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Who Will Rein in Facebook? Challengers Are Lining Up (wsj.com)
185 points by eplanit 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 171 comments



Note to those who don't/can't read the article: the title is slightly misleading. The author does not mean business challengers to Facebook but rather political challengers (i.e. legislators, regulators, activists.)

Basically, the glory days of free-range hacking without government regulation appear limited, especially with the likes of Bruce Schneier[0], advocating for the same.

Cherish these moments while they last.* If you want to help mitigate the governments reach and make sure policy is implemented wisely, support our lobbying power through the EFF (https://www.eff.org/) and FSF (https://www.fsf.org/).

Edit: Updated language above to make it more clear that I am not anti-regulation.

[0]: https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/11/regulation_of...

[*]: What I mean to say is that I can foresee a world where you are mandated by the government to perform certain services through specific providers. For example, the government could, in the interest of protecting user security, mandate that all apps must provide user registration and auth through a provider that has received XYZ certification (i.e. OAuth through Facebook, Google, Auth0)


> Cherish these moments while they last, and if you want to help mitigate the governments reach, support our lobbying power through the EFF (https://www.eff.org/) and FSF (https://www.fsf.org/).

I want reasonable restrictions on the governments AND the businesses in this case... To protect my digital freedom. Regulation isn't always evil.

But realistically, I think the consumers are the most at fault for many of the issues that have been coming up lately (apathy towards privacy, lack of skepticism towards social media bots and advertising, willingness to put all their eggs in one basket, etc). I'm just not sure how we should address those issues.


>I think the consumers are the most at fault for many of the issues that have been coming up lately (apathy towards privacy, lack of skepticism towards social media bots and advertising, willingness to put all their eggs in one basket, etc).

Blaming consumers is the least helpful way to think of this and is, intentionally or not, blatant intellectual dishonesty that saves people from a deeper examination or taking action. It's lazy, scapegoats the people, and helps ensure the situation persists.

It's like blaming the American people for the Iraq war, p-hacking, or climate change denialism.

Humans have a limited capacity for knowledge. The greater our expertise in one subject, the more other subjects we must sacrifice. Therefore we must rely on the expertise of others _most of the time_ making us very susceptible to influence.

I am certain both you and I (or all) are equally guilty of ignorance and apathy of several other societal ills.


> Blaming consumers is the least helpful way to think of this and is, intentionally or not, blatant intellectual dishonesty that saves people from a deeper examination or taking action.

And always using government and corporations as a scapegoat seems equally intellectually dishonest, imo.

Are you suggesting that the people are just innocent pawns being manipulated to vote, buy, and consume a certain way?

I wasn't proposing that the solution is merely to blame the consumers. But in a capitalist democracy the buyers and the voters do actually play a large role in the direction that these issues take.

It seems, to me, to be a problem of education (regarding the issues) and motivation. Perhaps recent events will function as a public notice and help to realign priorities.

> I am certain both you and I (or all) are equally guilty of ignorance and apathy of several other societal ills.

Agreed. And I believe that it's our responsibility to make an effort to focus on our own ignorance and apathy. And to put thought into what we contribute to our peers.

I'm not saying that we're solely responsible. But we collectively share a large portion of the responsibility.


> I want reasonable restrictions on the governments AND the businesses in this case... To protect my digital freedom. Regulation isn't always evil.

I agree completely! I'm just saying we should support our lobbying power to make sure we have a voice when these decisions are made.


> "I'm just not sure how we should address those issues"

Neither is anyone else imo but I do think a good starting point might be creating actual awareness about said issues. And I don't mean issuing out public memos - which, imo, has been the approach so far. It might be better to use standard commercial/marketing tactics toward a different goal, i.e raising awareness. Create fud about privacy. Sure, it'll involve a bit of ingenuity and disingenuousness but the awareness will get raised. Make up lifelike examples and have them worked into the stories in popular sitcoms/movies. No guarantees it'll work, but I do believe it'll work better than simple blogs and informational videos, which imo might be too dull and dry for the average user.


Not to those who actually want to read the article:

     curl -o x.htm http://web.archive.org/web/20171029163834/https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/who-will-rein-in-facebook-challengers-are-lining-up-1509278405

     # remove javascript
     sed -i '/<p>/,/<\/p>/!d' x.htm
New address for article:

     file://x.htm


Or just copy OP url & add to pocket/instapaper ;)


Pro tip!

(Not even the web archive URL, but the original works!)


Equating Facebook with "free-range hacking" is laughable. That's exactly what companies like Facebook and Google want us to do.


> Basically, the glory days of free-range hacking without government regulation appear limited

I think there is a difference between a small startup launching a new service, and a world-wide social telecommunications network with over 1B users.


Companies like Facebook and Apple are already killing what I'd call "free-range hacking" with the gadget-ification of computing- we don't need to speculate about hypothetical future government plans, it's here now, and it's privatized!


Well, they can regulate IOT "be secure", but I'm worried more they'll regulate it "we want to always have access" or "you can't use open source OS on it because it gives you control".


Define "be secure".

I have a vested interest in IoT devices beings secure, and the idea of the US government defining "be secure" is laughable at best, terrifying at worst.

You will pine for the bad, old days of "completely insecure" when you have a TSA-like entity defining your security.


The NIST's Digital Identity Guidelines are very good.

https://pages.nist.gov/800-63-3/sp800-63b.html


Yes, but NIST recommendations are non binding. It is the ability to create legally binding standards that attracts rent seekers and prevents technical expertise from being the primary factor in decision making.


As far as they go, yes.

But what about something like firmware updates? What should be the frequency of update? How long am I required to support a device? Which update networking modalities am I required to support?

These aren't small decisions. They can make a product viable--or not. Having this in the hands of something with the proven competence of the TSA (har har) is far from desirable.


You make a good point. We seem to be in the "Wild West" phase of device software, where the companies making the product have created guidelines based on competitive design, development and maintenance/update standards rather than standards created by regulatory bodies.

On one hand this can be abused to create artificial end-of-life scenarios by some hardware companies, but allows for a wide variety of choice in the companies providing alternatives. It also provides the end-user with less restrictions. Caveat emptor.

