Tag: social networking

European Union deems Big Tech companies and services as gatekeeepers

Article

European Union flag - Creative Commons by Rock Cohen - https://www.flickr.com/photos/robdeman/

The EU will be using two new tools to regulate Big Tech significantly

EU names six tech giant ‘gatekeepers’ under DMA guidelines | Mashable

From the horse’s mouth

European Union

Digital Markets Act: Commission designates six gatekeepers (europa.eu)

My Comments

The European Union is taking serious steps towards controlling Big Tech further and enforcing a competitive market within its territory.

They recently passed the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act laws which apply to companies that have a significant market presence in the EU. The former one is about assuring real competition by doing things like pry open app stores to competition, require a service to accept advertising for its competitors or assure end-users have access to the data they generate through their services. As well, the latter one regulates online services to assure a user experience with these services that is safe and in harmony with European values as well as supporting innovation and competitiveness.

Initially, six powerful Big Tech companies have been designated as “gatekeepers” under the Digital Markets Act. These are Alphabet (Google, Jigsaw, Nest), Amazon, Meta (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Threads, WhatsApp), Apple, ByteDance (TikTok) and Microsoft.

Google Play Android app store

The European laws will also be about prying open the app-store marketplace for mobile platform devices

Most of the products like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Amazon’s marketplaces, the familiar Google search engine, and the mobile app stores ran by Apple and Google are listed services or platforms subject to scrutiny as “gateways”. Even the iOS, Android and Microsoft Windows desktop operating systems are also deemed “gateways” under this law. But I am surprised that the Apple MacOS operating system wasn’t even deemed as a “gateway” under that law.

There is further investigation about Microsoft’s Bing search platform, Edge browser and Advertising platform and Apple’s iMessage messaging service regarding deeming them as “gateways”.

The latter one has attracted intense scrutiny from the computing press due to it not being fully interoperable with Android users who use first-party messaging clients compliant with the standards-based RCS advanced-messaging platform put forward by the GSM Association. This causes a significantly-reduced messaging experience if iPhone users want to message Android users, such as not being able to share higher-resolution images.

What happens is that “Gatekeeper” IT companies will be under strict compliance measures with requirement to report to the European Commission. These include requirements to:

  • accept competitors on their platform, which will apply to app stores, operating systems and online advertising platforms
  • ensure that end-users have access to data they generate on the platform
  • allow end-users and merchants to complete transactions away from app-store and similar platforms owned by the gatekeeper company
  • assure independent verification by advertisers of ad impressions that occur on their ad-tech platform

At the moment, an online service or similar IT company is considered a “gatekeeper” if they have:

  • EUR€7.5bn turnover
  • EUR€75 billion market capitalisation
  • 45 million or more active users in the 27 European-Union member countries

Personally, I would like to see the geographic realm for active users based on a larger area in Europe because of non-EU countries like Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and the UK and EU-candidate countries also contributing to the user base. For example, this could be based on the European Economic Area or membership of the Council of Europe which standardises fundamental human-rights expectations in Europe.

Failure to comply will see the company face fines of 10% of its global turnover, even the ability for the European Union bureaucrats to subject a company to a Standard Oil / AT&T style forced breakup.

At the moment, it is about EU setting an example on reining in Big Tech with DMA being considered a gold standard by the consumer IT press just as GDPR was considered a gold standard for user privacy. But the United Kingdom is putting a similar recommendation in place by introducing the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill before Parliament. This is while the USA are trying to pry open app stores with various anti-trust (competitive-trade) and similar legislation.

A question that will also arise is whether the European Union bureaucrats can effectively have control over corporations anywhere in the world such as to force the breakup of a dominant corporation that is chartered in the USA for example. This is although they could exert this power over a company’s local affiliate offices that exist within Europe for example.

There is still a very serious risk of Big Tech “dumping” non-compliant software and services in to jurisdictions that aren’t covered by these regulations. This will typically manifest in software or services that have the features desired by customers like sideloading or competitive app-store access for mobile operating systems or ad-free subscription versions of social networks being only available in Europe for example. This was a practice that happened with Microsoft when the EU forced them to allow the end-user to install an alternative Web browser when they install Windows as part of commissioning a new computer for example, with this feature only occurring within Europe.

A previous analogy I used is what has been happening with the vehicle market in Australia where vehicles that aren’t fuel-efficient to current international expectations appear in this country whereas other countries benefit from those vehicles that are fuel-efficient. This is due to Australia not implementing the fleet-wide fuel-efficiency standards being used in many countries around the world.

