Weaponised psychology and centralised corruption a tale of two internets?

Public Service Internet
Imagine two sides of a tree. One is private and the other one is public. You have the choice to move freely between both, now thats a park I think is fair to everyone

I was a little disappointed in the discussion I heard during the PsychTech Podcast titled A Digital Attention Crisis? I was expecting a little more in-depth criticism of the digital system. But they seemed to turn against Tristan Harris and the time well spent movement.

Don’t get me wrong some of it did make sense but I felt like they were shooting the messenger not listening to the message. Now to be fair I was listening in the shower and getting ready; so may have missed some key parts while washing my hair. But by the end I was shouting out loud, have they never heard of the Quantified Self?

The point of time well spent isn’t about Tristan dictating some rules from on high. Its meant for us to question our relationship with ubiquitous  connected technology and the way the companies behind them influences our lives.

Ironically a few days before I read Tim Berners-Lee’s rallying call to regulate tech firms to prevent ‘weaponised’ web. Its a pretty good read but I feel slightly muted because thats what Tim is like. I’m much more aggressive about the whole issue, and to be fair Kelli and Josue at the very start say, well its just capitalism, what you going to do about it?

I reject this notion but this is also why my focus isn’t on fixing the over reach of capitalism on our attention, thoughts, relationships with each other and beyond.

What happened to diversity? Just have a look at the apps we all use and whos behind each one

Instead its time to double down on the public sector. This is why I find any discussion related to this from an American point of view slightly painful to hear and lacking of the mention of serious alternatives.

Berners-Lee warned of “two myths” that “limit our collective imagination” when looking for solutions to the problems facing the web: “The myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points we need to be a little more creative,” he said.

“I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions,” he said.

He’s absolutely right… Even the concept of a decentralised dating site, gets blank or weird looks. We have hood winked into the centralised model and its not always the best way. I was going say sleep walked but that wouldn’t do justice to the massive influence of the silicon valley tech firms. This is also the part I think the PsychTech podcast misses, this is weaponised psychology not just a happy accident solved by installing an app.

Berners-Lee has always maintained that his creation was a reflection of humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly. However, his vision to create an “open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries” has been challenged as the web has become more centralised.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

Its very much why I was interested in space wrangling the decentralised space at Mozfest last year. Centralised power corrupts I maintain. Tim is right we need a better vision but rather than spend all that effort trying to reform a horribly broken system of corruption, greed and power. Make an viable alternative which makes the existing model obsolete… (love Buckminster for this great quote)

Its time to build a public service internet which maintains its values, diversity and distributed nature of the public; as an alternative to whats currently seen as the whole internet… We don’t need a new internet, we need competing services with different business models which can talk to each other and give options to the people.

You want a private park which is nicely maintained and don’t mind paying for the privilege? Fine. But if you want a park which is public and has a lively community because its free to the public due to taxes. Fine too. Similar to health care, libraries, transport in Europe, you can pay but there is a baseline.

Critical when thinking about the digital divide and the next 1 billion people.

This still leaves a gaping “digital divide” that exacerbates existing inequalities: you are more likely to be offline if you are female, poor, or live in a rural area or a low-income country.

“To be offline today is to be excluded from opportunities to learn and earn, to access valuable services, and to participate in democratic debate,” Berners-Lee said. “If we do not invest seriously in closing this gap, the last billion will not be connected until 2042. That’s an entire generation left behind.”

Two years ago, the UN declared internet access to be a basic human right on par with clean water, shelter, food and electricity. However, in many places, getting online is prohibitively expensive – the cost of 1GB of mobile broadband in Malawi is more than 20% of the average monthly income. In Zimbabwe, it is nearly 45%.

Straight from the drug dealers handbook

Learning from drug dealer

Recently there’s been a bunch of news pieces about the somewhat dodgy practices of silicon valley funded companies. I’ve found the language use really interesting, and if there was a drug dealers handbook (there might be a few of them to be honest?) they would be in there for sure; likely as case studies.

Free trial to hook new users

#1 – Free taster, hooked forever

While researching and writing my presentation for dating into the future, I found this which I knew was true but good to find the research to back up my assumption.

In a study on the brains of drug addicts, researchers found that the expectation of the drug caused more release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine than the actual drug itself. Similarly, for those who may be expecting the next swipe on Tinder to lead to reward, serial swiping can start to look and feel a lot like addiction. Not surprisingly, in 2015 Tinder began to limit the amount of daily right swipes to around 100 for users who don’t buy into their premium service

 

Never get high on your own supply

#2 – Don’t get high on your own supply

Classic drug dealer 101 stuff, perfect words for how those involved in the business

Developers of platforms such as Facebook have admitted that they were designed to be addictive. Should we be following the executives’ example and going cold turkey – and is it even possible for mere mortals?

Lesson 2: Don't get high on your own supply

This instantly reminds me of so many films involving drug cutting including women in their underwear?

Does Cannabis Inherently Harm Young People's Developing Minds?

