Zuck’s “data” dodge: it’s important.

Watching some of the highlights of Marc Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress, I see lots of Senators asking him yes or no questions such as, “do you believe FaceBook users have a right to download or delete their data.” Zuckerberg’s response was an unequivocal “yes, Senator” in all cases. But when asked questions about allowing users to decide how data accrued on them could be used or corrected, Zuck began to backpedal and attempt to slip back into tech speak.

It’s really important to understand why he pulls short when asked about deleting or correcting erroneous data. One reason is that all the questions asked to that point were about the “user’s data,” which Zuck can very quickly and easily answer in ways that make the Senators happy.

Because those answers were already beaten out of FaceBook a decade ago. Then, the question was about copyright: FaceBook originally claimed copyright ownership over your photos and posts, a notion which was received with howls of condemnation at the time. The result was a change in FaceBook policy which carved out for itself a limited license for that kind of data.

All of which is to say no: FaceBook does not own your “data,” nor does it hold unlimited copyright to it. Yes, you already have a legal right to all of that information, including your posts, comments, likes, photos, uploads and the whole kit-and-caboodle.

But companies like Cambridge Analytica (and Coca-Cola. and Pepsi. and Sony) are really after is the metadata that is created by the pattern your data creates. The fact that you “like” Roseanne is a lot less important than the fact that you watch more FaceBook videos at 3pm than other times of day. You are available to be advertised too and influenced at those times.

Holding on to actual data about any one individual is a waste of server space, even if you think you might want an archive for some reason. What matters is the ability to observe behavior in real time. That’s why “meme” images with sloganesque sayings on them are so important: you can send one out that’s intended to seem racist and watch what happens.

How long does the average person look at that image? The average Republican? The average 4-year degree holder? The average cop? Does the length of time they look at an image correlate to likes and comments? Does it even need to?

None of this data is “yours.” It wouldn’t exist in digital form without FaceBook providing a platform and third-party businesses aggregating it into actionable insights. Which is why “correcting” data about you is so important and so difficult for Zuck to agree to: that would require that companies open up their data operations to allow you to see their assumptions of you.

Doing so would most likely be an infuriating experience for the end user and a nightmare for businesses. Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t allow us to see what their assumptions are. But that’s what I think the line he’s going to try to skirt will be.

Rochester Technology

Dissecting a #fail: 7 questions about Lovely Warren’s “Stay In Your Own Lane.”

It seems a prominent politician’s Facebook account has been hacked, leading to an embarrassing series of screenshots going public. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Lovely Warren is in hot water, again. This time for allegedly sending out a scathing FU message to someone on Facebook – none of the reports are saying to whom the message was sent. The official response? Oh, man:

The mayor’s office says that there are several people who have access to Warren’s official and personal accounts, and she is working to see where the message in question came from.

Here is the portion of the conversation attributed to Lovely Warren’s account:

A portion of the conversation which has been attributed to Lovely Warren's account.
A portion of the conversation which has been attributed to Lovely Warren’s account.

She has since shut down both her personal and official accounts “until further notice.” So, let’s ask a few basic forensic questions.

7 Questions for Lovely Warren

  1. According to the screenshot, this appears to be a Private Message on Facebook. To whom was this message addressed?
  2. Let’s not assume anything. Do we even know that the offending message was sent from Lovely Warren’s account? Just because the Mayor’s Office says it is so? All that I see is a “chat head” with Warren’s picture on it?
  3. If indeed it was sent from a Lovely Warren account, from which account was this sent? Her personal account or the Fan Page?
  4. If it was her personal account, Facebook keeps a record of every IP address and login, including the “user agent,” or the software being used to access the account. Has this been checked? Or not?
  5. If it was her Fan Page, these types of accounts are not allowed to message someone directly unless they’ve been written a message by that fan first. Most Fan Page admins disable messaging primarily for this reason. Why was this option not disabled on Lovely Warren’s Fan Page?
  6. Fan Pages can also have multiple editors: any number of people can use the Page and post messages. Facebook has a good breakdown of which user roles can do what, and not all of them can send messages. Are all her editors administrators?
  7. Every editor’s activity can be logged, since they’re separate user accounts. Was none of this done with the Lovely Warren Fan Page? Was everybody just logging in as Warren to access her public page?