On the other hand, a regulatory agency could reign in companies trying to artificially shorten the lifespan of a piece of hardware, but at the same time make the standard of support a huge barrier to entry that restricts choice to only the largest companies. There might be less rampant IoT exploits, but there'd also likely be less personal freedom to do what you want on your devices.

Given how other industries like telecom and cable have trended, we'll probably get the worst of both worlds. There'll be expensive regulations that serve as barriers to entry for smaller companies, but the regulations won't do much to restrict corporate malfeasance.


> Define "be secure".

Liability?


Really? Then you will get extremely slow progress.

I'm not exaggerating. Medical devices are the extreme form of this.

Look at the (some would say lack of) progress is creating an artificial pancreas for Type-1 diabetes, for example. The progress has been so slow that Type-1 sufferers with tech knowledge have been reverse engineering existing pumps and sensors in the hope that they can hack them and break the bottleneck themselves.

Or, alternatively, everybody will release a product and almost immediately wind up the company so that you can't get at any of the profits or use Hollywood accounting so that there magically never are any profits.

Or are you willing to make security problems a criminal offense? (Now there's a fun can of worms--write a bug, go to jail).

Be careful what you wish for.


Medical devices kill people when they break. Hopefully IoT devices don't, and the liability will be correspondingly lower.

If your company makes no attempt to patch vulnerabilities, and your devices become one more bot in the botnet, there should be some liability for this.


Total FUD. Not sure what you mean by “free range hacking,” but surely it has little to do with the regulations targeting activities of multinational conglomerates (Facebook), or any possible regulations for selling devices.

You’re free to do whatever you want on your own devices. I don’t see how reasonable regulation meant to prevent tragedy of the commons (the only real application of regulation) will infringe on your ability to continue “free range hacking.”


This may be a touch hyperbolic but regulation has positively impacted things like lead based paint, asbestos, DDT, CFC's etc.

People opposed to regulation somehow expect companies to "do the right thing" unfortunately history provides many examples of companies behaving like bad actors as long as it is in their financial interests to do so.


Also, regulations allowed competition on the telephone networks, which is the reason why you can now call anybody, and not just people at your provider.


To clarify, I have no issue with the government requiring companies to disclose who has paid for advertising, the issue that I have is that its becoming increasingly prudent and attractive the government to regulate how we compute and how we respect private data, and if our voices aren't part of that conversation, we're screwed.

Also, I take it you've never worked in a heavily regulated industry. It blows. While regulation is a good thing (PHI protection), it definitely has a chilling effect on innovation, and at times results in ill-informed policy (security via obscurity; pointless protective measures from know-nothing management.)


Our voices should be part of the conversation.

I completely understand the fear about government regulation with respect to how we compute. For example Section 1201 of the DMCA, the CFAA both scare me, as do periodical “nerd harder” debates about backdoored encryption.

But what is it that you’d like to do with people’s private data that you’re worried will be prevented?

There are loads of apps right now that exfiltrate your address book, for example, to gather what you know about private individuals, without their knowledge or consent, to be exploited in an unregulated marketplace of personal data.

Is that good? Do you think he EFF think it is, or the FSF?


I believe people should have the right to whatever they want to do with their own data and no one elses. When I am about to engage with your service and you tell me you're going to mine my data to sell me things or even improve my healthcare, it should be my decision not the governments. Much of the internet today crosses this boundary: when I came to your website, I never authorized you to allow Facebook to track me with that stupid like button. I also disagree with your right to post pictures of me on Facebook or to share my email address and phone number with that new-fangled contacts app you just downloaded without my permission. However, I do believe you have the right to hand your own data to Google in exchange for services like Gmail and Google Maps.

Furthermore, I believe in a consumers right to sue if they are harmed by a companies misuse of data (Equifax).

Note these policies are very consumer oriented (i.e. it's illegal to put Google Analytics on your site without notifying your users.)

What I'm very worried about is when a policy ends inadvertently fostering centralization. For example, the government might require you to store private user information with one of a set of vetted companies to prevent another Equifax situation.

A better policy might be to allow consumers to sue firms for damages resulting from negligence and prevent firms from forcing consumers into binding arbitration.

> But what is it that you’d like to do with people’s private data that you’re worried will be prevented?

In my experience, medical innovation has stagnated because of unreasonable data protection on the part of firms in reaction to government policy. For example, I've had execs get cold feet on a project that would clearly save lives and improve the bottom-line because there's a perceived security loss.

While there are good arguments for these protections, my only point is that regulation never comes for free: efficiency is inevitably lost somewhere, and you need to be comfortable with the trade-off.


“When I am about to engage with your service and you tell me you're going to mine my data to sell me things or even improve my healthcare, it should be my decision not the governments”

this part also is a problem - almost none of service providers EXPLICITLY informs user about data collection. there are some obscure/abstract phrases (if there are any) about increased quality of service and that’s it. For example linkedin is collecting my contact information harvested via native app without clear information where it will be used, so how I can make informed decision whether I want to use this service or not?

government regulation could at least enforce some rules for clear communication of infor collecting process or something like that.


> What I'm very worried about is when a policy ends inadvertently fostering centralization.

But massive centralization in the private sector (Google, Amazon, Facebook) doesn't concern you? Or you don't think it's the purpose of government to regulate that?


I am more concerned about fake news, targeting misguided people, taking advantage of their fears/insecurities/weaknesses at speed and scale never seen before.

It's having serious consequences in so many aspects of life and society.

I have been working with journos and they are getting overwhelmed trying to counter/verify/investigate the tsunami of bullshit they wake up too every morning.

People are living in a dreamland. This stuff is increasing exponentially across the world and the only solution is to control the flows. Delay the misguided validation people get out of their likes/upvotes/retweet counts.

There is a whole professional class of people now, that spend their entire day promoting an "us vs them" mentality cause it's highly lucrative. It does not matter if they are on the left or on the right. They are causing serious irreversible damage and their influence must be checked.


