Category Archives: Summaries

BP Oil Spill: Yet More Ledes, Excerpts and Links – May 8 through May 22

“Twenty-four miles of Plaquemines parish is destroyed.
Everything in it is dead.”
– Billy Nungesser, head of the parish in southern Louisiana

“This is what everyone wanted to avoid, because the wetlands are
the nursery for everything that swims or crawls in the Gulf of Mexico.”
– John Hocevar, Greenpeace

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is “relatively tiny” compared with the “very big ocean”
– BP CEO Tony Hayward

A follow up to my previous collection of ledes and excerpts – with links – these ones covering the period from May 8 through May 22. (Note: As before, the full post is fairly long, with a number of pictures, so if you have a slow or limited internet connection, be warned.)

Before that, some observations…

Among the most disturbing news to come out in the last few days of coverage of the Deepwater Horizon / BP oil spill:

  • Even BP now acknowledges its estimate of the rate of the spill as 5,000 barrels of oil a day was woefully inadequate. The actual rate of the spill may be as much as 20 times larger than the figure that BP has insisted on for the last month.
  • After a month of stonewalling and downplaying the severity of the disaster, BP has bowed to pressure and is now allowing access to the live video feed of the spill that scientists have been demanding. What other data are they withholding? And what of efforts to prevent reporters from reaching the site of the spill?
  • The chemical dispersant/cleaner used by BP has now be banned – as too toxic and inadequate. All along scientists have warned of the impact of the dispersant, which some have argued may just make matters worse because of its toxic impact. And in fact, a better – more effective and less toxic – dispersant has apparently been available. The chemical used by BP is banned in the UK as too toxic.
  • Oil is washing ashore on beaches, wetlands and marshes in the Gulf region, destroying fragile wetlands that are the incubators for a large percentage of the birds, fish and animals of the Gulf. By destroying these breeding grounds, used by migratory birds and others, the oil spill will impact the environment throughout North and South America, from the Arctic to Antarctica.
  • Oil is being taken up into the Loop Current and is being carried toward Florida and the Atlantic, so it may also end up affecting Western Europe.
  • Police were turning back reporters trying to reach beaches on which oil was washing ashore.

Given BP’s repeated failures to stem the disastrous flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, use of toxic chemicals to try to minimize the apparent extent of the spill, stonewalling on access to data on the rate of the spill while insisting on a figure universally derided as woefully underestimating the actual damage, apparent efforts to block reporters from accessing the site of the spill, and general fuckwittery (eg, the BP CEO calling oil spill ‘relatively tiny’), why is BP still in charge of efforts to contain and clean up the spill?

At what point does the government step in and say “BP, you’ve blown it – we’re taking over, and we’ll send you the bill”?

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BP Oil Spill: Extensive Collection of Ledes, Excerpts and Links – April 30 through May 7

Like the gushers of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, the past month has seen a massive outpouring of reports and analysis on the Deepwater Horizon / BP oil spill and environmental catastrophe in progress off the coast of Louisiana.

Were I off a conspiracy frame of mind – which of course I am not – I might try to suggest that “they” are trying to prevent us from thinking carefully and critically about what is happening by burying us under a tidal wave of verbiage, with yesterday’s plans superseded by today’s, and dozens of theories of the cause, and estimates of the amount of oil, competing for our attention.

This is what is happening, but I don’t think it is a conspiracy actively being pursued by the infamous “they.” Rather, it is 100s of reporters scrambling each day for copy to file, and – much more disturbingly – government agencies and the oil industry thrashing around in their ignorance and incompetence, unable to come up with real solutions, while corporate PR flacks and spin doctors try to cover up as much as possible, and scientists scramble to make sense of what is happening from the point of view of their various disciplines.

To make matters worse, the efforts of reporters and scientists to produce accurate and in-depth news and analysis have been actively and consciously hampered by the corporate flacks – by, for example, delaying the release of data, resisting attempts to gain access to the video feeds of the oil gushers, and so on. Even more disturbing have been the reports of government collusion with BP in blocking access to the spill and to information. A few days ago, reports circulated of BP ships blocking access to the spill site at sea, with Coast Guard officers onboard these boats colluding in these efforts. More recently, police officers have apparently been attempting to prevent reporters visiting beaches where oil has washed ashore. I suspect these are local and individual actions rather than part of active government collusion at a high level, but even so… The public officials involved in such things should have bricks dropped on them from a great height.

