Opinion | Facebook Isn’t Just Allowing Lies, It’s Prioritizing Them – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

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Mr. Wu is a law professor at Columbia.

Credit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times

” “First, do no harm,” a doctrine typically associated with the practice of medicine, is the right ethic when it comes to decisions surrounding Silicon Valley’s paid promotion technologies and their effects on elections and democracy. A desire to avoid harm — in particular, the spread of misinformation — is part of what persuaded Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, to announce that his company will no longer run political ads. And Twitter is not alone: LinkedIn, Pinterest, Microsoft and Twitch also refuse political ads, while Google accepts them in some states but not others.

Facebook is now the outlier, and it is increasingly hard to understand why it is insisting on accepting not only political advertising, but even deliberate and malicious lies if they are in the form of paid advertisements. Given how much can go wrong — and has gone wrong — the question everyone is asking is: Why does Facebook think it needs to be in this game? Naïveté is at this point the most flattering explanation.

It isn’t, as some think, just about making money, for as a revenue source, the money at stake is minor. But the money does matter, in a different way. Paying for promotion is how, on social media, some speakers gain priority over others. This creates an advantage unrelated to actual popularity. Paired with the freedom to lie, the effect is to give political lies and paid misinformation campaigns a twisted advantage over other forms of election speech (like “the news.”) Even as Facebook’s “integrity” teams try to stamp out other forms of deception, paid promotions gain access to the full power of Facebook’s tools of microtargeting, its machine learning and its unrivaled collection of private information, all to maximize the influence of blatant falsehoods. What could possibly go wrong?

If the idea of prioritizing lies over truth doesn’t sound very appealing, Facebook’s defenses of its policy are almost their own misinformation campaign. Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs and communications, has suggested that Facebook sees itself as providing the “tennis court” where politicians play the game of politics. But tennis actually has strict rules; Facebook has embraced, instead, the norms of a fighting cage. More important, Mr. Clegg is hiding the more fundamental question: Who ever said Facebook needed be the tennis court in the first place?”

Opinion | How Capitalism Betrayed Privacy – The New York Times

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Tim Wu

By Tim Wu

Mr. Wu is the author of “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads.”

CreditCreditErik Carter

For much of human history, what we now call “privacy” was better known as being rich. Privacy, like wealth, was something that most people had little or none of. Farmers, slaves and serfs resided in simple dwellings, usually with other people, sometimes even sharing space with animals. They had no expectation that a meaningful part of their lives would be unwatchable or otherwise off limits to others. That would have required homes with private rooms. And only rich people had those.

The spread of mass privacy, surely one of modern civilization’s more impressive achievements, thus depended on another, even more impressive achievement: the creation of a middle class. Only over the past 300 years or so, as increasingly large numbers of people gained the means to control their physical environment through the acquisition of wealth and private property, did privacy norms and eventually privacy rights come into existence. What is a right to privacy without a room of your own?

The historical link between privacy and the forces of wealth creation helps explain why privacy is under siege today. It reminds us, first, that mass privacy is not a basic feature of human existence but a byproduct of a specific economic arrangement — and therefore a contingent and impermanent state of affairs. And it reminds us, second, that in a capitalist country, our baseline of privacy depends on where the money is. And today that has changed.

The forces of wealth creation no longer favor the expansion of privacy but work to undermine it. We have witnessed the rise of what I call “attention merchants” and what the sociologist Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism” — the commodification of our personal dataClose Xby tech giants like Facebook and Google and their imitators in telecommunications, electronics and other industries. We face a future in which active surveillance is such a routine part of business that for most people it is nearly inescapable. In this respect, we are on the road back to serfdom.

 

via Opinion | How Capitalism Betrayed Privacy – The New York Times

Opinion |  The Democrats’ Complexity Problem – by Tim Wu – The New York Times

“One bright area in these dark days of American politics has been a blossoming of bold and interesting progressive policy ideas, such as wealth taxes, postal banking (offering basic financial services to customers who might not otherwise have access to them) and breaking up the giants of the tech industry. In the spirit of fresh starts, progressives should now confront an even more basic challenge: their complexity problem.

In recent decades progressives have not prioritized making policies and programs easy for most Americans to understand, use and benefit from. Fixing this problem will mean overcoming a streak of perfectionism and a certain intellectual defensiveness, but it must be done if progressives are to make government popular again.

The Affordable Care Act is a good example of the complexity problem. Yes, it was an important policy achievement, and yes, many of its problems can be rightly blamed on industry resistance and Republican efforts to dismantle it.

But the act is also exceptionally hard to understand and discouragingly daunting to make use of. An emphasis on “choice” and “transparency” resulted in a law that only a rational-choice theorist could love. The act made health insurance more complicated, not less, which is one reason that such a high percentage of medical bills go to paying administrative costs, and why the Affordable Care Act is much less popular than it could be.

It used to be said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. Today she’s a liberal who tried to pay a babysitter without breaking the law. It is admirable that Democrats try to tackle society’s thorniest problems with the often unwieldy tools of government, but that is not an excuse for programs that are too complex for their own good.

The truth is that good public policy can actually be elegant and simple to understand, even when the social problem that it’s addressing is complex. Social Security, Medicare, bans on indoor smoking, the “do not call” list (when it worked) and public libraries are examples of government solutions that are easy to understand and to benefit from.

Avoidance of complexity and minimizing choices are hallmarks of good design, as we have learned from the technological revolution in user interfaces. The age of impossible-to-use computers and incomprehensible TV remote controls has given way to the sleek and intuitive interfaces offered by pioneers like Steve Jobs of Apple. What progressives most need now is not more brains, but better policy designers.”

Opinion | The Oppression of the Supermajority – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

By Tim Wu
Mr. Wu is a law professor.

