Facebook, we need to have a chat

Time for a brief follow up to Misbehaving? This time it’s Facebook on the naughty step.

You may have heard about the evidence given by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen who has been spilling the beans about what the social media monolith gets up to – apart from making a ton of money. As usual, the excellent Register is a fine source to explain what’s going on.  In this article it gives us “The five nastiest bits from recent leaks”. Facebook:

Knows that its algorithms lead users to extreme content and that it employs too few staff or contractors to curb such content, especially in languages other than English. Content glorifying violence and hate therefore spreads on Facebook – which really should know better by now after the The New York Times in 2018 reported that Myanmar’s military used Facebook to spread racist propaganda that led to mass violence against minority groups;

Enforces its rules selectively, allowing certain celebrities and websites to get away with behavior that would get others kicked off the platform. Inconsistent enforcement means users don’t get the protection from harmful content Facebook has so often promised, implying that it prioritises finding eyeballs for ads ahead of user safety;

Planned a special version of Instagram targeting teenagers, but cancelled it after Haugen revealed the site’s effects on some users – up to three per cent of teenage girls experience depression or anxiety, or self-harm, as a result of using the service;

Can’t accurately assess user numbers and may be missing users with multiple accounts. The Social Network™ may therefore have misrepresented its reach to advertisers, or made its advertising look more super-targeted than it really is – or both;

Just isn’t very good at spotting the kind of content it says has no place on its platform – like human trafficking – yes, that means selling human beings on Facebook. At one point Apple was so upset by the prevalence of Facebook posts of this sort it threatened to banish Zuckerberg’s software from the App Store.

That’s quite a catalog of misbehavior, to put it politely. It does seem that the company is out of control and the result causes serious damage to our society. Why is it allowed to continue?

I use Facebook. It’s a way of being kept up to date with family and friends from all over the world, and being a part of communities with common interests. If I were to protest its activities by deleting my account, that would have no effect. Maybe I should do it anyway as a matter of principle. But I cannot help feeling that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to sort out. But whose?

Misbehaving?

What drives the behavior of corporations? Is it purely the pursuit of profit? If asked, many would confirm they are in business to make money, but they do have standards of behavior as shown by their mission statement or code of conduct.

Remember Google’s “Don’t be evil”? That justly famous piece of text was originally a motto, then part of their code of conduct. After the 2015 corporate restructuring, parent Alphabet Inc. declared “Do the right thing” to be its motto, also being part of its code of conduct.

A December 2020 article by the Register reports:

“On Thursday Google was hit for the third time in as many months in the United States with an antitrust lawsuit, once again focused on the internet giant’s alleged monopolization of the search advertising market.

The legal challenge was filed in a District of Columbia federal court by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on behalf of a coalition of 38 state Attorneys General. The states claim Google has engaged in anticompetitive conduct to maintain its dominance of the search advertising market, denying netizens the benefits of competition and harming advertisers with lower quality results and higher prices.”

A July 2021 report from Bloomberg says:

“Alphabet Inc.’s Google was sued by three dozen states alleging that the company illegally abused its power over the sale and distribution of apps through the Google Play store on mobile devices.”

These pieces of litigation have a way to go yet, but if it were true that Google was illegally abusing its power, that surely would not be doing the right thing. How does that sit with their code of conduct?

Note that, according to the Register article:

“The EU began its own antitrust inquiry into Google’s search ad business in 2010 and eventually targeted three Google businesses – Shopping, AdSense, and Android. In the years that followed, those investigations led to over €8bn in fines.

You might argue that a company that’s been fined for antitrust activity might take care in its dealings. You might say that it’s business as usual today and, anyway, it’s all a matter of interpretation. But, even if you think there may be excuses for such behavior in that area, there are lots of corporations who have certainly not done the right thing in fields other than antitrust law. For example, take a look here.

In his excellent Locus piece Tech Monopolies and the Insufficient Necessity of Interoperability, Cory Doctorow says this:

“Corporate personhood is obviously a sham. In his dissent in Citizens United, Supreme Court Justice Stevens wrote that corporations have no claim to free speech rights because “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” Companies may project a set of “corporate values,” but these values are a marketing strategy, not a set of deeply held convictions.”

As the author makes clear in his article, corporations rarely have your best interests at heart. Worth remembering.

Shock! Horror! Probe! Apple tries to stifle criticism

It’s not only taxes that Apple tries to avoid; they are not keen on criticism of their products either. One weapon in their corporate arsenal is controlling access to their launch events. Write something less than stellar, and you – and your organization – are unlikely to be invited back. That’s the conclusion of this Register piece by Kieren McCarthyInside our three-month effort to attend Apple’s iPhone 7 launch party – which shows you some of the shenanigans Apple got up to, instead of coming out and plainly admitting there is a media blacklist. Shame on Apple. However, if you don’t think it affects you, perhaps as an Apple consumer, think again. As the Register piece notes:

“Unsurprisingly, The Register is not all that flexible when it comes to tech companies trying to intimidate us into writing nothing but positive press coverage. The question you should be asking yourself is: does that mean that everyone who is invited to Apple’s events can be relied upon to self-censor any negative comments? (Quick clue: the answer’s yes.)

You have been warned.