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.

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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.

Weekly output: video surveillance, privacy vs. security, Facebook listening, universal basic income, intelligent assistants, convenience economy, UberAir, privacy fears

Once again, I’m at an airport. I got back from Web Summit on Friday, and now I’m headed to San Francisco for the Internet Association’s Virtuous Circle conference. This trip, however, will be a lot shorter than the last one: I fly back Wednesday.

11/6/2017: ‘Smart’ surveillance cameras should set off privacy alarms, Yahoo Finance

The advances in machine vision I saw demonstrated at the Nvidia GPU Tech Conference in D.C. last week both impressed and alarmed me–especially when I heard some of the responses of executives at companies bringing these artificial-intelligence technologies to the market.

11/7/2017: Debate: We should be prepared to give up our privacy for security, Web Summit

My first Web Summit panel was a debate between Threatscape managing director Dermot Williams and Federal Trade Commission commissioner Terrell McSweeny. I expected a one-sided audience vote at the end in favor of privacy, but Williams changed a few minds. There should be video of this somewhere, but I’ve yet to find it on Web Summit’s Facebook page.

11/8/2017: Why so many people still think Facebook is listening to them, Yahoo Finance

I’d had this post in the works for a while, and then CNN’s Laurie Segall asked Facebook’s Messenger head Stan Chudnovsky in a Summit panel about the persistent rumor that Facebook’s apps listen surreptitiously to your conversations. Hello, news peg.

11/8/2017: Double focus: IPO’s & the future of games, Web Summit

My contribution to Web Summit’s Wednesday programming was this interview of Rovio CEO Kati Levoranta. As you can probably guess from watching the video below, I exhausted my questions early on and had to improv a bunch of it.

11/9/2017: Why would you oppose Universal Basic Income?, Web Summit

This panel, held at one of the small stages in Web Summit’s speakers lounge, featured Basic Income Earth Network co-president Guy Standing, Kela change management director Marjukka Turunen, GiveDirectly CEO Michael Faye, and Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva. Not having taken part in any extended debate on this topic before, I learned a few things from this conversation.

11/9/2017: The next evolution of intelligent assistants, Web Summit

I quizzed Sherpa founder Xabi Uribe-Etxebarria about what he thinks the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google miss in the AI-personal-assistant market and how he hopes to carve out a niche with his own app.

11/9/2017: Demand more: Driving the convenience economy, Web Summit

The last of Thursday’s three panels had me interviewing Trivago co-founder and CEO Rolf Schromgens and Casper co-founder Luke Sherwin about how each is trying to challenge long-established competitors. This panel featured an unexpected technical difficulty: The acoustics made it hard for Schromgens, seated farther away from me on the stage, to hear me.

11/9/2017: Uber’s grand plan for flying cars faces a major obstacle, Yahoo Finance

One of first thoughts about “UberAir” was something along the lines of “you’re really going to get the FAA to open up the national air system to flocks of new electric-powered air taxis?” A conversation over e-mail with aviation-safety expert Bob Mann led me to believe Uber is being predictably optimistic about the odds of it bending government regulators to its will.

11/12/2017: Web companies should make it easier to make your data portable: FTC’s McSweeny. USA Today

This column about the privacy discussions that carried on all week long in Lisbon benefited from a little luck: My debate partner from day one was on both of my flights back from Lisbon and even sat a row behind me on the EWR-DCA hop, so we had a quick chat after arriving at National Airport before she headed to the parking garage and I got on Metro.

Updated 11/27/2017 to add an embed of video of my first Web Summit panel.

Weekly output: Adobe Flash’s farewell, white-spaces broadband, People You May Know

Two of this week’s three articles (there weren’t more because I was visiting family for most of the week and trying to approximate being on vacation) involve topics that I’ve been following for more than a decade. That has me feeling my age, as does today’s lack of a nap.

7/25/2017: Why everybody should be happy that Flash is finally dying, Yahoo Finance

Writing this post about Adobe’s announcement that it will officially retire Flash at the end of 2020 had me re-reading stuff I wrote seven or eight years ago, not all of which looks too prescient today.

7/27/2017: How Microsoft wants to bring broadband to rural Americans, Yahoo Finance

I had meant to file this story the previous week, but it took multiple phone calls and e-mails to pin down the pricing and features of an upcoming wireless-broadband service built on “white spaces” technology. For all the griping I do about PR people, sometimes you run across a company that would communicate its message much more effectively with professional help.

7/30/2017: Why Facebook’s ‘People You May Know’ makes some weird suggestions, USA Today

This Q&A involved its own game of e-mail tag, but it was worth that effort to document Facebook’s friend suggestions in more detail than the social network’s own online help.

 

Weekly output: techno-panics, unsubsidized phones, Apple and Google streaming music

Hey, August, you’ve been doing a really bad job of being a slow news month. Could you please clock out already?

8/18/2015: How to Survive the Next Techno-Panic, Yahoo Tech

When I suggested this topic to my editors, I had no idea that a day later, Spotify would uncork a self-inflicted techno-panic by… wait for it… rolling out a vague and expansionist privacy policy written by lawyers for other lawyers.

Yahoo Tech phone-prices post8/20/2015: 5 Reasons You Should Pay Full Price For Your Smartphone, Yahoo Tech

I filed the first draft of this story last week, then had to update it twice when Sprint a) said it would stop selling subsidized phones at the end of the year and b) the next day, rolled out a warmed-over version of its old “iPhone for Life” lease plan. You can guess what other, oft-updated work of mine needed repeated revisions this week; look for them to show up online shortly.

8/23/2015: What to do when Apple Music has its head in cloud, USA Today

In an alternate universe, this would have run July 5. Instead, I wrote another, timelier column and put this one back on the shelf until now. That extra time led me to discover a useful option in Google Play Music that’s missing from Apple’s music apps.