Tag Archives: Internet

Digital Sweatshop: Web Content Editors

Craigslist has it all: shared apartments, casual hook-ups, a decent used (possibly stolen) bike, belay buddys for the local indoor climbing gym.  And jobs, maybe especially jobs.

But some of the jobs are almost as exploitative as some of the sex trade posts. Check out this one—text given in full:

Web Content Editors: “Web Content Editors (Telecommuting okay)

A personal PR firm is seeking skilled, detailed editors experienced in editing web copy. This is a remote contract position with flexible hours, but we do require that you edit a minimum of five pieces per week.

As an editor, you will work directly with the firm’s team of editors and writers on polishing professional biographies for executives and high-profile clients.

The ideal candidate will demonstrate the ability to catch minute grammatical errors as well as possess excellent editorial skills. As a an important gatekeeper of quality, candidates will edit content for organization, language and word choice, tone, quality of content, length, spelling, punctuation, and syntax. All candidates must have prior editing experience as well as possess a proficiency in The Chicago Manual of Style and MS Word. An undergraduate or graduate degree in English, or a certificate in editing, is preferred but not required. Experience editing finance, legal, or medical copy is a plus.

We manage and pay our team on the oDesk platform. Editors receive $5.00 per piece edited (this is the net amount to you after the 10% oDesk fee). Each piece is 250-350 words. Our editors average about three pieces per hour.

Please respond with a succinct cover letter and ensure that you have completed the Education and Employment History sections on the Resume tab of your oDesk contractor profile. Please apply online at https://url.odesk.com/ijalxm. If you do not have an oDesk contractor account, please create one first at http://www.odesk.com. Applicants must also take the U.S. English Chicago Style Editing Skills Test (#505) on oDesk prior to applying.

In other words, they want experienced copyeditors with college degrees to work for $15/hour – with no benefits, job security or guarantee of work… Okay, maybe not quite as bad as a sex trade ad, but still…

According to Payscale, the hourly salary for copyeditors with 1-4 years of experience ranges from $10-25. So the pay here would be within the range, albeit a bit low—but that range is based on a steady job with benefits.  And Payscale’s estimate seems low.

Robert Half International lists a salary range for proofreaders of $35,000 to $51,000—or around $17 to 25/hour, for a fulltime position with benefits—and for a copyeditor with 1-3 years experience the salary range is $36,750-49,750. In San Francisco, according to GlassDoor, the median salary for a copyeditor is $50,000 (around $25/hour – with benefits).

And remember, if you earn much from freelance work, you’ll have to pay taxes and social security, etc. on it, just like you would if you had a real job. That can come as a real stock on April 15th, even if you only earned a couple thousand dollars.

Want health insurance to go with your sweated labor? According to eHealthInsurance, “the average premium paid for individual health insurance coverage in the United States in 2011 was $2,196 per year ($183 per month).”

The future, or really the present, of work in the United States may be flexible—read, deeply uncertain and precarious—work such as this, but right now, the system is geared toward maximum exploitation, and is really only viable through forms of externalization.

In San Francisco, many people I know trying to make a living this way can only do so by relying on all sorts of help and support: from the free internet at cafés to the city’s low cost health plan—or even by using the free cost, high time and stress options available around town (public ER at SFGH or the awesome Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic). Along with occasional, free meals and food handouts from local charitable organizations. And dumpster diving.

When web content is being produced, edited, maintained by people using café’s wifi, eating out of soup kitchens, with no health protection or retirement savings… That’s called exploited labor, and is not sustainable even in the medium term. Some try to romanticize it by celebrating their dumpster diving for survival as living a freegan lifestyle (something I generally support, as a challenge to capitalism and consumerism) and going on about their freedom to work when and where they want.

But mostly what it is is the freedom to live in insecurity.

And only until they’re old. Because they’ll have no retirement savings. And this country will have no social security or medicare for the elderly. They will starve and die on the streets.

What we need is a new Processed World to attack these practices. What we need is what takes shape in Cory Doctorow’s amazing, insightful For the Win.

Refuse to produce content for free – like reviews on Amazon – and refuse to work for anything less than a living wage.

What we need is a WILDCAT STRIKE on teh interwebs.

