Tagged: danahboyd

Google settles over privacy violations, Social media segregation, the era of big data, and more…

  • Google is reportedly reaching a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over an incident in which the Internet search giant violated an agreement with the FTC by tracking Safari users’ data. From the Associated Press:

Google is poised to pay a $22.5 million fine to resolve allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking millions of Web surfers who rely on Apple’s Safari browser, according to a person familiar with settlement.

If approved by the FTC’s five commissioners, the $22.5 million penalty would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a single company.

  • Adrianna Jeffries at BetaBeat covers a BBC report on how users of specific web sites break down along racial demographics. The article misleadingly refers to “segregation” in social media, but the information and analysis by danah boyd is interesting:

Pinterest is 70 percent female and 79 percent white, according to the BBC. By contrast, black and Latino users are overrepresented on Twitter versus the general population.

Ms. Boyd theorized that there was an exodus of users from Myspace to Facebook similar to white flight to the suburbs when the U.S. desegregated schools. Facebook, the vanilla of social media sites, was approaching the makeup of the U.S. population at the time of an analysis done in 2009. That was the year that white users stopped being overrepresented and black and Latino users stopped being underrepresented.

Among companies of more than 1,000 employees in 15 out of the economy’s 17 sectors, the average amount of data is a surreal 235 terabytes. That’s right — each of these companies has more info than the Library of Congress. And so, why should we care? Because data is valuable. The growth of digital networks and the networked sensors in everything from phones to cars to heavy machinery mean that data has a reach and sweep it has never had before. The key to Big Data is connecting these sensors to computing intelligence which can make sense of all this information (in pure Wall-E style, some theorists call this the Internet of Things).

  • This short post at Kethu.org presents survey data and rhetorically wonders whether social media behaviors negatively impact life enjoyment:

Consider this: 24% of respondents to one survey said they’ve missed out on enjoying special moments in person because — ironically enough — they were too busy trying to document their experiences for online sharing. Many of us have had to remind ourselves to “live in the now” — instead of worry about composing the perfect tweet or angling for just the right Instagram shot.

I’m coming to believe that classroom time is too limiting in the teaching of tools. At CUNY, we’ve seen over the years that students come in with widening gulfs in both their prior experience and their future ambitions in tools and technologies. My colleagues at CUNY, led by Sandeep Junnarkar, have implemented many new modules and courses to teach such topics as data journalism (gathering, analysis, visualization) and familiarity with programming.

Note well that I have argued since coming to CUNY that we should not and cannot turn out coders. I also do not subscribe to the belief that journalism’s salvation lies in hunting down that elusive unicorn, the coder-journalism, the hack-squared. I do believe that journalists must become conversant in technologies, sufficient to enable them to (a) know what’s possible, (b) specify what they want, and (c) work with the experts who can create that.

in medias res: bridging the “time sap” gap, DIY politics, Google thinks you’re stupid, and more

  • When researchers started using the term “digital divide” in the 1990s they were referring to an inequality of access to the Internet and other ICTs. Over time the issue shifted from unequal access to emphasizing disparities of technological competency across socioeconomic sectors. The new manifestation of the digital divide, according to a New York Times article, is reflected in whether time on the Internet is spent being productive, or wasting time:

As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

The new divide is such a cause of concern for the Federal Communications Commission that it is considering a proposal to spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers.

A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.

  • In an op-ed for the LA Times Neal Gabler writes that Obama’s legacy may be disillusionment with partisan politics and a shift toward do-it-yourself democracy:

Disillusionment with partisan politics is certainly nothing new. Obama’s fall from grace, however, may look like a bigger belly flop because his young supporters saw him standing so much higher than typical politicians. Yet by dashing their hopes, Obama may actually have accomplished something so remarkable that it could turn out to be his legacy: He has redirected young people’s energies away from conventional electoral politics and into a different, grass-roots kind of activism. Call it DIY politics.

We got a taste of DIY politics last fall with the Occupy Wall Street sit-ins, which were a reaction to government inaction on financial abuses, and we got another taste when the 99% Spring campaign mobilized tens of thousands against economic inequality. OWS and its tangential offshoots may seem political, but it is important to note that OWS emphatically isn’t politics as usual. It isn’t even a traditional movement.

