Constantly posting content on social media can erode your privacy—and sense of self.Photograph: Luka Milanovic/Getty Images
Without the ability to find out how their identity is ricocheting around the virtual world, people often feel a fight-or-flight response when they’ve been online for many hours—and even after they’ve logged off.
“It’s kind of an adapted hyper-vigilance. As soon as you send something out into the virtual world, you’re sort of sitting on pins and needles waiting for a response,” Lembke says. “That alone—that kind of expectancy—is a state of hyperarousal. How will people respond to this? When will they respond? What will they say?”It would be one thing if only you saw any negative reactions, Lembke says, but they’re often available for everyone to see. She says this exacerbates feelings of shame and self-loathing that are already “endemic” in the modern world.We are social creatures, and our brains evolved to form communities, communicate with each other, and work together. We have not evolved to expose ourselves to the judgment of the whole world on a daily basis. These things affect everyone differently, but it’s clear many people regularly feel overwhelmed by this exposure level.
If we’re not careful, our online lives can become a source of chronic stress that subtly seeps into everything. Everyone needs some privacy, but we often don’t provide it for ourselves and end up feeling like we’re constantly battling invisible enemies.
There are things you can do for yourself, however. You can turn off your notifications for social media apps, reduce how much time you spend on them, limit when you allow yourself to use them, and more. Goodman says it sometimes helps to keep your phone in the other room so you’re not so easily tempted to pick it up.Lembke says we need to change how we think about social media and internet use as a society. She calls it a “collective” problem, not just an individual one.“We need to come up with a kind of cultural etiquette around what appropriate and healthy consumption is, just like we have for other consumptive problems,” Lembke says. “We have nonsmoking areas. We don’t eat ice cream for breakfast. We have all kinds of laws around who can buy and consume alcohol, who can go into a casino. We need guardrails for these digital products, especially for minors.”
By Andrew Hutchinson Content and Social Media Manager
Have you found yourself using Instagram way less of late? The once trendsetting social platform seems to have lost its luster, in large part due to Instagram’s insistence on pumping more content from accounts that you don’t follow into your main IG feed. The ‘inspiration’ for that approach is TikTok, which has seen great success by focusing on content, as opposed to creators, with the app opening to a ‘For You’ feed of algorithmically-selected clips, based on your viewing habits. Instagram, as usual, saw that as an opportunity, and it’s since been working to negate your direct input – i.e. the accounts that you’ve chosen to follow – by showing you more and more stuff that it thinks you’ll like. Which is annoying, and personally, I don’t find Instagram anywhere near as engaging as it once was.
- Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike, whom MobileCoin previously described as a technical adviser, may have been more deeply involved in the cryptocurrency project.
- An earlier, nearly identical white paper found online, which MobileCoin CEO Joshua Goldbard called „erroneous,“ lists Marlinspike as the project’s original CTO.
The founder and CEO of encrypted messaging app Signal, Moxie Marlinspike may have been the former CTO of MobileCoin, a cryptocurrency that Signal recently integrated for in-app payments, early versions of MobileCoin technical documents suggest.
MobileCoin CEO Joshua Goldbard told CoinDesk this 2017 white paper is “not something [he] or anyone at MobileCoin wrote,” though it is very nearly a verbatim precursor to MobileCoin’s current white paper. Additionally, snapshots of MobileCoin’s homepage from Dec. 18, 2017, until April 2018, list Marlinspike as one of three members of “The Team,” though his title is not given there. He is not listed as an adviser until May 2018.
The team for the self-described privacy coin has always acknowledged Marlinspike as an adviser to the project, but neither the team nor Marlinspike has ever disclosed direct involvement through an in-house role, much less one so involved as Chief Technical Officer.
If Marlinspike actually was involved as a CTO in MobileCoin’s early days, the recent Signal integration raises questions of MobileCoin’s motivation for associating itself with the renowned cryptographer, along with his own motive for aligning with the project, given the MOB team has historically downplayed this involvement.
“Signal sold out their user base by creating and marketing a cryptocurrency based solely on their ability to sell the future tokens to a captive audience,” said Bitcoin Core developer Matt Corallo, who also used to contribute to Signal’s open-source software.
Goldbard shared another document dated Nov. 13, 2017, same as the other white paper, which does not list a team for the project. He claimed that this white paper was the authentic one and the other was not.
“Moxie was never CTO. A white paper we never wrote was erroneously linked to in our new book, ‘The Mechanics of MobileCoin.’ That erroneous white paper listed Moxie as CTO and, again, we never wrote that paper and Moxie was never CTO,” Goldbard told CoinDesk.
