Weekly output: video gaming booms, Locast expands, Sheryl Sandberg defends Facebook

A time shift caused by the start or end of Daylight Saving Time means one thing around here: a boomlet of page views for the rant I wrote about the unintuitive interface on a sports watch my wife used to wear. Not too many of you still have this Timex model, to judge from the declining stats for that post compared to five years ago, but it remains the most-read post on this blog with 123,612 views–almost twice as many as the second-place post, a how-to about setting up Lotus Notes to forward all your work e-mail to Gmail.

3/10/2021: Limelight survey: The pandemic is driving a boom in gaming, FierceVideo

I spent Wednesday morning filling in at my trade-pub client to cover breaking news, and as part of that wrote up this eight-country survey conducted for the content-delivery firm Limelight Networks.

Screenshot of my Locast story as seen in my Android phone's Chrome browser.3/10/2021: Locast expands service to Cleveland area, now reaches more than 50% of U.S. viewers, FierceVideo

The first piece I filed Wednesday got published second, because reasons. Covering the expansion of Locast to northeast Ohio gave me a chance to introduce myself properly to the PR people at this non-profit that streams local TV stations–this won’t be the last time I cover this interesting option for cord cutters and the legal challenges it faces from broadcasters who don’t appreciate its reading of copyright law.

3/11/2021: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg: Trust Us, You Still Want Personalized Ads, Forbes

An appearance by Facebook’s chief operating officer at the ad-industry group IAB’s virtual event left me scratching my head about the vast gap between the picture Sandberg painted of Facebook and what I’ve seen and read over the past year.

Weekly output: cloud storage, Facebook’s 2019

I hope your holidays have involved a minimum of tech support–and if they did, it was of the sort that allowed you to declare victory and accept compliments from relatives in time for dinner.

USAT cloud-services post12/25/2018: How to match a cloud service for all your devices, USA Today

I marked my seventh anniversary of writing for USAT in a subpar way. We had to correct this column because I swapped the free-storage allotments of Microsoft and Google, even though I pay each company for extra storage because their no-charge tiers weren’t enough. Then we tweaked it further to reflect Dropbox offering a discount for yearly billing.

12/28/2018: 2 toxic storylines for Facebook won’t go away in 2019, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this year-in-preview post in part to take yet another whack at Facebook for its fumbling responses to its privacy failings and obvious violations of its rules. But along the way, I kept getting angrier about its continued addiction to the Silicon Valley cult of engagement. Facebook–and Google, while I’m at it–needs to stop acting like a startup growth-hacking its way to traction, consequences be damned.

Weekly output: Facebook maintenance as Thanksgiving tech support

Once again, time put into helping family members with their gadgetry over this holiday weekend has yielded a pretty good idea for a post–or so I hope my editors will think. 

usat-facebook-thanksgiving-tech-support11/21/2018: Thanksgiving tech to-do: Start a Facebook diet with all the trimmings, USA Today

You can think of this column as a sequel to a post I wrote for Yahoo Finance in August. This time around, I didn’t get so far into the weeds about adjusting Facebook notification settings–having to confine your work to 500+ words instead of as much as a thousand will do that–and used some of the space conserved to explain two newer smartphone features to regulate your time on the social network. A third option may now be available in your iOS or Android Facebook app: “Your Time on Facebook” tracking of the minutes and hours you while away on Facebook. 

Weekly output: social-media angst at Web Summit

Between Monday being a holiday, me coming down with a cold after Web Summit, and  our kid also home sick with a cold, this was a slow week.

11/12/2018: Should social media be regulated? Support seen at Web Summit for protecting user data, USA Today

I wasn’t quite sure what I’d write for USAT from Web Summit until I watched Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie’s enraged testimony there. A few other panels after that helped me flesh out this story idea, and I filed my report Thursday evening as the conference wrapped up. Then Wednesday, the New York Times published its account of Facebook’s self-serving, delusional response to early findings of Russian disinformation operations on the social network, and I felt like I’d been all too kind to Facebook in this column.