I’ve been following this story since the explosion, in mainstream and progressive news outlets, as well as on commentary and discussion websites and blogs, and I’ve collected some of the more useful, intelligent, provocative and/or outrageous pieces on the oil spill for you.

Below the fold, you’ll find an extensive compendium of ledes and excerpts – with links – from these articles and discussions, arranged in chronological order. This post consists of the bulk of the articles for the period from April 30 through May 7. Later today or tomorrow, I’ll post ledes and excerpts for May 8 through May 21.

(Note: The full post is very long, with a number of pictures, so if you have a slow or limited internet connection, be warned.)

Before that, a couple of general overview pieces:

Oil spill cleanup, containment efforts, hearings in wake of gulf disaster: In the Gulf of Mexico and along the coastline, cleanup and containment efforts continue after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig April 20. (via The Washington Post – includes large selection of photos on the oil spill.)

How Long Will the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Last?: More than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez foundered off the coast of Alaska, puddles of oil can still be found in Prince William Sound. Nearly 25 years after a storage tank ruptured, spilling oil into the mangrove swamps and coral reefs of Bahia Las Minas in Panama, oil slicks can still be found on the water. And more than 40 years after the barge Florida grounded off Cape Cod, dumping fuel oil, the muck beneath the marsh grasses still smells like a gas station… (via Scientific American.)

The 2010 Gulf Oil Spill: A Timeline – Newsweek – slideshow with 23 photos  [post removed]

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Facebook – About Face

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

I know I said I was going to lay off FaceBook, but there’s just been so much going on…

FaceBook introduced a revamped interface a couple of days ago which seems cleaner and faster, but I for one miss some of the aspects of the old – in particular the avatars of my friends in the left side column. Maybe there’s a way to get them back, but I haven’t found it yet in my relatively minimal exploration.

What I did find in that exploration was distinctly unpleasant. When this most recent kerfuffle about privacy issues first began, I went into my profile and deleted a bunch of information – including all of my employment and most of my educational background – leaving in only what I thought was crucial for people to identify me as me.

So imagine my surprise when all of that deleted data turned up again as search criteria for looking for friends. All of it. So that data I deleted is still there for FaceBook’s use, and presumably for sharing through their new connections systems – it just isn’t visible in my profile.

Another big change recently was to the “likes” in the profile – the lists of books, films, and music we created as part of our profiles. Suddenly, those went from being text to links – linked to other FaceBook pages – and events started popping up on my home stream relating to those likes – info on upcoming concerts by musicians I’d mentioned, things like that.

I hadn’t put that information in to get spammed with ads in my stream. If I want info on upcoming Jonatha Brooke concerts – which I do – I can opt in to her email list, or befriend her on FaceBook (both of which I’d done). So I went into my profile and deleted all of my books, music and films.

I was a bit sad to see those lists go – they did a good job of fleshing out my profile, which is why I’d entered that info. I always knew it would be used for market research – and I was resigned to that as part of the price for a free FaceBook. But I never expected to get spammed with ads amidst the notes from my friends detailing the trials, tribulations and triumphs of their daily lives.

I’m not going to delete my FaceBook account. FaceBook is “too big to fail” – in the sense that it has become the de facto site for people like me to have a digital presence. (And my younger siblings and nephews are clearly going to stick with it – and I need to keep an eye on them.) And I will occasionally post info to it. But I am going to use it a lot less, and access it in different ways – through aggregator sites with more rigourous privacy policies – and I am not going to be updating my profile.

And I’m not going to be providing FaceBook with any more free content and unpaid market research that they will sell to whoever they want, keep as long as they want and use any way they want.

FaceBook Alternatives

In my previous post on FaceBook, I outlined a possible FaceBook alternative, based on open source ideas, a non-profit Wikipedia-like approach, and Creative Commons licensing ideas. Not surprisingly, others have been thinking along similar, and even more radical lines.

Two alternatives to FaceBook are in development – Diaspora, the one that’s been getting all the press recently, and OneSocialWeb, which has been around longer and is further ahead in development, but didn’t get written up by The New York Times and BBC.