#3 – Get them while young

I was shocked to discover that tinder use to be open to under 18s. This is also going in my future of dating talk.

Dating app Tinder has announced that, beginning next week, they are raising the minimum age of users to 18.

Tinder spokesperson, Rosette Pambakian announced the changes in a statement: “On a platform that has facilitated over 11 billion connections, we have the responsibility of constantly assessing our different user experiences.”

“Consistent with this responsibility, we have decided to discontinue service for under 18 users. We believe this is the best policy moving forward. This change will take effect next week.

When the dating app was launched back in 2012 Tinder was separated into three age categories – under thirteens who were not permitted to use the service, 13 to 17-year-olds and over 18.

Of course since the restriction, others have stepped up to cater for the younger audience. Get them hooked early?

Lets not forget how much impact peer pressure can be in this situation too. Ask many people why they started to smoke while young…

The vulnerability of teens is intensified by the fact that as they move through the rite of passage that is their teenage years, the approval of their friends is increasing and eclipsing the value to them of parental approval.

Vape juice vaping

#4 – Sell the sizzle

or Always tell customers your drugs are the best make up stories about how good it is

Like most of these rules, they are super common across industries but its interesting to think about selling the sizzle. We tend to buy in to the utopian sizzle around these services and platforms without too much questioning. Then are surprised/shocked when we hear about negative behaviours; but think well that won’t happen to me or they were doing something wrong (victim blaming).

I love Tony Hunts idea of what would this all look like if it had warning like you get on cigarette packs? Mark Manson’s been say the smartphone is the new cigarettes, so I guess it makes a lot more sense.

Lawsuits, sell the data and get out!

#5 -Have a exit strategy

or plan escape routes if something goes bad aka Valley talk: pivot or sell

Remember the myspace sell off?

Myspace, once the world’s hottest internet firm, has been sold to an online ad company for around $35m, a fraction of the $100m its parent company was seeking for the ailing social network and billions less than its value five years ago.

or how about the on going story of Ashley Madison’s try to get back into our good books but not really changing at all…

The preferred website to find an affair, Ashley Madison, is teaching better infidelity through fitness in its latest campaign.

The leading married dating website launched its new year campaign advising cheaters that if not getting caught is one of their New Year’s resolutions, then staying fit should be too.

The campaign, titled ‘Morning Run,’ features a woman appearing to be out for a routine morning run. A voice over asks “Why am I out of bed before anyone else? Why do I run faster than I did yesterday?…I just don’t want to get caught.”

We see the woman running behind her chasing her down as she runs from her extramarital partner’s wife as the ad closes and the site’s tagline comes up – “Life is short. Have an affair.”

Ok its all a stretch and quite fun but there is some elements of truth in each rule and linking them to how different companies treat their users and how they think about the whole setup/game.

Is silicon valleys dystopia the public sectors utopia?

I was listening to the start of This week in Tech on Monday morning as they talked about the Guardian piece titled Smartphone addiction, Silicon valley dystopia and other related stories. I couldn’t help but feel something was missing from the discussion.

The discussion focused on how to solve some of the points about unethical attention manipulation, filter bubbles, smartphone addiction, etc; all from an North American point of view. There was a sense if this was left to the government to regulate it would be a very bad thing but they were searching for a middle ground and failing. They acknowledged companies need to make money and making their services addictive/sticky is a part of this, but there was a feeling there has to be something in the middle?

Of course they never mention the public sector, as it doesn’t really factor? Its very binary and thinking about it, even in Tristan’s essay there is little notation of the middle ground.

I wonder if silicon valleys dystopia could be the public sectors utopia? However if the message is North American, it’s very unlikely to include anything about the public sector, just governments and business?

Quantifying your smartphone usage mentioned recently

There’s a recent BBC documentary titled Secrets Of Silicon Valley, its not a bad watch at all. In part 2, the presenter installs an app to see how much time he spends on his phone through out the day. Very similar to what happened at the Quantified Self 2017 conference, but even I almost coked on my tea when the final figure of over 5 hours was announced for the day.

My monthly smartphone usage

Looking at my own usage, over the last month I spent 19hrs 1minute over 384 pickups, looking at my mobile phone.

I admit this is so very low in comparison to others.

By the way I’m still looking for a decent way to do this without abundance of features, battery use and in a data ethical way.

Decentralise or Decentralize this and everything?

Silicon Valley season 4

Decentralise or Decentralize that is always a question I have… Of course being British, the first one is correct (I joke!)

Its fair to say I have been thinking about decentralisation quite a lot recently, but its not the first time. Conversations with Adewale has always got me thinking about this all.

Partly due to Mozfest/Mozretreat this year and thinking about it in terms of power structures; which I’ll explain more in another blog post soon. But I found a number of interesting points about decentralisation which I thought I’d share….

I’ve been thinking about the differences between Centralised, Decentralisation, Distributed and Federated; as I joined Mastodon and thought a lot about Jabber, Status.net and Laconica. Can the user the experience be better than the centralised services? Theres potential but is the will there?