Weekly output: Facebook diet, 8K TV, social-media hearings

Another trip to Berlin for IFA is in the books, which means I’ve spent another year wondering when Berlin Brandenburg Airport–which was originally scheduled to open before my 2012 introduction to the show–will ever inaugurate scheduled commercial service.

8/28/2018: How to detox from Facebook, Yahoo Finance

I’d had the bones of this piece in mind since sometime after writing a similar how-to on reducing Google’s role in your life. I’m going to guess that most people didn’t install the Facebook Container extension for Firefox (although I am now running that on my Windows laptop), but I do hope that a good fraction of readers opted out of Facebook’s noisier mobile notifications.

Yahoo Finance IFA 8K post9/1/2018: Forget 4K TVs — 8K televisions are already here, Yahoo Finance

If it wasn’t obvious enough the last time I covered this topic: No, I really don’t think anybody should pay extra for 8K resolution, and if this entire format vanishes into consumer irrelevance as 3D TV did, I won’t be too sad. Meanwhile, I appreciated seeing Yahoo give this a little more publicity with a repost on Yahoo Sports.

9/2/2018: What to expect as Google, Facebook and Twitter face Capitol Hill lawmakers, Yahoo Finance

I wrote a curtain-raiser for Wednesday’s grillings of social-media executives in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Based on how prior House interrogations of tech execs have gone, my expectations for the latter hearing are exceedingly low.

Weekly output: Facebook ads, tech policy in Washington, Facebook tracking

My tweets the past few days have been coming at weird times because I was in Rome from Thursday through this morning for the IFA Global Press Conference. That’s a small spring event hosted by the organizers of the IFA tech trade show that runs in Berlin each summer. They invite a few hundred journalists and analysts–covering their travel costs–and put on a program of product introductions and a panel discussion or two. I’m not quite sure about how this works for the hosts as a business model, but for me it affords an advance look at some interesting gadgets (look for my writeup of Sharp’s pitch for 8K television soon) and quality networking. And, sure, the chance to spend a few days in a pleasant location.

4/16/2018: How advertisers target you on Facebook, Yahoo Finance

I’ve been meaning to write a longer explanation of how exactly Facebook lets an advertiser target its users (you’ve read short versions of that here), and the confusion many members of Congress expressed in their questions to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave this topic a handy news peg. I also used this story to get some firsthand acquaintance with Facebook’s “Custom Audiences” feature, which lets you upload a customer list and have Facebook show ads to users it matches up with the data in your list.

4/18/2018: Tech News in Washington, D.C. with Rob Pegoraro, Tech Policy Institute

I was a guest on this think tank’s Two Think Minimum podcast, discussing the history of tech policy and tech lobbying in D.C. with TPI communications director Chris McGurn and TPI fellows Scott Wallsten and Sarah Oh.

4/18/2018: Facebook tracking at other sites, Al Jazeera

The Arabic news channel had me do a Skype interview from home about how Facebook tracks people–and in particular, those who don’t have Facebook accounts–at other sites. My takeaway: While Facebook tracking people who aren’t on Facebook can sound creepy, that’s what every ad network does.

Updated 4/23/2018 to add TPI’s podcast. I’m blaming jet lag on making me forget to include that yesterday.

Weekly output: Facebook privacy, social media vs. disinformation, mobile-app privacy, data breaches

The Facebook-privacy news cycle doesn’t seem to be letting up, with every other day bringing some ugly new revelation about the social network’s stewardship of our data. I feel like I’m getting the tiniest taste of life as a White House correspondent these days.

4/2/2018: How Facebook should fix its privacy problem, Yahoo Finance

My key suggestions: collect less data, don’t try so hard to maximize engagement, and give U.S. users the same privacy controls that European users will get in May as required by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. On Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t commit to extending GDPR controls to the U.S.; on Wednesday, he said he would do just that.