What makes these projects more radical than what I outlined is also what makes them problematic: they are both conceived of as distributed software applications. People will have to run the applications on their own servers. The best analogy I can think of on the fly is with file-sharing. FaceBook is like going to a website (RapidShare, iTunes) to download music. It’s all there on the servers. These alternatives are like BitTorrent systems – the material is distributed among the individual users.

It’s obviously a better solution for all sorts of privacy and control reasons, and more robust in a technical sense (assuming it’s properly implemented). However, while such an approach is going to find favor with geeks, average users are not going to want to mess with setting it up, even if they have access to, or are willing to pay for, their own servers.

My 13-old nephew is not going to do this, nor is my dad. In fact, most of the people I interact with on FaceBook are not going to be willing to deal with this approach, no matter how put off they may be by FaceBook’s recent activities.

I like these proposals for the reasons I’ve already outlined, but I see a real danger here. If all the geeks who are concerned about privacy defect to one or another (both? a merger?) of these systems, FaceBook won’t even blink, and will continue as before, and our friends and family will have to suck it up.

But if there were an alternative that was as easy to use as FaceBook, we’d have a much better chance of encouraging sufficient defections to give the new system/network/site some legs, some momentum…

Ledes and links below…

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Greece Now and Then, and the Euro Crisis

Another round up of posts, links and ledes on Greece – responses to the bank deaths, some history of Greek protests, and a few items on the crisis with the euro, which is being fueled by the situation in Greece…

Bruce Cockburn, “Call It Democracy” (lyrics)- from the album World of Wonders (1986) – a music attack on the IMF

Greece Now – with particular attention to the bank deaths

Who knew the European Union had so much power over its member states?: “For the time being, the markets have been pacified. For the moment, the riots in Athens have subsided. Only ‘hundreds’ of demonstrators came out over the weekend, fewer than the 50,000 who killed three people during a violent petrol-bomb attack on a bank last week. But this temporary truce in Greece has been bought at a high price—by which I don’t just mean that it was expensive….”

(via Slate Magazine.)

The welfare state’s death spiral: “Washington Post – By Robert J. Samuelson – May. 10 (Opinion) – What we’re seeing in Greece is the death spiral of the welfare state. This isn’t Greece’s problem alone, and that’s why its crisis has rattled global stock markets and threatens economic recovery. Virtually every advanced nation, including the United States, faces the same prospect. Aging populations have been promised huge health and retirement benefits, which countries haven’t fully covered with taxes. The reckoning has arrived in Greece, but it awaits most wealthy societies….”

(via NewsTrust.)

Austerity measures approved in Greece, protests continue: “The new measures have been voted in the Greek Parliament yesterday by a majority of 172 votes out of a total 300, these including the votes of the ruling Socialist Party (PASOK) and the extreme-right party of junta nostalgic creeps, LAOS.

The Conservative party, the Communist Party and the Radical Coalition of the Left voted against the measures. The procedure was not without surprises as 3 PASOK MPs cast a blank vote, leading to their expulsion from the Party. One of them a veteran Socialist politician and Olympic Games champion Mrs Sacorafa is refusing to hand over her seat in Parliament. At the same time the ex-Foreign Affairs Minister, daughter of the ex- PM Konstantinos Mitsotakis, and defeated candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives, Mrs Bakoyanni voted for the measures leading to her immediate expulsion from the Party – a move expected to lead the Conservatives to a major crisis. The demand of the Left for a 180 vote majority for the measures to be passed (a rule applied for constitutional reform) was not accepted by the government….

(via libcom.org.)

The Fair Uprising of 120,000 Demonstrators in Athens, Greece.
From Anarchist Coil.

THE FAIR UPRISING OF 120,000 DEMONSTRATORS, THE RAID AGAINST THE PARLIAMENT BY TENS OF THOUSANDS OF ENRAGED PEOPLE HAD NOTHING AND COULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PARA-STATE GANG WHO MURDERED THREE PEOPLE IN A BANK IN STADIOU STR. AND TRIED UNSUCCESSFULLY TO DO THE SAME AT THE BOOKSTORE IANOS

“Oh sky, your mirror image can be seen on the mud also”.

