July 26, 2015

Terms of service by Jacob Silverman

Terms of service by Jacob Silverman
Social media and the price of constant connection

Author calls for social media users to take back ownership of their digital selves from the Silicon Valley corporation who claim to know what’s best for them. Explaining how social media companies engineer their products to encourage shallow engagement and discourage dissent.

A key element of the new digital ideology is that everything can be personalized and made social. Nothing needs to be done alone or anonymously. Consequently, like the data tracking firms they partner with, new features on social media trend to be opt-out rather than opt-in. Whenever a new feature will cause a user to share more data, it is likely to be opt-out.

In the case of Facebook, the company’s Like buttons, for example, track browsing information even for people who haven’t signed up for the site. And so, so early in the company’s history, they established profiles for people who hadn’t joi9ned yet. With Open Graph, Facebook has the capacity to know everything that you are doing online,

Google began signing up its users for Google+, whether they liked it or not. By late Nov 2011, a person signing up for a Google account also had to create a Gmail account, a Google profile, and a Google+ account and the user was also prompted to input for more personal info. Users searching for would now see more personalized results, including things their Google+ accounts had shares, while Google+ profiles also began appearing in search results. This might be annoying for someone searching for ‘Cancun’ and finding photos from a friend’s vacation at the top of the results.

Some call centers and customer service lines are investing in computational voice analysis, allowing them to detect the moods of the callers. The pitfalls of this practice are obvious - the software may not be accurate, customers may be sorted into categories in which they don’t want to be, people’s moods can change from call to call or even within a single call - but it gives companies more control over how they manage incoming calls.

Security agencies such as the FBI, which has the technical capability to remotely and surreptitiously activate the microphones in many smartphones, as well as the webcams o=in computers, could see if a surveillance target is lying or anxious.

Google Glass could become a kind of roving emotion-meter providing you with a voice analysis of everyone you meet. The writer Nicholas Carr envisions a system that ‘automates the feels: “Whenever you write a message or update, the camera in your smartphone will read your eyes and your facial expressions, precisely calculate your mood and append the appropriate emoji”

Photography has always been ‘acquisitive as Sontag called it, as way of appropriating the subject of the photography. Online you can find a perfectly lit, professionally shot photos of nearly anything you want, but that doesn't work for most of use. We must do it ourselves. Taking photo of Mona Lisa (most photographed work of art in human history) and sharing it in social media, indirectly says, “I was here, I went to Paris and saw that Mona Lisa’. The photo shows that you could afford the trip and that you are cultured ...

Taylor Chapman’s video that she thought will go viral, did go viral, but went totally they she never expected and ended up very badly for her.

Aleksey Vayner was another victim. In 2006, Vayner, a Yale graduate who had emigrated as a child with his mother from Uzbekistan sent a video resume as part of an application to the Swiss bank UBS. Vayner called this video ‘impossible to nothing’ and it went wrong in a totally unexpected way.

Lena Chen went through a similar gauntlet, but made it to the other side. Chen began writing about her sex life after arriving as a freshman in Harvard in 2005, which went viral and caused lots of trouble to her. She ended up in relocating to Germany to safeguard her life.

One of the earliest Facebook groups to achieve some measure of viral fame was started by a college student named Brody Ruckus. His group had a long attention grabbing name: “If this group reached 100,000 people my girlfriend will have a threesome”. Within three days, its membership swelled to more than 100,000 people. The next posting was “if the group reaches 300,000 members, his girlfriend would let him take and share picture of the vent. If the group reaches the biggest Facebook group, then, there would be a video in it for all Ruckus’s fans. Ruckus also offered links to a site he had made selling T-shirts and other merchandise promoting himself and his sexual odyssey. A problem soon emerged: Brody Rucks did not exist nor his girlfriend. The whole campaign was a fiction, concocted by the marketing department of Ruckus Network, a digital music service.

As Tim Wu writes: “One of the stranger consequence of the electronic age is that almost any word or image reiterated a million or billion times can become a valuable asset”. The writer and game designer Ian Bogost describes:”We do tiny bits of work for Google, Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter all day and every day”. They in turn have all the profit from our work.

There are firms who could add fictitious followers or friends or liking your Facebook posts or re-tweeting your tweets.

Attention grabbing is the most sought-after commodity and the motto of its purveyors might as well be “Ask for forgiveness, not permission”.

Bleacher Report produces 800+ articles each day, but don’t expect to find any original reporting: company policy declares that writers are not allowed to break news. It is much more profitable to aggregate others work and use search engine optimization techniques to make sure that their version of the same story shows up at the top of Google search. Bleacher Report is a perfect distillation of social ideology. It produces easily shareable, worthless viral content for very low cost and it produces immense amounts of it, all while claiming total faith in its data. As one critic remarked in Columbia Journalism Review, “Here is a labor force that creates the product for free or for very low pay, and the owners reap almost all the reward” that happens to be the business model of nearly every social network.

The US postal service, for example, doesn’t require you to use your legal name to mail a letter; however social media companies are requesting to have real names. Why  should digital media be any different?

Given a traditional legal system that often seems rigged for the wealthy and the powerful, online speech, despite its quirks and limitations, feels like a more honest, democratic place in which to litigate one’s problem.

The importance of online reputation has proved to be a useful weapon for public officials looking to deter bad behavior and less scrupulous actors searching for a quick profit. The problem with this kind of reputation are overlooked in Silicon Valley. Reputation services promise to return value for the unpaid labor of tending to social media profiles.

Klout, which has emerged as the most visible, if frequently mocked, arbiter of online reputation, casts all social-media users as unacknowledged public figures waiting for their spotlights. “Earn recognition for your influence” the site says. The implication is that your influence is already there, quietly pervading your social network. “The internet has democratized influence and we want to help everyone share in the rewards,” company CEO told a reporter. Klout parses users’ social-media profiles, examining what they talk about and the size of their social graphs and then grants them influence scores, ranging from 1 to 100. It also provides a list of topics about which it thinks that user is influential. For a time, American Airlines allowed anyone with a Klout score greater than 55 to access its Admiral Club loungers. Klout’s also given away Cirque Du Soleil tickets, gift cards, hotel upgrades and other rewards such as access to Spotify before it launched in the US. Marketing firms have used Klout scores in making hiring decisions.

Klout is a exemplary social-media site. Relying on superficial metrics, it creates its own hierarchies or simply reinforces existing ones, since interacting with high-scoring users can raise your score. Some hotels have experimented with providing upgrades to guests with higher Klout scores - without telling the guests. The software companies Saleforce.com and Genesys have integrated Klout into customer-service programs allowing their enterprise customers to check consumers Klout scores when they tweet complaints or call s service number. The implication is that consumers with higher Klout scores will receive more attention and more perks, in the hopes that they won’t use their online influence to badmouth the company. Similarly some e-commerce sites have used Klout scores to offer influential customers greater discounts. Next time you wait for an hour on a customer service line, it could be that you have a poor Klout score.

Tracking industry works with advertisers and social media companies to leverage users’ insecurities. In Oct 2013, a marketing firm called PHD released a report about when women feel least attractive, encouraging advertisers to target women with ‘quick beauty rescues’ on Sundays and Mondays and social opportunities (including the expensive accessories and clothing society says they require) later in the week.

In a better world, constant connection wouldn’t represent a burden; it wouldn’t ask us to sacrifice our autonomy or the most positive details of our lives. But what would be the fun in that?

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