4/2/2018: How Facebook should fight fake news, Yahoo Finance

Headline notwithstanding, this column is as much about Twitter as it is about Facebook–and a lot of it covers how large social networks like those two can’t necessarily adopt the strategies that have helped Wikipedia deter disinformation.

4/3/2018: After you delete old Facebook apps, take a hard look at Uber and Snapchat settings, USA Today

I would have written this piece faster if I hadn’t had the chance to see how the Samsung-ified Settings app on a Galaxy S7 buried a crucial app-permissions interface. Then I spent more journalistic processor cycles rewriting an explanation of how old versions of Facebook’s Android apps collected call and SMS logs.

4/4/2018: We need a federal law protecting consumers from data leaks, Yahoo Finance

This column inspired by Panera Bread’s data breach started in my head with the tweet I used to promote it. Reporting it involved an intersection of my college and professional lives: Stephanie Martz, the National Retail Federation lawyer I interviewed, is a fellow Georgetown Voice alum who graduated two years before me.

Weekly output: Streaming freebies, robocalls, Facebook privacy (x2), NAB Show (x2), watching baseball online

Happy Easter! I spent most of the past week staying with my in-laws in California, thanks to it being a spring-break week at our daughter’s school. I wish I’d had more downtime, but my laptop had other ideas.

3/26/2018: Have a cell phone plan? You could get Netflix or Hulu for free, USA Today

My editor suggested that I write about the various streaming-media freebies that the big four wireless carriers now offer with at least some of their subscriptions. Having spent an unnecessary $20 last year on an MLB At Bat subscription because I didn’t think to cancel its automatic renewal in time to cash in on T-Mobile’s free MLB.tv deal (which then and now includes that app’s premium option), I agreed that we should remind readers of these possibilities.

3/26/2018: Robocalls are worse than ever, but help is on the way, Yahoo Finance

I attended a half-day event at the Federal Communications Commission two Fridays ago about the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission’s attempts to stop illegal robocalls, and I learned a lot. Besides, I had not set foot in the FCC’s offices in a shamefully long time.

3/27/2018: Facebook privacy, WTOP

D.C.’s news station called me up to chat about Facebook’s latest privacy failings, including the way some of its Android apps would sync your SMS and call logs to Facebook if you allowed them to sync your contacts (fortunately, I did not). We would have done this via Skype, but my laptop was still inoperative and the Skype Android app crashed every time I tried to run it on my Pixel.

3/28/2018: ATSC 3.0, IP take center stage at NAB Show 2018, FierceCable

I wrote two short curtain-raiser posts for my occasional client FierceTelecom about the National Association of Broadcasters’ upcoming show in Las Vegas. This one focused on the upcoming ATSC 3.0 standard for broadcast TV that should bring Ultra High Definition to the airwaves–along with some interesting data possibilities.

3/28/2018: From 8K to VR, the future is on display at NAB Show 2018, FierceCable

This one, in turn, covers a group of exhibits meant to spotlight various advances in video technology. After writing it, I kind of regret not being able to cover NAB–but I have a schedule conflict, and ATSC 3.0 shows no sign of being a customer reality this year anyway.

3/29/2018: Facebook privacy, Al Jazeera

By now, I had my laptop back from the dead, so I could do this interview with the Arabic-language news channel via Skype from my in-laws’ living room–which, conveniently enough, had a bookshelf in the right spot to provide me with a reasonably professional background.

3/29/2018: Sorry, baseball fans: These TV networks strike out at online streaming, Yahoo Finance

I had to revise this post on the afternoon of baseball’s opening day when the Mets’ SNY regional sports network finally acknowledged reality and signed distribution deals with three online video services. That leaves seven franchises with sports networks stuck in denial about cord-cutting, D.C.’s among them. So it looks like the first Nats game I watch live will be Thursday’s home opener, which I’ll see from the stands instead of on a screen.

Weekly output: Facebook and Cambridge Analytica (x3), news paywalls

I had ambitions of catching up on various side projects this week, and then the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica story blew up.