At first, we want to make it clear that our anger is indescribable, for the cowardly para-state gang who is responsible for murdering three people, two women, one pregnant on the fourth month, and a man who worked at Marfin bank at Stadiou Str., as well as for the gang of politicians and journalists who rushed to associate the fair uprising of hundreds of thousands of people in Athens and other cities with this atrocious murder.

But the truth cannot be erased. An angry river of protesters surrounded the Parliament and for hours and hours attempted to invade during a ferocious battle with the forces of repression….

(via Anarchist news dot org.)

In critical and suffocating times: “The Ta Paida Tis Galarias (The Children of The Gallery) group report on the recent demonstrations in Athens against austerity measures, including the events leading to the tragic deaths of three bank workers and its implications for the movement of opposition.

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Facebook – The Good, The Bad and The Update

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

One last round up of recent headlines, ledes, blog posts and soundbites from around the internet on FaceBook… So many people – and influential websites – have jumped on the FaceBook is evil / where’s my privacy bandwagon now that I feel continuing to post collections of links and blurbs on the topic is unnecessary.

The blurbs and links are below the fold, but first I’d like to throw out some thoughts I’ve been having about a possible alternative to FaceBook, in very sketchy form…

OpenFace

Or perhaps “OpenBook” – an “open source” FaceBook-like social media application, developed under an open source / GPL license and released for general use. Anyone who wants to set up their own special interest – or even general – social media site can download the application, run it on their own server and invite people to join. I can see it replacing a lot of the forum and bulletin board sites around now. For example, a high school or university might set up an OpenFace site for the staff, students, faculty and community/parents, or a group of Doctor Who fans might create a site focusing on bringing fans together. Much in the way that Wikipedia has spawned a legion of small, specialized wikis (for schools, on Doctor Who, etc.)

And much like Wikipedia there would also be a major, general purpose site, “OpenFace” itself, designed to be a social network for everyone. To be, in short, what FaceBook is, an alternative to FaceBook.

But with some key differences. More emphasis on communication tools for individuals and groups. Less emphasis on structures for businesses and organizations. Specific functionality built-in to facilitate use by activist groups, non-profits, and the like. As with FaceBook, the core would be: profiles, microblogging, the construction of groups and networks, and person-to-person messaging. Other functionality – photo albums, chat, etc. – could be added in later.

Key would be the structures of ownership and accountability. The main “OpenFace” site would need to be run by a non-profit board with accountability to users.

All material produced by users as part of their accounts – their profiles, posts, comments, likes and dislikes – would be owned by them and “published” under some sort of Creative Commons license, which would allow its use in the various streams on OpenFace, and some third-party connections and applications, but prohibit reuse for commercial purposes. (Prohibit something like what happened with IMBd and Gracenote, where free user contributions formed the basis for private businesses with no profits to those original users/creators.) Users would also have the ability to expunge all their data at any time.

Bandwidth and storage are cheap. Not free, but cheap and getting cheaper all the time. The open source community represents a very large collection of terrific talent and generosity that is easily capable of developing an application like “OpenFace.” Developing and implementing something like OpenFace would not seem to be an impossible challenge.

The operating costs could be cobbled together perhaps in the ways that WikiPedia’s are. I can also see some sort of advertising being an acceptable compromise – probably not targeted or contextual advertising, which has some privacy issues. But general ads, and with some sort of payment scheme for ad free accounts, and with a long term goal of funding that would remove the need for ads.

Another aspect of “OpenFace” would probably need to be migration tools, that would allow users to transfer data from other systems – such as FaceBook, LinkedIn and Google – to OpenFace, but again that seems fairly trivial. And perhaps also tools that would allow linkages with FaceBook during a transition period, republishing items from OpenFace to FaceBook accounts – allowing users switching to OpenFace to maintain contact with their FaceBooks friends. Though I would imagine FaceBook might object to that.

Along the same lines, a current key trend in social media is aggregation sites – sites that pull together streams from, eg, Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, etc., with your email accounts and other more private sources. OpenFace could build aggregation tools in from the beginning, making it both more powerful and more appealing. Particularly given its robust privacy tools and commitments.

Initially, OpenFace would attract a small but interesting group of users. People put off by FaceBook’s hegemonic aims or its disrespect for privacy. People who are committed to notions of open source and “information wants to be free.” It would be a self-selected crowd with a particular social streak – a target “audience” that would appeal to groups that are now active on FaceBook – non-profits like Medicin Sans Frontier and Planned Parenthood, companies like Demotix, and media outlets like AlterNet.

