Lock in: no exit, voice nor loyalty
October 23, 2019 11:42 PM   Subscribe

Facebook and Speech: It's All About Power - "As long as there is one Facebook algorithm, one Twitter algorithm, one Instagram algorithm, etc. that will always be way too much power in one place. We all need to be able to programmatically interact with these services."
In the EU all bank accounts are now required to have an API. This has massively reduced the power of incumbent banks, allowing for rapid innovation in the banking and payments sector. The same would and could happen if platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were required to have an API. New intermediaries would spring up quite rapidly that would vastly extend the power of endusers over the networks...

APIs are not a panacea. Nothing ever is. We will still be faced with the fragmentation of truth in a world of information overload. But there will no longer be central control points that are easily weaponized by third parties or exploited for maximal profit at the cost of all else. Power will be shifted back to the network participants. We still need to educate all of us on how to best use that power. But first we need to get it back.
Senators target social media giants with data portability bill - "Data portability can be a good way to enhance competition, while preserving or even increasing the benefits of networks. Three prominent tech critics in the Senate will introduce new legislation Tuesday requiring social media giants to give consumers ways to move their personal data to another platform at any time."

'Data Portability' Bill Would Risk User Privacy and Crush Social Media Startups - "Facebook, Google, Apple, and Twitter are already working on a data-sharing venture with each other. It's not 'Big Tech' who will suffer most under data-portability mandates. The new bill would also require big platforms—any with more than 100 million monthly users in the U.S.—to make their interfaces 'interoperable.'"[1] (Democrats Are Wrong: America Does Not Have A Widespread "Monopoly Problem") The Internet and the Third Estate - "In Europe the first three estates are a reference to how society was organized throughout the Middle Ages: the First Estate was the church, the second was the nobility, and the third were the commoners. By the 1700s those estates, at least in England, had become branches of government... this was the context for Edmund Burke's remarks in 1787 that 'There are Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sits a Fourth Estate more important far than they all'... Without this context, though, social media as the Fifth Estate would not make sense at all: after all, 'people having the power to express themselves at scale', to use Zuckerberg's words, is about giving the commoners a voice — but the commoners are the Third Estate!"

Mark Zuckerberg Still Doesn't Get It - "Zuckerberg made a passing reference to the printing press. As he always does, he used it as a metonym for the inevitable march of progress—made only more efficient by great men of history, such as Johannes Gutenberg and Mark Zuckerberg. But the printing press didn't only lead to progress. It also led to anti-Semitic violence, the spread of medical misinformation, and about a century of religious wars."[2] (Like Tyson, he picks and chooses what counts as evidence in these situations, and then performs objectivity) Facebook isn't free speech, it's algorithmic amplification optimized for outrage - "Facebook's decision to accept political ads regardless of content is essentially a logical extension of how their algorithm optimizes for engagement. It speaks to their belief that as long as they don't pass judgement based on content, their ongoing, ceaseless editing of what people see and don't see — and please call it censorship if you think this is in any way about freedom of speech — is therefore fair and just."

What Facebook's "Free Speech" Lets Slide - "Free speech isn't 'protected' when hate that can inspire violence is allowed to flourish. When hate and disinformation have a platform, some users can't safely speak there and often flee, even if they're technically allowed to speak, too. On Facebook, the answer to harmful speech shouldn't be more speech, as Zuckerberg's formulation suggests; it should be to unplug the microphone and stop broadcasting it." The Authenticity Trap - "By focusing on authenticity, Facebook can avoid the pitfalls of content moderation, which have made the company a lightning rod for criticism, while continuing to develop a deep store of identifying information about its users, which can be monetized. Ultimately, however, authenticity regulation likely offers the same opportunities to suppress viewpoints and manipulate debate as content regulation. It's not much of a beneficial trade-off for us."