Who knows how long it will take to push similar legislation or regulation aimed at curbing Big Tech’s marketplace powers around the world. Only time will tell.

Mutually-verified contacts as a security feature for messaging and social media

Most of us who have used Facebook have found ourselves seeing a friend request for someone who is already our Facebook Friend. This is a form of account compromise where someone creates a doppleganger of our account as a way to impersonate our online personality.

Such “clone” accounts of our online presence can be used as a way to facilitate a “man-in-the-middle” attack especially when dealing with an encrypted communication setup. It is an issue that is becoming more real with state-sponsored cybercrime where authoritarian states are hacking computer and communications equipment belonging to journalists, human-rights activists or a democracy’s government officials and contractors.

Mutually-verified contacts

In most implementations, each contact has a code that is generated by the messaging or social media platform as a human-readable or machine-readable form. The former approach would be a series of letters and numbers while the latter would be a barcode or QR code that you scan with your computing device’s camera.

In a lot of cases, this code changes if the user installs the social-media app on a new device or reinstalls it on the same device. The latter situation can occur if your phone is playing up and you have to reinstall all of your apps from scratch.

Users are encouraged to verify each other using this authentication code either in person or through another, preferably secure, means of communication. In-person verification may take place in the form of one user scanning the other user’s machine-readable code with their phone.

This allows each user of the platform to be sure they are communicating with the user they intend to communicate with and there isn’t anything that is between each party of the conversation. It is similar to a classic contact-authentication approach of asking someone a question that both you and the contact know the answer to mutually like a common fact or simply using a nickname for example.

The feature is part of Signal but is being baked in to Apple iMessage as part of iOS/iPadOS 16.3 and MacOS Ventura 13.1. But I see this as a feature that will become part of various instant-messaging, social media and similar products as the market demands more secure conversation.

Zoom also implements this as part of its end-to-end encryption feature for videoconferences. Here, users can verify that they are in a secure videoconference by comparing a number sequence read out by the meeting host after they click on a “shield” icon that appears during an encrypted videoconference. Here, this feature could come in to play with Signal and similar apps that are used for group conversations.

Relevance

Primarily this feature is being pitched towards users who stand to lose a lot, including their lives because they engage in “high-stakes” activities. Such users are government officials, public servants and military in democratic states, vendors who sell goods and services to government or military in these states, journalists and media workers in states that value a free press along with human-rights activists and NGSs.

Here, these users become highly vulnerable due to them being of interest to authoritarian states and organisations or individuals that aid and abet these states.  It is also being applied to countries that have undergone a significant amount of democratic backsliding or are considered to be socially unstable.

Personally, I see this as being important for everyday use so you can be sure that whom you want as part of your social-media or online messaging circle is whom you actually want. Here, it can avoid you dealing with scams based on others impersonating you or others in your social circle such as the “relative in distress” scam. As well, it can also be seen as a way to be sure you are linking with the right person when you add a new person to your social-media list.

Conclusion

I would see an increasing number of communications, social media and similar platforms acquiring the “mutual contact verification” function as a security feature. This would be more so where the platform supports end-to-end encryption in any way or there is a reliance on some form of personal safety or business confidentiality.

When use of multiple public accounts isn’t appropriate

Article

Facebook login page

There are times where use of public accounts isn’t appropriate

The murky world of politicians’ covert social media accounts (sbs.com.au)

My Comments

Just lately there have questions raised about how Australian politicians and their staff members were operating multiple online personas to disparage opponents, push political ideologies or “blow their own trumpet”.

It is being raised in connection with legislative reforms that the Australian Federal Government are working on to place the onus of responsibility regarding online defamation on whoever is posting the defamatory material in a comments trail on an online service. This is different to the status quo of having whoever is setting up or managing an online presence like a Website or Facebook Page being liable for defamation.

Here, it is in the context of what is to be expected for proper political communication including any “government-to-citizen” messaging. This is to make sure we can maintain trust in our government and that all political messaging is accurate and authentic in the day and age of fake news and disinformation.

I see this also being extended to business communication, including media/marketing/PR and non-profit advocacy organisations who have a high public profile. Here, it is to assure that any messaging by these entities is authentic so that people can build trust in them.