I could prattle on about the security aspects of this. Unsecured accounts and all that. Update: There are also legal questions, which I address here. How many more and how many mission critical accounts are sharing passwords? But really, this is just dumb, dumb, dumb social media flub for which the Mayor’s Office and Lovely Warren herself need some organized answers, soon.


Second Screen: more Twitter activity means more TV viewers, Neilson says

The one thing Twitter provides its users that no other social network has been able to touch is instant connection. It takes barely any effort at all to send a tweet, telling the world and all your followers exactly how you feel about something. Football games, live news events, local festivals and anything else that can be experienced in the moment can be communicated on Twitter for everyone to share.

Now a new study by the Neilson Group and a company called SocialGuide proves that there is a direct, quantifiable correlation between the amount of chatter about a show on Twitter and the ratings that show receives across the non-Twitterverse.

It may not be the most noble of statistics. Certainly, many of us in the Twitter community would rather hear about our impact on politics or news. Our triumphs as a media community during natural disasters. Maybe even an Abby Wambach story. We might prefer less How I Met Your Mother and more Tahrir Square. But these things are soft targets, statistics are hard to come by, and the message Neilson discovered was straight-forward.

More chatter, more ratings:

 How well does Twitter align with TV program ratings? The recent Nielsen/SocialGuide study confirmed that increases in Twitter volume correlate to increases in TV ratings for varying age groups, revealing a stronger correlation for younger audiences. Specifically, the study found that for 18-34 year olds, an 8.5% increase in Twitter volume corresponds to a 1% increase in TV ratings for premiere episodes, and a 4.2% increase in Twitter volume corresponds with a 1% increase in ratings for midseason episodes. Additionally, a 14.0% increase in Twitter volume is associated with a 1% increase in TV program ratings for 35-49 year olds, reflecting a stronger relationship between Twitter and TV for younger audiences.

The report goes on to say that midseason ratings are even more closely reflected in Twitter chatter, which seems to suggest that if you’re still talking about it on Twitter, you must like it.

Is Twitter determinative of ratings? Or reflective of a wider interest? Does the fact that you’re talking about The Big Bang Theory on Twitter mean that you, as an influential member of your meat-based community, are turning your friends on to it? Or does the fact that you and your friends watch TBBT mean that you’re going to end up talking about it on Twitter more?

Either way, consider the Second Screen life to have officially begun in the minds of every television executive and entertainer out there. Look out Twitterinos: shit just got real.


Mars Curiosity wins SXSW social media award

What is simultaneously amazing and obvious about social media – and in this case, especially Twitter – is how easily our shared meat-based existence becomes an intimate of our virtual social worlds. Some things, like the ill-begotten Weather Channel flurry naming system, register as powerful but brief blips on our trending topics ( #nemo ugh ). The light that burns twice as bright, and all that.

Other topics, such as the saga of the retiring Pope and his subsequent replacement, generate multiple trending topics and hash tags. They bounce in and out of our social existence periodically, making their presence known only when there is some new thing to report and discuss.

But still other things, like the Mars Curiosity Rover, have launched entire new communities around both the technology and the people who make up the program. At the South by Southwest shindig this week, @MarsCuriosity and its attached social phenomenon were awarded the Interactive Award for Best Social Media Campaign. Along with the Curiosity Twitter account, the social media team at NASA also engaged the Twitter audience directly with heavy campaigning around the landing of the Rover:

NASA Tweetup and NASA Social events added a “you are there” element to the campaign. Social media followers were randomly selected to go behind the scenes for launch and landing. They met with scientists and engineers, took pictures, asked questions and shared the experience via their own social media accounts, making them citizen journalists and ambassadors for the mission.