>control the flow

Probably the nightmare authoritarian governments had to deal with, at the advent of the internet brought them to that same conclusion.

And since they realized that, from their perspective, the "information" they were receiving was suspect, all they needed to do was just seed information that was also suspect - just in their favor.

(thats a confusing sentence - from the perspective of a Machiavelli, the naive belief that information is freedom is broken down into a more fine tuned model of information, delivery, reception, uptake and understanding. Their realization is that you can use the internet to hack people, instead of having the internet just hack their regime)


> just in their favor

It's a fools game. When everyone does it, and everyone is doing it, no one wins. One day Obama thinks he has mastered the hack. Another day Trump does. End of the day, there are no great outcomes. Just herds of "hacked minds" stampeding and crashing into one another.

What we will get, if this keeps on is more Vegas type shootouts as more people loose their minds.


> if our voices aren't part of that conversation, we're screwed

Have you ever called your Congressperson or U.S. Senator about your views on this? I have, and I'm usually the only one in my Manhattan Congressional district talking about tech issues.


The regulation is going to get really bad with self-driving cars. There are so many bad things you can do with an autonomous vehicle. Regulators will demand that code must be carefully vetted by government agencies before it can be installed on any of these platforms.

Advanced robots will likely be in the same situation. The trend for drones has been foreshadowing this with more and more locking down of who is allowed to program them and what they are allowed to do.


Unlikely. Regulators really aren't interested in doing code auditing. They don't have the technical ability to find code problems, and the code by itself (separate from hardware and data) is mostly meaningless. They're more likely to impose an additional functional safety test suite on all autonomous vehicle manufacturers, which would be a good thing.


In what sense does PHI protection chill innovation? Health IT seems to be one of the more vibrant and innovative sectors right now.


I work in Health IT, and I'll tell you the industry is at least a decade behind every other industry in part because of how paranoid CIOs are about letting researchers play with their data, even when the use cases are perfectly legal. The reason Health IT seems vibrant is because health systems are only now waking up from their stupor.*

Also many providers still avoid the cloud (despite proven PHI compliance) and run their own inefficient, in-house server farms with thousands of tech staff because of this irrational fear. This causes a number of problems:

- It assumes a hospital system is better at infrastructure security and maintenance than Amazon or Microsoft

- Server costs per project are stupidly expensive. A VM that goes for $10/mo in the cloud ends up costing $200/mo to whatever department that foots the bill.

- You can't deploy a VM or app with a click. Instead you need to file a demand, then someone needs to make sure they have the resources available, then someone needs to manually spin up a VM for you...

- You can't build services that dynamically scale: this ends up being a problem for computationally expensive ML work - Tech spending on a hospital is overwhelmingly spend on maintenance and uptime rather than innovation or purchasing solutions

I could go on forever.

* This is also complicated by the fact that the industry isn't really incentivized to improve your health. Why run a predictive model and intervene to reduce your need for a stent when I make money from that operation?


"This is also complicated by the fact that the industry isn't really incentivized to improve your health. Why run a predictive model and intervene to reduce your need for a stent when I make money from that operation?"

The healthcare industry has two sides: the providers and the insurers. A hospital may not have the incentive to steer you away from unnecessary surgery, but your insurance company definitely does, since they'll be the ones paying for it. And your insurance company may have even more information to base its models on, since it knows about all the procedures you've had at any provider. So I'd expect insurance companies to be pioneering this kind of health-improvement software, not hospitals.


Medical "insurance" barely even exists anymore in the US. Most large employers and other group buyers self insure and hire an insurance company mostly to just administer claims. So the insurance company isn't really paying, although they still have an incentive to hold down costs and prevent unnecessary procedures for competitive and quality reasons.


The consolidation of providers into big networks broke that virtuous cycle.

Your health provider has zero financial incentive to improve your health, and your employer or insurer will get more ROI from nitpick things like delaying claims or pushing out prescription fulfillment to reduce the spend this quarter.


One big problem is that insurance companies are looking to optimize financial outcomes, not health outcomes. Sometimes these coincide but often they do not.


For health insurers it is exactly the same thing.


If you're currently healthy, your insurance company maximizes its profits if you stay healthy (nothing to pay for except routine checkups, etc., which cost far less than the thousands of dollars in premiums your employer pays for you every year). But if you have cancer, the insurance company might maximize its profits if it refuses to pay for expensive treatments, causing you to die sooner.

Over the long run, it would seem to be in the insurer's best interest to keep everyone healthy for as long as possible.


I take it your tax money has never been used to repair the widespread damage to society caused by a too lightly regulated industry. It blows.


Reasonable regulation, by definition, is reasonable. But absolutely nothing guarantees that the actual regulation that will be enacted will be in any way reasonable. If anything, experience suggests that the regulation will be written by people who have very shallow grasp of the topic they regulate and are driven more by misconceptions and latest headlines than rational consideration of the costs and benefits of regulation and decision taken only after benefits clearly exceed the costs. In the best case. In worst case, they'll be just acting as a proxy of some special interest trying to get some money flowing their way.

Given that, any regulation should be assumed to be horrible at the start, and only with overwhelming proof should it be deemed to be "reasonable", and even then should be under constant suspicion - since regulations tend to change, and away from public eye and scrutiny, usually not for the best.


.. what? Have you not followed anything the EU has done? They have abolished roaming within 28 countries. They have created a solid net neutrality law, upon which members (of the EU) are allowed to expand but not reduce. They have stared down the likes of Microsoft, Intel, and soon Google. That the USA does not have an effective government does not mean the rest of the world is the same.


> They have stared down the likes of Microsoft, Intel, and soon Google

You are saying it like there's something good in extorting money from foreign companies because we own the territory, so damn it if you're going to do business here without paying us protection money. Likes of Microsoft, Intel and Google created the Internet as we know it today. Surely, they are not ideal and have their faults, but they has also been a huge force of improvement and technological advancement. EU has been nothing but sand in the gears in the meantime. When IE seemed to be monopoly, EU did very little to deal with it. When Firefox and Chrome came, IE is no more. See for yourself who is effective here and who is money-sucking, foot-dragging, obtuse and overweight bureaucracy.