March 5, 2019, 379

“We are told that America is divided and polarized as never before. Yet when it comes to many important areas of policy, that simply isn’t true.

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants — as much as demagogy and political divisiveness — is what is making the public so angry.

Some might counter that the thwarting of the popular will is not necessarily worrisome. For Congress to enact a proposal just because it is supported by a large majority, the argument goes, would amount to populism. The public, according to this way of thinking, is generally too ill informed to have its economic policy preferences taken seriously.”

Opinion | China’s Online Censorship Stifles Trade- Too – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

Tim Wu

By Tim Wu

Mr. Wu is a law professor who specializes in technology.

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“As China and the United States engage in high-level negotiations over a possible trade deal, it’s puzzling to see what’s been left off the table: the Chinese internet market. China blocks or hinders nearly every important foreign competitor online, including Google, Facebook, Wikipedia in Chinese, Pinterest, Line (the major Japanese messaging company), Reddit and The New York Times. Even Peppa Pig, a British cartoon character and internet video sensation, has been censored on and off; an editorial in the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper once warned that she could “destroy children’s youth.”

China has long defended its censorship as a political matter, a legitimate attempt to protect citizens from what the government regards as “harmful information,” including material that “spreads unhealthy lifestyles and pop culture.” But you don’t need to be a trade theorist to realize that the censorship is also an extremely effective barrier to international trade. The global internet economy is worth at least $8 trillion and growing, yet the Trump administration has focused chiefly on manufacturing, technology transfers and agriculture, and does not seem to have pressed for concessions on this issue.

Sheltered from American, Japanese and European competition, Chinese internet businesses have grown enormously over the past decade. Nine of the world’s 20 largest internet firms, by market value, are now Chinese. Some of this growth reflects the skill and innovation of Chinese engineers, a vibrant start-up culture and the success of Chinese business in catering to local tastes. But it’s hard to believe that this has been unaided by censorship.

And the barriers to foreign competition have more than just economic effects. Without any better options, Chinese users are forced to put up with companies like Tencent, which owns the private messaging app WeChat, and the online payment company Ant Financial, whose privacy violations are, amazingly, even more troubling than those of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. By tolerating Chinese censorship, the United States encourages other countries to do the same.”

Source: Opinion | China’s Online Censorship Stifles Trade, Too – The New York Times

Opinion | Don’t Fall for Facebook’s ‘China Argument’ – by Tim Wu – The New York Times

America’s global dominance in technology requires fierce competition at home, not the coddling of monopolies.

Tim Wu

By Tim Wu

Mr. Wu is a law professor who specializes in antitrust.

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CreditCreditAlex Merto

“Over the last year or so, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and other American tech leaders have issued a stark warning to those who want to see more competition in the industry. It goes something like this: “We understand that we’ve made mistakes. But don’t you realize that if you damage us, you’ll just be handing over the future to China? Unlike America, the Chinese government is standing behind its tech firms, because it knows that the competition is global, and it wants to win.”

This — Big Tech’s version of the “too big to fail” argument — has a superficial nationalistic appeal. It’s certainly true that the Chinese technology sector is growing and aggressively competitive, and that many of its companies are embraced and promoted by the Chinese state. By one count, eight of the world’s 20 largest tech firms are Chinese. That would seem to suggest a contest for global dominance, one in which the United States ought not be considering breakups or regulation, but instead be doing everything it can to protect and subsidize the home team.

But to accept this argument would be a mistake, for it betrays and ignores hard-won lessons about the folly of an industrial policy centered on “national champions,” especially in the tech sector. What Facebook is really asking for is to be embraced and protected as America’s very own social media monopolist, bravely doing battle overseas. But both history and basic economics suggest we do much better trusting that fierce competition at home yields stronger industries overall.

That’s the lesson from the history of Japanese-American tech competition. During the 1970s and into the ’80s, it was widely believed that Japan was threatening the United States for supremacy in technology markets. The Japanese giant NEC was a serious challenger to IBM in the mainframe market; Sony was running over consumer electronics, joined by powerful firms like Panasonic and Toshiba. These companies enjoyed the support of the Japanese state, through the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which pursued a nationalistic industrial policy thought to be infallible.”

Source: Opinion | Don’t Fall for Facebook’s ‘China Argument’ – The New York Times

Opinion | The Republican Attack on California – By Tim Wu – NYT

A challenge to the state’s net neutrality laws shows that the G.O.P. no longer believes in federalism (if it ever did).
By Tim Wu
Mr. Wu is a law professor at Columbia.
Oct. 3, 2018

“For the past 60 years or so, the Republican Party has declared itself the true party of decentralized government, the founding vision of federalism and what are sometimes called states’ rights. Whether its pious declarations were ever actually about more than securing Southern votes or limiting the rights of women and minorities has always been questionable, but at least in theory the party took federalism seriously.

But now, with the party under new management and in control of every branch of the federal government, a profound transformation is underway. States’ rights still get lip service, at least when it comes to matters like limiting transgender rights. But the new reality is that we face a rising nationalist party, uninterested in local variation, aggressively devoted to molding the nation in the image of the party and its leader, Donald Trump, into one white-hot mass.

California (surely the state now most tempted to leave the union) is the flash point. This week, it passed its own net neutrality laws, to ban blocking and throttling of the internet, as a stand-in for the federal net neutrality rules abandoned by the Trump administration in June. California has obvious reasons to want to protect an open internet: It is the land of the internet’s origin, and a place where tech entrepreneurship has thrived.

If the Republican Party actually believed in economic decentralization, it might well accept the premise of state rules where the federal government explicitly disclaims any authority to act. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a self-declared states’ rights champion, declared within hours of the law’s passage that the Department of Justice will sue California for infringing corporate prerogatives — that is, interfering with the right of cable and phone companies to block or slow internet content.”