New Forms of Hacktivism: Pinterest, Twitter and IFTTT

With the various successes – and antics – of hackers identifying as “Anonymous,” hacktivism is very much on people’s minds these days. I’ve written before about Hacktivism (here, here, and here). Hacking is widely associated with breaking into computer systems (illegal), and more recently also with various forms of modifying or altering physical objects, particularly electronics, to get them to do non-standard things.  But as Wikipedia makes clear, “hacktivism” is a more general concept than just activist-oriented hacking of these kinds:

Hacktivism (a portmanteau of hack and activism) is the use of computers and computer networks as a means of protest to promote political ends. The term was first coined in 1996 by a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective named Omega. If hacking as “illegally breaking into computers” is assumed, then hacktivism could be defined as “the use of legal and/or illegal digital tools in pursuit of political ends”. These tools include web site defacements, redirects, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web site parodies, virtual sit-ins, typosquatting and virtual sabotage. If hacking as “clever computer usage/programming” is assumed, then hacktivism could be understood as the writing of code to promote political ideology: promoting expressive politics, free speech, human rights, and information ethics through software development. Acts of hacktivism are carried out in the belief that proper use of code will be able to produce similar results to those produced by regular activism or civil disobedience. (via Hacktivism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

I’ve been thinking about – and acting on – that wider definition of hacktivism as “the use of computers and computer networks as a means of protest to promote political ends” and I wanted to share with you some of my ideas and actions.

Pinterest seems to me to be, mostly, little more than a huge catalog with ads. Lots of images of things to buy; it’s no mistake that one of the default categories is “Products I Love”.  The whole category list is built primarily around selling and advertising. Where is the category for news? for politics or current events?

And of course a huge percentage of the pins are just pictures of products with links to where they can be bought.  When they aren’t essentially catalog entries (this beautiful dress, that pair of shoes), they are ads (“lose weight now”) or perhaps links to recipes; I haven’t followed that many pins as it gets depressing.  It’s like one big supermarket checkout magazine – though thankfully with fewer pictures of Jennifer Aniston and Kim Kardashian.

Admittedly, there is a growing trend of pining images of nature, art, inspirational quotes, humor and photography on Pinterest that is most welcome (unlike the persistent internet meme of “cute cats” which also has a growing pin presence), but I think we can do more with the site.  I think we can hack Pinterest – or at least engage in some hacktivism there.

Post pictures of Occupy protests. Make and post text images with facts on injustice and inequality, on the threat of climate change, on corruption, or with your favorite quotes from Malcolm X or Emma Goldman or Marx or Noami Wolf or Noam Chomsky.  Take pictures of your squat or community garden and start a Pinterest board called “Squats” or “Collectivism” or “A Better Way of Life” or “Another World is Possible.”

Make and “pin” composite photos showing slums on one side and Rodeo Drive on the other, or garbage dumps and Walmart, or a homeless person and a banker.  You get the idea.

Apart from its conspicuous consumption, Pinterest is also overwhelming white, middle-class, able bodied and heterosexual. Diversify!  The first time I posted an image of two women kissing, I got a complaining comment from a woman who said her granddaughter used the site and she didn’t want her exposed to things like that. Expose! Be there, be queer, help them get used to it.  Even Mitt Romney’s political advisers are backing down on the gay issue.

Twitter is also fertile ground for hacktivism of this sort. Recently, a progressive group posted a petition on one of those Change/Move/etc. petition sites concerning some minor reform at Domino’s Pizza. But even leaving aside how awful their pizza is, Domino’s is a nightmare.  The founder is notoriously anti-choice and anti-gay, and the company is now almost wholely owned by your friendly neighborhood vulture capitalists, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, which bought 93% of the company in 1998. And it is rabidly Republican:

The Domino’s Pizza political action committee gave $26,500 to federal candidates in the 05/06 election period – 0% to Democrats and 100% to Republicans. David A. Brandon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Domino’s personally gave $37,265 to Republicans ($0 to Democrats) in this same period. (via Domino’s Pizza – SourceWatch.)

So rather than sign some no doubt well-intentioned petition to reform some aspect of this company, I went onto TweetDeck and created a quick list for any tweet mentioning Domino’s, and then replied to those tweets with my own, saying things like “Dominos is anti-choice, anti-gay and 100% Republican” and linking to the SourceWatch article.