Facebook Finds New Disinformation Campaigns and Braces for 2020 Torrent - "The company also announced several new steps to reduce the spread of false information, including an effort to label posts from state-sponsored media."
  • @ewarren: "Mark Zuckerberg's speech today shows how little he learned from 2016, and how unprepared Facebook is to handle the 2020 election."
  • @sarahfrier: "John McHenry says to Zuckerberg 'American innovation is on trial today... It's not about Libra, it's not just about some housing ads, and maybe it's not really about Facebook at all, it's that larger question. You are here today to answer for the digital age."[4]
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg confirms he and his wife recommended colleagues to Pete Buttigieg - "News of Zuckerberg's outreach to Buttigieg was first reported Monday by Bloomberg News, which reported that Zuckerberg, 35, and Buttigieg, 37, attended Harvard University at the same time and had mutual friends... Buttigieg was one of Facebook's first 300 users."

also btw...
  • Why U.S. tax filing is not easy and free - "Using lobbying, the revolving door and 'dark pattern' customer tricks, Intuit fended off the government's attempts to make tax filing free and easy, and created its multi-billion-dollar franchise."[5]
  • "Influence peddling, regulatory capture, and astroturf. There are competent varieties of corruption." --@interfluidity
  • Gmail hooked us on free storage. Now Google is making us pay - "The company has ended or limited promotions that gave people free cloud storage and helped them avoid Gmail crises."[6,7]
  • Appendix A: Advertising and Mixed Motives - "This old paper from Sergey Brin and Larry Page -- Google's founders -- is an amazing thing to read knowing how their company turned out in the end." (The little cracks they escalated)
  • Google and Ambient Computing - "The company is a services company incentivized to serve the maximum number of customers no matter the means (i.e. device), and it already has a head start in providing services that contain and accumulate essential information about people's lives."
  • Engineering global consent: The Chinese Communist Party's data-driven power expansion - "The Chinese party-state engages in data collection on a massive scale as a means of generating information to enhance state security—and, crucially, the political security of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—across multiple domains."[8]
  • Who Benefits From American AI Research in China? - "ResNet was the product of a small research team at Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA), the Beijing lab of the American tech juggernaut... MSRA has been perhaps the single most important institution in the birth and growth of the Chinese AI ecosystem over the past two decades. The lab served as a training ground for many future leaders of China's then-embryonic AI ecosystem, with alumni that include Alibaba's CTO, Baidu's President, the head of technology strategy at Bytedance, and the founders of several unicorn AI startups... Facebook landed the biggest prize when it poached ResNet's lead author, but Megvii—and the Chinese surveillance apparatus that buys its products—gained big from bringing two of the authors on board."[9] (Artificial Intelligence, China, Russia, and the Global Order: Technological, Political, Global, and Creative Perspectives)
  • Competing With China on Technology and Innovation - "In several product areas, large Chinese private and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have preferential access to the country's more than 1 billion consumers—provided they align their work with the policy goals of the Chinese Communist Party—which some analysts argue is creating a form of 'digital Leninism.'"[10]
  • Size matters: Alibaba shapes China's first 'Court of the Internet' - "The first in a series of Courts of the Internet to open across China utilizes Alibaba's size and experience to pioneer online dispute resolution reform. It not only demonstrates the Chinese internet giant's growing influence in the regulatory sphere, but more widely shows the increasing symbiosis of big tech and government, says Alice Mingay."
  • Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent execs to be grilled by Japan lawmakers - "Japan's ruling party will invite executives from Chinese technology giants Baidu, Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings to hearings intended to examine their collection and use of personal information as Tokyo considers policies for protecting consumers and local businesses."
  • Less traffic, trash and cash: Japan leads SE Asia to smart cities - "Some 200 Japanese companies and organizations will take part in an initiative to develop smart cities in Southeast Asia, as Tokyo battles for influence with its Chinese and South Korean rivals... Smart cities combine artificial intelligence, information technology and big data to enhance urban infrastructure and improve the environment... Tokyo wants to move into projects aimed at making cities more efficient and livable -- areas that Japanese companies excel in."
  • Why New Technology Is A Hard Sell - "Why aren't more new technologies adopted as quickly as the polio vaccine? Two obvious answers are that most new technologies aren't ready for primetime, and incumbents with deep pockets keep competition at bay. But there are a few other overlooked explanations for the gap between new technology and consumer adoption."[11,12,13] (20 Genius Inventions That Should Be Everywhere)
  • The threat and the promise of digital money - "Cryptocurrencies look overhyped, the new payment platforms useful and Libra worrying."[14,15] (Attitudes, Aptitudes, and the Roots of the Great Enrichment)
  • The New Economics: Data, Inequality, and Politics - "In a new book, the economist Heather Boushey illustrates how many in her profession are returning to their discipline's roots by studying the underlying factors of economic outcomes."
  • Another, more indirect argument is that rising inequality distorts the political process, which in turn hampers growth. For example, wealthy interests use their political heft to promote tax cuts that denude the tax base. In time, this can lead to lower spending on public goods that promote long-term development, such as education and infrastructure. The same wealthy interests may also push for policies that undermine antitrust enforcement, which can enable firms to monopolize their markets and raise their profit margins without making the innovative investments that boost growth.
  • Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness - "The neoliberal view [would keep] us... so confronted by the hassle of everyday life... we're either forced to master it, like the wunderkinder of the blogosphere, or become its slaves. We're either athletes of the market or the support staff who tend to the race... The Left wants to give people the chance to do something with their lives, by giving them time and space away from the market." (Medicare For All Who Can Work The System)
posted by kliuless (30 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
This is great. It will take a long time for me to read all these links. (That Cato Institute article is, um, questionable, but I appreciate the attempt to show more perspectives.)