  • In a piece on The Daily Beast Andrew Blum, author of a new net-centric book titled The Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, details the condescension and furtiveness he encountered while researching Google for his book:

Walking past a large data center building, painted yellow like a penitentiary, I asked what went on inside. Did this building contain the computers that crawl through the Web for the search index? Did it process search queries? Did it store email? “You mean what The Dalles does?” my guide responded. “That’s not something that we probably discuss. But I’m sure that data is available internally.” (I bet.) It was a scripted non-answer, however awkwardly expressed. And it might have been excusable, if the contrast weren’t so stark with the dozens of other pieces of the Internet that I visited. Google was the outlier—not only for being the most secretive but the most disingenuous about that secrecy.

After my tour of Google’s parking lot, I joined a hand-picked group of Googlers for lunch in their cafeteria overlooking the Columbia River. The conversation consisted of a PR handler prompting each of them to say a few words about how much they liked living in The Dalles and working at Google. (It was some consolation that they were treated like children, too.) I considered expressing my frustration at the kabuki going on, but I decided it wasn’t their choice. It was bigger than them. Eventually, emboldened by my peanut-butter cups, I said only that I was disappointed not to have the opportunity to go inside a data center and learn more. My PR handler’s response was immediate: “Senators and governors have been disappointed too!”

When news reports focus on individuals and their stories, rather than simply facts or policy, readers experience greater feelings of compassion, said Penn State Distinguished Professor Mary Beth Oliver, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory and a member of the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies. This compassion also extends to feelings about social groups in general, including groups that are often stigmatized.

“Issues such as health care, poverty and discrimination all should elicit compassion,” Oliver said. “But presenting these issues as personalized stories more effectively evokes emotions that lead to greater caring, willingness to help and interest in obtaining more information.”

The emphasis on “personalized stories” reminds me of Zillmann’s exemplification theory, though the article makes no mention of exemplification.

The problem with living through a revolution is that you’ve no idea how things will turn out. So it is with the revolutionary transformation of our communications environment driven by the internet and mobile phone technology. Strangely, our problem is not that we are short of data about what’s going on; on the contrary we are awash with the stuff. This is what led Manuel Castells, the great scholar of cyberspace, to describe our current mental state as one of “informed bewilderment”: we have lots of information, but not much of a clue about what it means.

If, however, you’re concerned about things such as freedom, control and innovation, then the prospect of a world in which most people access the internet via smartphones and other cloud devices is a troubling one. Why? Because smartphones (and tablets) are tightly controlled, “tethered” appliances. You may think that you own your shiny new iPhone or iPad, for example. But in fact an invisible chain stretches from it all the way back to Apple’s corporate HQ in California. Nothing, but nothing, goes on your iDevice that hasn’t been approved by Apple.

In Medias Res: Chomsky Occupied, lolcats invade aca-meme-ia, the intention economy and more…

  • Microsoft is opening a research lab in New York City staffed by A-list sociologists, computational scientists, and network theorists among others.

The NYC lab recruits bring in mathematical and computation tools that could work magic with existing social media research already underway at Microsoft Research, led by folks like Gen-fluxer danah boyd. “I would say that the highly simplified version of what happens is that data scientists do patterns and ethnographers tell stories,” boyd tells Fast Company. While Microsoft Research New England has strengths in qualitative social science, empirical economics, machine learning, and mathematics, “We’ve long noted the need for data science types who can bridge between us,” boyd explained in a blog post announcing the NYC labs.

So the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat — in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1 percent and the 99 percent. Not literal numbers, but the right picture. Now, the plutonomy is where the action is and it could continue like this.

If it does, the historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. And the Occupy movement is the first real, major, popular reaction that could avert this. But it’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long, hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to form the structures that will be sustained, that will go on through hard times and can win major victories. And there are a lot of things that can be done.

  • An article at the Atlantic poses the question: Are LOLCats making us smart? The article quotes Kate Miltner who wrote her dissertation on LOLCat memes:

According to Miltner, “When it came to LOLCats, sharing and creating were often different means to the same end: making meaningful connections with others.” At their core LOLCats weren’t about those funny captions, the weird grammar, or the cute kitties, but people employed those qualities in service of that primary goal of human connection.