An example of a public-facing online persona – the Facebook page of Dan Andrews, the current Premier of Victoria

What I refer to as an “online persona” are email, instant-messaging and other communications-service accounts; Web pages and blogs; and presences on various part of the Social Web that are maintained by a person or organisation. It is feasible for a person or organisation to maintain a multiplicity of online personas like multiple email accounts or social-media pages that are used to keep public and private messaging separate, whether that’s at the business or personal level.

The normal practice for public figures at least is to create a public online persona and one or two private online personas such as an intra-office persona for colleagues and a personal one for family and friends. This is a safety measure to keep public-facing communications separate from business and personal communications.

Organisations may simply create particular online personas for certain offices with these being managed by particular staff members. In this case, they do this so that communications with a particular office stay the same even as office-holders change. As well, there is the idea of keeping “business-private” material separate from public-facing material.

In this case, the online personas reference the same entity by name at least. This is to assure some form of transparency about who is operating that persona. Other issues that come in to play here include which computing devices are being used to drive particular online personas.

This is more so for workplaces and businesses that own computing and communications hardware and have staff communicate on those company-owned devices for official business. But staff members use devices they bought themselves to operate non-official online personas. This is although more entities are moving towards “BYOD” practices where staff members use their own devices for official work use and there are systems in place to assure secure confidential work from staffer-owned devices.

But there is concern about some Australian politicians creating multiple public-facing personas in order to push various ideologies. Here, these personas are operated in an opaque manner in order to create multiple discrete persons. This technique, when used to appear as though many vouch for a belief or ideology, is referred to under terms like sockpuppetry or astroturfing.

This issue is being raised in the context of government-citizen communication in the online era. But it can also be related to individuals, businesses, trade unions or other organisations who are using opaque means to convey a sense of “popular support” for the same or similar messages.

What I see as being appropriate with establishing multiple online personas is that there is some form of transparency about which person or organisation is managing the different online personas. That includes where there are multiple “child” online personas like Websites operated by a “parent” online persona like an organisation. This practice comes in to being where online personas like email addresses and microsites (small Websites with specific domain names) are created for a particular campaign but aren’t torn down after that campaign.

As well, it includes what online personas are used for what kind of communications. This includes what is written on that “blue-ticked” social-media page or the online addresses that are written on business cards or literature you had out to the public.

Such public-communications mandates will also be required under election-oversight or fair-trading legislation so people know who is behind the messaging and these are important if it is issues-based rather than candidate-based. If an individual is pushing a particular message under their own name, they will have to state whether an entity is paying or encouraging them to advance the message.

This is due to most of us becoming conscious of online messaging from questionable sources. It is thanks to the popular concern about fake news and disinformation and its impact on elections since 2016 thanks to the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the USA. It is also due to the rise of the online influencer culture where brands end up using big-time and small-time celebrities and influencers to push their products, services and messages online.

Where to go now that Elon Musk has taken over Twitter

Recently Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, had bought out Twitter.

This takeover has been seen not as the kind of takeover where one wants to invest in a company but more of a political move. It came about in the runup to the 2002 Midterm elections in the USA, an election cycle that impacts members of Congress and significant state-level officials like governors and secretaries of state.

This is because this Midterm election cycle is a “do-or-die” moment for American democracy due to whether state officials or members of Congress that support Donald Trump and his election-denial rhetoric come in to power, with it being the first Midterms after the January 6 2021 insurrection on the Capitol which was about denying the legitimate result of the 2020 Presidential election.

The goal of this takeover was to convert Twitter in to a so-called “free-speech” social media platform like Parler, Gab or TruthSocial including to reinstate Donald Trump’s Twitter presence. This included the laying off of at least 4000 staff especially those involved in content moderation.

Here, Twitter has lost it as far as brand-safety and social respect is concerned with a significant number of household names removing their advertising or online presence from Twitter. As well, increasingly most of us are considering or taking steps to limit our presence on or remove ourselves from Twitter.

As well, this takeover has ended up in a spat between Elon Musk and Apple about the possibility of Apple removing the Twitter native mobile app from the iOS App Store. This is part of Apple’s effort to make the iOS App Store a clean bouse with content and apps that are fit for work and the family home. Lately, this has manifested in Apple destroying their Twitter account and removing its posts.

Competing social platforms

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Hive Social

The Meta-run social-media platforms i.e. Facebook and Instagram are acquiring new appeal as a business-to-consumer social-media presence. This is in addition to LinkedIn acquiring a stronger relevance in the business-to-business space. It is because these social networks are maintaining some form of proper content moderation that keeps them brand-safe and with some form of social licence.

