Zuckerberg’s promise about fixing Facebook does not extend to Instagram

Instagram has just turned on a so called “activity status” for (at least some) users. It allows accounts you follow and people you message with to see when you were last active in Instagram apps. The new setting has been activated by default, but without a notification informing the user about the new “feature”.

Some might consider this a typical and expected behavior for social media apps, and it is. The “activity status” functionality is well established in other messaging apps, and implementing changes to privacy-related aspects of a service via “opt-out” (activated by default, can be turned off) instead of “opt-in” (deactivated by default, can be turned on) has been a common practice ever since the early days of the social web.

But times are different now. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook (which owns Instagram), has just declared 2018 the year in which he wants to “fix Facebook”. He and his company have been unusually self-critical lately in regards to how the social network might have contributed to certain problematic (online) trends and how spending time on social media can can be bad for people. “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being”, Zuckerberg wrote.

In short, Zuckerberg wants to regain people’s trust in that his company can be a net gain for society, not a net loss, and he’s vocal about it. But in the end, what matters are people’s actions, not what they say. Instagram taking itself the right to force a privacy intrusion onto its users without asking or at least informing suggests that not a lot will change. This practice is right from the “ask for forgiveness, not for permission” playbook which Facebook and other consumer tech companies have been following religiously over the past 10 years to grow their user base and engagement. In other words, to capture as much of people’s attention and share of mind as possible, regardless of collateral damage.

But these practices must not be tolerated anymore. They represent the same unethical values and culture which caused Facebook to become a burden for societies. They show a lack of respect for the user and an obsession with relentlessly increasing user engagement, putting the users’ actual well-being not first, not second, but at the bottom of the list of priorities.

As someone who so far has considered Instagram a more pleasant and less destructive type of social app than Facebook or Twitter, I’m really disappointed. And if Zuckerberg wants his pledge to be seen as sincere, this definitely doesn’t help.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #154

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode.

  • Digital Tribalism – The Real Story About Fake News (ctrl-verlust.net, 3)
    An insightful data analysis exploring one of the most concerning phenomena of our times: digital tribalism. The results presented suggest that the root of the problem aren’t filter bubbles (which turn out to be not as airtight to contrary opinions or facts as often assumed) or algorithms, but rather the way the human brain works, causing people to gather into groups they identify themselves with, and to separate themselves from others as a group. Through online networks and viral dynamics, the evolutionary behavioral patterns are simply supercharged (and often malfunctioning). Related book recommendation from me: “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” by Robert M. Sapolsky. Already one of the top 3 best books I have ever read. And I am only at 30 %. It’s 800 pages thick.
  • Your likes, hearts, and flattering comments are bad for my brain (medium.com, 1)
    Many dream of getting a lot of likes and shares on the stuff they post online. But positive engagement can be pretty addictive, and not in a good way.
  • What It’s Like to Be the Parent of a Social-Media Star (theatlantic.com, 3)
    What times to be alive, when this is an actual question that thousands of parents have to ask themselves: “How do you enforce rules and boundaries on children who frequently have more money than grown-ups, and thus, unusual levels of autonomy?”
  • CES 2018: Real Advances, Real Progress, Real Questions (medium.learningbyshipping.com, 3+)
    Former Windows President and now VC Steven Sinofsky went to the CES in Las Vegas, made a lot of notes about what he saw, and then used his observations to pen down an in-depth piece about the state of several of today’s most hyped fields of technology. And the result is really excellent, even for those not too interested in gadgets or the CES.
  • Alexa v. Google Assistant makes consumers the big winners (staceyoniot.com, 1)
    Let’s see if we remain the big winners in the long run. But in the short term, agreed.
  • The Network Uber Drivers Built (fastcompany.com, 3)
    Uber drivers may not have unions or worker protections, but they do organize themselves in online networks which give them at least a certain type of power over their algorithmic provider of work.
  • When It Comes to Gorillas, Google Photos Remains Blind (wired.com, 2)
    Google found a rather primitive workaround for fixing its discriminating image identification algorithm.
  • Your New Newsfeed: Why Facebook Made Its Latest Changes (wired.com, 3)
    Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice-president in charge of newsfeed, talks about the recently announced change to focus on friend and family interactions over page and news content. Ben Thompson wonders what the real motives are.
  • Everyone hates us, and it’s not because of our sex parties (techcrunch.com, 2)
    Historically, power corrupts. And now, that Silicon Valley is arguably the most powerful force on Earth, people are naturally looking for evidence of misconduct.
  • On building a meritocracy in our startup ecosystem (blog.elizabethyin.com, 2)
    The lack of a meritocracy in the startup ecosystem is hampering world progress, writes investor Elizabeth Yin. But she continues: “I’ve never had so much hope for our startup ecosystem as now.”
  • Beyond the Bitcoin bubble (nytimes.com, 3+)
    A beautiful feature explaining why blockchain technology is another (and right now probably the only) chance to revitalize the open principles that were so crucial for the rise of the web and its most important technological components.
  • Miners Aren’t Your Friends (blog.keep.network, 3)
    The major cryptocurrencies depend on that miners follow the rules. But the more money is in a system, the more likely it is that miners will mess with it.
  • To Understand Bitcoin, I Studied Karl Marx (coindesk.com, 1)
    An interesting analogy of how both Karl Marx and Bitcoin inventor “Satoshi Nakamoto” created unconventional ideas inspired by their environment, but (presumably) lacked the power to predict how their inventions would influence others or be implemented.
  • A World of Evolving Ideas (medium.com, 1)
    This might be me drinking the kool aid, but the idea of a global network of ideas stored in the form of blockchain sounds somehow intriguing.
  • Let the robots speak to one another (theverge.com, 1)
    This is a bad and smart idea at the same time. Spoken language is increasingly proving to be a bad way to communicate thoughts between people. Context is always missing, accidental or deliberate misunderstandings are the rule, attention spans are short… one can witness the messy result every day in online debates. Therefore, letting machines talk to each other through this flawed method seems backward. On the other hand, smart devices are not expected to talk politics or philosophy with each other. For simple commands and instructions, this actually might work.
  • Turning Design Mockups Into Code With Deep Learning (blog.floydhub.com, 3)
    Looks like web designers might get competition from neural networks soon.
  • Impatience: The Pitfall Of Every Ambitious Person (dariusforoux.com, 1)
    Both obvious and often ignored: Good things may take a while.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Quote of the week:

