Times News Service and The Washington Post-Los Angeles Times service sent out their articles to smaller papers across the country, guaranteeing vastly wider circulation for their stories.

Top columnists and political writers would therefore appear in hundreds of newspapers, reaching tens of millions of homes. The families in those homes might have had little awareness of where the articles originated, but were reassured by knowing that trusted local editors had chosen those pieces for publication. And the local newspapers themselves engendered a strong, often fierce loyalty: They were part of families’ lives from birth to death, offering everything from holiday recipes to obituaries. They were where Mom and Dad’s wedding photo was published, and where yellowing clippings of long-ago heroics on the high-school gridiron were saved for posterity.

The editors lived in the communities they served, and went to the same churches and parent-teacher meetings that their readers attended. So when they decided to publish a story about national politics, it had a local stamp of approval: The local newspaper editor — and, in a similar way, the local TV anchor — were validators for national political coverage by reporters thousands of miles away.

By the start of the 2016 election campaign, newspapers had endured a quarter century of sharp declines in subscriptions — a loss of about 40 percent of their readers — and local TV and radio had lost much of their economic base, as well. And the rate of decline was increasing.

Between 2015 and 2016 alone, print and digital subscription rates dropped 8 percent, according to AAM. Between the 2012 election, in which Barack Obama squared off against Romney, and the 2016 Trump-Clinton clash, weekday subscriptions dropped 19 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that between 2004 and 2015. the newspaper industry lost 37 percent of its workers, leaving empty desks in newsrooms where reporters used to work. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2018 at 9:28 am

Ah! The Monday shave—today with Simpson Emperor 2, iKon 102, and Van Yulay After Dark

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The wonderful start to every workweek: shaving off a two-day stubble in a pleasurable way. I ordered another Van Yulay soap, their Sandalwood, and I’m looking forward to that. In the meantime, After Dark is quite appealing to me, and the Simpson Emperor 2 Best made an especially good lather. My skin seems to like this soap a lot.

With the 102, the shave is always cmfortable and always close. A good splash of After Dark aftershave (after shaking the bottle well: I want to be sure the emu oil has not separated) finished the job in fine style.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2018 at 9:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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