3/19/2018: Facebook apps may see more of your personal info than you want. Here’s how to turn them off, USA Today

My first stab at covering the Cambridge Analytica debacle was this how-to for USA Today about pruning Facebook apps. Six days later, the piece already looks a little obsolete: It doesn’t note how Facebook could have gathered your call and SMS logs if you’d enabled its contacts-sync option in earlier versions of Android. (I can’t remember allowing that, and my Facebook data download shows no evidence of any such collection.)

3/20/2018: Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, Al Jazeera

The news channel had me on once again to discuss this news, in particular how Cambridge’s data plunder compared to the Obama campaign’s Facebook efforts in 2012. This time, though, I couldn’t find a link back to my overdubbed-in-Arabic appearance.

3/21/2018: Big Tech’s accountability-avoidance problem is getting worse, Yahoo Finance

I revisited this topic yet again for Yahoo, this time putting Facebook’s early non-response in the context of the “we’re just a platform” line that social networks keep throwing out every time we learn of horrible user behavior happening on their watch.

3/23/2018: News sites have embraced paywalls that alienate readers, Yahoo Finance

I revisited my August 2016 endorsement of the news-micropayment site Blendle in a less-forgiving mood. Blendle’s gone two years without exiting its closed beta in the U.S., news sites here have accelerated an understandable pivot to paywalls, and a Steve Jobs quote now comes to mind: “real artists ship.” Sadly, too much of the rest of the industry seems in no hurry to offer an alternative to readers who want to inform themselves on a breaking-news topic but aren’t ready for an auto-renewing commitment to a news site.

My Facebook-apps privacy audit

At some point, I was going to revisit my Facebook-privacy settings, but this weekend’s news about Cambridge Analytica’s exfiltration of some 50 million Facebook users’ data via a personality-quiz app moved up that timetable a bit.

That also sped up my overdue reacquaintance with my Facebook app settings–something I hadn’t paid much attention to since I last added any apps to my profile. The how-to I wrote in late 2013 about Facebook privacy waved away that angle: “Most of the options under the ‘Apps’ heading only apply if you add applications to your profile.”

Alas, I had added a few apps to my profile, especially in the first few years I had an account. Make that a few dozen apps. They fell into a few categories:

  • Apps or site logins (Facebook lists both on the same page) that I didn’t remember adding but could imagine reasons to have done so.
  • Apps that I had once appreciated but hadn’t touched in years (and which, per the new policy Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday, would now be cut off).
  • Apps that I still appreciated but which had more access to my data than I recalled granting.
  • Apps that I recognized and which didn’t demand information beyond the public-on-Facebook aspects of my profile.

The last category aside, it was an embarrassing exercise. How had I allowed so many apps to see my friends list? Aren’t I supposed to know this stuff?

After that humbling moment, I removed about two-thirds of the apps, with those offering discernable utility cut down to seeing only my basic profile information. I should have done that years ago. But so should most of us.

Bear in mind that I’ve never treated Facebook as a friends-only space. I know that screenshots exist; I hadn’t had a Facebook account for more than a year and change before a now-defunct D.C.-journalism-gossip site posted a sceengrab of it. If I post an update, I try to write it so it won’t look too incriminating when quoted elsewhere out of context.

During this overdue investigation, I also looked at the “Apps Others Use” category that Facebook vaguely explains as a way for friends to bring your info to apps they use. I’d unchecked all 13 of those options, but after seeing most activated in a dummy account I keep for fact-checking purposes–and having people ask if this didn’t mean that Facebook apps could still grab data from friends–I had to ask Facebook to clear this up.

The less-than-conclusive answer I got over two e-mails: That cluster of settings dates to “before we made significant changes to how developers build apps on Facebook” that eliminated its functionality, except that it “still addresses some limited situations like photo sharing.”

So it appears that this absurdly wealthy company has trouble updating and documenting its privacy interface. That’s yet another problem Facebook needs to solve.