This book is actually the most recent “comprehensive, conceptual (and technical) exploration of the cryptocurrency MobileCoin” posted on the MobileCoin Foundation GitHub, which Goldbard describes as project’s “source of truth” and serves as the most up-to-date technical documentation for the project.
This ”real” version of the paper is nearly identical to the “erroneous” white paper except there is no mention of team members or MobileCoin’s pre-sale details. (Both white papers and current MobileCoin technical documents are embedded at the end of this article for reference.)
Goldbard said the “erroneous” white paper was accidentally added as a footnote to this latest collection of technical documents compiled by Koe, a pseudonymous cryptographer who recently joined MobileCoin’s team. That footnote also lists Marlinspike as a co-author of the paper along with Goldbard.
“He just googled it, like everyone on the internet seems to be doing today, and put [it in] as a footnote. It was an oversight. I did not notice it in my review of the book prior to publishing,” Goldbard told CoinDesk.
A metadata analysis of the papers run by CoinDesk shows that the “erroneous” paper was generated on Dec. 9, 2017, while the “real” paper was generated two days later.
Marlinspike declined to comment on the record about his professional relationship with MobileCoin.
A tale of two papers
In a December 2017 Wired article titled “The Creator of Signal Has a Plan to Fix Cryptocurrency,” Marlinspike went on the record as a “technical adviser,” a title CoinDesk has also used to describe his relationship with MobileCoin in the past.
“There are lots of potential applications for MobileCoin, but Goldbard and Marlinspike envision it first as an integration in chat apps like Signal or WhatsApp,” the article reads.
It also states that “Marlinspike first experimented with [Software Guard Extensions (SGX)] for Signal.” These special (and expensive) Intel SGX chips create a “secure enclave” within a device to protect software, and MobileCoin validators require them to function (validators, as in other permissioned databases, are chosen by the foundation behind MobileCoin).
In the 2017 white paper that Goldbard disavows, Marlinspike is listed under the “team” section as CTO, with experience including being “the lead developer of Open Whisper Systems, [meaning] Moxie is responsible for the entirety of Signal,” which had just over 10 million users at the time. This same white paper describes MobileCoin’s Goldbard as a “high school dropout who thinks deeply about narratives and information systems.”
Signal’s code has historically been open source, though this changed about a year ago; code for the MobileCoin integration was added in Signal’s last beta. The nonprofit, which has five full-time employees, subsists largely on donations and has no clear revenue model, though Whatsapp co-founder Brian Acton injected $50 million into the app in 2018. A 2018 tax filing shows revenue of just over $600,000 for the fiscal year and over $100,000,000 in assets and $105,000,000 in liabilities.
MobileCoin supply and other details
The disavowed white paper also shows details of MobileCoin’s proposed distribution, which the paper says included selling 37.5 million MOB tokens (out of a 250 million supply) in a private presale at a price of $0.80 each for a total of $30 million.
Indeed, in the spring of 2018, MOB raised $30 million from crypto exchange Binance and others in such a private presale, TechCrunch’s Taylor Hatmaker reported. Goldbard referred to the TechCrunch article when discussing MobileCoin’s financing with CoinDesk.
In a MobileCoin forum on Jan. 8, one user asked for details about MOB’s circulating supply.
“Supply: 250mill MOB; Circulating supply: impossible to know (‘circulating’ is pretty hard to define anyway),” Koe responded. MobileCoin does not currently have online tools such as a blockchain explorer to search the network for data.
One user chimed in to say that because all 250 million MOB were generated from a “premine,” or creation of maximum supply before launch, there’s no way for users to earn them through staking or mining.
“I suppose you could request donations,” Koe replied.
MobileCoin’s consensus model copies Stellar’s, meaning only MobileCoin Foundation-approved nodes, which must run on a machine that uses the aforementioned Intel SGX chips, can partake in consensus. The white paper makes no references to rewards or payouts to validators from MOB supply.
MobileCoin Token Services, an affiliate of the MobileCoin Foundation, is currently selling MOB (presumably the remaining coins that did not sell in the presale) to non-U.S. investors by taking orders over email.
When the coin began trading in January, it first listed for around $5. Now, it’s worth about $55 (which, assuming a supply of 250 million MOB, gives the coin roughly the same market cap as Chainlink or Litecoin, the 10th and 9th most value cryptoassets by market cap). The coin clocked over $15 million in volume over the past 24 hours between FTX and Bitfinex, according to exchange data.