In fact, one could automate this kind of hacktivist tweet – and other online / social media hactivist actions – through the new IFTTT service (“If This Then That”). Using something like this “recipe”, you could set up an automated response to tweets mentioning Domino’s, or whatever.  Set up a new target every day, or week.

If you can get a whole group on board, you might add some sort of hashtag hacktivism as well, and try to get something positive and/or provocative trending. Be creative. Would #JustinBeiberHatesDominos trend?  You’ll never know until you try.

Berlin ACTA Protest, February 25, 2012

Activists protest from inside the Neptune fountain at Alexanderplatz during a demonstration against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on February 25, 2012 in Berlin, Germany.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WikiLeaks and Julian Paul Assange : The New Yorker

WikiLeaks and Julian Paul Assange : The New Yorker – Excellent background piece that came out in the wake of the “Collateral Murder” video of the helicopter attack in Iraq. Makes for useful background reading to the current furor over the “Afghanistan war logs” leak/publication.

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…

Continue reading

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…


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…
Continue reading

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.)

Continue reading

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…”


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…)
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Website of the Week: Demotix.com | The Street Wire

About Us: “Demotix is a citizen-journalism website and photo agency. It takes user-generated content (UGC) and photographs from freelance journalists and amateurs, and markets them to the mainstream media.

Demotix was founded with two principles at its heart – the freedom of speech and the freedom to know. Its objective is nothing if not ambitious – to rescue journalism and promote free expression by connecting independent journalists with the traditional media.

Demotix now has over 14,000 members, in 110 countries around the world from Afghanistan to Zambia.”

(via Demotix.com.)

Demotix Hooks DIY Journos Into Mainstream: “Demotix is a new type of wire service designed to make it easier for international news stories by citizen journalists and freelance reporters to make it into the mainstream media.

The U.K. company is essentially a user-friendly middleman. For instance, a photographer in Afghanistan with an image of a car bombing can log in to the Demotix website and upload an image with caption info; Demotix reviews it and pushes it to the company’s feed.”

(via Epicenter | Wired.com.)

Quit Facebook

Online networking sites are marketed as facilitators of community-orientation but when I think about the millions of people – myself included – who spend large portions of their waking lives feeding off an exchange of thousands of computerized, fragmented images, it doesn’t add up to community-engagement. These images have no meaning beyond “I look pretty from this angle” or “I’m wasted” or “look who my new boyfriend is.” And as we continue to chase even harder – accessing Facebook at work, uploading images from our cell phones – we spend our money on constantly upgraded electronic gadgets marketed to our tendency to self-obsess and present particularly uninteresting and repetitive images of ourselves. There’s got to be more than this.

read the whole piece at: Quit Facebook | Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters.

YouTube channel converting climate change sceptics

“So you have this friend who just doesn’t seem to get global warming. Showing him pictures of polar bears stranded on icebergs generates no sympathy. He is unmoved by computer images of New York under water. Could he really be a right-wing crackpot, unwilling to face the fact that the Earth is doomed?”

get it while it’s hot at How my YouTube channel is converting climate change sceptics | guardian.co.uk.

Web 2.0 Suicide Machine – Meet your Real Neighbours again! – Sign out forever!

The Web 2.0 Suicide Machine allows users of – among others – Facebook to commit ‘social network suicide’.

read the rest at Web 2.0 Suicide Machine .

Once again, I’m behind the curve – I just learned about the brilliant Web 2.0 Suicide Machine – which craftily deletes all your info across a number of Web 2.0 social networking platforms – a couple of months after FaceBook shut them down.

Perhaps the first instance of an internet suicide – a Web 0.1 Suicide – occurred in the online community The WELL (of which I was a member) back in the early 90s. A frequent contributor to a number of conversation groups on The WELL created a program that went through all the threads and deleted every one of his contributions. Then he killed himself.

Continue reading

FOUR YEARS. GO. – But where? and how will we get there? and who exactly is paying?


FOUR YEARS. GO. is a new campaign for social change that has been generating some buzz among my friends and acquaintances. As so often in the past, I have to be the hold-out, the cynic in the group.

Continue reading