I strongly recommend the Adam Ruins Everything episode about the problem with philanthropist billionaires.

I also recommend reading Matt Stoller's "Big" newsletter, which is about monopolies in general. Here's a piece he wrote about Google. If you read his other articles you will find many people on both sides of the political aisle are taken to task.
posted by rednikki at 2:01 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Telling the existing social media giants that they must give us API access is not going to solve these problems. The centralisation of the data is the problem. Whether they exert control through the API you use through your browser, or through an API you use through something else, the issues will be the same.

The fundamental problem is that we failed to sufficiently develop non-centralised alternatives at the time they were needed.

People clearly want something like these sites, in terms of functionality and end user experience. But the open standards process that gave us the web, email, DNS and so forth - distributed/decentralised solutions - completely failed to deliver a solution for that need.

For social media, it's not even that there was a standard that fell by the wayside to proprietary systems, as happened with e.g. instant messaging and XMPP. There just wasn't even a solution in the first place. It was completely missed.

There are efforts now, but it may be too little too late. I wish I knew what to do about that.
posted by automatronic at 2:08 AM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

I wish there was a browser extension you could paste any link-heavy piece of text into and it would keep track as you worked through reading it, keeping notes and tagging topics and reminding you of stuff to come back to

(kliuless, how do you accumulate the info for wonderful posts like these?)
posted by ver at 2:41 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I don't think I understand the argument. Twitter has an API as does Facebook. It's not merely the presence of an API, but what that API allows you do to, a fact that seems to be entirely missing from the first link. Twitter has stripped theirs down over the years in an attempt to hobble third-party clients (at least as I understand it--it's been a while since I've used Twitter), but there are still third-party Twitter clients and Twitter is still a mess.
posted by hoyland at 4:12 AM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

One algorithm to rule them all.
posted by sammyo at 5:22 AM on October 24, 2019

I especially like the last link from Jacobin - great post!
posted by cybrcamper at 5:53 AM on October 24, 2019

The grim meathook future mega thread.
posted by jonnay at 5:59 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

How would this even work? Network effects are WHY Facebook has reached the scale it has. An amusing earlier example no one talks about much these days: eBay. Eventually something else comes along that lures people away. To the next monstrously-scaled service.
posted by PhineasGage at 6:02 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I mean, hell. It's caving to the enemy, but I'd even settle for a version of Facebook and Twitter, where I could hand them $30/year (or whatever pittance it is they make off of my data) in exchange for API access, no advertising, and a promise not to sell my data.