As more and more users and businesses joined OpenFace, it would develop momentum, in the same way that FaceBook has, and start attracting a general crowd.

At which point the issue of commercial enterprises would have to be considered. Consider Peet’s Coffee. I like Peet’s Coffee. I have been a loyal and enthusiastic Peet’s customer since the original Peet’s opened in Berkeley. But on FaceBook, being a friend of Peet’s simply means getting ads from them inserted into my stream. Do I need or want that?

Obviously, users on OpenFace would have the ability to opt in to such things, or opt out, as they do on FaceBook (or did; today all sorts of ads started popping up on my FaceBook home, reflecting all the books, movies and music I had listed in my profile: I didn’t sign up for that, and spent some time culling most of the obviously “monetizable” entries from my bio). But even so, would we really want to allow blatant advertising equal time in our streams?

Maybe there could be rules restricting the kind of content companies and groups could post in people’s streams. For instance, GreenPeace could post about an issue having to do with whaling, but couldn’t post an ad for its new calendar. I can see how that would be hard to work out, but not impossible.

It might mean that initially most purely commercial enterprises – like Peet’s – wouldn’t be interested in having a presence on OpenFace. But once the user base was large enough, they might feel compelled to join. And that might provide part of the funding picture. In the same way that Craigslist only charges fees for a limited number of uses – posting job and sex ads – OpenFace might require fees from, say, all commercial, for-profit entities, with a fee scale of some sort so that a local bookstore, corner coffee house or neighborhood restaurant would pay little or nothing, whereas Starbucks, Borders and Chevron would have to pay a very great deal indeed.

I want to stress again that these are very preliminary thoughts – but maybe they will help to get a conversation going about what sort of society we want to see evolving on the internet. And whether it will be a genuine “public sphere” in bits and bytes, an online agora, or something more like chatting in the food court at the mall, under the surveillance cams.

Now, on to the links and blurbs…
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Greece – More Ledes and Links

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

Another round up of recent headlines, ledes, blog posts and soundbites from around the internet on the situation in Greece…

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Facebook’s “Evil Interfaces” – Just a Phase(Book)?

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

A few more squibs on FaceBook…

Facebook’s “Evil Interfaces”: “An anonymous reader writes ‘Tim Jones over at the EFF’s Deep Links Blog just posted an interesting article on the widespread use of deceptive interface techniques on the Web. He began by polling his Twitter and Facebook audience for an appropriate term for this condition and received responses like ‘Bait-and-Click’ and ‘Zuckerpunched.’ Ultimately, he chose ‘Evil Interfaces’ from Greg Conti’s HOPE talk on malicious interface design and follow-up interview with media-savvy puppet Weena. Tim then goes on to dissect Facebook (with pictures). So, what evil interfaces have you encountered on (or off) the Web?'”

(via Slashdot.)

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Crisis in Greece – with Statement on Bank Deaths

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

Another roundup of news articles and blog posts on the situation in Greece, with particular attention to the deaths in the bank fire… Obviously, there’s a vast amount of material out there, far more than I could ever repost/link to here. I’m trying to select significant articles from mainstream, but not too bad news sources along with useful inputs from left perspectives – but basically what you are getting is what I read that I found helpful, enlightening, provocative or enraging.

Greek Protests Claim First Fatalities – Slide Show
Demonstrations against tough new austerity measures in Greece claimed their first fatalities with three people reported to have died inside a bank building set ablaze by protesters. Protesters marched in Athens on Wednesday.

(via NYTimes.com.)

Debt crisis: The EU is waterboarding Greece | Poul Nyrup Rasmussen: “The austerity measures forced on to the Greeks are not only unfair, they set a bad precedent for the rest of Europe

On the day of the eurozone leaders’ meeting in Brussels, it is essential that we look at what is really going on in the European Union. The Conservative majority in the EU has again lost sight of the big picture. Its punishment of Greece is like the nation-state equivalent of waterboarding….”

(via Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)

Greek Lawmakers Pass Austerity Plan: “The crucial vote stirred immediate concerns about unrest among the thousands of protesters massed in Athens.”
(via NYT > Home Page.)

