Trump’s Three Week Trilogy, Ending Election Day, November 7: Week One, First Post

Make America One Again!

E Pluribus Unum

Immigrants Welcome!

Ray Myers

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Did Facebook Learn Anything?

It’s been barely six months since Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress and promised lawmakers and the American public that he and Facebook, the company he founded and leads today, would do better. “This episode has clearly hurt us,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “We have to do a lot of work about building trust back.”

The episode he was referring to was the revelation in March that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm connected to the Trump campaign, had harvested the sensitive data of as many as 87 million Facebook users without their explicit permission. That scandal rocked Facebook, sending the company’s stock price spiraling. Mr. Zuckerberg himself lost nearly $11 billion.

Since Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony, lawmakers have done little to nothing to better regulate technology platforms like Facebook and hold them more accountable for suspect practices. But there’s also little evidence that Facebook, and Mr. Zuckerberg, has taken his pledge to Congress as seriously as once hoped either: Facebook announced late last month the biggest data breach in its history, affecting nearly 50 million user accounts. In the same week, the news site Gizmodo published an investigation that found Facebook gave advertisers contact information harvested from the address books on their users’ cellphones.

Equally worrisome from Gizmodo’s report: Facebook is also giving advertisers phone numbers that users have provided solely for security reasons. Security experts generally advise users to add two-factor authentication to their accounts, which sometimes takes the form of providing a phone number to receive text messages containing log-in codes. It’s ironic — two-factor authentication is supposed to better safeguard privacy and security, but these phone numbers are wWhile the Cambridge Analytica scandal engulfed Facebook in a firestorm of controversy, this time the company effectively got a free pass from a nation fixated on Brett Kavanaugh and his turbulent Supreme Court confirmation. Still, with consequential midterms less than a month away, this latest string of Facebook privacy failures is a discouraging reminder of how much potential there is for things to go terribly wrong — again —  during those elections. It’s not just about user privacy, it’s a sign of how well Facebook is poised to handle sophisticated foreign disinformation campaigns, and where its priorities lie.

The seriousness of Facebook’s most recent data breach ranks it among one of the most egregious in the history of Silicon Valley. A weakness in Facebook’s code allowed hackers to gain access into other people’s accounts, and potentially control not only the Facebook profiles but any services that those users logged into using Facebook — Instagram, Spotify and Tinder, for example.

The breach originated from three bugs in Facebook’s code. At least one was introduced over a year ago; it’s still not clear when the other two became part of the code. Information security is a difficult problem: A company might do the right thing every time and still be successfully attacked. But one of the reasons Facebook’s breach is so concerning is the company’s footprint in the lives of so many people — 2.2 billion and counting. Facebook has sought to find ways into as many aspects of people’s lives as possible, becoming the recipient of a glut of data and the implicit trust of its users. The company has been careless with that trust — and is still being careless.

Speaking before Congress and in other public statements, Mr. Zuckerberg has been upfront about being caught unaware of the influence his company can have in ordinary people’s lives, whether that influence is in determining election outcomes or sparking real-life violence in places like Sri Lanka and Libya. And perhaps nobody fully understands that power — academics and experts are still piecing together the puzzle of how advertising systems honed on personal information can enable foreign propaganda campaigns, and to what extent this phenomenon affects democratic elections. It may be a long time before it all becomes clear. (In the meantime, falsehoods about Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford are going viral on Facebook). In response to such concerns, Facebook has set up a “war room” in its headquarters to monitor potential foreign influence campaigns during elections, winding up in the hands of advertisers.

But the latest disclosures are far from reassuring. In late September, the war room was still under construction. With less than a month to go before the American midterms, is Facebook really ready for its next big test?

(NYTImes editorial, 10/7/18)

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be taking a fall break and will blog again on Wednesday, 10/17)

Don’t Google It, Strawman – Use Your Brain

Outsourcing knowledge to Google keeps you away from learning things the right way.  Don’t take my word for it.  Psychological researchers have been studying the effects on internet dependence on the human learning process.  Take your ability to remember, or learn things the right way so that you can recall them at will.  And on a personal note, this seems to get harder as you get older.  So if you want to stay younger mentally, using Google may be a handy tool, but still keep using your own mental faculties if you want to have people think you really know what you are talking about.  How old is Donald Trump?  Seventy?  He seems to like Twitter better than Google, but he still might like to use it if he wants to fact-check something.  I just don’t think he worries about those bothersome facts that much.  He does use the TV to watch FOX news, right?

“Using knowledge in the head is also self-sustaining, whereas using knowledge from the internet is not.  Every time you retrieve information from memory, it becomes a bit easier to find it the next time.  That’s why students studying for a test actually remember more if they quiz themselves than if they study as they typically do, by rereading their textbook or notes.  That parades the right ideas before the mind, but it doesn’t make them stick in the same way, you won’t learn your way around a city if you always use your GPS, but you will if you work to remember the route you took last time (NY Times, 5/21/17).

“But why do I worry about all this?  And why does Donald Trump come creeping back into my mind.  Maybe it is the fact that he is not the “fake President.”

Ray Myers






Warning – iPhones May  be Hazardous to Your Posture and Mood!

 I am not talking here about what you might be doing with your iPhones, but more about how you are using them physically.  The two biggest areas of impact seem to be in your basic posture and your mood.  Let’s talk about posture first because it apparently relates to a number of unintended consequences that your mother always warned you about.  Remember “stand up straight and stop slouching.”  Well it turns out she may have been right after all, and when I was young (don’t ask how long ago) it had nothing to do with using an iPhone.  

So today’s warning about not slouching when looking at your iPhones comes with an additional advisory: it’s bad for your self-esteem.  Now how could that be?  Experts tell us that there are some collateral areas that may be effected in ways that you may have never considered.  Slouching may also result in poorer memories when compared with those individuals who sit upright.  Slouches may also be less assertive, not “standing up for ourselves.”  We may even become less productive because of all the time we spend interacting with these small mobile devices in place of engaging in real-time experiences around us.

Something to think about over the holiday season when we all gather with friends and family.  Hopefully they will all be sitting up straight and looking at each other and not at their iPhones when gathered around for holiday celebrations.

Ray Myers

This is Your Brain on Google – Part One

Have you been gorging on information?   Well please don’t feel too bad because you are not the only one.  Reseachers are now just beginning to study what the Internet may actually be doing to our brains, and Google seems to be the most likely subject.  Doesn’t everybody google?

There is a lot of think about here, at least for my brain, so I am going to blog about it this week in “smaller” pieces that might work for me.  Today let’s  begin with the fact that the brain is a muscle.  The more we search on Google, for example, the stronger it becomes.  But it seems that the better (i.e., faster) we become at searching, the more likely we are to overestimate our intelligence.  At the same time, we also seem more likely to skim what we read.  Faster but not better?

I now see more Trivia games and challenges online.  Perhaps an example of a game where we feel that we can test or improve our memory (intelligence?) as many times as we want everyday?  Ironically, early research tells us that we are more likely to remember where we found desired information, but not the actual details it contained.

Ray Myers