I wouldn't trust them on the last part, but the other two would make up for it.
posted by schmod at 6:15 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Twitter is a great example. Twitter itself should be a protocol like email or RSS. The competition should be in the platforms.

That way, Twitter itself can just host any tweets, even the most garbage ones, and then we can have one client that promises to actively suppress bots, Nazis, et al, but maybe inserts ads. Another that is devoted to free speech and doesn't preferentially sort, so you get no ads, no fucking algorithm, but also Pepes and clowns.

Because there are network effects and critical mass, we should embrace that it's better for everyone to use the same protocol, and allow choices in how we interact with that protocol instead.
posted by explosion at 6:19 AM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

What if FB, Twitter, and similar paid us for our data instead? Although that makes me envision our grim future of just being the indentured servants on the content farm.
posted by nubs at 6:21 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Mastodon is pretty much that idea of twitter-as-protocol. You may also note that very few people you know use it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:21 AM on October 24, 2019 [14 favorites]

Mastodon is pretty much that idea of twitter-as-protocol. You may also note that very few people you know use it.

It also doesn't solve the issues of harassment, hate, disinformation, etc. that are at the heart of the issue with social media.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:48 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

The thing about vendor lock-in is that it works really well. People do get locked in. Really fucking hard. And once we are locked in, the elephant-and-string principle takes over; the vendor needs to do almost no work to keep us locked in, and regardless of how badly they subsequently treat us, we just won't go elsewhere.

I am shit-scared of vendor lock-in precisely because I have no illusions about how well it can work. This is why all my computers run Debian-based system software and why I have always preferred to continue to go without rather than adopt new conveniences for which no viable alternative is obvious.
posted by flabdablet at 6:53 AM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

The 2020 elections will be 2016 redux, but with even more enthusiasm.

Ex-Cambridge Analytica employee: If Trump wins in 2020, blame Facebook — Brittany Kaiser, who formerly worked at Cambridge Analytica, argues that Trump’s 2020 campaign is benefiting from Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to allow politicians to lie in ads. Fast Company, Brittany Kaiser [*], 10/24/2019:
It’s happening again

While the director of business development at Cambridge Analytica, I learned in graphic detail their methodology of voter manipulation, which was fueled by the stolen data of millions of Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica was the backbone of both pro-Trump and anti-Hillary digital operations, spearheading the record spending of over $100 million dollars promoting lies about Hillary and suppressing Democratic turnout. They used the word “deterrence” to describe people targeted for voter suppression. They sent slanderous materials to people whose data showed they would only ever vote for Hillary Clinton, never Trump. They were targeted, and the Trump team measured success by “decrease in intent to vote for Hilary Clinton.” They promoted fear-based falsehoods demeaning women, Mexicans, and African Americans. Seeing the internal case studies after the election shook me to my core, and now it’s happening again.

Former Cambridge Analytica staff are still working with Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, along with many of the same partners, vendors, and wealthy donors. Completely unregulated and unseen, they’ve had three years to grow their anti-democratic techniques in the darkness. Now with significantly more time and money than 2016, these experienced players are sustaining a full-frontal assault on both Democratic candidates and the democratic process. Their weapons of choice: disinformation and voter suppression.

In traditional politics, voter suppression was more obvious: putting polling booths in far away places, allowing endless lines to convince would-be voters to give up, or even enforcing last-minute requirements of new identification for voter registration. Today, voter suppression takes place digitally, so you can’t see it and call it out for what it is. In these information wars, every candidate’s supporters can be dissuaded by lies, especially because Facebook will help weaponize your data against you. It comes from the Cambridge/Trump 2016 playbook—if your data shows the Trump team that you’re “persuadable,” you’re a target for disinformation. You will receive a deluge of “fake news” that wealthy Trump supporters are paying to barrage you with.