> That the USA does not have an effective government does not mean the rest of the world is the same.

USA has way over-active, busybody, annoying and wasteful government. But compared to euro-bureaucrats which obsessively regulate everything from size of holes in cheese to search engines, they are indeed much better. Thanks for reminding about it.


> You are saying it like there's something good in extorting money from foreign companies because we own the territory, so damn it if you're going to do business here without paying us protection money.

This is how the world works.

If your country has the oil, you get to reap the benefits.

For Facebook, the resource is the population. If Facebook grows rich off the backs of your population, you have every right to tax that.


It is always nice when the population is viewed not as human beings but as commodity owned by the government and can be rented out to foreign concessions. Not always admitted that openly, though.


> EU has been nothing but sand in the gears in the meantime.

> USA has way over-active, busybody, annoying and wasteful government.

Take a look at the cellular and cable markets in the USA for how 'we don't need no gubmint telling us what to do' is working out for you. Or the fact that much of your people are drinking water laden with heavy metals. Or the fact that you are having ten to twenty mass shootings a year. Your lovely Equifax breach that will probably go largely unpunished. Non-existant privacy protection.

So yeah, considering the EU actually and actively fights for its citizens whereas the USA has largely become a toy of corporations, you and I both know once we cross over from ideology (yours is obviously libertarian) to reality your comment and stance become absurd. If I had to distill it - you're the individual version of the Tea Party: libertarian ideals co-opted by corporate brainwashing.


> how 'we don't need no gubmint telling us what to do' is working out for you

You obviously have no idea how regulated cell and cable markets in US are.

> Or the fact that much of your people are drinking water laden with heavy metals.

I have zero idea what you are talking about, some sources?

> Or the fact that you are having ten to twenty mass shootings a year.

How shootings have anything to do with anything discussed? Do you just copypaste it from somewhere or what?

> Your lovely Equifax breach that will probably go largely unpunished.

And Equifax. Way to go offtopic. Surely, in EU there are no hacks. Come on, you are beclowning yourself.

> If I had to distill it - you're the individual version of the Tea Party: libertarian ideals co-opted by corporate brainwashing.

Surely, I call attention to burdensome, useless and expensive regulation that prevents technological advancement and helps no one but inflated bureaucracies because "corporations" corrupted my brain. No reasonable person with uncorrupted brain would ever protest such thing. Self-beclowining, as I said.


> You obviously have no idea how regulated cell and cable markets in US are.

Not enough seeing as they effectively have carved out monopolies by 'accidentally' staying out of each others territory

> I have zero idea what you are talking about, some sources?

You have not heard about Flint...?[0]

> How shootings have anything to do with anything discussed? Do you just copypaste it from somewhere or what?

You say the USA (and more so the EU) are weighted down by regulations and a stuffy government. Pretty much all EU countries have _very_ stringent regulations on guns

> And Equifax. Way to go offtopic. Surely, in EU there are no hacks. Come on, you are beclowning yourself.

I'm not saying no hacks happen in the EU. I'm saying tha in the EU the government deals out very harsh punishments for such things (thus also making companies more careful), whereas in the USA companies usually get a slap on the wrist due to a combination of lobbying and settlements.

> Surely, I call attention to burdensome, useless and expensive regulation that prevents technological advancement and helps no one but inflated bureaucracies because "corporations" corrupted my brain. No reasonable person with uncorrupted brain would ever protest such thing. Self-beclowining, as I said.

I just summed up a smattering of different areas in which regulation has made life unequivocally better in the EU than the USA. Regulation when done right helps citizens and not, as you say, 'inflated bureaucracies'.

[0] http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2017/10/71_michiga...


IIRC, the cheese hole size regulation was USDA, not a EU body.


Well, regulatory capture usually works best for domestic companies. The EU is just "lucky" to have few important IT companies. Attitudes are of course also different. I am not sure what is the larger contribution.


We are not free to provide services to other devices on our own devices. We can "do whatever we want" if we buy into the consumption paradigm. If we start to distribute content, we find ourselves liable...

I really hope I'm wrong here. But try installing an HTTP server on your phone. The network does not provide the required environment to make this possible. Why? It's not the hardware.


You can run an http server on your phone. If it’s not reachable from the internet, the problem is the limited number of IPv4 addresses, not some conspiracy against computing freedom.


> We are not free to provide services to other devices on our own devices.

Of course you are. I'm speaking from an American perspective, but this is the very foundation of liberty.

> The network does not provide the required environment to make this possible. Why? It's not the hardware.

I do not own the network that my phone operates on, and the people that do have decided to control what they allow on it. I can start my own network and attempt to compete.


In USA those networks were built largely by government granted monopolies to right of way


It's not the government either...


Facebook is doing whatever it wants on its own devices (servers), that’s the whole problem. Regulation is likely to apply to anyone engaged in similar activities (providing interactive services over the internet) although we can certainly dream that it’ll come with a carve-out for small scale operators.


The problem is you do not own anything you are only given a license to use in a certain manner.


What do you mean by 'tragedy of the commons' in regards to regulating Facebook?


I was referring to the sort of IoT regulation discussed in the linked Schneier blog post.


I wish we had a sci-hub.cc for wsj, I think one would be useful. There are plenty of reasons a person would want access to those articles without wanting/having the means to pay.

Personally, I don't care for wsj articles, but if they want to pull a clickbait title, I think it's fair for them to provide a read.


> There are plenty of reasons a person would want access to those articles without wanting/having the means to pay

There are plenty of reasons the Wall Street Journal does not want this, e.g. its paying journalists top dollar relative to industry. As a subscriber to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, I'm quite fine with their paywall policies.



> but rather political challengers (i.e. legislators, regulators, activists.)

Interesting, but that's exactly what I thought of when I read the title.


+1 for [0] as the first footnote


What are the odds that this regulation effort gets compromised into something that is spun by politicians as a pro-consumer/citizen victory while also digging Facebook's and Google's moats a bit deeper? Basically, something where compliance is a small cost center for them, but a big hurdle for any would-be competitor trying to scale up. This is a pattern I've definitely heard discussed in the past, though I'm failing to come up with any concrete examples.


