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Wikipedia co-founder slams Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter and the ‘appalling’ internet

July 8, 2019

Elizabeth Schulze

Wikpedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger said in an interview social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are abusing their power and violating users’ privacy and security.
He criticized executives in Silicon Valley like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for being “too controlling.”
Sanger is advocating “decentralized” social networks.

Larry Sanger co-founded Wikipedia in 2001 — and he’s not happy with how the internet has evolved in the nearly two decades since then.

“It’s appalling frankly,” he said in an interview with CNBC this week.

Sanger’s main gripe is with big social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. These companies, he says, exploit users’ personal data to make profits, at the expense of “massive violations” of privacy and security.

“They can shape your experience, they can control what you see, when you see it and you become essentially a cog in their machine,” he said.
Sanger launched a “social media strike” this week to draw attention to his concerns. In a “Declaration of Digital Independence” published on his personal blog, he said “vast digital empires” need to be replaced by decentralized networks of independent individuals. The declaration had roughly 2,400 signatures as of Friday morning.

The Wikipedia co-founder, who is currently CIO of a blockchain encyclopedia network called Everipedia, is not the first internet pioneer to attack the dominance of big tech companies. Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, recently released a “Contract for the Web” arguing companies need to take more action to protect consumers’ privacy and personal data.

Zuckerberg’s ‘temperament’
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to seemingly endless concerns about privacy and security on the platform with a new vision for the company, highlighting measures like encrypted messaging. Sanger questioned whether Zuckerberg’s intentions are “sincere” and blasted the Facebook executive for abusing the company’s power online.

“The internet wouldn’t have been created by people like Mark Zuckerberg, or any of the sort of corporate executives in Silicon Valley today,” he said. “They wouldn’t be capable, they don’t have the temperament, they’re too controlling. They don’t understand the whole idea of bottom up.”

Despite growing scrutiny of Big Tech by governments and regulators around the world, Sanger isn’t convinced legislation is the best solution for reining in companies like Facebook or Twitter. Facebook did not provide a comment to CNBC at the time of publication. Twitter declined to comment.

Sanger said onerous regulations could make it more difficult for competitors to enter the market, ultimately benefiting big corporations like Facebook. He also raised concerns over government efforts to regulate free speech and content online.

“If the government gets involved their interests are not the same as individual people,” Sanger said.

‘Decentralized’ internet
Instead, Sanger advocates for decentralized social networks. These networks would, for example, allow individuals to publish information online without going through a central organization, like a corporation. In the same way that bitcoin is a “decentralized” asset not subject to authorities like central banks, decentralized social networks would mean no single platform could control users’ data online. The idea has support among privacy advocates but has a long way to go before becoming mainstream.

“A decentralized internet, a freer internet, that’s what led to the internet being created in the place,” Sanger said.

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pr

Why some privacy experts are spooked by iPhone X’s facial recognition feature

November 2, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Inc. won accolades from privacy experts in September for assuring that facial data used to unlock its new iPhone X would be securely stored on the phone itself.

But Apple’s privacy promises do not extend to the thousands of app developers who will gain access to facial data in order to build entertainment features for iPhone X customers, such as pinning a three-dimensional mask to their face for a selfie or letting a video game character mirror the player’s real-world facial expressions.

Apple allows developers to take certain facial data off the phone as long as they agree to seek customer permission and not sell the data to third parties, among other terms in a contract seen by Reuters.
App makers who want to use the new camera on the iPhone X can capture a rough map of a user’s face and a stream of more than 50 kinds of facial expressions. This data, which can be removed from the phone and stored on a developer’s own servers, can help monitor how often users blink, smile or even raise an eyebrow.

That remote storage raises questions about how effectively Apple can enforce its privacy rules, according to privacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology. Apple maintains that its enforcement tools – which include pre-publication reviews, audits of apps and the threat of kicking developers off its lucrative App Store – are effective.

The data available to developers cannot unlock a phone; that process relies on a mathematical representation of the face rather than a visual map of it, according to documentation about the face unlock system that Apple released to security researchers.

But the relative ease with which developers can whisk away face data to remote servers leaves Apple sending conflicting messages: Face data is highly private when used for authentication, but it is shareable – with the user’s permission – when used to build app features.
“The privacy issues around of the use of very sophisticated facial recognition technology for unlocking the phone have been overblown,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The real privacy issues have to do with the access by third-party developers.”

The use of face recognition is becoming ubiquitous on everything from social networks to city streets with surveillance cameras. Berlin law enforcement officials in August installed a facial recognition system at the city’s main railway station to test new technology for catching criminals and terrorists.

But privacy concerns loom large. In Illinois, Facebook Inc faces a lawsuit over whether its photo tagging suggestions violated a state law that bars the collection of biometric data without permission. Facebook says it has always been clear with users that it can be turned off and the data for it deleted.

Privacy experts say their concerns about iPhone X are not about government snooping, since huge troves of facial photographs already exist on social media and even in state motor vehicle departments. The issue is more about unscrupulous marketers eager to track users’ facial expressions in response to advertisements or content, despite Apple’s contractual rules against doing so.

App makers must “obtain clear and conspicuous consent” from users before collecting or storing face data, and can only do so for a legitimate feature of an app, according to the relevant portions of Apple’s developer agreement that Apple provided to Reuters.
Apple’s iOS operating system also asks users to grant permission for an app to access to any of the phone’s cameras.

Apple forbids developers from using the face data for advertising or marketing, and from selling it to data brokers or analytics firms that might use it for those purposes. The company also bans the creation of user profiles that could be used to identify anonymous users, according to its developer agreement.

“The bottom line is, Apple is trying to make this a user experience addition to the iPhone X, and not an advertising addition,” said Clare Garvie, an associate with the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington.

ENFORCEMENT IN QUESTION

Though they praised Apple’s policies on face data, privacy experts worry about the potential inability to control what app developers do with face data once it leaves the iPhone X, and whether the tech company’s disclosure policies adequately alert customers.
The company has had high-profile mishaps enforcing its own rules in the past, such as the 2012 controversy around Path, a social networking app that was found to be saving users’ contact lists to its servers, a violation of Apple’s rules.

One app developer told Reuters that Apple’s non-negotiable developer agreement is long and complex and rarely read in detail, just as most consumers do not know the details of what they agree to when they allow access to personal data.

Apple’s main enforcement mechanism is the threat to kick apps out of the App Store, though the company in 2011 told the U.S. Congress that it had never punished an app in that way for sharing user information with third parties without permission.

Apple’s other line of defense against privacy abuse is the review that all apps undergo before they hit the App Store. But the company does not review the source code of all apps, instead relying on random spot checks or complaints, according to 2011 Congressional testimony from Bud Tribble, one of the company’s “privacy czars.”

With the iPhone X, the primary danger is that advertisers will find it irresistible to gauge how consumers react to products or to build tracking profiles of them, even though Apple explicitly bans such activity. “Apple does have a pretty good historical track record of holding developers accountable who violate their agreements, but they have to catch them first – and sometimes that’s the hard part,” the ACLU’s Stanley said. “It means household names probably won’t exploit this, but there’s still a lot of room for bottom feeders.”

FILED UNDER DIGITAL PRIVACY , IPHONE X , PRIVACY

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