Is it amazing that a car-sized hunk of metal gets 1.3m followers and its own parody account ( @SarcasticRover ) with 100k followers of its own? Or does this phenomenon speak to the power of space exploration in our collective consciousness?


Journalism Politics Technology

Is Twitter “representative” of public opinion? Media gets it wrong.

Pew Internet Research put out an analysis of Twitter conversation and compared that to its own public opinion polling. The results of their analysis? From the headline, “Twitter Reaction to Events Often at Odds with Overall Public Opinion.”

Pew’s search and analysis parter, Crimson Hexagon, took a three-day sample of tweets which contained words or phrases relevant to a given hot-button news item and analyzed them for positive or negative terms as described in their methodology:

The data on Twitter comes from an analysis of all publicly available Tweets. The time period for each event varied, but none included more than three days worth of reaction. For each subject, multiple search terms were used to identify appropriate tweets. For example, to find messages commenting on President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Speech, Tweets were included if they appeared in the four hours following the start of his speech and used the words “state” and “union,” or “Obama,” or “SOTU.”

Unlike most human coding, CH does not measure each post as a unit, but examines the entire discussion in the aggregate. To do that, the algorithm breaks up all relevant texts into subsections. Rather than dividing each Tweet, paragraph, sentence or word, CH treats the “assertion” as the unit of measurement. If 40% of a story fits into one category, and 60% fits into another, the software will divide the text accordingly. Consequently, the results are not expressed in percent of Tweets, but rather the percent of assertions out of the entire body of stories identified by the original Boolean search terms.

But while we can argue about the efficacy of their methods (more on that later), the media seems to be willfully getting the results wrong. Check out a quick sample of the headlines:

Sample of conservative reactions by Twitterverse, at odds with the Daily Caller’s miopic understanding of reality. Source: Pew

This list even includes a majority of tech-savvy websites. The Daily Caller (ever the picture of reliable reportage) even took to interpreting the report as calling Twitter “a liberal, miopic, negative place.” This, despite the fact that the report clearly says that the Twitterverse occasionally breaks Conservative when public sentiment is Liberal. But there is a big difference between opinion on Twitter being “at odds” with general public opinion and not being a “reliable” indicator.

For a start, when 16% of Americans all share a common demographic bond – our affinity for Twitter – it should not be at all surprising that we share a common set of opinions. Neither should it be surprising that those opinions differ from a wider sample of the public.

Moreover, public opinion changes. It changes as people learn more about things and as facts present themselves. That very often takes more than three days for a lot of people. Twitter being heavily weighted to breaking news, tweeps have a tendency to be ahead of the curve.

We tweeps tend to “watch” the news unfold more or less together in real-time, so social reaction must also play its part. Twitter users have also been shown to be “influencers,” meaning we tend to voice our opinions to our friends more often than the average bear, you might say. It would be interesting to do the same sample, three days after a news break and then the following three days, to see if there is any change in the dichotomy between popular and Twitter sentiment.

But all of this presumes that Pew’s research is accurate. This is a very dicey affair, as indeed all public opinion polling is. But in this case, instead of speaking directly with tweeps, they’re using aggregation and analysis software to decide what is “positive” vs. “negative” or “conservative” vs. “liberal.” We are nowhere near a level of confidence in “Big Data” analysis of this type to consider this analysis anything other than hugely questionable.

The algorithms Crimson Hexagon uses would need to interpret tweets according to whether or not they’re really relevant to a given topic, whether the tweet was being sarcastic or some other form of humor, and whether the “negative” words are a function of genuine negativity or simple a reflection of language. Buffalo alone would be enough to give coders cold sweats, trying to interpret all that negativity.

And of course, it needs to be pointed out: Pew’s opinion polls do not reflect public sentiment any more accurately than Twitter, simply because Pew says they do. I am a big fan of Pew’s work – I cite it a lot, especially on (irony alert) Twitter. But by no means does this study reflect any kind of scientific fidelity.