For example, these platforms are being used by brands, public figures and the like as a means to distribute information “from the horse’s mouth” like press releases. This is in addition to them buying space on them to run their campaigns. Similarly, the established media are maintaining their presence on these platforms, typically as an “on-platform” presence for their news services.

Another network being put on the map is Hive Social which is being run as an alternative to Twitter with the same user experience. This is yet another platform with a centralised user experience but is facing some early problems due to its success as a Twitter alternative. Here, you may find that the service availability may not be strong and there will be some security issues.

Mastodon and the Fediverse

Another platform that has gained a lot of heat over the last few weeks is Mastodon. This is a decentralised Twitter-style social network where each “Instance” server works similar to a small bar or café where the staff have the finger on the pulse as far as the patrons are concerned. But each Mastodon Instance is linked to each other via the Fediverse which works in a similar way to email.

The Fediverse uses the ActivityPub publish-and-subscribe protocol and relies on interconnected servers and decentralised networking protocols. It is used by Mastodon and other services like PeerTube and Pieroma. In this space, each server for a platform is called an Instance and these link or “federate” with other servers to give the appearance of a large social network. But the Instance owner has the upper hand on what goes on in that Instance server.

These setups could also be seen as being similar to the bulletin-board systems that existed before the Internet was popular where most of them were interconnected using FidoNet as a means to store and forward messages and emails between the BBS systems.

When you create an account on a Mastodon Instance, you can add a link to a Website you run and this is used as a way to authenticate you. But you also have to add a link on your Website to your Mastodon presence for you to be authenticated, which then leads to a blue tick.

At the moment, there is support for only one user account per Mastodon Instance server so you can’t really run a “private” and a “public” account on the same Instance. It could work for people who use a particular Mastodon Instance associated with their work for public-facing posts as well as a private account for personal posts on a community Mastodon server. There doesn’t seem to be support for “group” accounts that can be operated by multiple users at the moment.

But with other open-source software efforts, Mastodon will be subject to continual tweaks and revisions to bring it to what people will want out of it. There may also be activity taking place to improve the establishment of Mastodon Instance servers such as porting to popular business server environments or integration with business-computing account datasets.

Other technologies worth considering

Online forums and similar technologies

Old-school “pre-social-media” technologies like online forums of the phpBB or vBulletin kind, or email-list platforms like listservs may have to be used. As well, the group functionality offered by Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Signal and Telegram come in to their own here as a limited-circulation Twitter replacement.

Blogs and news Websites

The traditional blog and the regularly-up;dated news Website or “update page” are becoming more relevant in this time. Here, these will be augmented with an RSS Webfeed or an email update offered by the site that comes out on a regular basis.

What can organisations, content authors and public figures do?

Organisations, content authors and public figures can keep a Website alive with the latest information if they aren’t already doing this. This would work really well with a blog or news page that is always up-to-date and these resources are best augmented with at least one RSS Webfeed that reflects the updates that are made.

The RSS Webfeed can be used to feed a reputable email-publishing platform like Feedblitz or Mailchimp so that people get the updates in their email inbox. Your LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or other brand-safe social-media presences can come in to their own here as well when you post a link to your latest posts there and are worth maintaining. As well, you could consider setting up shop on Hive Social which is becoming a viable alternative to Twitter.

Small-time operators should work with a Webhost that offers a range of online services at reasonable prices. These should include email, Website hosting and hosting one or two online services in a secure manner.

If you can, you may have to investigate creating a business-wide Mastodon instance. This is about having your own space that you control and is something that your IT staff or Webhost can offer, especially if they are familiar with Linux. Here, you could have usernames that reflect your workgroups or staff who want to have a public Mastodon account.

Let’s not forget creating online forums using the likes of bbPress, phpBB or vBulletin for your company or industry. Even vertical-market software that suits your organisation’s type or the industry it works in like religion or education could come in to its own.

Conclusion

The takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk as a political affair is showing that there is the risk of online services falling in to the wrong hands. Here, an emphasis is being placed on a plurality of social media and other online services that can be moderated to preserve sanity on the Internet.

Alternative “free-speech”social networks are coming to the fore

Article Parler login page screenshot

‘Free speech’ social networks claim post-election surge | Engadget

My Comments

A new breed of social networks are becoming popular with user groups who see Facehook, Twitter, YouTube and co as being equivalent to mainstream media, especially the popular TV channels.

These networks are based in North America, yet outside Silicon Valley. This means that they don’t subscribe to the perceived groupthink associated with Silicon Valley / Northern Californian culture.

