The Three Horsemen of Facebook’s Datapocalypse

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Photo by Jamie Kern on Unsplash (modified).

Market dominance, the business model, and internal culture: Mark should learn from Microsoft.

I’ve written extensively about Facebook in Exponential View for the past three years. (In fact, you can see everything I’ve written about Facebook at this link).

Nearly two years ago (EV#60), I wrote:

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Zuck Ducks the Tough Questions

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Money Quote Thursday March 22

The Facebook CEO finally spoke, but did he say anything new?

Of this, I am certain.

And….scene. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence by posting a longer than one page response on his Facebook page (that link is to COO Sheryl Sandberg’s post, so you have both), then granting several major media outlets 20 or so minutes of his time for a largely similar set of interviews. He started with a CNN interview where he apologized directly. Then he took to three publications for lengthier interviews. As you might expect, the media outlets each took a slightly different angle. Honestly, after reading them all, the whole thing felt too orchestrated and calorie free. Zuck did apologize, sort of, but he failed to do the one thing I think is most important: Admit the problem is bigger than his company’s ability to fix, ask for help, and commit to leading the charge on the larger issues at play here.

Oh, and I did try to watch the CNN interview online, but I’m not going to link to it here. Why? Because CNN made simply indefensible decision to cut his interview into minute-long soundbites, separated by as many forced ad breaks as humanly possible. That almost guarantees no one will actually view the entire interview. If ever there was an ironic proof of how Facebook is killing media outlets and damaging the concept of an informed electorate, well, there you have it.

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We Allowed This to Happen. We’re Sorry. We Need Your Help.

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What Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should say next.

Iconic companies can fail (Wired cover at left, 1997, while I was managing editor, and this month at right). And iconic companies can recover. It all depends on leadership.

As I write this, I am certain of one thing: A tense and cortisol-fueled war room has convened inside Facebook headquarters, with communications, policy, and operational executives madly preparing a script soon to be read by the company’s beleaguered CEO. At some point during the scrum, some of the execs had to leave to host a company-wide all hands, but to those in the room, that was a distraction. The all hands had to happen because the natives were restless (more on that in my next piece). But at present, Facebook is in chaos, and the leadership team has no idea what the company response should truly be. So there was no way the two faces of the company — Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg — were going to be at the all hands meeting. Not a chance.

By the time I’ve finished writing this column, and certainly by the morning, we’ll finally hear from Zuckerberg on the “category five hurricane” that has hit the company over the weekend. But given the national news has already led with the story, I doubt it. More likely it’ll happen Wednesday. If it doesn’t, well, that’s another column.

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(Digital) World in Crisis: Five Must-Read Pieces Chosen by Zeynep Tufekci

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Photo by mahdis mousavi on Unsplash

I was honored to have Zeynep Tufekci, a technosociologist whose work I find crucial in helping us understand public discourse in the digital age, take a lead at guest-curating my newsletter this week.

Here are some of the articles Zeynep shared in her Exponential View:

1. Useful in thinking about the near future of Bitcoin, and the crisis coming their way.

This essay depicts the story of the internet we imagined, and the internet in its reality. It is a worthy lesson for the future of crypto technologies.

Why the Hidden Internet Can’t be a Libertarian Paradise

2. Hackers and mischief makers are coming for machine learning.

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The Reality of Twitter Puffery. Or Why Does Everyone Now Hate Bots?

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Flickr: Rosa Mendoza

A friend of mine worked for an online dating company whose audience was predominantly hetero 30-somethings. At some point, they realized that a large number of the “female” accounts were actually bait for porn sites and 1–900 numbers. I don’t remember if users complained or if they found it themselves, but they concluded that they needed to get rid of these fake profiles. So they did.

And then their numbers started dropping. And dropping. And dropping.

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The Techlash Gains Momentum

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Is society finally getting serious about its algorithm problems?

Founders and advisors to the Center for Humane Technology

Keep me honest here — am I over-indexing on the Tech Gets Its Comeuppance story, or simply reflecting reality? I’m starting to wonder. But once again a review of the past few days of business news is dominated by the techlash. Yes, I could have filled this column with stories about the stock market, but truth be told, it feels appropriate that we let some air out of the Wall Street “melt up.”

I’ll admit I’m fascinated by society’s response to technology’s moment of scrutiny. It’s happening in real time, and not just in the worlds of Facebook and Google. Here are a few of the most interesting stories since last Friday:

Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built

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Democracy Declines Again

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Money Quote January 31, 2018

Facebook, Apple stock ride sidecar, Amazon soars on health news


Once again the scholars of democracy are displeased with its march, or perhaps we should say its retreat. Last time we reported on this trend, it was the Freedom House sounding the alarm. Today it’s the Economist. Just five percent of the world lives in a “full democracy” and no, the US ain’t included. We live in a “flawed democracy” and honestly, I am starting to wonder if that’s just a bit too charitable. MQ: “The index, which comprises 60 indicators across five broad categories — electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties — concludes that less than 5% of the world’s population currently lives in a “full democracy”.”

We’ll be discussing the decline of democracy with world leaders, governors, mayors, and policy experts, as well as the head of Facebook News Feed and the General Counsel of Google at the Shift Forum next month. Join us!

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Is This the Society We Really Want?

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Technology’s march is taken as gospel. But if we’ve learned anything from the past year, it’s that Valley giants often miss key human externalities. Case in point: Amazon Go.

Sorry dude. Amazon’s gonna stock the veggies from now on.

So Amazon Go launched this week, and the rush to praise the “store without cashiers” as the future of retail was immediate and sustained. I found Ben Thompson’s considered take representative of the bunch:

For decades technology helped the industrial world work better; more and more, technology is replacing that world completely, and there will be pain. That, though, is precisely why it is worth remembering that the world is not static: to replace humans is, in the long run, to free humans to create entirely new needs and means to satisfy those needs. It’s what we do, and the faith to believe it will happen again will be the best guide in figuring out how.

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Murdoch to Zuckerberg: Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Some Change?

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Money Quote January 23, 2018

There’s a lot going on in the world (scroll down). But man, the Facebook news is beyond fascinating these days.

Honestly, I really do not set out to write about Facebook every time I sit at my keyboard, but the past few (months, weeks, days) have been riveting, as we watch the most influential company in the media world (yes, that’s you Facebook) attempt to think its way through what has to be its most difficult of transitions: From adolescent King of the Valley to adult Citizen of the World. This past few days have been particularly trying, with Rupert Murdoch asking for a handout (really!), multiple press outlets eviscerating the company’s approach to decision making, and the Economist — the Economist!!! — doling out management advice. To the news:

Statement of Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman of News Corp, on a Carriage Fee for Trusted Publishers

Hi. My name is Rupert Murdoch. I own a lot of publishing assets. I’m in the gloaming of my influence, and I’ve not got many bullets left to spend. So I’m pointing my gun at… YOU Mark! MQ: “The time has come to consider a different route. If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies. The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services. Carriage payments would have a minor impact on Facebook’s profits but a major impact on the prospects for publishers and journalists.”

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Taming the Giants

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Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

More people are getting vocal against the dominance of big tech—this is my selection of some of the most thoughtful pieces from the past week.

I’ve raised the questions on societal risks of the dominance of a handful of internet giants from the early days of starting my newsletter. It’s good that it is getting mainstream attention. My friends at The Economist have put together a must-read memo to the bosses of Amazon, Facebook and Google:

You are an industry that embraces acronyms, so let me explain the situation with a new one: “BAADD”. You are thought to be too big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy.

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