Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Three Gems From the Web - Every Tuesday (18)

Hello and happy Tuesday,

I figured since we will be staying a little more time inside as the cold season is approaching, we might need some good laugh every now and then. Therefore, today I will be proposing three funny and witty Instagram accounts that could sprinkle some humor into your feeds for the winter. Hope you enjoy them:

1. Quarter Life Poetry - is basically a female targeted satire that is accompanied by various drawings or animations to round up the good jokes. They also have an online store where you can buy various items with the messages they create on them. I find them inspiring, creative, and definitely fun.

2. Insta-Chaz - has been recently featured in a BBC interview. This is how I discovered his account and I think it is brilliant. He draws stick-men on post-it notes. That simple. His parallel account Mr. Whale features a whale drawn on post-it notes in various "circumstances". Check him out, you're going to like him.  

3. Girl with no job - by Claudia Oshry is hilarious. She is just making fun of dating disasters, workout procrastinating, and the sort, but she is a real phenomenon with over 2 million followers. 

That's it.

Have a nice week!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Big Data or Big Brother?

Social media is all about trading one's personal information. When you register online you actually choose to provide your personal data (name, email, photos, names of relatives and friends etc.) in return for a service that allows you for a fast and easy way to be in contact with your loved ones. 

As Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the US Center for Digital Democracy puts it: "Facebook’s vision of its member base is a bunch of people naked, exposed and targeted at will by anyone who wants to do so". And indeed this is quite a correct overall picture.

But this is not the main issue here. Indeed there is a lot of information we are willingly providing to social media platforms. We might even say that they know more about us than some of our close relatives or neighbors. But their business model is based on trading our personal information in exchange for profits. As just selling our data will not work for different reasons, a lot of other information is collected about us (behavioral tracking). Selling our social and potentially economic behavior seems to be very lucrative so social media platforms and advertisers are collecting other types of data about us, as they are outlining our social profile so that advertising companies can provide us targeted commercials with the aim of increasing the sales of their clients.
And this is how the big data behind social media is created. Wikipedia says "big data is a term for data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate to deal with them. Challenges include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, querying, updating and information privacy". The big data behind social media is all about us, about our preferences, about our desires, our likes and dislikes, finally about our life.
This kind of big data created a big controversy (still ongoing today) related to ethics and privacy of collecting such data.

As regards ethics, the issue is the following: Is it fair that our social behaviors are traded as common goods? Is it fair that we are stripped of our right to make informed and free decisions. We are offered advertisements based on what  the advertisers think we want, suppressing offers for products that we might be really interested in. How relevant are targeted advertisements is still very debatable today. It happens to me often to visit a certain product or company's website, without the real intention to buy something and then get tens of targeted advertisements of that particular product/company. I do have the impression that in most of the cases their algorithms are too simple or they make wrong assumptions based on the multitude of data that serves as input. Or it might happen that the algorithms are good, but the range of companies/products or advertisers that embrace this practice is low, so they just serve you what they have.

Besides this, opting out of the tracking is impossible at this point, as no platform offers this solution (except in some paid services) and, in the absence of any legal framework, that cannot protect users against abusive behavior.

As regards privacy, the idea is also rather simple. Although you know you are being tracked and you do provide your consent for the use and sharing of such behavioral data, you never know exactly to whom are they shared with, to what purpose and how they're going to be used. This can give rise to certain abuses (sharing towards companies that will misuse the data) or accidents (data breaches that can lead to public disclosure). There is also the problem of anonymity. Although most trackers claim to track anonymously we know that this is very hard to achieve or very easy to brake, if intended. We have seen some progress in this area in recent years as platforms provide more options on privacy management, but only for data that you agree to share consciously and not for behavior data, that is being tracked through different means. For this data you might also have some options, but only in selecting between various types of commercials that you want to see (see Facebook’s or Google's ad preferences pages), not for opting out  the commercials or stop the tracking all together.

US digital ad spending by device 2013-2019


This business model is highly unlikely to change in the near future as platforms earn their profits mainly from these activities (see picture and the rise of mobile). Nevertheless actions against it are being taken by multiple stakeholders and the user tracking industry is changing right before our eyes.
On the one hand, there are applications that you can use to filter the types of ads platforms will serve you. Opting out from all of them will not mean you will not get any more ads but you will not get targeted ads (one example here). Basically, all platforms offer such features, but tracking is also done by other advertising companies through different other means. In some cases the opt-out is just not there.

There are also some apps that claim on showing you what platforms know about your preferences. One example is here, in a form of a Chrome plugin. Based on this input you can see what your potential profile is and try to change your behavior in such a way that you can fool the trackers. But with what effort and what could be the  outcome?

There are also the apps within the category called "ad-blockers". They will remove most of the ads, delete some of the cookies and try to keep advertisers away from you. You can find many apps of this sort, a useful example might be found here.

All in all, a big battle is carried out there in the Internetosphere for us, the consumers, and our economic behavior. New tracking technologies are on the rise and also new blockers. Legislation is trying to keep up, but it seems to lag at least one step behind (see EU Cookie Directive). Since the stakes are on us, the consumers, we'd better pay more attention to this in the future. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Three Gems from the Web - Every Tuesday (17)

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

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This past week I've been watching interesting talks from world-class events themed around technology, social media and the internet era. Since I find some of my discoveries to be so powerful and so useful, I felt eager to share them with you, and what better opportunity than The Tuesday series "Three Gems from the Web".