As well, they came to the fore in response to Facebook, Twitter and Google responding to the issues of fake news and disinformation with these online companies implementing fact-checking mechanisms and flagging questionable material. Let’s not forget that there is social and business pressure on the established social media companies to clamp down on racial and similar hatred. That meant they had to implement robust user and content management policies to manage what appeared on these sites which is something that can be very difficult with large networks.

Previously the only way to offer content that isn’t controlled by the social media establishment was to set up and run a blog or forum. This required a fair bit of technical knowhow and you had to also have a domain name and a business relationship with a Web hosting service. Then you would have to run something like WordPress, phpBB or vBulletin so you can concentrate on running the blog or forum.

It also included exposing your content amongst your desired audience which may require you to use established social networks but use codified dog-whistle language in your posts. As well, you would have to make sure that your presence on the established social networks exists simply to draw traffic to your site. To “make it pay”, you would have to set up a shopfront on the Website to sell merchandise, offer advertising space typically to small businesses, or even run the site on a freemium model with a subscription-driven membership system.

The networks are Parler and MeWe which also have iOS and Android native clients available through Apple’s and Google’s mobile app stores. Gab also exists but Apple and Google won’t admit native clients for this service to their app stores. Rumble offers a video-focused service that works similarly to YouTube, with this service being cross-promoted on Parler, MeWe and Gab.

These alternative social networks implement business models that are less dependent on advertising like subscription-driven “freemium” setups. Along with that, the networks adopt “light-touch” policies regarding the management of users and the content they share, with them billing themselves as “free-speech” alternatives.

There has been strong interest in these networks over the past year which has been highlighted in the number of accounts created and the number of native mobile clients downloaded from the mobile-platform app stores. This is due to the USA’s knife-edge Presidential election and the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and there are some people wanting to seek out information that isn’t “fit for television” i.e. accepted by traditional media and the main Silicon Valley social networks.

Unlike previous alternative-media setups like community broadcasting, small-scale newspapers, computer bulletin boards and the early days of the Internet, these networks are gaining a strong following amongst the hard right including conspiracy theorists and Trump loyalists. There is even interest amongst the USA’s Republican Party to shift towards these services as a way to move from what they see as the “left-leaning media establishment”, something that is symptomatic of how hyper-partisan the US has become.

A question that will be raised is how large these networks’ user bases will be in a few years’ time after the dust settles on Donald Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic. But I see them and newer alternative social networks maintaining their position especially for those who relate with others that have opinions or follow topics that are “against the grain”.

Keeping the same character within your online community

Article

Facebook login page

Online communities do represent a lot of hard work and continuous effort including having many moderators

General Election 2019: Has your local Facebook group been hijacked by politics? | BBC News

My Comments

The past UK General Election highlighted an issue with the management of online communities, especially those that are targeted at neighbourhoods.

In the BBC News article, a local Facebook group that was used by a neighbourhood specifically for sharing advice, recommending businesses, advertising local events, “lost-and-found” and similar purposes was steered from this purpose to a political discussion board.

You may or may not think that politics should have something to do with your neighbourhood but ordinarily, it stays very well clear. That is unless you are dealing with a locally-focused issue like the availability of publicly-funded services like healthcare, education or transport infrastructure in your neighbourhood. Or it could be about a property development that is before the local council that could affect your neighbourhood.

How that came about was that it was managed by a single older person who had passed away. Due to the loss of an administrator, the group effectively became a headless “zombie” group where there was no oversight over what was being posted.

That happened as the UK general election was around the corner with the politics “heating up” especially as the affected neighbourhood was in a marginal electorate. Here, the neighbourhood newsgroup “lost it” when it came to political content with the acrimony heating up after the close of polls. The site administrator’s widow even stated that the online group was being hijacked by others pushing their own agendas.

Subsequently, several members of that neighbourhood online forum stepped in to effectively wrest control and restore sanity to it. This included laying down rules against online bullying and hate speech along with encouraging proper decent courtesy on the bulletin board. It became hard to effectively steer back the forum to that sense of normalcy due to pushback by some members of the group and the established activity that occurred during the power vacuum.

This kind of behaviour, like all other misbehaviour facilitated through the Social Web and other Internet platforms, exploits the perceived distance that the Internet offers. It is something you wouldn’t do to someone face-to-face.

What was being identified was that there was a loss of effective management power for that online group due to the absence of a leader which maintained the group’s character and no-one effectively steps up to fill the void. This can easily happen with any form of online forum or bulletin board including an impromptu “group chat” set up on a platform like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Viber.