Democrats believe that they can defeat Trump on policies alone, but the truth is that Trump and Facebook will make that impossible—especially because Facebook’s algorithms tend to favor the kinds of extreme disinformation that Trump’s campaign traffics in. It is vital that candidates create plans for dealing with it, and devise strategies for protecting voters. Campaigns need to be proactive, responding to online threats within minutes, not days. Meanwhile, voters who want Trump out of office need to combat misinformation they see on social platforms effectively, to let other users know what’s fake since Facebook refuses to.
[*] Brittany Kaiser [WP bio] is the former director of business development at Cambridge Analytica, subject of the Netflix Original documentary The Great Hack, and author of Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower’s Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump and Facebook Broke Democracy.
posted by cenoxo at 7:57 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fox News is orders of magnitude more responsible for Right Wing electoral success than any on-line service or platform.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:33 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fox News is orders of magnitude more responsible for Right Wing electoral success than any on-line service or platform.

I mean, it's a bit of both, they're all toxic ingredients being thrown into the same awful stew, a melting pot of hatred and evil.
posted by Fizz at 8:58 AM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

Facebook destabilizes democracies around the world. It could be argued that Mark Zuckerburg is as or more powerful than Rupert Murdoch — his ideological successor, perhaps.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:15 AM on October 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

Fox News may be historically worse, and is likely worse at this point in time, but I’m not at all confident that will be true in 5 years. I doubt it will be true in 10 years.

It’s amazing the leniency people grant to Facebook they would never give to Fox News. Its origins as a place to share pictures of your grandkids makes it hard to for its us to be honest that in the current day it is the preeminent tool for spreading disinformation.

And we really need Facebook users to acknowledge how awful Facebook is if we’re to make any headway on taming the beast. We will need that groundswell of user backlash if we’re to rein them in. That means complaining loudly and repeatedly to Facebook itself (in writing, not by clicking a box) and to your elected representatives (everyone, Facebook user or not, needs to be doing this).
posted by scantee at 10:41 AM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

[Facebook's] origins as a place to share pictures of your grandkids ...

Just for the record, that should read, "[Facebook's] origins as a place to share pictures of your grandkids girls at your college whose looks you want to comment on..."

Facebook has garbage in its genes, and the recent development of them permitting lies in political ads should surprise no one.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:09 PM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

What a gorgeous pile of links.
At the risk of looking silly for not having yet read them I want to point out that in the book referenced by the title, the author actually suggests that some degree of lock-in is a good thing because it prompts the people who are most quality conscious to choose voice over exit. That’s what the loyalty is for. Though I admit I don’t recall what they said about monopoly conditions.
posted by eirias at 3:39 PM on October 24, 2019

I don't think I understand the argument. Twitter has an API as does Facebook. It's not merely the presence of an API, but what that API allows you do to, a fact that seems to be entirely missing from the first link.

from albert wenger's book-in-progress -- world after capital:
...require companies like Uber, Google, and Facebook to expose all of their functionality... Facebook and Twitter have APIs, but they tend to have limited capabilities. Also, companies presently have the right to control access so that they can shut down bots... so I would have to “hack” the existing Facebook app to figure out what the API calls are and also how to authenticate myself to those calls. Unfortunately, there are three separate laws on the books that make those necessary steps illegal.

The first is the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA. The second is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The third is the legal construction that by clicking “I accept” on a EULA (End User License Agreement) or a set of Terms of Service I am actually legally bound. The last one is a civil matter, but criminal convictions under the first two carry mandatory prison sentences.
more here under 'bots for all of us' :P
Imagine what would happen if everything you did on Facebook was mediated by a software program—a “bot”—that you controlled. You could instruct this bot to go through and automate for you the cumbersome steps that Facebook lays out for finding past wall posts. Even better, if you had been using this bot all along, the bot could have kept your own archive of wall posts in your own data store (e.g., a Dropbox folder); then you could simply instruct the bot to search your own archive. Now imagine we all used bots to interact with Facebook. If we didn't like how our newsfeed was prioritized, we could simply ask our friends to instruct their bots to send us status updates directly so that we can form our own feeds. With Facebook on the web this was entirely possible because of the open protocol, but it is no longer possible in a world of proprietary and closed apps on mobile phones.

