Digital gangsters

As an ex-libertarian, I am instinctively hostile to government regulation. But, as we have learned over the last decade, there are much worse things than regulation by nationalist governments.

Facebook deliberately broke privacy and competition law and should urgently be subject to statutory regulation, according to a devastating parliamentary report denouncing the company and its executives as “digital gangsters”.

The final report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s 18-month investigation into disinformation and fake news accused Facebook of purposefully obstructing its inquiry and failing to tackle attempts by Russia to manipulate elections.

“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day,” warned the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins.

The report:

  • Accuses Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, of contempt for parliament in refusing three separate demands for him to give evidence, instead sending junior employees unable to answer the committee’s questions.
  • Warns British electoral law is unfit for purpose and vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government attempting to discredit democracy.
  • Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.
  • Labour moved quickly to endorse the committee’s findings, with the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, announcing: “Labour agrees with the committee’s ultimate conclusion – the era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately.

Highly regulated corporations are not known for their performance or their innovation. But let’s face it, Ma Bell and the various utilities have served the interests of the American people considerably better than Facebook and the other social media giants have. It’s time for the national governments around the world to crack the whip and take the international digital gangsters firmly in hand by turning them into utilities.

This is one issue upon which the Left and the Right should be able to find plenty of common ground.

Another curve ball

This is hardly the first time one of our projects has taken an unanticipated curve, but even so, I’m sorry to have to inform everyone that SocialGalactic 1.0 has gone down for the count. By which I mean that we are permanently pulling the plug on this particular form of it. I’ll explain more in my Devstream tomorrow, but the long and the short of it is that the Infogalactic team has unanimously decided that our best course of action was to shut it down and return to our original Plan A of developing our own social media technology on our own servers.

While we appreciated the short cut that the possibility of working with Fediway offered us, after further discussions with them, we have mutually concluded that it is best for both organizations to go their separate ways.

Developing the necessary social media technology will, of course, take time, though probably not as much as you might imagine, so we will gladly refund everyone who supported the Burn Unit with the expectation of having Bronze, Silver, or Gold access to SocialGalactic. Please just email me with the relevant email address and I’ll take care of it. Speaking for the team, I sincerely apologize to all 2,500 of our users for the inconvenience involved, and we all very much appreciate the strong interest that the Infogalactic community has indicated in its own social media site.

That being said, we will NOT be doing any crowdfunding for SocialGalactic 2.0 for reasons that will be very obvious in 4-6 weeks.

Patreon may be in trouble

Apparently Jordan Peterson was keeping Patreon afloat:

Back when Patreon tried to change the way they charged fees for transactions, moving the cost to the supporters of the creators and then doubled down by charging them multiples of the credit card one off processing fee of 30 cents based on the number of creators they supported it set off alarm bells for me.

I called it a cash grab that they hoped would be borne by the patron’s so that they would not lose creators. Trouble is both creators and their supporters were pissed about it. They gave up on that idea.

Then yesterday Patreon’s cashing out system for creators to transfer funds to their bank accounts went down. I cried alarm. Why? The best way to hide a major cashflow crisis is to make it impossible for creators to remove funds but you can only do that for so long before it becomes a crisis of trust in itself.

I advised others that if you are creator you should be making sure that Patreon is not the sole source of income because it may just collapse and take your money with it.

Right now they have about 100,000 creators but their fee structure with that number of creators just cannot sustain the cost of the business.

It will be interesting to learn if Indiegogo is caught up in the same dilemma. Reports that Indiegogo has successfully raised $1.6 billion in funds for creators over 10 years would tend to suggest otherwise, as it would indicate that their annual income is on the order of $12.8 million, but neither their employment pattern nor their behavior is very consistent with a technology company in good order.

UPDATE: A Patreon creator confirms:

Hey creators,

As you might have noticed, payments are processing at a slower rate than normal, which means your patron’s pledges might take longer to process than they usually would. Our team is working around the clock to solve this issue.

This is frustrating, and we want to apologize for the delay in getting you your money. You will receive your anticipated total payout as soon as possible, and please know that we’re working as hard as we can to get our payments processing back to up regular speed.

If you’re worried about privacy, Mr. Bezos

Then why don’t you shut down your company’s efforts to build a better surveillance state?

IF BEZOS WERE the political victim of surveillance state abuses, it would be scandalous and dangerous. It would also be deeply ironic.