Very likely. This is why Epic dominates EHRs despite users universally hating the software. The funny thing is Google and Facebook don't even want it, but with all this sudden vigilance against them from both ends of the political spectrum, their potential competitors will need massive legal departments they can't afford before getting market share. Maybe it'll be a one two punch, regulate tightly then they will be real unarguable monopolies you can bust up.


You can find some examples at [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture


Have their been any attempts to outlaw regulatory capture?

Rant:

I can think of many more examples that are not on that list, and it seems like a comprehensive list would be extremely exhausting. For example, in Seattle I once needed access to a court hearing record, which Seattle law requires the public have "reasonable" accesse to.

Instead of providing the records in a reasonable format, the audio was recorded in a proprietary, non-open source format called "On the Record." Getting and paying for not just the CD in person, but the player to work required me to boot into Windows, and even then I still encountered bugs that made life unreasonably difficult.

A child could easily record hearings with free software in mp3 format, host them securely on the web, creating a lot of benefit and efficiency to society.

And that is all a good example to bring attention to a second point: when people talk about ideas like income redistribution, jobs, and basic income, they worry about "where will the wealth come from, and who will produce useful value?" But come on, if we comb through the economy like a small business owner would through his company, we'd find already an enormous amount of people who aren't involved in producing anythint useful. Or in this case, something useful, but ridiculously inefficient; and in other cases, things which are detrimental to society. It's not uncommon to see on HN stories of corruption, or even science which missrepresents truth.


Governments have the tools to deal with that as well: antitrust.


That's a really great point and I suggest you may be correct.


I'm not sure what the answer is but something should be done about Facebook's part in the problems in Myanmar. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/business/facebook-misinfo...)


> A couple of hours outside Yangon, the country’s largest city, U Aye Swe, an administrator for Sin Ma Kaw village, said he was proud to oversee one of Myanmar’s “Muslim-free” villages, which bar Muslims from spending the night, among other restrictions.

> “Kalar are not welcome here because they are violent and they multiply like crazy, with so many wives and children,” he said.

> Mr. Aye Swe admitted he had never met a Muslim before, adding, “I have to thank Facebook because it is giving me the true information in Myanmar.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/world/asia/myanmar-rohing...

I found this chilling when I saw it on Twitter.


This company is complicit in ethnic cleansing and the top comment in this thread is about activating interest groups to ward off regulation. It's outrageous.


AAAND Zuck has been very publicly polishing up his presidential running shoes for 6 months...


In fairness to Zuck the news about this has only been out pretty recently and they may not have had time to fix things. Hope they do though.


> This company is complicit in ethnic cleansing

I mean no offense, but this comment coming from a user named "IBM" is a bit ironic considering that IBM provided infrastructure support to both the US Japanese internment camp programs and the Nazi concentration and extermination camp programs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_during_World_War_II


Facebook isn't actively seeking to do this, people are just using the platform to spread information. Sure, Facebook should and likely will crack down on it...but I'd rather the governments not be involved in what can and can not be allowed on Facebook/Online. People have done this sort of thing for ages, Facebook is just the latest platform.

How are governments supposed to deem what's appropriate when -this very- article states that the fake posts were shared by government accounts.


When governments are using Facebook as a platform for disinformation campaigns, other governments are going to have to get involved to regulate usage. Facebook needs to find its moral compass very quickly.


So which government gets to decide which government is telling the truth or not? Who is the moral arbiter? China? Iran? Russia? Just western countries? Good luck. What will happen is a limit on free speech of individuals with no qualms, and we all know it.

Facebook is comprised of people, all with moral compasses, but when your user base is increasingly growing to be the entire population of earth...it's hard to moderate. People act like Facebook, Google etc could just flip a magic switch and instantly stop disinformation through social media, which is virtually an impossible task.

On top of that, even if it -were- possible, you create moral hazards of who decides what is real or isn't real...and if you had it over to world governments, that's when you get into much deeper shit.


I came to write that facebook is just a carrier, and that people can lie to the masses via a printer, or a radio, or any of a million web outlets or non-FB social networks.

But I was wrong, facebook doesn't just post what you say, they choose what you see. So it's not necessarily that you're seeing stuff that people said of their own volition, it's that perhaps facebook is _choosing_ not to show you contradictory claims because it would make you use facebook less, and cost them money.

So then perhaps yes, some kind of regulation about what kind of choices facebook is allowed to make when choosing what will be shown to whom, and some oversight that that actually happens.

Still, though, it scares me to try legislating speech, since legislation is easy to pass and hard to repeal; hard to get right, and not debated long enough by smart enough people hardly ever.


Wow. That is horrendous.


I was thinking if near the like button they had a report hate speech / fake news button and just didn't show stories much that where that was clicked it would probably make a difference.


Unfortunately, like any kind of downvote system, it would get abused as an "i disagree" button instead.


I was thinking something that didn't notify any users that anyone had pushed it, just made the algorithm share it less and if a lot of people push it maybe submit it to the moderators.


They have a reporting system. It doesn't work (and currently, they don't have any incentive to make it work, because hate speech and fake news are engagement).


The way it's going to work is simple: Facebook will bleed engagement from young demographics up, because it's inherently uncool after reaching max audience. There's nothing Facebook can ever do about that.

The way max engagement & max audience works, is that once you hit that sort of level, you have to kill or own every single new and or growing thing that ever exists in that particular market, forever forward, or you lose engagement. That's why Facebook has to try to take share from YouTube (Netflix, Hulu, et al) on video with Watch.

If it hadn't been for Instagram, they'd be in big trouble already. One app saved the day, for now. The next Instagram-size service they attempt to buy, will likely fall under anti-trust review, and that will get worse by the year going forward.

