Another ‘sloppy’ Facebook privacy blunder 

More bad news for Facebook via the NYT today, with revelations it offered deep, intrusive data-sharing partnerships with several big companies:

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

The only positive the company can take from it, I’d say, is that there are signs of privacy scandal fatigue among the public.

Lately the Times has been offering a kind of York Notes for its major investigations, and the five takeaways from this one are useful. The fourth point sums up the entire saga, perhaps even the company’s whole year: “Facebook was sloppy.”

Here’s Facebook’s response:

We’ve been public about these features and partnerships over the years because we wanted people to actually use them – and many people did. They were discussed, reviewed, and scrutinized by a wide variety of journalists and privacy advocates.


Over on Gizmodo, Kashmir Hill offers some informed speculation about how such data sharing might have been used in practice.

How women are already losing in the war against robots taking their jobs

Quite a leap to draw this conclusion, I think, but encouraging that the WEF is looking closely at this as an issue before this type of job market is upon us. Yahoo:

When it came to the breakdown of what types of jobs men and women would have in AI, women were more likely to be employed as data analysts, researchers, information managers, and teachers. This would therefore position themselves in lower paid positions and on a career path that would make it less likely for them to gain a senior role. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be employed as software engineers, heads of engineering, heads of IT,  and chief executives.

HQ Trivia co-founder Colin Kroll dead at 35

Very sad news today out of New York. BBC News:

The CEO, who also co-founded the video platform Vine, was found by police after his girlfriend reportedly asked them to check on him.

The death is being investigated as a suspected drugs overdose, police say.

HQ Trivia, a live trivia game on mobiles, became hugely popular, but its appeal waned this year.

HQ Trivia’s statement:

Kroll’s co-founder Rus Yusupov:

Other than a brief email exchange when HQ was getting off the ground, I never came into contact with Kroll. But, judging by the tweets put out there today, he will be sorely missed.

Lawsuit says Apple lied about size of latest phones

Apple hasn’t yet commented on this legal action, reports CNET:

The suit alleges that Apple lied about the screen sizes by counting non-screen areas like the notch and corners. So the new line of iPhones aren’t “all screen” as marketed, according to the 55-page complaint. For example, iPhone X’s screen size is supposed to be 5.8 inches, but the plaintiffs measured that it’s “only about 5.6875 inches.”

It did always bug me that Apple managed to convince the tech press that its iPhone X range had an edge-to-edge screen, when even the briefest of investigations – i.e looking at it – could determine it didn’t.

The Forgotten Legend of Silicon Valley’s Flying Saucer Man

Ashlee Vance is the best writer in Silicon Valley, and his latest for Bloomberg Businessweek is perhaps his finest work. Read this intro and don’t read on, I dare you:

An idyllic ease permeates California’s Carmel Valley. Wealthy people have built ranch-style houses into the mountains, giving them views of the Pacific on one side and pine and cypress forests on the other. It’s neither too hot nor too cold, and the fresh ocean air makes you feel calm inside. These conditions, which give big ideas room to grow, have attracted artists to the area, as well as retirees who want to meditate on the good life. But every now and then, the gentle rhythm of this place gets disturbed. Someone’s perfectly manicured existence goes in a turbulent, unexpected direction.

The long-term consequence of Facebook’s 2018

As has been well-discussed, one threat to Facebook’s future, after its torrid 2018, is that people begin to leave the network. People have even more reason to after today’s revelations.

But what makes that less of an issue is the lack of viable alternative to what Facebook currently offers: a hub of life involving your family, friends and colleagues. There is still no sign of a meaningful competitor rising up the ranks, and indeed, if there were, Facebook would probably buy it (or crush it).

There is another doomsday scenario, however – and that’s Facebook being so distracted with its problems it gets left behind with whatever’s next. Today, via Business Insider’s Rob Price, the news that Facebook was closing its Building 8 research lab:

The super-secretive organization was inspired by DARPA, and billed itself as a unit dedicated to building “new, category-defining consumer hardware products.” In its buzzy heyday, it worked on far-out projects like brain-scanning tech and skin sensors.

It was a moonshot factory, in other words, in the same vein as Google’s X. But things have now changed.

The piece is behind BI’s paywall, so you may not be able to read the whole thing. But the gist is that Facebook is putting more effort into the here-and-now, such as its Portal video chat project, rather than the big out-there ideas it once had, such as brain-controlled tech.

It is still experimenting with blockchain, however, but not without hurdles also created by 2018’s disasters. Cheddar reports on the company’s hiring spree in crypto, but notes:

Despite its interest in several crypto start-ups, Facebook has encountered problems with recruiting due to the negative perception of its brand and many public scandals, according to people who have had discussions with the blockchain group in recent months. Many in the crypto and blockchain industry see heavily centralized, data-hungry companies like Facebook as the very entities they are trying to disrupt.

Facebook’s fact-checking partnerships in ‘disarray’

Sam Levin at the Guardian checks in with the organisations working with Facebook to offer quick fact-checking. Levin quotes a former managing editor of Snopes, one of the most well-known orgs:

“They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” said Brooke Binkowski, former managing editor of Snopes, a factchecking site that has partnered with Facebook for two years. “They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck … They clearly don’t care.”

The most damning allegation in the piece is that fact-checkers were being pushed to prioritise articles that affected Facebook’s advertisers. PolitiFact (one of the other orgs involved) took issue with that, though Levin added (or rather, reiterated) the context:

Finally, while noting that some organisations are happy with the deal, Levin goes on to say the Definers row has hit morale:

“Why should we trust Facebook when it’s pushing the same rumors that its own factcheckers are calling fake news?” said a current Facebook factchecker who was not authorized to speak publicly about their news outlet’s partnership. “It’s worth asking how do they treat stories about George Soros on the platform knowing they specifically pay people to try to link political enemies to him?”