That’s because Amazon, the company that has made Bezos the planet’s richest human being, is a critical partner for the U.S. Government in building an ever-more invasive, militarized and sprawling surveillance state. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon’s business, and thus one of the most important sources of Bezos’ vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to empower the U.S. Government with more potent and more sophisticated weapons, including surveillance weapons.

In December, 2017, Amazon boasted that it had perfected new face-recognition software for crowds, which it called Rekognition. It explained that the product is intended, in large part, for use by governments and police forces around the world. The ACLU quickly warned that the product is “dangerous” and that Amazon “is actively helping governments deploy it.”

“Powered by artificial intelligence,” wrote the ACLU, “Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.” The group warned: “Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.” In a separate advisory, the ACLU said of this face-recognition software that Amazon’s “marketing materials read like a user manual for the type of authoritarian surveillance you can currently see in China.”

It’s more than a little ridiculous to cry about your privacy being violated when you are literally building the system for permanently eliminating everyone’s privacy.

Introducing SocialGalactic

Twitter is SJW-controlled territory. Gab is a hellhole of defamation and Nazi trolls. So, after many of Infogalactic’s supporters asked us to provide something on the social media front, the InfoGalactic team joined forces with OneWay and created a new social media alternative: SocialGalactic.

We’re presently in Beta. Free accounts have 140-character posts and 1MB storage, which is just enough for an avatar and a header. We’ll soon be making Pro accounts available at three levels, which will provide posts of 200, 480, and 999 characters, and image storage up to 500MB. Sign up and check it out!

For the Burn Unit members who are already on the site, please note that it has been updated to version 1.1.0. Log in and log out to make sure that you’re running the latest version, which includes:

1)  Badges for member levels
2)  Character limits based on member levels
3)  Mobile improvements
4)  Moderator controls
5)  Notifications counters
6)  Position of post you are relying to in modal.
7)  X closes DM modal.
8)  Bio in dark mode
9)  Post counters on home page.
10)  Online user counter on home page.

Please keep in mind that SocialGalactic is NOT a free speech zone. Don’t be vulgar, don’t post nudes or obscene material, and behave in a civil manner. If you want spicy memes and bantz, you’ve already got Gab. Don’t bother asking for more image storage for free accounts, as we’ve identified that as a primary attack vector by trolls and monkey-wrenchers and we’re more likely to reduce the image storage than increase it.

1MB is NOT a bug

If you are experimenting with (the thing that shall not be named but will be announced Friday), the 1MB limit on image storage is most certainly NOT a bug. Free accounts get 1MB, which is just enough for an avatar and a header, and not very much more.

More importantly, this approach allows us to defang a major attack vector utilized by anonymous trolls, serial harassers, and monkey-wrenchers on social media sites.

One more thing. If you are an Infogalactic supporter – and thank you very much, all of you – you need to email me BOTH your @name and your support level. I may write 900-page epic fantasy novels without an outline, but nevertheless, I am entirely incapable of remembering every single supporter’s precise support level on the basis if their email account. Telling me “my name is X” is great, but it does not tell me whether you are a Bronze, Silver, or Gold supporter.

The support badges and additional text limits are expected to arrive before we announce publicly on Friday.

UPDATE: our payment processor is suddenly taking belated issue with our subscription model because it is technically on a different site, so we have taken down the products from the store while we resolve the matter. If you are already a Burn Unit member, please continue to provide me with your username and support level in order to have your status upgraded.

No one really cares

That’s the one thing you can reliably count on. The masses simply don’t care enough about anything to ever take action unless they are starving. Techcrunch explains why so few people quit Facebook and Google… and by extension, Amazon and Twitter.

Privacy advocates will tell you that the lack of a wide boycott against Google  and particularly Facebook is symptomatic of a lack of information: if people really understood what was happening with their data, they would galvanize immediately for other platforms. Indeed, this is the very foundation for the GDPR policy in Europe: users should have a choice about how their data is used, and be fully-informed on its uses in order to make the right decision for them.

I don’t believe more information would help, and I reject the mentality behind it. It’s reminiscent of the political policy expert who says that if only voters had more information — if they just understood the issue — they would change their mind about something where they are clearly in the “wrong.” It’s incredibly condescending, and obscures a far more fundamental fact about consumers: people know what they value, they understand it, and they are making an economic choice when they stick with Google or Facebook .

Alternatives exist for every feature and app offered by these companies, and they are not hard to find. You can use Signal for chatting, DuckDuckGo for search, FastMail for email, 500px or Flickr for photos, and on and on. Far from being shameless clones of their competitors, in many cases these products are even superior to their originals, with better designs and novel features.