But first, a little reminder of why I do this series and to what end? I started it roughly 20 weeks ago (I skipped a few weeks) mainly as a means of becoming useful to you, my beloved visitors. I believe that the older we grow, the more we value our time, and in this ocean of options and information flooding coming our ways, suggestions of good, interesting, quirky, actionable content can be useful to all of us. I've made a habit of asking my friends and the people I meet to suggest great internet resources, and I am sending your way my best discoveries. None of the entries are sponsored in any way. On the contrary, I try my best to include mainly free resources, but sometimes, the paid ones are worthwhile investing in.  And remember, nothing good is ever really for free ...
The bottom line is: I am not trying to sell you anything, I am only trying to be useful and get you engaged with our content because I believe that our choices speak louder than our words.

As for the gem events that I found in the last couple of weeks, here are our three picks:

1. The Nantucket Project - Originally founded in 2010 by Tom Scott and Kate Brosnan, this event is a business, tech and cultural conference held on the Nantucket island in Massachusetts in a tent overlooking the harbor. Great minds gather there every year to discuss on the state of the world with a broad topic as a topic for each year. The organizers offer some subsidized places for students and scholars, but the fees are on the expensive side. Nonetheless, there is plenty of material that you can check and learn from on the social media channels. Here s their YouTube channel.

2. Mastermind talks - Is a entrepreneurship conference but has such a humane and balanced approach that it really impressed me. Attendance is quite selective but there is plenty of material on all social media platforms from past events, that are incredibly valuable. Jayson Gaignard, the mastermind of Mastermind Talks is a person worth checking out, too.

3. CeBIT - I thought it might be nice to add a huge and interesting European event. CeBIT is a German technology fair and conference that addresses everyone interested in technology and innovation. It is more of a conventional event than the previous two but it is also much more affordable. It also holds a special panel for bloggers, which I find very interesting.

There are plenty more out there, and I am sure I am still to discover some of the best ones. But, in case you don't know of these three, and are interested in keeping up with the technology game (and not only technology), they are worthwhile checking out.

Sending good vibes your way!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Facebook Live Map - Some empirical findings ...

I don't know how aware you are about the Facebook Live Map. but if you haven't noticed it, it sits quietly in your left bar on the desktop version of your  Facebook Page, It is the first one in the APPS tab. And, be advised, once you dive in, your worldview might change forever.

It is, basically, a map of the world that is highlighting all the live broadcasts that happen on Facebook, in real time.

I find it astonishingly clarifying, and so might you, if you are curious about the ways society works in the digital era. Recently, I've spent a good few hours (maybe days) on this platform and creeped in other people's live broadcasts so as to get a probe of how people around the world like to showcase their lives. Here are my first 10 purely empirical conclusions:

1. Stereotypes - If you aren't a very nuanced analyst of the world, Facebook Live Map will definitely substantiate your stereotypes. What I am trying to say is that you will find a lot of "in your face" content, exuberance, diversity. People are still testing the platform not realizing how exposed they really get, so they would flirt, smoke, swear, sing, hate or preach with little self awareness; they are truly raw.

2. Countries mysteriously missing - For some reason, Canada doesn't appear on the map. I wonder why? I could not find an explanation online. Help me out!

3. Professional broadcasting - The Western countries, especially the US, show the largest percent of professional broadcasting of all the regions. Although it makes a whole lot of sense for media companies to use this technological opportunity, Eastern Europe, for instance seems clueless in this respect.I haven't seen one company in Romania (my home country) broadcasting live on Facebook while I was looking (by professional I mean conferences, radio or TV shows, lectures, sermons, shows, etc).

4. Mobile data traffic prices  - If you pay attention you can distinguish really easily which countries have affordable mobile data traffic and which don't. How? By analyzing how many outdoors broadcasting people actually make. For instance, US seems much more affordable than Latin America, and Romania seems definitely more affordable than Greece. Just saying ...

5. South East Asia - Is booming with Facebook Live contrary to my expectation. I would have expected that they would be more restrained but they are not. They are also very imaginative with its use. I came across people broadcasting their TV screen transmitting a film or a sports event and commenting it. They also seem to have huge follower numbers as opposed to Europe, at least for the moment.

6. Regional particularities - Appear ever more prominent.As you can imagine, crossing borders is the easiest thing to do on Facebook Live Map. While doing so, the overarching feeling is that languages sound alike, people are alike and behave alike.

I will give you an example: all Scandinavian people go to bed earlier than the Brits, the Dutch or the French. Or, at least, they don't feel any urge to go live at midnight.

7. Middle East - Is all male, but, on the other hand, I went and checked, and the gender imbalance in this region starts with the very creation of a Facebook account. They are, on average, 75% male to 25% female Facebook users in the Middle East.

8. Romania - Is aching with "manele"(Oriental inspired music generally played by the roma/gypsy  minority and associated with a certain lack of culture and bad taste) and bad language.

9. Urban vs. Rural - Urban areas, especially capital cities, are predominant across the globe.

10. New York is awesome even on Facebook Live :))

I will answer the question you are probably thinking of: why does this matter at all?
I would say that Facebook Live Map is an incredibly interesting tool, that can help you explore the world, prepare for the world, and ultimately get exposed, either shamed or appraised. Please don't get me wrong, I am not trying to be judgmental in any way. I cherish the courage and the selflessness of the people who experiment with Facebook Live. I wish I could be this authentic. Nonetheless, for those interested in the social, at a global scale, this tool allows an incredible window for observation.

Let us know what is your opinion about Facebook Live Map. Do you enjoy it? Do you find any use for it?