Speaking to the coin’s design, the founder of privacy coin monero (XMR, +2.85%), Richard Spagni, claimed that MobileCoin uses the privacy building blocks of his project’s source code for its own design without giving credit.
Who is Moxie Marlinspike?
Something of a legend in cryptography circles, Marlinspike began working on Signal in 2014 after founding Open Whisper Systems in 2013. Before this, he served as Twitter’s head of security after his 2010 startup, Whisper Systems, was acquired by the social network in 2011.
His only on-the-record professional relationship with MobileCoin comes from his technical advisory role, which he took on in late 2017 at the height of bitcoin’s last bull market and its accompanying initial coin offering bubble.
Reporting on the project in 2019, the New York Times’ Nathaniel Popper and Mike Isaac originally wrote that “Signal … has its own coin in the works” before amending the article to clarify that “MobileCoin will work with Signal, but it is being developed independently of Signal.” The correction seems to typify the shifting narrative of Marlinspike’s and MOB’s relationship across various records. (Wired’s 2017 coverage, for example, says that “The Creator of Signal Has a Plan to Fix Cryptocurrency.”)
“I think usability is the biggest challenge with cryptocurrency today,” Marlinspike told Wired in the December 2017 article. “The innovations I want to see are ones that make cryptocurrency deployable in normal environments, without sacrificing the properties that distinguish cryptocurrency from existing payment mechanisms.”
Signal’s own users are less convinced.
The app’s Reddit page is plastered with submissions complaining about the decision to add MOB, with many confused as to why Signal would integrate a coin in the first place, let alone one that isn’t very well known (and which only went live this year).
“Using your messenger service to sit on the blockchain hype for no good reason, bloat a clean messenger app and introduce privacy concerns was more than unnecessary,” one post reads.
Perhaps summing up the sense of betrayal the Signal community feels, one post simply reads, “Et tu Signal?”
Speaking on Moxie’s involvement and the app’s decision to add MOB, Anderson Kill partner Stephen Palley said, “I can’t speak to the discrepancy between investor materials and what you’re being told, but I don’t necessarily judge them for wanting to make a buck after years of providing great open-source software basically for free.”
Signal first out the gate (but tripping)
Other messaging apps like Telegram and Kik have tried and failed to launch in-app cryptocurrency payments by rolling their own coins. Both attempts were promptly quashed by regulators. Encrypted messaging app Keybase was the first messaging app to add cryptocurrency payments when it integrated Stellar’s XLM (+14.33%) in 2018.
Given Facebook’s ownership of WhatsApp, its involvement in the Libra coin project (now known as Diem) may be seen as a similar attempt.
Oddly, Signal’s addition of MobileCoin is the first instance of a messaging app actually pulling off a crypto integration.
The question now is how many of Signal’s 50 million users, many of whom aren’t crypto enthusiasts, will use it.
Read the official and disputed MobileCoin white papers below:
Signal Adds a Payments Feature—With a Privacy-Focused CryptocurrencyThe encrypted messaging app is integrating support for MobileCoin in a bid to keep up with the features offered by its more mainstream rivals.
MobileCoin will bring payments to Signal, but also added complexity and potential regulation. Illustration: Elena Lacey
To try to tame that volatility problem, Marlinspike and Goldbard say they imagine adding a feature in the future that will automatically exchange users‘ payments in dollars or another more stable currency for MobileCoin only when they make a payment, and then exchange it back on the recipient’s side—though it’s not yet clear if those trades could be made without leaving a trail that might identify the user. „There’s a world where maybe when you receive money, it can optionally just automatically settle into a pegged thing,“ Marlinspike says. „And then when you send money it converts back out.“The mechanics of how MobileCoin works to ensure its transactions‘ privacy and anonymity are—even for the world of cryptocurrency—practically a Rube Goldberg machine in their complexity. Like Monero, MobileCoin uses a protocol called CryptoNote and a technique it integrates known as Ring Confidential Transactions to mix up users‘ transactions, which makes tracing them vastly far more difficult and also hides the amount of transactions. But like Zcash, it also uses a technique called zero-knowledge proofs—specifically a form of those mathematical proofs known as Bulletproofs—that can guarantee a transaction has occurred without revealing its value.On top of all those techniques, MobileCoin takes advantage of the SGX feature of Intel processors, which is designed to allow a server to run code that even the server’s operator can’t alter.