  • “The internet has become a mirror of our global societies. Fifty-one per cent of the world’s population is estimated to have access to it, many of them by way of smartphones. Some people are not happy with what they see in this mirror, but make the mistake of thinking that correcting the mirror will fix the problems reflected therein.”
    Vint Cerf in “In 2018, we will tackle the internet’s dark side” (wired.com, 1)

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AirPods and competitors: The big impact of small wireless headphones

A German version of this text can be found here.

2018 is only a few days old, but my digital life has already significantly improved: A few weeks ago I finally purchased wireless earphones. Not Apple’s AirPods but a similar product, since I prefer real in-ear headphones. And wow, what a difference the cable-free lifestyle makes.

Ever since I got my first Walkman in the mid 90s, I, like many others, had to struggle with the cables that carried the sound to the ears. There was no alternative. Tangled cables were the norm. No day went by without at least one short moment of frustration caused by cables that somehow were in the way or that accidentally got stuck and subsequently violently pulled out of the ears. While this certainly is a first world problem, it’s one that was eagerly waiting for a solution. Now it is here. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #153

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Podcast episode of the week:

Quote of the week:

  • “Most of history is made by those who mastered the art of doing nothing when nothing needed to be done.”
    Morgan Housel in Making History By Doing Nothing (collaborativefund.com, 1)

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The lost blog post about “World Leaders on Twitter”


Twitter just published a blog post justifying why the company isn’t banning Donald Trump for breaking the messaging service’s rules with his inflammatory tweets.

However, it seems as if the wrong draft made it through the internal approval process. I am sure that the actual post should have looked like this:

There’s been a lot of discussion about political figures and world leaders on Twitter, and we want to share our stance.

Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation.
Twitter has significantly contributed to the current polarized state of the global, public conversation. We might even have been complicit in “creating” Donald Trump as U.S. President.

Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.
Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. The trivial nature of Twitter, the character limit as well as our need to earn money with people’s attention at all costs means that the service is not suitable as a tool nor environment for world leaders to communicate with the public and to carry out their work responsibly.

We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly. No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions. We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.
However, the truth is that we need Donald Trump. He is driving our current growth. Without Donald Trump’s tweets, we’d face severe business risks, as fewer and fewer people would pay attention to us. Also the media wouldn’t constantly mention us anymore.

We are working to make Twitter the best place to see and freely discuss everything that matters. We believe that’s the best way to help our society make progress.
We have no other choice than to pretend that Twitter is highly important for the the world and to achieve progress, even if we are well aware of that we are part of the problem, not the solution.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #152

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. It is being sent out to more than 500 people (January 2018). Here is an archive of previous issues.
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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode.

