Please welcome our new digest!
As companies find more sophisticated ways to harvest and analyze user data, as governments seek more options to control people's online activities, it's becoming more and more important to keep your eye on the ball and understand what happens around. Awareness, inter alia, may help to raise your voice against controversial innovations just in time.
There were times when we published a monthly digest of industry news that had been covered in our blog, but it didn't catch on. Now we want to experiment with a weekly format. In today's article we collected the recent news from the industry of ad blocking, privacy protection, and Web security, which we consider worthy of your time — and also some of the older news that may have went past you back then but still retain their relevance today.
"Going passwordless is the next generation of account security", said Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella introducing the updated Microsoft Account. Users are offered to remove their password from their account and use "alternative sign-in methods like the Microsoft Authenticator App, physical security keys, and biometrics". If you trust Microsoft enough, you can give it a go.
Actually, people have been talking about a passwordless future for quite a few years by now. Press several times claimed that Google got rid of them: in 2019, in 2021… Yes, passwords are vulnerable and imperfect in so many ways; yes, people are bad at creating them, even worse at remembering them, absolutely awful at updating them and keeping them safe — but alternatives do not seem to be a better answer right now. At least we know nearly everything about password-related problems, but what exactly can go wrong with biometric authentification? A lot, supposedly, but we're just beginning to understand it. We suggest not to rush into passwordless future: we'd rather live for a little longer in the password-oriented present.
Folks at Wall Street Journal laid hands on some inner documents from Facebook and announced a series of revelatory articles based on these papers and interviews with employees. For all we know (and suspect) about Facebook, let's see if WSJ manages to surprise us and unveil something truly outrageous:
The media giant has built a system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of its rules. It shields millions of VIPs from the company's normal enforcement. Many of them abuse the privilege, posting material including harassment and incitement to violence that would typically lead to sanctions.
Internal Facebook research showed that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of youngsters, most notably teenage girls, more so than other social-media platforms. In public, Facebook has consistently played down the app's negative effects, including in comments to Congress, and hasn't made its research public or at least available to academics and lawmakers who have requested it. Facebook says the negative effects aren't widespread, and that some of the harmful aspects aren't easy to address.
Facebook made a heralded change to its algorithm in 2018 designed to improve its platform — and arrest signs of declining user engagement. Staffers warned that the change was having the opposite effect. It was only making Facebook, and those who used it, angrier. Mr. Zuckerberg resisted some fixes proposed by his team because he worried they would lead people to interact with Facebook less.
Facebook employees find and flag accounts of human traffickers and drug dealers, send alerts to their bosses about organ selling, pornography, and government action against political dissent. Yet nothing happens, nobody cares.
Interestingly (and promisingly), these issues are discussed inside Facebook, many people in the company are not happy with the current state of things and put its policies and practices under heavy criticism.
Advertising makes you unhappy. Plain and simple — a year and a half ago a research was published that showed exactly that. We doubt a lot has changed since.
Scientists matched the data on annual advertising spendings with what people said about being satisfied with their lives for 27 European countries and for the period of time from 1980 to 2011. Almost a million people had been surveyed, and an inverse connection had been found. The higher was ad spend in a country in any particular year, the less satisfied its citizens were a year or two after that. We all know how ads make us feel like we do not live up to some (artificially created) standards, not keeping up with the Joneses, miss out on something. Here is proof that it has roots in the very human nature, and this nature is being exploited by those who are too eager to sell no matter what.
We watch a growing consensus on the question of whether apps do secretly listen to your voice interactions with the outer world in order to target ads. People keep coming to the conclusion that they do not.
Yes, we ourselves have written about an experiment that seemed to confirm that the apps indeed do have ears — but apparently they do not after all. Oh no, that's not because the big companies behind those apps realized it was morally wrong — it's just they don’t find it necessary. Too much data to process, unprofitable. Then why do you see an ad of something you've just discussed with your spouse or a sibling offline but never once googled it? Probably because it's relevant to you, and smart robots have figured it out. Besides, probably it has something to do with the frequency illusion (that's a curious psychological phenomenon, give it a read). Algorithms just gathered enough data and processed it the right way to guess what you are discussing even before you express your interest in any action (or in an action you have noticed).
On the other hand, yes, you are being eavesdropped on when you don't expect it. The research found that voice assistants are often triggered by words that just sound like their names or documented commands. And of course, they record what they hear and send the logs to their mother servers to be analyzed and used to improve the techcnology performance, often with the participation of human contractors.
So if you are bothered that someone may be listening to you, your primary concern is the companies that already confess they do.
Please let us know if you like this new format and if you'd like to change anything about it. We'll try to keep it going consistently and to supply you with the most important and interesting news of the week — as well as an odd piece or two about older events that still stay relevant today.