And yet. When consumers start to think about the costs, they balk. There’s sometimes the costs of the products themselves (FastMail is $30/year minimum, but really $50 a year or more if you want reasonable storage), but more importantly are the switching costs that come with using a new product. I have 2,000 contacts on Facebook Messenger — am I just supposed to text them all to use Signal from now on? Am I supposed to completely relearn a new photos app, when I am habituated to the taps required from years of practice on Instagram?

Surveillance capitalism has been in the news the past few weeks thanks to Shoshana Zuboff’s 704-page tome of a book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.” But surveillance capitalism isn’t a totalizing system: consumers do have choices here, at least when it comes to consumer apps (credit scores and the reporting bureaus are a whole other beast). There are companies that have even made privacy their distinguishing feature. And consumers respond pretty consistently: I will take free with surveillance over paid with privacy.

One of the lessons I have learned — perhaps the most important you can learn about consumer products — is just how much people are willing to give up for free things. They are willing to give up privacy for free email. They are willing to allow their stock broker to help others actively trade against them for a free stock brokerage account with free trading. People love free stuff, particularly when the harms are difficult to perceive.

As a general rule, if your plan involves “waking people up with the truth”, it’s going to fail. If you consider that even Jesus Christ himself could not change a petty regional power structure with the truth, you probably shouldn’t count on anything else changing on that basis either.

Appeal to an amenable authority

As described in SJWAL, SJWs successfully swarm Roku in order to deplatform Alex Jones again:

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been removed from Roku after the streaming platform faced fierce criticism from users, the New York Times reports.

Last year, Jones’ InfoWars channel, as well as his other media projects, were scrubbed from most major social media platforms and streaming services for violating various rules and standards. However, this week, Jones’ free channel became available on Roku devices, which are used by about 27 million people.

“After the InfoWars channel became available, we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform,” Roku said in a statement.

“Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.”

You can’t run because they won’t let you run. You can’t hide because they are actively seeking out every last violator of the Narrative.

So you might as well fight.

SJWs kill Derbycon

Even people who desperately want to be considered tolerant, equalitarian, progressive, inclusive, and diverse simply can’t take the constant barrage of pressure to converge more completely anymore.

What we have had to deal with on the back-end the past few years is more than just running a conference and sharing with friends. The conference scene in general changed drastically and small pocket groups focus on outrage and disruption where there is no right answer (regardless of how you respond, it’s wrong), instead of coming together, or making the industry better. There is a small, yet vocal group of people creating negativity, polarization, and disruption, with the primary intent of self-promotion to advance a career, for personal gain, or for more social media followers. Individuals that would have us be judge, jury, and executioner for people they have had issues with outside of the conference that has nothing to do with the conference itself.

Instead of working hard in research, being a positive force in the industry, or sharing their own unique experiences (which makes us better as a whole), they tear others down in order to promote themselves. This isn’t just about DerbyCon, it is present at other conferences as well and it’s getting worse each year. We’ve spoken with a number of conference organizers, and each year it becomes substantially more difficult to host a conference where people can come together in large group settings. It’s not just conferences either. This behavior is happening all over the place on social media, in our industry, targeting people trying to do good. As a community, we add fuel to fire, attack others, and give them a platform in one massive toxic environment. We do this all in fear of repercussions from upsetting others. Until this pattern changes, it will continue to get worse.

This shouldn’t detract from real issues, and believe us, there are _real_ issues that happen. Issues that need to be dealt with when people get in large group settings. As a whole, DerbyCon has far fewer incidents than other conferences that post their statistics, and where conference safety is paramount and the #1 priority. We do listen, we do respond, and we always look to improve and get better.

This year, we had to handle issues that honestly, as an adult, we would never expect to have to handle from other adults. Conferences in general have shifted focus to not upsetting individuals and having to police people’s beliefs, politics, and feelings. Instead of coming to a conference to learn and share, it’s about how loud of a message a person can make about a specific topic, regardless of who they tear down or attempt to destroy. To put it in perspective, we had to deal with an individual that was verbally and mentally abusive to a number of our volunteer staff and security to the point where they were in tears.

This is not what we signed up for.