Once you max out on engagement and audience size, such as in the US market, there's nowhere else to go but down unless you start taking from other very big services. Facebook will start dropping little quadrants of engagement, that other services will pick up / steal. Most of those will never threaten the hyper network. Some of them will grow into substantial businesses the size of a Yelp-type business, or a Snapchat or Twitter. It's the gradual subdivision of Facebook; they'll never be able to buy enough Instagrams to prevent it. And to be clear, this process won't kill Facebook.

Unlike search, social has numerous difficult human attributes to it, such as being cool. Those attributes make it nearly impossible to maintain a permanent position. Young people today do not like Facebook at all, they're reluctant hostages to the monopoly for now. Then throw on top the increasing populist anti-Facebook sentiment coursing through the culture, and sooner rather than later Facebook will be unable to buy its way out of being uncool. Their business will get three or four times larger yet, as they figure out ways to ad-abuse their existing user base, while bleeding engagement out of the younger demographics. Peak social monopoly has already been hit by Facebook.


Facebook beats that by buying every potential competitor.


They're not going to be able to do that.

Facebook wouldn't be allowed to buy either Snapchat or Twitter right now, it's already past that point in the monopoly curve. They could have still purchased Snapchat four or five years ago. Facebook of course is well aware of this. The only means they have left to cut off the next social competitors, is to get them extremely early, before regulatory authorities recognize an entity as a serious competitor. In the next few years, just the behavior they demonstrated in trying to kill Snapchat, is very likely to trigger Microsoft.v.Netscape-like attention. Already, as the monopoly hysteria against them builds and builds, what they did in attacking Snapchat will be held up as a prime demonstration of anti-competitive behavior.

In fiscal 2018 they're going to be a ~$21 billion profit giant with extraordinary influence over everything in the US. Their life gets a lot harder from here forward, their monopoly is not squishy or vague, it's blatant and easy to spot. Amazon is an ideal example of vague dominance, they dominate ecommerce for now in the US (but still only with a ~40% share of that), but you still have large, very legitimate competitors in retail such as Walmart (~4x the retail sales of Amazon), Target, Costco, BestBuy, etc.

On the way up Google had Microsoft lording over tech, providing convenient cover. Amazon has Walmart. Netflix has tons of competitors in video. Apple has never been in a monopoly position outside of music. Oracle has Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, AWS and a dozen other relevant enterprise software companies.

Cisco and Intel are among the few long-term stable tech monopolies. They've both operated under government watch for a long time. They're stuck in sandboxes. Cisco can't buy Juniper, and Intel can't buy AMD. Both are also gradually seeing their monopolies unwind or otherwise weaken. Microsoft is in a similar position.

Facebook has Twitter and Snapchat in the US (to a lesser extent services like Reddit, which is a minnow to Facebook), neither of which are growing much these days (while Facebook's global scale continues to expand, slower now but still).

If Facebook is smart they'll attempt to rapidly expand in all directions as cover for their social monopoly, so they can pretend to have competition all over the place.


Buying tbh was pretty cheap, and that was an app from the top of app store. They don't have to do that often. Say they would do that five times a year, that's 500m per year. That's even less than google is paying to other services (mozilla, apple) to include google as default search option (that goes into billions as of now).


"...shove Facebook to acknowledge and act on its responsibility as the most powerful distributor of news and information on Earth."

'News' is highly problematic here. News is packaged information. FB segments people into lots of distinct groupings and reinforces their belief patterns. I don't believe many people go to FB for information or 'News'...they go there for social reasons.

I have no desire to consume information packaged by Facebook and presented to me as 'Facts'.


I guess the question is, do you treat "bad" content on Facebook (fake news and so on) like spam email, where you expect the provider to block it, or like an email from your racist Grandma, which you expect to be allowed through even though it's got the same link to a fake article?

Really in the end, if it's your Facebook "friends" who are posting this stuff, it seems to me like the responsibility is more on the users than the provider. People need to learn to be skeptical of everything, and how to check other sources before sharing. Even if you can "fix" Facebook, something else will come along.


No, FB is not email. You don't see everything your friends post, you see what FB chooses to put in your feed.


That's a good point. Although I suspect people would still be complaining if Facebook simply showed everything your friends posted in chronological order.


Anecdata: nope. I have a few friends who only seem to communicate via FB, and I would almost be willing to pay FB money to simply show a chronological feed.


I don't know about the app, but on the website there's an option sort of hidden under the ··· menu next to News Feed[1]. Facebook unfortunately likes to helpfully reset it to Top Stories sometimes.

[1] https://i.imgur.com/zRdmt8v.png


I use mbasic.facebook.com these days, which doesn't require JavaScript, but when I used the desktop site, I remember that even "most recent" does some kind of filtering.


And yet, FB still remains the dominant source through which news is disseminated. It's lack of appropriateness for this doesn't change the facts, and if anything, should spur further thought as to what its responsibilities are.


But then by this logic why aren’t we regulating mainstream news too - I’m continually shocked by the sensationalist titles that have nothing to do with the article content, poor sources, or poorly derived conclusions. Why is that getting a free pass?


(1) There is a massive difference between a bad article and fake news, which is completely fabricated information (e.g. pizzagate). Also, learn to differentiate between good journalism (e.g. NYT, WaPo) and tabloids/other rags (e.g. Fox News, Independent, Daily Mail)

(2) Mainstream news is already regulated to some extents


I disagree that there isn’t some totally fabricated information on the good sources you listed.


Oh please. Mainstream news is nothing like the completely fabricated often-satire tat gets passed around to whip of frothy hate on Facebook.


Regulation is one of many tools that could be employed, and I don't mean to give smaller media outlets a free pass by focussing on the elephant in the room. "How do we educate our kids about this?" is a more innocuous one.


> most powerful distributor of news and information on Earth

Sandberg (somewhere else recently): "We are explicitly not a news company, we are a tech company."


Similar to how the Daily Show and SNL are not news, but have precariously fallen into a position of authenticity.


precariously or intentionally depending upon your level of paranoia....


And Fox News "we are explicitly not a news company, we are an entertainment company". And same from Alex Jones.