A newer idea outgrowth of this is that information is so omnipresent and that consumers face so much of it that businesses are now in a completely different economy model fighting to get people’s attention. This Attentioneconomy has new rules based on how much time people are willing to spend paying attention to some piece of information and to their hopes the advertisements that may surround it. New tools are emerging to analyze not just what is talked about but also sentiment, audience demographics, and how quickly it spreads.

To push efficiency, the better way would be to be able the craft the message more accurately to specific people, not just a demographic: to me personally, not just to ‘people who live in that part of the city’. How would that be possible? It starts with trying to understand the intention of what people want, rather than trying to just grab their attention as they walk away. If we knew, or better yet, if the consumer each told us what they wanted and we could craft the message for each person as well as target exactly who would be interested, then the efficiency of that message suddenly shoots way up. It hinges on that dialogue with the consumer.

Scott Merrill at Tech Crunch also covered Searl’s book:

Another substantial topic of the book is just how incorrect most of the information collected about us actually is. And still this factually wrong data is used to select which advertisements are presented to you, in the hope that you’ll click through. Aside from how intrusive advertising is, is it any surprise that click-through rates are so low when the data used to target ads to viewers is so wildly off-base?

Searls also advocates strongly for Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) solutions to give to consumers the same kind of tracking and information collection about vendors that the vendors use against us. The point of VRM is not adversarial, according to Searls. Instead, it restores balance to the overall market and seeks to actively reward those companies that pay attention to individual intentions.

In medias res: end-of-the-semester reading list

Due to end-of-the-semester activities posting has been slow the last couple of weeks. But my exams are finished and I’ve submitted grades so here’s a celebratory news roundup:

In an interview published Sunday, Google’s co-founder cited a wide range of attacks on “the open internet,” including government censorship and interception of data, overzealous attempts to protect intellectual property, and new communication portals that use web technologies and the internet, but under restrictive corporate control.

There are “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world,” says Brin. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle.”

The post-social world is an “attention economy.” If you don’t have engagement, you don’t have attention and if you don’t have attention – well you don’t have anything really.

In the 1970s, the scholar Herbert Simon argued that “in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”

His arguments give rise both to the notion of “information overload” but also to the “attention economy”. In the attention economy, people’s willingness to distribute their attention to various information stimuli create value for said stimuli. Indeed, the economic importance of advertisements is predicated on the notion that getting people to pay attention to something has value.

If one wanted to track three trends likely to have the most impact on international relations over the next decade, what three trends could help us anticipate global political crises? At the top of my news feed are items about who is in jail and why, rigged elections, and social media.

School shootings and domestic terrorism have proliferated on a global level. In recent months there have been school shootings in Finland, Germany, Greece, and other countries as well as the United States. Although there may be stylistic differences, in all cases young men act out their rage through the use of guns and violence to create media spectacles and become celebrities-of-the-moment.

Class dismissed, have a great summer!

Media matters: Alone Together @ TED, fear in the attention economy, Chomsky tweets and more

  • I recently came across this Salon article by UMD doctoral student Nathan Jurgenson from last year where he argues that Noam Chomsky is wrong about Twitter. Both Chomsky’s and the author’s statements about new media forms are extremely interesting from a medium theory perspective. Jurgenson cites the role of social media in the Arab Spring protests as evidence that new media aren’t as shallow and superficial as Chomsky believes:

In fact, in the debate about whether rapid and social media really are inherently less deep than other media, there are compelling arguments for and against. Yes, any individual tweet might be superficial, but a stream of tweets from a political confrontation like Tahrir Square, a war zone like Gaza or a list of carefully-selected thinkers makes for a collection of expression that is anything but shallow. Social media is like radio: It all depends on how you tune it.

In responding to calls, emails, texts, social media, etc, our electronic devices play to a primitive impulse to react to immediate threats and dangers.  Our responding to that call, email or social media post provokes excitement and stimulates the release of dopamine to the brain.  Little by little, we become addicted to its small kick in regular, minute doses.  In its absence, people feel bored.