Admittedly, we had no idea how to handle this person, and in fear of repercussion of removing this person, allowed them to stay at the conference in order to “not upset the masses”. The best we could do was just apologize, for other apologies, and apologize more for another’s actions. This is just one example of many we have had to deal with over the past few years, and each year it becomes increasingly harder for us to handle. We do everything as a conference to ensure the safety, security, and go above and beyond that of others. Maybe that puts us on a different level where something that would normally not be an issue explodes into a catastrophic situation on social media.

Who knows? What we do know is each year it gets harder and harder.

2019 will be our last year of DerbyCon. Please know that this decision was not done in haste, and it was one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make in our lives. We looked at hiring third-party crisis management companies to deal with people directly, we looked at having entire companies run the conference where we would become more of the direction and vision, but at the end of the day, that is not why we started DerbyCon. It’s taken a personal toll on our lives, our businesses, and our friends, and it has gotten to the point where we don’t want to manage it anymore.

This is how we win. We are the only ones willing to actually take action against the SJWs. Everyone else is going to simply submit or quit. All these people needed to do was announce a strong anti-SJW policy, throw out the Code of Conduct and the updated Code of Conduct, and carry on with their business. But, they didn’t want to take what they knew would be the inevitable heat.

And now there is a hole in the market for anyone in that particular market to exploit. It’s not my area in any sense of the word, so I’m not interested, but if it’s in your metaphorical neck of the woods, you might want to look into it.

A Neocon guard for your mind

Now that Neocon control over the Republican Party and the alternative media has slipped despite their powerful grip on the mainstream media and talk radio, the liberal imperialist world revolutionaries who used to call themselves “neocons” are imitating the SJWs in utilizing a techno-political approach to controlling the narrative by policing what you see and hear:

The product which NewsGuard markets to the general public is a browser plugin which advises online media consumers whether a news media outlet is trustworthy or untrustworthy based on a formula with a very pro-establishment bias which sees outlets like Fox News and the US propaganda outlet Voice of America getting trustworthy ratings while outlets like RT get very low ratings for trustworthiness. This plugin dominates the bulk of what comes up when you start researching NewsGuard, but circulating a plugin which individual internet users can voluntarily download to help their rulers control their minds is not one of the more nefarious agendas being pursued by this company. The full MintPress article gives a thorough breakdown of the yucky things NewsGuard has its fingers in, but here’s a summary of five of its more disturbing revelations:

1. The company has created a service called BrandGuard, billed as a “brand safety tool aimed at helping advertisers keep their brands off of unreliable news and information sites while giving them the assurance they need to support thousands of Green-rated [i.e., Newsguard-approved] news and information sites, big and small.” Popularizing the use of this service will attack the advertising revenue of unapproved alternative media outlets which run ads. NewsGuard is aggressively marketing this service to “ad tech firms, leading agencies, and major advertisers”.

2. NewsGuard’s advisory board reads like the fellowships list of a neocon think tank, and indeed one of its CEOs, Louis Gordon Crovitz, is a Council on Foreign Relations member who has worked with the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. Members of the advisory board include George W Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, deep intelligence community insider Michael Hayden, and the Obama administration’s Richard Stengel, who once publicly supported the need for domestic propaganda in the US. All of these men have appeared in influential think tanks geared toward putting a public smiley face on sociopathic warmongering agendas.

3. Despite one of its criteria for trustworthy sources being whether or not they are transparent about their funding, the specifics of NewsGuard’s financing is kept secret.

4. NewsGuard is also planning to get its news-ranking system integrated into social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, pursuing a partnership which will make pro-establishment media consumption a part of your experience at those sites regardless of whether or not you download a NewsGuard app or plugin.

5. NewsGuard markets itself to state governments in order to get its plugin installed in all of that state’s public schools and libraries to keep internet users from consuming unauthorized narratives. It has already succeeded in accomplishing this in the state of Hawaii, with all of its library branches now running the NewsGuard plugin.

If they were more honest, they would have simply named the company NeoConGuard, because the entire purpose of NewsGuard is to police the internet on behalf of the Israel First lobby in the United States. That’s why it is focused on upholding the Never-Trump Russia, Russia, Russia narrative and will almost certainly be used to push the state and federal anti-BDS laws as well as war in the Middle East and Ukraine, free trade, and unlimited immigration.

NeoConGuard is just a techno-political expansion of what Bill Kristol and Jon Podhoretz were trying to do with the now-failed Weekly Standard, which by Podhoretz’s own admission was “to create a publication that would help guide and keep honest the hard-charging Republican party that had scored its stunning lopsided victory over Bill Clinton’s Democrats.”