Kevin Marks shared a link to a piece about Silicon Valley series 4 and how the main character Richard is interested in building a more decentralised internet.

In the first episode of the new season (Season 4) of HBO’s Silicon Valley, beleaguered entrepreneur Richard Hendricks, asked by eccentric venture capitalist Russ Hanneman, what, given unlimited time and resources, he would want to build.

“A new Internet,” says Hendricks.

“Why?” asks Hanneman.

Hendricks babbles about telescopes and the moon landing and calculators and the massive computing power in phones today, and says: “What if we used all those phones to build a massive network?… We use my compression algorithm to make everything small and efficient, to move things around…. If we could do it, we could build a completely decentralized version of our current Internet with no firewalls, no tolls, no government regulation, no spying. Information would be totally free in every sense of the word.”

Hel-lo! Decentralized Internet? That’s a concept I’ve heard bubbling around the tech world for a while now, but not so much in the consciousness of the general public. Is HBO’s Silicon Valley about to take the push for a Decentralized Web mainstream?

Of course decentralisation isn’t a panacea and shifting the power from a centralised power comes with roles and lots more responsibility. It also relies on correctly informed citizens. This is why the distributed and federated models are much more interesting in my mind…

A couple people mentioned Brexit is a type of decentraisation, and I guess it is but further encourages thoughts about distributed and federated. Manchester recently got its first Mayor because of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 which is a type of decentralisation I guess.

Its clear the internet could do with less centralisation but unless its as good or better a experience for people; why would they switch? That warm fuzzy feeling is powerful but not strong enough, you only have to look at the wake of decentralised social networks to see evidence of this.

People’s enthusiasm for federated decentralised $WHATEVER seems inversely proportional to the practicality of their plan for achieving it

And thats just the developers, goodness knows what the users enthusiasm levels are like? Surely one day it will just work and users won’t even know its been built that way.

Dare I mention my thoughts about distributed online dating? Imagine that!

Little diversity changes in the valley?

Nancy Lee

Google’s head of diversity, Nancy Lee, is retiring from Google after several years of leading the company’s global diversity and inclusion team

In Google’s latest diversity report, we saw that overall representation of women went from 30 percent female in 2014 to 31 percent female in 2015. But the overall percentage of black and Hispanic people did not increase at all, with overall representation of blacks remaining at 2 percent and Hispanics remaining at 3 percent. In 2015, only 4 percent of Google’s hires were black and 5 percent of its hires were Hispanic.

It’s not clear who will take over as head of diversity or when Lee’s last day is. Google declined to comment for this story.

Although still (at the moment I write this) not confirmed and this isn’t a criticism of Nancy’s initiatives. But its not great news and looking back at the afrofutures talk I gave a while back, little seems to have changed when it comes to non-white or non-asian people in tech. I would have hoped the increase in women would be higher too, especially with all work and attention.

Seems little is going to change in the valley, at least for diversity and inclusion. I’m sure we will find out about Nancy’s difficult position very soon.

Zuckerberg casts doubt on Silicon Valley

Some interesting comments from Mark Zuckerberg recently

In a rare interview conducted over the weekend at Y Combinator’s Startup Schoool, the brash, young CEO admits he would have stayed on the east coast if he could have his time again.

He said: “If I were starting now I would do things very differently. I didn’t know anything.

“In Silicon Valley, you get this feeling that you have to be out here. But it’s not the only place to be. If I were starting now, I would have stayed in Boston.

“But I think that now, knowing more of what I know, I think I might have been able to pull it off. You don’t have to move out here to do this.

“Silicon Valley is a little short-term focused and that bothers me.”

Many others would say he benefited from Silicon Valley’s short-term focused nature and I would agree with that statement. I would like to see if he’s going to now shift Facebook out of the Silicon Valley area? I very much doubt it and that as far as I’m concerned is like moaning about where you live and not lifting a finger to do anything about it…

hindsight is always wonderful

Although I got to say its a very small victory for other places such as silicon roundabout… Hopefully they will read this as a sign NOT to clone silicon valley

Build tech city or go one better?

rain rain go away

Not wrote anything about London’s TechCity and Silicon Roundabout for quite sometime but I’ve been thinking about it… The recent talk from Matt Brittin at MediaCityUK reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while.

The Silicon Roundabout thing slightly bugs me and the Techcity thing winds me up but not for the reasons you would imagine. Silicon roundabout is frankly a silly name but I can live with that. The area is full of hopeful startups and internet powered companies. Its great and to be fair east London was always a cool place. I actually spent quite a lot of time in the last startup boom.

My problem is copying the states… Not only copying the concept but somewhat getting it seriously wrong or backwards. I’ll save the reasons for others but this is different times, different circumstances and a totally different country. Part of the solution is diversity of ideas and process, something the UK is very good at in one way or another.

Its no mistake Google’s Eric Schmitt mentions “you’re either a ‘luvvy’ or a ‘boffin’.”

A cultural thing which has got to stop, along with simply copying…

To coin an old phrase, think differently…?