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Facebook Privacy Fails and Fallout.
It hasn’t happened yet, but the FTC is expected to impose a record-breaking fine against Facebook resulting from the company’s failure to comply with a 2011 consent order aimed at privacy violations that took place over eight years ago. In the ensuing eight years, Facebook’s privacy record hasn’t exactly been pristine. Accordingly, EPIC, Common Sense Media, and others think Facebook should be fined in excess of $2 billion. Jason Kint told Vice Media, “[a] fine almost certainly would not be enough to change Facebook’s behavior — we’re past that,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. For example: even after all the outrage against and scrutiny of Facebook over the past year, if you as a Facebook user want to make all your past posts private, viewable only to you, and if you want to do this all at once (as opposed to one post at a time; which is possible but who does that), you simply can’t. This is true even though Facebook actually provides a batch feature to limit the visibility of past posts; it just limits the ability to limit, which ends at “Friends.” (Let s/he here who hasn’t over-friended on Facebook cast the first stone.) If Facebook remains tone-deaf to this unfathomable extent, then perhaps it does need more than a record-breaking fine to encourage it to course-correct. Oh, and that “Clear History” tool Zuck announced at F8 last year? The one that was supposed to let people delete Facebook’s record of what they’ve clicked, Web sites they’ve visited, and other information Facebook gets from sites and apps using FB’s ads and analytics, and was ALSO supposed to let people turn off FB’s collection of their browsing history? Yeah, that was last May, and “Clear History” is nowheresville. So, what’s a lawmaker to do?
Hold hearings, apparently. Yesterday and today, the House and Senate are grappling with what nationwide data privacy rules could look like. Getting there from here may be hard; it’s been hard so far. At yesterday’s hearing, Republicans focused on federal preemption of the many state laws already on the books (and doubtless more to come), while the Dems waded into the weeds about appropriate limits and controls. What should the U.S. expect if national data privacy rules become a reality?
Privacy theater. It’s what happens when Facebook’s CEO announces a critic-appeasing tool but nearly a year later we’re still hearing crickets. It’s also what happens when companies outsource their privacy compliance to third party services, which is happening now with the GDPR and the various U.S. state laws with which companies must comply. Last week, Professor Ari Ezra Waldman published a paper explaining why it is that even when we get them, privacy laws struggle to deliver on their promise to help us sleep better at night. The short answer is because companies don’t bother to understand, internalize, and live by the motivating principles and goals of those laws. Instead, they employ vendors that let them tick their “data privacy compliance” box and go back to selling us stuff and/or selling us down the river. As Professor Waldman puts it, “[t]oothless trainings, audits, and paper trails, among other symbols, are being confused for actual adherence to privacy law.” Hence, privacy theater. Much as it would be nice to be able to outsource our own vigilance to our lawmakers, we remain responsible for holding the services we use accountable, and for letting them know they need to (to borrow from Spike Lee) do the right thing. Keep this in mind as Congress mulls national data privacy rules. Even if Congress manages to enact something substantively useful and effective (sigh), don’t lose sight of the fact many (most?) targets of such laws will view them as an annoyance to be dealt with as cheaply as possible.
People’s Republic of Desire. I can’t put it any better than the reviewer for the Minnesota Star Tribune, who says, “‘The Hunger Games’” has nothing on live streaming in China.” Or, as the New York Times’ Ken Jaworowski put it, “You don’t wait for what comes next in “People’s Republic of Desire” as much as you watch and wonder why any of it is happening.” This documentary takes you inside the world of live streaming via YY, which appears to be a marriage between Twitch, YouTube, and your worst nightmare. I’m not sure which stunned me more: the huge numbers of regular people throwing money at performers who used to be regular people but now basically perform karaoke on YY, support their extended families, and buy really gaudy furniture; the mirror universe Kris Jenner-esque infrastructure of “agencies” and “managers” that spring up around the performers; or the fact that at no point did an actual tin of ointment parachute down to one of the performers in the nick of time. Gripping. Chilling. Actually happening.
Gear Grind. If you’ve decided you’d like to leverage some of that new oil, aka data, while you’re busy worrying about its security and protection, HTC has a new phone you should check out. With the HTC Exodus 1 blockchain phone, you can, if you’d like, use “an app called Numbers, which tracks user data on walking, sleeping, driving, and more, then allows you to sell your own data to third parties. The app, which is made by a startup based in Taiwan, displays what type of data your phone can track, as well as a list of companies interested in that data.” Does Black Mirror have theme music? Cue it now:
The Numbers app is aimed at bringing more transparency around data collection and allowing users to make money — mainly in cryptocurrency — off their own data. ‘Now not only can users own their data, but it forces companies to be more transparent about how that data is used,’ says HTC’s chief decentralized officer Phil Chen. Besides giving users control over their data collection, the Numbers [app] is also supposed to potentially benefit users by lowering their car or health insurance if positive data is recorded about their driving or walking habits, says Chen. For now, the Numbers team says that they’re still in discussions with a few interested insurance companies
Yes, that’s happening.
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Support: The global plastic waste problem has had a devastating impact on the people of Jenjarom, Malaysia. But, with drones, phones, determination, activism, and citizen journalism, the residents fought back and exposed an illegal dumping and disposal operation that was contaminating and harming their community. They formed the Kuala Langat Environmental Association to combat the problem, and while I would love to donate, and encourage you to donate, directly to this grassroots organization, I am unable to locate its Web site or other contact information. So instead, read their story, and consider supporting Recycle Across America and Recycle Across the World, which work toward the standardized system for identifying waste and eliminating contamination that Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Environment and Climate Change says would have avoided this problem.
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Sustain: The story of Jenjarom, Malaysia shows that when recyclable waste isn’t recycled, or when non-recyclable waste is “wish-cycled,” bad things happen. Here’s a list of more than 200 items, discussing whether and how they can be recycled. The most important point is laid out right up front: “[W]hile these recommendations are best practices for most areas, they may not apply in your city. For any gray areas, check with local recycling centers to make sure you are following your region’s localized recycling guidelines.” Knowing and following your region’s guidelines will among other things help keep mixed plastic waste from being concealed as “clean plastic scrap,” thus helping prevent problems like the one in Jenjarom.
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Imbibe/Ingest: Who couldn’t use a nice glass of red wine after all the privacy theater, YY duels to the fiscal death, and contaminatory waste this newsletter has contained?? Check out Venge Vineyards’ Scout’s Honor Proprietary Red Blend. $39/bottle. I’m not a big wine snob but found it tasty enough to recommend here.
“This plush, intense red blend honors our late and beloved Labrador Retriever, Scout. Based on a tradition of producing a full bodied and delicious red wine, we start with a base of old-vine Zinfandel and build upon that with dry-farmed Petite Sirah, old-vine Charbono, and finish with mountain vineyard Syrah. The result is an unpretentious red wine that is ready to enjoy upon release.”
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Denise M. Howell, Esq., 1048 Irvine Ave., #141, Newport Beach, CA 92663, USA