  • American reams: why a ‘paperless world’ still hasn’t happened (theguardian.com, 3)
    Well-written, insightful and in parts amusing feature exploring the paper industry’s perspective on the rise of digital and the reasons for why the protagonists aren’t too pessimistic – yet.
  • A Concise History Of The Smartwatch (hodinkee.com, 3)
    Over the past decades (and long before Pebble and the Apple Watch) and to my surprise, some pretty bold “smart watches” had been introduced to the market.
  • Finstagram (theawl.com, 2)
    Apparently, operating two separated Instagram accounts is becoming a widespread trend: One for a small circle of trusted people and friends, and one for public display. From the piece: “A friend explained finstas to me as uncurated content for a curated audience, in contrast to the curated content for an uncurated audience represented by public accounts.”
  • AI and Deep Learning in 2017 – A Year in Review (wildml.com, 3)
    At the risk of stating the obvious, 2017 saw a lot of (headline-making) breakthroughs in the field of AI and deep learning. It was also the year in which the topic of AI bias has gained attention. Although that debate might itself be impacted by bias – human ones.
  • The Christmas crypto correction. What really happened (jamescrypto.com, 1)
    Speculation on what caused the dramatic correction of crypto currency prices around Christmas, suggesting that the so called “whales” jointly decided to sell off but tried hard to avoid the total crash in order to be able to repeat the whole procedure again in 2018. Could be just an unfounded conspiracy theory, but who knows.
  • A beginner’s guide to IOTA (medium.com, 2)
    IOTA appears to be the next stage in the evolution of crypto currencies, doing away with blockchain principle and need for mining. While I’m not able to make any statement regarding the potential here and while IOTA is not free from controversy, it’s a technology worth keeping an eye on.
  • Stories From 1999 (joefahmy.com, 2)
    This was written in 2013, with the intention of refuting warnings of alleged similarities between the dotcom era and market trends of 2013. Interestingly, when comparing the depictions with what’s going on today in the crypto world, one clearly can see parallels.
  • China’s Digital Wallets Offer a Glimpse at the Future of Payments (visualcapitalist.com, 2)
    Compact and visualized overview of the various payment and commerce features of WeChat.
  • The Network Effects Map | NFX Case Study: Uber (medium.com, 2)
    An in-depth analysis of the network effects that Uber has created or, so far, has failed to create in order to keep competitors from gaining market share.
  • What Elon Musk Doesn’t Get About Urban Transit (citylab.com, 2)
    Elon Musk expressed some rather unintelligent sounding views on public transit. Jarrett Walker takes Musk’s arguments apart.
  • Has music lost that loving feeling? (om.co, 2)
  • The Age of Abundance (500ish.com, 2)
    Om Malik and MG Siegler get all nostalgic (or maybe even melancholic) about their appreciation of music in the past and what’s possibly being lost in the age of on-demand streaming and abundance.
  • Albania 2017 – Startups and more (kathleenfritzsche.com, 2)
    A brief report about the still tiny startup scene in this small but up-and-coming European country. I visited Tirana last year as well and liked it a lot.
  • ‘Saluton!’: the surprise return of Esperanto (theguardian.com, 2)
    Maybe it indeed is time to learn Esperanto. In the networked age, an exponential increase in momentum is at least in the realm of possibilities.
  • Help Me Or Soon I Will Die (logicmag.io, 3)
    Green Bank, a town in the U.S., is one of the only places left in the world where cell towers and Wi-Fi networks are banned. And so it becomes somewhat of a refuge for people who say that they suffer from “electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS)”. Very informative.
  • My favorite guidelines for life, inspired by Buddhism and Stoicism (medium.com, 1)
    A short post from yours truly.

Video of the week:

  • How Do Machines Learn? (youtube.com)
    The principles of machine learning and the impact of algorithmic content recommendations, well explained in 8:30 minutes.

Quote of the week:

  • “Many people overestimate the importance of the status quo while underestimating or ignoring the rate of change. I say that, in general, looking at the rate of change is a better indicator of the future than the status quo.”
    Can Olcer in in Rate of change > status quo (hackernoon.com, 1)

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #151

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

Please note: The next issue of meshedsociety.com weekly will be published in the first week of 2018.

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Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Quote of the week:

  • “When I left Myspace, I didn’t shake hands for like three years because I figured out that people were disgusting. And I just could not touch people.”
    A content moderator quoted in “The Basic Grossness of Humans“. Things were bad already back in the early days. (theatlantic.com, 2)

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Is Digital Capitalism Aligned With Public Interest? Probably not.