Although this Facebook example might sound trivial, bots have profound implications for power in a networked world. Consider on-demand car services provided by companies such as Uber and Lyft. If you are a driver today for these services, you know that each of these services provides a separate app for you to use. And yes you could try to run both apps on one phone or even have two phones. But the closed nature of these apps means you cannot use the compute power of your phone to evaluate competing offers from the networks and optimize on your behalf. What would happen, though, if you had access to bots that could interact on your behalf with these networks? That would allow you to simultaneously participate in all of these marketplaces, and to automatically play one off against the other.

Using a bot, you could set your own criteria for which rides you want to accept. Those criteria could include whether a commission charged by a given network is below a certain threshold. The bot, then, would allow you to accept rides that maximize the net fare you receive. Ride sharing companies would no longer be able to charge excessive commissions, since new networks could easily arise to undercut those commissions. For instance, a network could arise that is cooperatively owned by drivers and that charges just enough commission to cover its costs. Likewise, as a passenger using a bot could allow you to simultaneously evaluate the prices between different car services and choose the service with the lowest price for your current trip. The mere possibility that a network like this could exist would substantially reduce the power of the existing networks.

We could also use bots as an alternative to anti-trust regulation to counter the overwhelming power of technology giants like Google or Facebook without foregoing the benefits of their large networks. These companies derive much of their revenue from advertising, and on mobile devices, consumers currently have no way of blocking the ads. But what if they did? What if users could change mobile apps to add Ad-Blocking functionality just as they can with web browsers?

Many people decry ad-blocking as an attack on journalism that dooms the independent web, but that's an overly pessimistic view. In the early days, the web was full of ad-free content published by individuals. In fact, individuals first populated the web with content long before institutions joined in. When they did, they brought with them their offline business models, including paid subscriptions and of course advertising. Along with the emergence of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter with strong network effects, this resulted in a centralization of the web. More and more content was produced either on a platform or moved behind a paywall.

Ad-blocking is an assertion of power by the end-user, and that is a good thing in all respects. Just as a judge recently found that taxi companies have no special right to see their business model protected, neither do ad-supported publishers [96]. And while in the short term this might prompt publishers to flee to apps, in the long run it will mean more growth for content that is paid for by end-users, for instance through a subscription, or even crowdfunded (possibly through a service such as Patreon).

To curtail the centralizing power of network effects more generally, we should shift power to the end-users by allowing them to have user agents for mobile apps, too. The reason users don't wield the same power on mobile is that native apps relegate end-users once again to interacting with services just using our eyes, ears, brain and fingers. No code can execute on our behalf, while the centralized providers use hundreds of thousands of servers and millions of lines of code. Like a web browser, a mobile user-agent could do things such as strip ads, keep copies of my responses to services, let me participate simultaneously in multiple services (and bridge those services for me), and so on. The way to help end-users is not to have government smash big tech companies, but rather for government to empower individuals to have code that executes on their behalf.

What would it take to make bots a reality? One approach would be to require companies like Uber, Google, and Facebook to expose all of their functionality, not just through standard human usable interfaces such as apps and web sites, but also through so-called Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). An API is for a bot what an app is for a human. The bot can use it to carry out operations, such as posting a status update on a user's behalf. In fact, companies such as Facebook and Twitter have APIs, but they tend to have limited capabilities. Also, companies presently have the right to control access so that they can shut down bots, even when a user has clearly authorized a bot to act on his or her behalf.

Why can't I simply write code today that interfaces on my behalf with say Facebook? After all, Facebook's own app uses an API to talk to their servers. Well in order to do so I would have to “hack” the existing Facebook app to figure out what the API calls are and also how to authenticate myself to those calls. Unfortunately, there are three separate laws on the books that make those necessary steps illegal.

The first is the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA. The second is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The third is the legal construction that by clicking “I accept” on a EULA (End User License Agreement) or a set of Terms of Service I am actually legally bound. The last one is a civil matter, but criminal convictions under the first two carry mandatory prison sentences.