Corporations shouldn't get to choose which laws they want to apply to them. Facebook is picking articles to put in NY feed, Facebook is a news company


Side note: whenever I see people blasting “corporations,” it flips my hysteria/ignorance bits. “Large companies” is usually a better-informed replacement since (a) most corporations are very small and uninfluential, e.g. mom and pop stores and (b) some influential multinationals are not set up as corporations, e.g. Bloomberg LP.


What someone says they are and what they actually are can be very different.


The scene today is reminiscent of Apple and illegal music downloads circa 2007:

> iPods were transactional products that could be filled with legal music, pirated music, podcasts, music of one’s own creation — it didn’t matter to anyone but the iPod’s owner. Apple sold a product that benefited from openness into a relatively lawless market and reaped the rewards [1].

Social media is largely a lawless market, and FB (amongst others) is reaping the rewards. In the case of the iPod, government regulation was the bandaid, and the cure was a new incumbent: streaming music services. Importantly, streaming music was only afforded by advances in mobile/wifi tech. So how is this like fake news in social media -- what are the analogies here? Again we’ll see government regulation with minimal effect, as noted in this WSJ article. And should there be a solution to FB’s propaganda problems, my bet is it’ll come from a service that alters the means by which we share (social) experiences online, just as the ability to stream music replaced the need to download it. What's more, the solution will likely come from outside the walls of FB.

FB will tread on though, just like Apple, by embracing the novel tech; the iPod was supplanted by the iPhone, leveraging external streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora. So it's not exactly "who will rein in FB?" but rather "what". What technology will give us new means by which we interact with social media? There are dozens of ideas, but the billion dollar one will be that which eradicates the spread of propaganda, just as streaming services eradicated the dependence on pirated music a decade ago.

[1] https://stratechery.com/2017/apple-and-the-oak-tree/


A main difference though is Apple saw illegal music downloading as a (read: the) lifeblood of the iPod and didn't discourage it -- the iPod would not have been a success without free music. FB however is attempting to thwart people from using its platform for political agenda (or at least they make it seem), while it's not necessarily illegal to post propaganda content.


> it's not necessarily illegal to post propaganda content

It’s very illegal for a foreign government to purchase political ads aimed at Americans.


Is it? Under whose laws? And who is allowed to purchase those? No foreigners at all? What is a political ad? There are a lot of problems here.


I'm speculating the following will happen:

Some group of people will write an open-source library that will make it possible to interface with Facebook in an unofficial way, e.g. through a headless browser. Facebook will oppose this, but the creators of the library will constantly update the library, and add AI to circumvent captchas and things like that.

Using this library, other people will create applications to manage one's Facebook data. At that point, users will have more complete control over their own data. The applications will allow data to be exported to other, more open services (a competing service could ask: "would you like to import from Facebook?") And this will be the beginning of the end of Facebook.


I’m pretty sure Facebook would do a lot more to prevent third-party access than put up a couple captchas. I wouldn’t be surprised by a cease-and-desist.


There's a tool called "youtube-dl" that does something similar for YouTube, and it still exists.

It's not uploading to competing services though, but somebody could build it on top of it.


I am sure that youtube-dl is against YouTube's terms of service, and the only reason why Google hasn't gone after it is because:

1. It's decentralized (i.e. anyone can just fork it and have a new working copy)

2. It's not worth going after, yet. Lawyers cost time and money.

youtube-dl is an excellent project but I'm pretty sure once #2 becomes true they will receive a letter from Google's lawyers.


Ok, but can Facebook forbid me to export my own data into a competing service?


If you reside in the EU they legally won't be allowed to starting next May.


Interesting. Does that also mean I can't import my bookmarks from Chrome into Firefox, for example?


I think they meant that they legally won’t be allowed to forbid you from exporting your data.


From a legal standpoint, "data about you" != "data you own".

The two notions are often conflated in discussions about Facebook, and your profile data fall squarely into the first category.


It doesn't require a login and works with public video pages.

Facebook offers some public content but the majority is behind the wall.


What does that have to do with the article about Facebook's upcoming regulation challenges?


Facebook is eventually going to hurt its own reputation enough that people are going to stop using the platform.

A social network/messaging app isn’t that hard to build and Facebook has been building a lot of extra shit on top of it that people don’t really need.


Most users don't care about reputation. Like most large tech companies, Facebook will be hurt when they miss a disruptive innovation or major social change.


The network effects issue is real, some kind of open graph could potentially be the answer, as upstart social networks start with the disadvantage of having to connect everyone somehow.

That said, I worry about the Myanmar thread: there, The Internet is synonymous with Facebook, and people trust it as an authority. The masses who are unequipped to think critically aren't going to be persuaded to choose something else as long as the platform keeps serving up paid "news" ads and click bait that reinforces their beliefs.

The powerful ability for a platform to target specific humans or allow any one to represent a trustworthy new organisation is problematic. These are interesting places to start too.


People risk their lives daily to read Facebook while doing things like walking across the street and driving. As long as people get their notification fix, they probably wont care that much.


Any ideas out there on what could lead to a migration away from Facebook to say, Mastodon? [0]

Facebook probably has the strongest network effect that’s ever existed.

[0] https://mastodon.social/about


Better to link to https://joinmastodon.org/, instead of to that one instance. Better to spread traffic around.


Considering the ePrivacy Law and the GDPR in the EU both being on track for becoming enforcing, I think the EU would be a good contender on reigning in facebook.

The US seems largely content with making almost pyrrhic victories on this front.


Give me a photo sharing site that my kids use and I'm gone from FB.

Has to be easy-peasy. Clip save pics. No cloud crap. Open and see the latest post. See others' comments. End


I don't understand. How can you share photos online with "no cloud crap"? It's already pretty easy to set up your own private web server with photo gallery software, but very few users want the hassle.


I'm the voyeur.. Wishing to see what kids post (of their kids). And coworkers. I have access to their cloud, dropbox, google, etc... But it's too hard and more importantly not their platform of choice to share.

So FBs other stuff like news is not why we have FB. It's like turning in the Today show and hearing Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley at 7am to see my family's news, only. A morning habit. But i dont have to hear the news. Five minutes and I'm done.