It is like a real-life situation with an organisation like a family business where people have put in the hard yards to maintain a particular character. Then they lose the effective control of that organisation and no-one steps up to the plate to maintain that same character. This kind of situation can occur if there isn’t continual thought about succession planning in that organisation’s management especially if there aren’t any young people in the organisation who are loyal to its character and vision.

An online forum should have the ability and be encouraged to have multiple moderators with the same vision so others can “take over” if one isn’t able to adequately continue the job anymore. Here, you can discover and encourage potential moderators through their active participation online and in any offline events. But you would need to have some people who have some sort of computer and Internet literacy as moderators so they know their way around the system or require very minimal training.

The multiplicity of moderators can cater towards unforseen situations like death or sudden resignation. It also can assure that one of the moderators can travel without needing to have their “finger on the pulse” with that online community. In the same vein, if they or one of their loved ones falls ill or there is a personal calamity, they can concentrate on their own or their loved one’s recovery and rehabilitation or managing their situation.

There will be a reality that if a person moves out of a neighbourhood in good faith, they will have maintained regular contact with their former neighbours. Here they would be trying to keep their “finger on the pulse” regarding the neighbourhood’s character.  This fact can be exploited with managing a neighbourhood-focused online community by them being maintained as a “standby moderator” where they can be “roped in” to moderate the online community if there are too few moderators.

To keep the same kind of “vibe” within that online community that you manage will require many hands at the pump. It is not just a one-person affair.

Are we at an era where the smartphone is the new “idiot box”?

The TV era TV, VHS videocassette recorder and rented video movies

From the late 1960s through to the 2000s, the television was seen by some people as a time-waster. This was aggravated through increasingly-affordable sets, the existence of 24-hour programming, a gradually-increasing number of TV channels competing for viewership, remote controls and private broadcasters including many-channel pay-TV services.

It led to an increasing number of users concerned about various idle and unhealthy TV-viewing practices. Situations that were often called out included people dwelling on poor-quality content offered on commercial free-to-air or pay-TV channels such as daytime TV;  people loafing on the couch with the remote control in their hand as they idly change channels for something to watch, known as “flicking” or channel-surfing; along with parents using the TV as an “electronic babysitter” for their children.

Even technologies like videocassette recorders or video games consoles didn’t improve things as far as the critics were concerned. One talking point raised during the early 1990s was the ubiquity and accessibility of violent video content through local video stores with this leading to imitative behaviour.

We even ended up with the TV set being referred to as an “idiot box”, “boob tube” or similar names; or people who spend a lot of time watching TV idly having “square eyes” or being “couch potatoes”. Some people even stood for “TV-free” spaces and times to encourage meaningful activity such as for example not having a set installed at a weekender home.

There was even some wellness campaigns that were tackling unhealthy TV viewing. One of these was the “Life Be In It” campaign ran by the Australian governments during the late 1970s.  This campaign was centred around a series of animated TV “public-service-announcement” commercials (YouTube – example about walking) featuring a character called “Norm”, which showed different activities one could be engaging in rather than loafing in the armchair watching TV non-stop.

The rise of the personal computer, Internet and smartphones

The 1980s saw the rise of increasingly-affordable personal-computing power on the home or business desktop with these computers gaining increasing abilities over the years. With this was the rise of games written for these computers including some “time-waster” or “guilty-pleasure” games like Solitaire or the Leisure Suit Larry games.

During the late 1990s and the 2000s, the Internet came on board and gradually offered resources to the personal computer that can compete with the TV. This was brought about with many interesting Websites coming online with some of these sites running participant forums of some form. It also had us own our own email address as a private electronic communications channel.

Also, by the mod 1990s, most Western countries had implemented deregulated competitive telecommunications markets and one of these benefits was mobile telephony service that was affordable for most people. It also led to us being able to maintain their own mobile telephone service and number, which also lead to each one of us effectively having our own private connection. This is rather than us sharing a common connection like a landline telephone number ringing a telephone installed in a common area like a kitchen or living room.

The smartphone and tablet era

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

The smartphone is now being seen as the “new TV”

But since the late 2000s the Internet started to head down towards taking the place of TV as a centre of idle activity. This was driven through the existence of YouTube, instant messaging and social media, along with increasingly-portable computing devices especially highly-pocketable smartphones and tablets or small laptops able to be stuffed in to most right-sized hand luggage, alongside high-speed Internet service available through highly-affordable mobile-broadband services or ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks.