It’s Not About Greece Anymore: “The Greek rescue package announced last weekend is far from enough to stabilize the euro zone, two economists write.”
(via NYT > Home Page.)

Greece Riots as Seen on Twitter, YouTube: “As riots explode in Greece, pictures and videos are flying around the social web, shared from news sources and folks on the ground. The images and videos we’re seeing are nothing short of otherworldly and terrifying. Riot police don gas masks, violent protesters take over the streets, gun shots ring out and open flames burn in the streets.

Readers should be aware that some folks may find the content below, particularly video content, shocking, disturbing or offensive. Please keep this in mind when you decide whether or not to watch these videos.”

(via Mashable!.)

“The management of the bank strictly barred the employees from leaving today … while they also forced the employees to lock up the doors” – Statements on the deaths in Athens: “Following the deaths of three workers in a fire at a bank in central Athens yesterday, we reproduce for reference the statements of a worker at the Marfin bank on the incident, and the communiques of the bank workers’ union OTOE and the Skaramanga squat in Athens. The bank workers union struck today in response to the deaths, blaming the goverment and employers for the fatalities.

The statement of an employee of the Marfin bank on the deaths:

Quote:
‘I feel an obligation toward my co-workers who have so unjustly died today to speak out and to say some objective truths. I am sending this message to all media outlets. Anyone who still bares some consciousness should publish it. The rest can continue to play the government’s game.” more

(via libcom.org.)

State terror in Exarcheia: “In an orgy of collective punishment the Greek police unleashed a brutal attack on Exarcheia, after the end of yesterday’s protest march, destroying shops and social centres, evacuating a squat at gunpoint and brutalising the locals.

The police brutality seen on the streets of Exarcheia last evening after the end of the general strike protest march in Athens has been unprecedented and casts serious doubts on the nature of the present regime in Greece which is casting away its democratic veil to expose itself as what it really is: the continuation of the colonel’s junta.”

(via libcom.org.)

What do we honestly have to say about Wednesday’s events?: “What do the events of Wednesday (5/5) honestly mean for the anarchist/anti-authoritarian movement? How do we stand in the face of the deaths of these three people – regardless of who caused them? Where do we stand as humans and as people in struggle? Us, who do not accept that there are such things as “isolated incidents” (of police or state brutality) and who point the finger, on a daily basis, at the violence exercised by the state and the capitalist system. Us, who have the courage to call things by their name; us who expose those who torture migrants in police stations or those who play around with our lives from inside glamorous offices and TV studios. So, what do we have to say now?

(via After the Greek Riots › Irregular updates and articles on the situation in Greece, in English.)

FaceBook and the McDonalds-izing of the Internet – plus Greece and Arizona

“Arizona is … a warning of what a state can look like when it’s run by talk-radio demagogues and their television cohorts.”
(Too bad they went with Rush Limbaugh and Chris Beck and not Jon Stewart.)

Here, for your horror and amusement, a roundup of some headlines and excerpts from the news of the last couple of days concerning FaceBook, Greece and Arizona – all in the one post as I am probably as sick of reading and writing about this stuff as you are of reading and thinking about it.

The truth is, I found the topics mostly either too aggravating (Arizona) or too complicated/outside my area of competence (Greece) to really have much worthwhile to offer beyond a handy crib sheet / set of links to what I found useful and interesting in my own reading.

I did feel that I might have something to offer on the matter of FaceBook. Most of the commentary I read focused on the threat to privacy angle or on FaceBook’s ambitious growth strategy – and covered these topics fairly well.

But I also thought these were not perhaps the most interesting or troubling aspect of FaceBook’s recent moves. The most interesting – and most negative – aspect was what I guess we could call the McDonalds-izing of the internet – which seems to be not just a scary scenario but actually the heart of their strategy:

McDonalds – it’s everywhere you go, from San Francisco to Shanghai to Skopje, from New York to New Delhi to Old Blighty, and everywhere pretty much the same. It’s unhealthy, bland, culturally and nutritionally denuded and pumped full of pretty packaging and preservatives, salt and sugar to make up for its lack of taste, appeal and interest. It’s very cheap, and not worth it – but nonetheless becomes a big part of the diet of people who are locked out, scared off or ignorant of better choices. McDonalds: bland, banal, unhealthy, homogenized, corporate, ubiquitous.