Science Technology

Researchers find Twitter data to be as reliable as official reports of Haiti cholera outbreak

I’ve joked for a long time that there exists in Rochester a sort of “Twitter Doppler” reporting system for weather. When big storms roll into the Rochester area, you can accurately measure their passing simply by watching the #ROC hashtag for that few hours.

But as it turns out, Twitter actually is pretty good at tracking crises in real time and that fact is receiving some scientific mention today, as Nature reports that researchers find that in Haiti’s cholera outbreak, the direct reporting on Twitter was nearly as accurate as official reports.

In fact, they found the reports to be much faster. That’s the least we could have expected, of course. But on the average, they found those faster reports more accurate, which is surprising even for those of us who believe in Twitter’s power as a communicator.

There are a few necessary caveats, of course. Twitter reports will likely be urban-biased, since wealth is largely urban-biased. Also, to the extent that journalists are the drivers of social media reports – a variable not defined in the original article – they will also be urban biased.

But it seems to me that official reports are at least as likely to have the same bias, since especially in more remote locations, rural life is difficult to get to. Moreover, official reports often have political biases for which we cannot necessarily account or make predictions. That social media was able to shed some light on the situation raises the question of what might happen in the context of a more closed society than Haiti.

Twitter data accurately tracked Haiti cholera outbreak : Nature News & Comment.


Symantec says spam levels at 3-year low. But what about social media?

CNet News is reporting today that Symatec is declaring spam levels for 2011 to be at the lowest level seen in three years. Believe it or not, that lowest level? That means 70% of all email is spam, compared to 90% in 2010. This is what passes for improvement in email security.

But this also raises another interesting question: where are the statistics for social media spam and malware? These vectors are at least as potentially damaging as any email attack, particularly for businesses with a social media presence that needs maintenance.

Spam sinks to lowest level in almost three years, says Symantec | Security – CNET News.


KODAK Gallery to offer social sharing discounts on holiday offers

For all their faults, give KODAK a bit of credit for doing something interesting with their social media presence. The Sacremento Bee picks up on a press release that I also got, but I’ll actually do the work of translating for you, rather than just posting the PR (which is below, if you’re into that sort of thing).

The gist is this: buy a KODAK Gallery product – they’re offering three different packages, made up of photo calendars, cards and other stuff – and then share it with your friends for a discount. Really, this is a way to cut the middle man – Groupon, I’m looking in your direction – out of the loop and get the social media bang out of holiday spending.

KODAK Gallery Partners with SocialTwist for “Holiday Value Packs” – PR Newswire –

Blogging Media Technology

Your Social Media influence extends well beyond your network

The Nielson company – that agency famous for their ratings boxes back in the Eighties – has compiled a fantastic study of social media users and web use in general. The study is full of useful insights, some more obvious than others, on the way in which we use Social Media.

But the really interesting point is that, contrary to popular belief, Social Media users tend to be much more involved outside of their SM networks than most. Of course this makes some sense, because if you’re not doing anything interesting, you’re not likely to have much to say.

Social Networkers, the report suggests, are more influential because the personal recommendation of someone you know is more powerful than other forms of recommendation. And SM users are more likely to voice an opinion on television, music, cloths, and of course political issues of the day.

So the million-dollar question is: does the use of Social Media make you more influential, or does your presence on Social Networks make them more influential? I don’t think this is necessarily a question that can be answered in the aggregate. But for those of us trying to make the most of SN, its worth taking the time to contemplate how much is coming from Column A and how much is coming from Column B.

Journalism Technology

FaceBook Linked to Psychological Disorders… Like Paranoia, Maybe?

I remember being a kid and watching PM Magazine. Yes, I watched PM Magazine. Was weird then, am weird now…

Anyway, the point is: every week, there would be another story about Dungeons and Dragons and cults. Apparently, somewhere in the United States, there were kids who actually formed cults based around the popular role play game and committed murder because of it. Remember that? Can anyone find me an article with documentary evidence of same?

I didn’t think so. And with that in mind, I present to you the modern equivalent:

Facebook Linked To Psychological Disorders In Teens – Technorati Blogging.