Issues that were underscored included people looking at their phones all day and all night to check their Facehook activity, watching YouTube clips or playing games and not talking with each other; smartphone anxiety where you have to have your phone with you at all times including bringing it to the dinner table, and the vanity associated with the social-media selfie culture. Sometimes browsing the Social Web including YouTube ended up being seen as today’s equivalent of watching the low-grade TV offerings from a private TV broadcaster. Let’s not forget how many of us have played “Candy Crush Saga” or “Angry Birds” on our smartphones as a guilty pleasure.

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

Or the iPad being used to browse around the Social Web and watch YouTube

This issue has come to the fore over the last few years with concepts like “digital detoxification”, an interest in Internet-free mobile-phone devices including “one-more-time” takes on late-90s / early-2000s mobile-phone designs, mobile operating systems having functionality that identifies what you are spending your time on heavily, amongst other things.

Educators are even regarding the time spent using a computing device for entertainment as the equivalent of idly watching TV entertainment and make a reference to this time as “screen time”. This is more so in the context of how our children use computing devices like tablets or smartphones.

Recently, France and the Australian State of Victoria have passed regulations to prohibit the use of smartphones by schoolchildren in government-run schools with the former proscribing it in primary and early-secondary (middle or junior high) levels; and the latter for primary and all secondary levels.

Even smartphone manufacturers have found that the technology has hit a peak with people not being interested in the latest smartphones due to them not being associated with today’s equivalent of idle TV watching. This may lead to them taking a more evolutionary approach towards smartphone design rather than heavily investing in ewer products.

What it has come down to

How I see all of this is the existence of an evolutionary cycle affecting particular forms of mass media and entertainment. It is especially where the media form allows for inanity thanks to the lack of friction involved in providing or consuming this kind of entertainment. As well, the ability for the producer, distributor or user to easily “shape” the content to make a “fairy-tale” existence where the “grass is always greener” or to pander to our base instincts can expose a media platform to question and criticism.

In some cases, there is an ethereal goal in some quarters to see the primary use of media and communications for productive or educational purposes especially of a challenging nature rather than for entertainment. It also includes reworking the time we spend on entertainment or casual communications towards something more meaningful. But we still see the lightweight entertainment and conversation more as a way to break boredom.

UPDATE: I have inserted details about France and Australia banning smartphones in schools especially in relationship to the smartphone ban announced by the Victorian State Government on 26 June 2019.

Seattle starts attempts to regulate online political advertising

Article Seattle Space Needle photo by Chris Noland (Wikimedia Commons)

Seattle demands Facebook disclose campaign ad information | Engadget

Seattle says Facebook violated a political advertising law | FastCompany

My Comments

In most of the Western democracies, the election process is subjected to oversight by various local, regional or federal government election-oversight departments. These departments oversee the campaign activities that the political parties or candidates engage in during the election cycle; and this includes oversight of the kind of advertising that is being shown to the populace as part of a campaign.

As well, traditional radio and TV broadcasters, whether they are public or private, free-to-air or subscription-driven, are subject to oversight by federal or regional broadcast authorities. These authorities also work with the election-oversight authorities to oversee radio or TV election-campaign advertising in the context of the election process’s integrity.

All this oversight is to achieve a level playing field for the candidates and issues along with identifying and working against sources of undue influence upon the voters. This oversight also enforces various rules and practices regarding pre-poll campaign blackouts, mandatory sponsor identification for campaign messages and reporting of when and where the advertising appears.

But the online advertising platforms including the Social Web have, for a long time, escaped the stringent oversight of the various governments’ election-oversight and broadcasting-oversight authorities and this has recently raised questions in relationship to the integrity of a number of recent polls around the Western world such as the US Presidential Election.

Here, questions have been raised about the presence of troll ads sponsored by the Russian Government appearing on Facebook concurrent with the UK Brexit poll, the US Presidential Election and recent national elections that took place in France and Germany. Now the Seattle local government are raising issues with Facebook regarding advertising that was booked through that platform regarding their council elections. This was about Facebook violating a city bylaw that required advertising platforms like newspapers, radio or TV broadcasters to disclose who is buying political advertising targeted at that election.

One of the issues that are being raised include the ability with online advertising platforms for an individual or organisation no matter where they are located to target particular geographic areas down to the size of a suburb or town; or other particular user classes based on one or more particular attributes with a particular message.