To the extent that FaceBook succeeds in its ambitions, the internet will become a blander, more homogenized, and more regimented and commodified experience.

The computer world has seen other monopolies and hegemonies come (and sometimes go): Windows is not quite the force it once was, though it’s still pretty powerful; likewise Microsoft Office. Google clearly has hegemonic aims and seems to be doing a good job of achieving them, but that battle is not yet over.

But somehow, the idea of a hegemonic FaceBook seems to me somewhat more serious. I suppose because it is a social network, and has to a large extent taken over from IMing and email as a central means of communication for many people. And also become a major force in organizing groups, inviting people to events, sharing photographs, indicating likes and dislikes in shopping and other forums, and so on.

These were all activities that used to be enacted through separate platforms, sites and applications. Smaller sites operating in more competitive arenas, and generally with more responsiveness to their users than FaceBook has shown. And in many cases, at least initially, much less commercial, much less “monetized” and surveilled.

FaceBook hopes to end all of that, bringing all of those activities into its grasp, and analyzing and monetizing our every activity, and targeting us with ads tailored to our precise demographics and desires.

“One Site to rule them all…”

FaceBook

Despite my personal apprehensions (which are, naturally, well-founded and not at all the paranoid fantasies of some left-wing conspiracy theorist), the rest of the blogosphere has quieted down a bit where FaceBook is concerned, after the first rush of responses – positive and negative – to announcements at FaceBook’s developers’ conference. The two main interests continue to be the privacy issue, on the one hand, and evaluations of the new developments from a technical and business perspective on the other; on both, we may have to wait a little while for more in-depth discussions.

In the meantime, here’s PC Magazine chiming it with its advice on securing some privacy in the wake of FaceBook’s changes:

Facebook Privacy: 8 Ways to Protect Yourself: pcmag.com — You want to use Facebook, but you also want to keep your private information from being spread all over the Internet. The key is to understand how Facebook works, where your information is going, and how to navigate the service’s labyrinth of privacy controls.

(via Digg.com.)

Early last month, before FaceBook’s developers’ conference, Bruce Schneier, one of the most respected commentators on computer security, wrote of the issue of privacy and control, specifically addressing FaceBook:

In January, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg declared the age of privacy to be over. A month earlier, Google Chief Eric Schmidt expressed a similar sentiment. Add Scott McNealy’s and Larry Ellison’s comments from a few years earlier, and you’ve got a whole lot of tech CEOs proclaiming the death of privacy — especially when it comes to young people.

It’s just not true. People, including the younger generation, still care about privacy.

Read the whole discussion of “Privacy and Control” in Schneier on Security.

An article in The New York Times on a new extreme sport fun run – “Tough Mudder” – parenthetically provided a concise picture of just how targeted FaceBook ads already were, how well they knew us, before this current round of changes:

The [Tough Mudder] Web site went online in early February, and $8,300 was spent on Facebook ads aimed at specific demographics — young professionals, runners and extreme athletes, police officers and firefighters, and those in the military who lived in the vicinity of Allentown and within 50 miles of New York and Philadelphia.

(via NYTimes.com.)

Imagine what they’ll be able to do once they know your every like, your every move.

Enough of that… Here’s what’s been happening in the less important realm of offline events. (For some reason, the mainstream news media has been paying a lot more attention to Greece and Arizona than FaceBook…)
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FaceBook – More on Privacy and the “Like” Blitz

Yesterday, I discussed growing concerns over FaceBook’s bold move to massively increase its internet presence – and its revenue streams – by essentially integrating itself with as much of the rest of the internet as possible, and sharing your data with pretty much any company that wants it (while excluding clever, user-oriented tools like Web 2.0 Suicide).

Below are more responses from around the internet. Again, some of these commentators see FaceBook’s move in positive terms – or at least not with great alarm – but what they see is nonetheless alarming…

At the developers’ conference in San Francisco where these changes were announced, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared with a very telling backdrop:

Zuckerberg wants FaceBook to be the McDonalds of the internet.

But who wants to hang out at McDonalds?