So if we were willing to remove all three of these legal obstacles, then hacking an app to give you programmatic access to systems would be possible. Now people might object to that saying those provisions were created in the first place to solve important problems. That's not entirely clear though. The anti circumvention provision of the DMCA was created specifically to allow the creation of DRM systems for copyright enforcement. So what you think of this depends on what you believe about the extent of copyright (a subject we will look at in the next section).

The CFAA too could be tightened up substantially without limiting its potential for prosecuting real fraud and abuse. The same goes for what kind of restriction on usage a company should be able to impose via a EULA or a TOS. In each case if I only take actions that are also available inside the company's app but just happen to take these actions programmatically (as opposed to manually) why should that constitute a violation?

But, don't companies need to protect their encryption keys? Aren't “bot nets” the culprits behind all those so-called DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks? Yes, there are a lot of compromised machines in the world, including set top boxes and home routers that some are using for nefarious purposes. Yet that only demonstrates how ineffective the existing laws are at stopping illegal bots. Because those laws don't work, companies have already developed the technological infrastructure to deal with the traffic from bots.

How would we prevent people from adopting bots that turn out to be malicious code? Open source seems like the best answer here. Many people could inspect a piece of code to make sure it does what it claims. But that's not the only answer. Once people can legally be represented by bots, many markets currently dominated by large companies will face competition from smaller startups...

That's not to say that no limitations should exist on bots. A bot representing me should have access to any functionality that I can access through a company's website or apps. It shouldn't be able to do something that I can't do, such as pretend to be another user or gain access to private posts by others. Companies can use technology to enforce such access limits for bots; there is no need to rely on regulation.

Even if I have convinced you of the merits of bots, you might still wonder how we might ever get there from here. The answer is that we can start very small. We could run an experiment with the right to be represented by a bot in a city like New York. New York's municipal authorities control how on demand transportation services operate. The city could say, “If you want to operate here, you have to let drivers interact with your service programmatically.” And I'm pretty sure, given how big a market New York City is, these services would agree.
posted by kliuless at 5:43 AM on October 25, 2019

Yeah, that argument handwaves a lot with this idea of being "represented" by a bot, in a stunning display of engineer's disease. Even if you are using an automated intermediary, the other party has every right of defining how that intermediary interfaces with them. For example, it doesn't matter if you use a bot to talk with Uber - they can still require you to take the rides they assign to you through your bot.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:41 AM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Facebook includes Breitbart in new 'high quality' news tab. How can people see this shit and not delete their FB account?
posted by exogenous at 5:15 AM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

the other party has every right of defining how that intermediary interfaces with them

doesn't that depend on what "expose all of their functionality" means re: the law, regulators and enforcement?

like the open banking example:
On January 13th, 2018, after more than two years of planning, the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) arrived in Europe. This directive has for the first time forced European banks to open up their API’s to fintech and other financial companies. This change will give these companies access to payment data, which means there will be more competition in areas that banks have traditionally dominated. As a result, PSD2 is changing and will continue to change the relationships between consumers and financial institutes.
posted by kliuless at 12:34 AM on October 27, 2019

Digital Georgism: "treating network effects like land."[1]
posted by kliuless at 2:48 AM on October 27, 2019

doesn't that depend on what "expose all of their functionality" means re: the law, regulators and enforcement?

Yes, but that's not about using a "bot", that's about the government stepping in and ordering companies to allow transactions they had previously denied. Which is the actual key to this working.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:42 AM on October 27, 2019

Zuck testifies again. What a sniveling piece of shit.
posted by exogenous at 6:21 PM on October 27, 2019

Hundreds of Facebook employees signed a letter addressed leaders at FB (NY Times). It part, it says:
Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing. Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands.
They also propose changes for improvement. Good luck, but I remain pessimistic.
posted by exogenous at 7:00 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

So, full honesty, I work for Facebook. And wanted to point out that the premise of the first half of the links seems to be broken. The API is already there, and has been there for almost a decade. (April, 2010?)


If someone wanted to do what was proposed, the API is supported, stable, documented, and free. The only limitations built into it are around data privacy; you can only access the data that can be legitimately seen by your current logged-in user account.
posted by talldean at 10:49 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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