It can become more disconcerting whenever firms in the TV and video industry implement directly-addressable advertising as part of their TV-advertising product mix, which allows for advertising campaigns to be directed at particular households or neighbourhoods like what happens with online advertising. This is because households seem to give a significant amount of trust to what is shown on the big screen in the living room when it comes to advertising.

Another is for the advertising to be presented as though it is part of legitimate editorial content in order to lower one’s “advertising-awareness” radar. This can be through comments that appear in a social-network’s main user feed or spam comments inserted in a comment trail or discussion forum. Similarly bloggers, podcasters and other influencers could also be paid to post political content supporting a particular candidate by a sponsoring entity.

This could breed situations where misinformation could be targeted at a “suburb of disadvantage” or an ethnically-focused community in order for them not to show up to vote or to vote against a candidate they are normally sure about and who represents their interests. This situation is considered of high risk in the USA where the election process supports voluntary attendance along with a significant number of citizens there not being “politically literate” and able to cast their votes astutely.

If Seattle tests this issue before the USA’s judiciary, other jurisdictions within and beyond the USA could watch these cases to observe how they can regulate online content and advertising in relation to the integrity of civic life.

YouTube Video–ABCs Of Bullying (Dealing with the online bully)

Video – Click or Tap to View

My Comments

This video has summarised in an “ABC” form about how you can deal with unsavoury videos and comments that appear on the YouTube platform. But a lot of concepts being explained here can also apply to Facebook and other platforms on the Social Web where similar activity does take place.

The issues raised here can easily affect children, teenagers and adults alike in all community groupings and is more important where, for example, YouTube is being used to effectively pillory a person or group. It is infact worth viewing this video yourself or having your children view this especially when they are regularly starting to use YouTube or similar social-media platforms regularly.

Europeans could compete with Silicon Valley when offering online services

Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsVery often I have read articles from European sources about the Silicon Valley companies not respecting European values like privacy. This ends up with the European Commission taking legal action against the powerful Silicon Valley tech kings like Facebook or Google, ending up with placing requirements or levying fines on these companies.

But what can Europe also do to resolve these issues?

They could encourage European-based companies to work on Internet services like Web-search, social networking, file storage and the like that compete with what Silicon Valley offers. But what they offer can be about services that respect European personal and business values like democracy, privacy and transparency.

There has been some success in this field in the aerospace industry with Airbus rising up to challenge Boeing. This was more evident with Airbus releasing the A380 high-capacity double-decker long-haul jet and Boeing offering the 787 Dreamliner jet that was focused on saving energy. Let’s not forget the rise of Arianespace in France who established a competing space program to what NASA offered.

But why are the Europeans concerned about Silicon Valley’s behaviour? Part of it is to do with Continental Europe’s darkest time in modern history where there was the rise of the Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin dictatorships, underscored by Hitler’s Germany taking over significant areas in France and Eastern Europe before the Second World War. This was followed up with the Cold War where most of Eastern Europe was effectively a group of communist dictatorships loyal to the Soviet Union. In both these situations, the affected countries were run as police states where their national security services were conducting mass surveillance at the behest of the country’s dictator.

There are a few of these businesses putting themselves on the map. Of course we known that Spotify, the main worldwide online jukebox, is based in Sweden. But Sweden, the land of ABBA, Volvo, IKEA, Electrolux and  Assa Abloy, also has CloudMe, a cloud-based file-storage service on their soil. It is also alongside SoundCloud, the go-to audio-content server for Internet-based talent, which is based in Germany. The French also put their foot in the IoT space with a smart lock retrofit kit that has Web management with its server based in France.

A few search engines are setting up shop in Europe with Unbubble.eu (German) and StartPage (Dutch) metasearch engines in operation and Qwant and Findx search engines that create their own indexes. But the gaps that I have noticed here is the existence of a social network or display ad platform that are based in Europe and support the European personal and business values.

There are also the issues associated with competing heavily against the Silicon Valley giants, such as establishing presence in the European or global market and defining your brand. Here, they would have to identify those people and businesses in Europe and the world who place emphasis on the distinct European values and know how to effectively compete against the established brands.

The European Commission could help companies competing with the Silicon Valley IT establishment by providing information and other aid along with providing a list of European-based companies who can compete with this establishment. They could also underpin research and development efforts for these companies who want to innovate in a competitive field. It can also include the ability for multiple companies in the IT, consumer-electronics and allied fields to work towards establishing services that can have a stronger market presence and compete effectively with Silicon Valley.