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The sheer scale of the nefarious crap that litters Facebook is astonishing. As Michal Lev-Ram relates in her new feature on the company, in just the first quarter Facebook found that it had published 837 million instances of “spam, false advertising, fraud, malicious links, or promotion of counterfeit goods.” That’s merely the beginning of how a site that began as a way for Harvard undergrads to scope each other out online has polluted our lives, endangered democracy, and generally made the world a safer place for bigots and scammers.
I encourage you to read Lev-Ram’s meticulously and exceedingly fairly reported article. Facebook was somewhere between late (a generous assessment) and negligent (less generous) in acknowledging its problems. Now it is throwing considerable resources of the human and AI variety at the task of cleaning up its soiled publishing platform. To wit, by the end of 2018 it has pledged to hire nearly 20,000 human “moderators” to police content its users have posted that violates Facebook’s terms of service.
I’m more than willing to give Facebook, a media company, the benefit of the doubt. But I can’t help thinking that fielding several brigades of fake news fighters is the proverbial Band Aid on a festering wound, a finger in the dyke if you prefer that metaphor. You’ll note that I don’t call Facebook a “social network” or a “social media” company. It is a publisher that is wholly inadequate to the task of managing the “content”—also known as essays, opinion articles, photographs, and videos—it publishes. Five times the number of moderators wouldn’t be up to the job either because Facebook is so mammoth.
Free speech is great, but it has its limits. Publishers are responsible for staying within those limits. I applaud Facebook for belatedly attempting to do so too—after it made a $500-billion killing nurturing a noxious free for all.
Until it is legally liable for the filth it publishes, however, just as other publishers are, Facebook’s efforts will make little difference.
Snoozefest. Speaking of Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg left his hoody at home and traveled to Brussels on Tuesday to answer questions from the European Parliament. There wasn’t much new from Zuck, who spent 10 hours answering similar questions from U.S. lawmakers last month. Some of the EU politicians complained afterwards that the CEO had avoided their queries. Meanwhile, Qualcomm agreed to join Facebook’s Terragraph project to create faster wireless Internet technologies for big cities.
A minor software glitch. Law enforcers have spent decades trying to convince Congress to pass a law giving them easier access to encrypted information on computers and phones. Lately, the FBI has been saying it was locked out of almost 8,000 phones because of encryption. Oops. The Washington Post reports the true number is closer to 1,000. “The FBI’s initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported,” the agency admitted in a statement Tuesday.
Anything you can do, I can do better. After Google impressed the heck out of everyone with its eerily human AI assistant that makes phone calls, Microsoft revealed it has a somewhat similar project called Xiaoice running in China. The effort started as a chatbot texting users via WeChat and other apps. But Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on Tuesday that Xiaoice also converses on the phone now. “Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things,” Nadella said. “It’s a bit of a celebrity.” The Microsoft bot’s replies seem a little more canned and a little less life like than Google Duplex in this video demo, however.
No soup for you. Do you want to read tweets on your TV screen? Twitter doesn’t seem to think so. It said Tuesday that it is pulling its apps for Roku, Xbox, and Android TV this week. Apps for Apple TV and Amazon’s Fire TV remain available, however, so it could be simply a case of low usage on those three specific platforms.
You really like me. Cable companies routinely receive the lowest customer satisfaction ratings in the widely followed annual rankings known as the American Customer Satisfaction Index. This year, the index added survey results for almost 20 Internet video services including Netflix, Hulu, and Sony PlayStation Vue. And wouldn’t you know it, they did just fine. Cable companies averaged a 62 rating out of 100, tied for the lowest of any industry and down 3% from last year. Internet video services garnered an average score of 75, ranking in a tie for 34th place out of all 46 industries. TV set makers, breweries, and soft drink makers topped the rankings.
What will they think of next? Mark your calendars: the next big software product demo from Apple will be at the company’s World Wide Developers Conference at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on June 4. Apple sent out press invitations to the event on Tuesday. Though as Yoni Heisler observes at Apple news site BGR, “the hype and excitement surrounding the event is practically non-existent.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Yesterday’s “Food for Thought” excerpt pondered whether the most underplayed controversy in tech was leaked real-time location information about wireless phone customers. Writer Quinn Norton has another nominee in The Atlantic: the lowly email message, which she says is “drowning in spam, forged phishing mails, and other scams and hacks.” What can be done? Use better software, she writes:
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
What Slack Is Doing to Connect With More Businesses By Jonathan Vanian
Here Are the Big Players in the Great Scooter Startup War By Polina Marinova
How an Autonomous Vehicle Found the ‘Holy Grail’ of Shipwrecks By Don Reisinger
Behold the New Jeans Design Tailored to ’21st Century Life’ By Don Reisinger
BEFORE YOU GO
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America handed out their coveted Nebula awards last week and the top three winners were all women. N.K. Jemisin won best novel for the closing chapter of her Broken Earth trilogy, The Stone Sky. In the novella category, Martha Wells won for All Systems Red and A Human Stain by Kelly Robson was named best novelette. Bet that’s never happened before.