2017 has been (another) very eventful year. The consequences of the shift to digital are more apparent and far-reaching than ever. When reflecting on the trends that currently are reshaping the world, one can take many perspectives. What I consistently end up with when pondering current events, is the following question: In the digital age, is “traditional” capitalism still sufficiently aligned with the interests of the people? And my answers is: probably not. Read on why, and what Swiss cheese has to do with it.

The basic idea of capitalism is clever: acknowledging that the pursuit of self-interest is the best motivator for people to get stuff done, and then building a framework which ensures that the results of this pursuit are channeled into overall improvements for everybody. Genius. And this approach indeed has led to unprecedented wealth, growth and prosperity, over many decades, if not centuries (depending on where you look and when you start counting). Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #150

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Thursday (CET) or slightly earlier, just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode.

  • A “Post-Verbal” World (jjbeshara.com, 3)
    In-depth, extensive reflections on how brain-computer interfaces such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink would revolutionize human communication. While all this can become a privacy nightmare, the idea also is unbelievably fascinating (I might have stated that already).
  • How Email Open Tracking Quietly Took Over the Web (wired.com, 3)
    This lengthy feature might radically change how you look at and handle the emails in your inbox.
  • The Problem with Muzak (thebaffler.com, 3)
    Spotify undoubtedly uses some controversial approaches to remodel the music industry, revolving around the pillars of algorithmic decisions – which remove power from the artists – as well as letting brands “hijack” artists’ music without paying them. This is of course a repeating pattern that can be observed at every disruptive tech company that reaches a certain scale and market dominance. And of course, changing the rules of a game always will lead to opposition. In the end, the main question is: Are the parties involved (from the artists to those in charge of the distribution to the consumers) better off today than 30 years ago? I don’t know if there is any way to objectively assess this.
  • Baby Boomers love Facebook, so let them have it (theoutline, 2)
    Kathryn Jezer-Morton makes a thought-provoking case for intergenerational segregation on social media platforms.
  • History Suggests the Hyperloop Is an Uncertain Promise for Future Cities (singularityhub.com, 2)
    Beyond the impressive technology, how would cities and geographical socio-demographics be affected if Hyperloop becomes implemented on a large scale? An important question.
  • The End to Apple’s Cash Dilemma (aboveavalon.com, 2)
    An incredibly well explained piece on why Apple has so much cash abroad, frequently issues debt in the U.S., and how the planned U.S. tax reform would change all this.
  • A New Era of Retail Is Coming (businessoffashion.com, 2)
    On the rise of “experiential merchants” which, in essence, are media channels. Brands like Nike will not be their vendors but rather their clients.
  • In-Store WiFi Provider Used Starbucks Website to Generate Cryptocurrency Monero (hackread.com, 1)
    Crazy times. I learned from this piece that there is a company called Coinhive which apparently makes crypto mining through one’s website pretty easy. The big question persists: Is this more or less ethical than monetizing a website through ads?
  • Circles Money System Overview (github.com, 3)
    A concept for a blockchain-based basic income. Very exciting.
  • How business schools teach cryptocurrencies (ft.com/no paywall, 2)
    Obviously, cryptocurrencies won’t go away again. So future business and finance leaders need to learn about them.
  • Zug ID: Exploring the First Publicly Verified Blockchain Identity (medium.com, 2)
    Meanwhile, in the Swiss city of Zug, people can get a digital ID based on a Blockchain. Paul Kohlhaas explains how the whole thing works.
  • AI researchers are trying to combat how AI can be used to lie and deceive (qz.com, 2)
    Crucial stuff. It’s probably only a question of months until troublemakers will attempt to use a well-done fake video or audio recording to cause a controversy and to sow mistrust. The tech is pretty much ready and porn already affected.
  • The Neural Network Zoo (asimovinstitute.org, 3)
    A major enabler of artificial intelligence are so called neural networks. Here we have a comprehensive description of the different types that exist. It’s from last year, so there might be many additions already not mentioned here.
  • From Amazon to Google (and even Apple), here are the biggest tech disappointments of this year (CNBC.com, 2)
    Fun list.
  • All downhill from here: Has the human race peaked? (newatlas.com, 1)
    A study of 120 years worth of historical data suggest we’ve reached the biological limits of height, life expectancy and sporting performance. My conclusion: If accurate, then our only options for extended life spans either would be to augment our body with technology that allows us to live longer or to export our minds onto computers.
  • The Merge (blog.samaltman.com, 1)
    On a different level, the merger between humans and machines is already in full effect.
  • The 20% Rule (medium.com, 2)
    I like this advice to dedicate 20 % of one’s time to exploration and serendipity.

Quote of the week:

Podcast episode of the week:

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #149

Here is this week’s edition of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Thursday (CET) or slightly earlier, just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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