>I'm the voyeur.. Wishing to see what kids post (of their kids).

That sounds really creepy if you phrase it this way.


The GP (in both senses) means this: they want it to be simple. So simple they are not aware of how it works. If they have to know about 'the cloud', 'sharing', 'syncing', where the photos are stored, etc., then it's not simple enough.


Cons: Choose another big company over FB: Google Photos

Pros: You only share with select people, you only get photos from whom you want


Not sure if I'm missing something but... Instagram?


Never understood it.. I know it sounds dumb.. But fb tied to a person. Instagram not necessarily..

Anyway.. My adult kids will decide when to migrate off FB.. And we will follow


Instagram is Facebook though.


Presents the question as to what functionality this would replace over fb then


What about an imgur style service?


I will. You will. Just quit.


From the article: “None of those ads on Facebook would have been very effective if they said ‘paid for by Russia.’ ”

They wouldn't say that. Just like all other political ads they would be funded through an organization with an appealing name, "Paid for by Americans for Freedom and Justice"


Any article that starts with biasing against some country (Russia, Iran, Finland, whatever) discourages from reading it. Because the authors unequivocally assume that guilt of a particular country is already a known truth and hence does not need a separate discussion -- so we can safely plunge into Facebook's issues of not being able to withstand such attacks.

So, sorry, not going to read the article.


It's because the guilt of a particular country is a known truth, in this case Russia interfering with the 2016 US presidential election, according to all US intelligence officials when speaking on record. If you need a separate discussion (because there have been many) pick any news organization from the states and look up information about this topic.


Like one Russian friend of mine joked: "if you need your tax system hacked, let us know."

That it is published, does not necessarily mean, it is truth.

It is a long standing play: the farthest is likely an enemy. Likely, Chinese hackers could do it or anybody who wanted to interfere. But if it was hacked, shows something for the ability of each individual government to protect themselves. Same is published of other, not only U.S., governments, like Britain.

It far easier to claim a hack, than to acknowledge, that Trump was _actually_ voted for.


Notice that I didn't say "hack", and much of the news doesn't focus on them "hacking" the election in the sense that they altered the vote to get Trump enough votes to win (I'm sure some have argued it but most sources deny that widespread voter fraud or vote altering happened). By now it's accepted that Trump did not win the popular vote but did win enough states to win the election, just like in 2000. The focus is on disinformation instead, like ads bought on Facebook, Twitter, etc., which has been shown to have happened.


Information engineering, that is. In his book "Parting with illusions" V. Pozner claims from journalist's experience: no matter what external propaganda will do it can be neglected really. Because internal propaganda will beat it in a big way.


For those who want to read the article, one way you can do it is by posting it into the Facebook search bar, and then clicking one of the results - this bypasses the paywall.

Or by clicking here: https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.wsj.com%2Fa...



Oh the irony


The link worked but thought my mobile was a desktop and put a huge banner that is uncloseable.


Ironic facebook link ftw


[flagged]


Please don't post like this here.


Nope... It's rein. As in those things you use to control a horse, or the act of doing so. Not what you do as a monarch.


Relatedly, the idiom is "give them free rein": http://grammarist.com/spelling/free-rein-free-reign/


  sudo apt install dict
  dict rein | grep 'to rein'


Gab will.

Not because the current site is that good, but because Torba understands that a blockchain based distributed social network that is able to compensate content creators is the future:

https://gab.ai/a/posts/13902759

and he has the money to support building it, with gab subscriptions providing an infinite runway, the StartEngine 1M+ campaign, his legal warchest for the fight w/ Google, etc.


I don't know.

I really liked some of Gab's features when it was relatively new, especially the more advanced and fine-grained "self-censorship" tools that allowed you to do things like establish a blacklist of words that hid posts from you.

Once they tied the growth of the platform to a political ideology, I did what I could to try to increase diversity of opinion there. It didn't seem to work; Gab has become the far-right version of Reddit's /r/politics.


Did you read the article? It's not about competing social networks, it's about regulators.

> Pressure is mounting, at home and abroad, from legislators, regulators and activists, all looking for various ways to nudge and, in some cases, shove Facebook to acknowledge and act on its responsibility as the most powerful distributor of news and information on Earth.


Right. I guess I should be more explicit in my prediction that the market will move faster than the governments will.

I know that people here don't like Gab, but looking at it rationally they look like the most likely challenger in that the leadership understands the coming tech stack that will route around whatever governments and private consortiums come up with, and they have the cash on hand and ideological commitment to do it.


Dear lord, they have an image problem... I quickly checked the site and all of the content they show on the front page (is this like an automated sampling of recent posts?) is atrociously sexist and frankly really low bar content intelligence-wise. (I guess you can find equally dumb stuff throughout the twitterverse, but I can't believe they're using it to market on their homepage) I'm surprised, I thought early adopters would be more thoughtful silicon valley types. Can't see anyone I know switching to it any time soon.


Yeah, I agree. They need to have an ideological filter for the popular page or, better, do something like an ideological page-rank algorithm so it can be personalized. Right now it is pretty shocking content, a result of Gab's commitment to free speech and the purging of the (alt) right on other social media platforms.


Traditional media, Democrats and leftist social justice types find a common desire for censorship of the internet


Facebook is humanitys ilusions of grandeur. Which makes it valuable for advertisers.

All a competitor needs to do is to facilitate the grandeur to become real.

"Johnny read about your dream to make a wooden lifesized viking-boat, that you share with 5 others in your area. Johnny is a skilled carpenter and willing to train you, if you show him how to paraglide. Post the common learning experience on Realbook, to show who you really are, who you want to be, what mistakes happend. Others who tryied to build wooden boats, got stuck in there projects here, here and here. Others that succeeded and could help you on as mentors."

Of course, that would be a real positive thing for the users. Who in there right mind would do such a thing?

Im pretty sure, SV is unable to do so, without trying to fire-sale humanity goodness flavoured waver cookies.


Everyone wants to dream; few people want to put in the work necessary to make them reality.


More would- if it was publicly visible how much effort they put behind there dreams..




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