Rosen presented the results of his studies in a presentation titled “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids.” The findings are based on a number of computer surveys that were distributed to 1,000 urban adolescents and Rosen’s 15 minute observations of 300 teens as they studied.

The findings showed that there were clearly psychological disorders in nearly every case. Social media has been linked to aggressive tendencies, mania, stomach aches, sleeping problems, anxiety and depression. In addition the teen is likely to suffer a technological “overdose” on a daily basis not limited to Facebook but including video games as well as other technological devices.

Sooooooo…… fifteen minutes and an anonymous survey of teenagers leads to a book deal, apparently. Shit, I can’t wait to write my book.


Is Video Chat the new WebTV?

There are just some things that don’t mix. Over and over again, we’ve discovered this with the various strands of Internet-connected television. Yes, being able to download movies and television shows from your NetFlix account to your Tivo box is a nice feature, but no, people are not inclined to sit in front of a keyboard or even a smart phone while watching television. Now with the announcements by both Google and FaceBook that they’re rolling out video chat features, I have to wonder if we’re not about to witness yet another colossal industry flop, this time in stereo?

Evolution – in organic life or in technology – is not a conga line of superior creations. Evolution includes many branches of distinctly-adapted creations that fulfill a required niche. That’s why there are humans and butterflies on the same planet, rather than a single, superiorly-adapted species. That is also why there is television and radio: one does not fulfill the role of the other. Its important to keep this in mind when we watch the parade of tech analysts and trend-watchers as they insist that Product X is the “wave of the future,” and that all other similar technologies will soon be relegated to the Smithsonian.

Internet on the Television

Computers and televisions also fulfill distinct roles. One is active, the other passive. When you watch television, do you really want to sit with a keyboard, tablet or smart phone and constantly change your field of vision? Not to simply update your Twitter or maybe program a few things to record, but to even make the television operate? That’s a recipe for a headache, even in the most technologically-adapted people I know. And forget about mice and the ill-fated pointers.

In many homes, television viewing is also a communal experience. Two or more people will watch the same television. Computers are largely a personal device, with only one person viewing it. Imagine watching television while someone constantly fiddles with five different applications on the same screen.

So while I certainly spend many television-watching sessions also furiously Twittering and surfing the Internet – much to my wife’s chagrin – I really don’t have any desire to combine the two in a single device. And clearly, after the flubs of WebTV and Gateway Media Center PC’s, the idea has gone to trial and the verdict has been a sentence of life on entries and punchlines.

All Hail Video Chat!

So, video phones have been the oohs-and-aahs sci-fi fantasy since there has been sci-fi. Why hasn’t it happened sooner? Well, it has. Over and over and over again, from AT&T’s Picture-Phone of 1956 right up to The Apprentice hawking some video phone service I don’t know the name of because…. it seems like it was probably a failure.

And here we go again. FaceBook and Google both have video conferencing systems in various states of readiness, and the big story throughout much of the media was whether Google beat FaceBook to the punch or the other way ’round. But has anybody bothered to ask the question: why do we use Social Networking instead of just talking to each other face-to-face? Because the answer to that question may be the reason for what I suspect will be an inevitable and expensive failure for both companies.

Social Networking is only half-social: yes, we share, we talk, we debate, we laugh. But we do so within the privacy of our own spaces. And we do so, in many cases, in various forms of anonymity. Even video blogging is a largely underutilized avenue of blogging. Do we wonder why?

Then there is one last item that dogs many would-be technological revolutions, Web TV and Video Chat included: the techno gap. Its all well and good for those of us who live and breath technology to say how easy it is to setup FaceBook chat, but is that the same experience your grandparents will have? What about your sister or brother who has a few kids constantly fiddling with their computers? Or your parents with the spyware and viruses loaded on their systems. Will they have the same effortless experience as you?

I could be completely wrong about the video chat thing. But I’ll bet anyone who cares to that this thing dies a slow, largely untelevised death in the backwaters of the companies foolish enough to have bothered.