And FaceBook’s ambitious plans would have a much worse impact on your internet experience than McDonalds’ success on your daily dining. It’s still easy enough to find a burrito (at least in the Bay Area) or some Chinese. Whether you “Like” it or not, if FaceBook succeeds, the internet will be a much less diverse and healthy place. The only good that can come from this move is if Google and FaceBook distract and delay each other enough in their respective hegemonic bids to create room for other, hopefully less Evil Empire-ish companies and initiatives to establish a sufficient foothold to survive.

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Facebook – How Do You Like Me Now?

After failing to see the appeal for a long time, I recently started using FaceBook regularly. The main reasons for the change were the desire to keep in better contact with younger members of my family – who use it fairly heavily but never email (you know who you are) – and the ease of connecting and sharing with diverse acquaintances scattered around the globe.

I do appreciate the ability to share links and bits of information with the widely diverse group of “friends” that I have in FaceBook, and to see the information that they choose to share. The gossipy bits and status updates also provide a bit of humor and some sense of human connection to brighten up the long, lonely hours of info-slog on my computer in the library. And FaceBook is clearly an excellent way of doing these things – of creating and maintaining, without much effort, a low-level, fairly trivial kind of social network.

But my increasing use of FaceBook has coincided with something of a sea change in FaceBook and its relations to both the wider internet and its users – in particular the recent changes to the “like” feature, its integration with a number of major commercial players on the net, and the ability of third parties to access and data-mine our activities on FaceBook.

These most recent changes come after a long period of simmering concern about privacy problems on FaceBook, and they seem to have brought that concern closer to the boiling point, though it still doesn’t seem quite as widespread as perhaps it should be.

It’s also interesting to consider the changed attitudes, access and APIs for third parties in light of FaceBook’s successful effort, only a few months ago, to shut down one of the more interest third-party FaceBook tools, the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine (see here for details). Clearly, the only activities that FaceBook wants to allow are those that contribute to its profits.

The full scope of this most recent set of FaceBook changes is still being discussed and analyzed, but a few things seem (to me) clear:

  • FaceBook is attempting to make oodles of money by finding new ways of “monetizing” its users and their activities, and it looks like they’ve hit on a winning formula.
  • FaceBook wants to dominant the internet, and, again, pundits and industry observes tend to feel they may be onto a winning formula.
  • Key to both these (obviously isomorphic) aims is to integrate FaceBook with more and more of your activity elsewhere on the internet, and then to profit from the incredibly rich source of data this will generate.

This data will be used in a variety of ways for marketing activities. A few analogies may help – the resulting data will function like surveys, focus groups, market research, Nielsen ratings, and the like. Tracking your likes and dislikes, your internet travels, your purchases and page views will provide the sort of information that these various market research activities produce. The detailed information on you, the user, will also facilitate marketing you – that is, producing targeted ads, and selling ad agencies on the value of FaceBook as an advertising medium.

But all that data will be generated behind the scenes, without much conscious or overt input or choice on your part. When you are called by some market research or survey organization, or sent an invite to some questionnaire, you choose whether or not to participate – and whether or not to be scrupulously honest with all your answers. But FaceBook will collect all this info without any activity or choice on your part.

Even more worrying is the way all of this data is tied directly to your identity and stored as computer data, which allows it to be combined with data from other sources – credit agencies, for instance – to produce very powerful individual profiles.

And of course one of the biggest aspects of the problem is the way that FaceBook looks set to become something of a monopoly, in the same way that the Microsoft Office applications were for so long: so widely used that you were forced to use them too. As more and more people join FaceBook, and use it more and more in place of other internet social and communications tools (IM, email, etc.), there is a real pressure to join in – just as I joined in to stay in touch with my siblings and the younger generation.

We may have already passed the point where it is easy to quit FaceBook; certainly we have passed the point where any other social networking system will be able to easily challenge FaceBook’s dominance.

Smarter people than me with more experience in such areas will no doubt have a great deal more to say on these topics in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, to bring you into the debate – and on the theory that where there’s smoke, there’s fire (or some sort of toxic exothermic reaction) – below are some recent tidbits on FaceBook from a variety of news and tech commentary sources. Note that not all of these sources are critical of FaceBook – but when TechCrunch says that FaceBook is “changing the Web, and our culture,” or talks about the productive ways our personal info can be used, even if that doesn’t bother them, it may still bother you. It certainly bothered me.

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