MobileCoin uses that feature to ensure that servers in its network are deleting all lingering information about the transactions they carry out after the fact and leave only a kind of cryptographic receipt that proves the transaction occurred. Goldbard compares the entire process of a MobileCoin transaction to depositing a check at a bank, but one in which the check’s amount is obscured and it’s mixed up in a bag with nine other checks before it’s handed to a robotic bank teller. After handing back a deposit slip that proves the check was received, the robot shreds all 10 checks. „As long as SGX is working as promised, you can prove every robot cashier is working the same way and shredding every check,“ Goldbard says. And even if Intel’s SGX fails—security researchers have found numerous vulnerabilities in the feature over the last several years—Goldbard says that MobileCoin’s other privacy features still reduce any ability to identify users‘ transactions to low-probability guesses.If MobileCoin’s privacy promises hold true, Marlinspike says he hopes the cryptocurrency can help Signal reverse a troubling trend toward financial surveillance. If successful, Signal’s use of MobileCoin will also face the same hurdles and critiques that surround all privacy-preserving cryptocurrencies. Any technology that offers a way to anonymously spend money raises the specter of black market uses—from drug sales to money laundering to the evasion of international sanctions—along with the accompanying crush of financial regulations. And that means integrating MobileCoin could expose Signal to new regulatory risks that don’t apply to mere encrypted communications.
„I think it’s phenomenal from a civil liberties perspective,“ says Marta Belcher, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency lawyer who serves at special counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But Belcher points to a coming wave of regulation to control exactly the sort of anonymous cryptocurrency transactions Signal hopes to enable, including a new „enforcement framework“ the Justice Department published last fall and new regulations from FinCEN that could force more players in the cryptocurrency industry to collect identification details of users. „Anyone who’s dealing with cryptocurrency transactions, especially private cryptocurrency transactions, should be really concerned about all of these proposals and the government pushing financial surveillance to cryptocurrency,“ Belcher says.Matt Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University, puts it in starker terms.
„I’m terrified for Signal,“ says Green, who helped develop an early version of Zcash and now sits on the Zcash Foundation board as an unpaid member. „Signal as an encrypted messaging product is really valuable. Speaking solely as a person who is really into encrypted messaging, it terrifies me that they’re going to take this really clean story of an encrypted messenger and mix it up with the nightmare of laws and regulations and vulnerability that is cryptocurrency.“But Marlinspike and Goldbard counter that Signal’s new features won’t give it any control of MobileCoin or turn it into a MobileCoin exchange, which might lead to more regulatory scrutiny. Instead, it will merely add support for spending and receiving it. „The regulatory landscape is complicated, but there are ways to do privacy-protecting payments safely,“ says Goldbard. „To be frank, there’s a moral imperative to do so, because Signal has to offer payments in order to remain competitive with the world’s top messaging apps.“As for the possibility of enabling dangerous criminals and money launderers, Marlinspike offers an answer that mirrors one he’s long given for encrypted communications. Just as criminals used encryption for decades before Signal, they’ve used anonymous cryptocurrencies for years before Signal added MobileCoin payments as a feature.
For those criminals, the threat of law enforcement made using even clunky, tough-to-use tools necessary. By making those secure communications and payments easier, Marlinspike argues, Signal didn’t enable those criminals, but instead simply made their tools available to more casual, non-criminal users.“With Signal, we didn’t invent cryptography. We’re just making it accessible to people who didn’t want to cut and paste a lot of gobbledegook every time they sent a message,“ Marlinspike says. „I see a lot of parallels with this. We’re not inventing private payments…Privacy preserving cryptocurrencies have existed for years and will continue to exist. What we’re doing is just, again, a part of trying to make that accessible to ordinary people.“
The Facebook news ban revealed how problematic it is to rely on corporations to provide fundamental public services
By business reporter Gareth Hutchens
The fog lifted for a moment.
Last week, when Facebook blocked Australians from viewing and sharing „news content“ on its platform, we saw what role it plays in Australian society.
Community groups, charities, sport clubs, arts centres, unions and emergency services all rely on the social media giant.
Its platform plays the role of an important public messaging board.
But in a country with so little civil society infrastructure, our heavy reliance on a corporation to provide such a fundamental public service is deeply problematic.
Facebook, Inc. doesn’t care about your fundraiser or political protest.
It couldn’t care less about your art exhibition.
What it cares about is your personal data, which it harvests in unimaginable quantities.
And the methods it uses to keep its 2.7 billion monthly active users „engaged“ on its website (so it can keep learning more about them) are also deeply problematic.
Jaron Lanier, one of the founders of the field of virtual reality, has been warning about social media and tech giants for years.
„Everyone has been placed under a level of dystopian surveillance straight out of a dystopian science fiction novel,“ he wrote in 2018 about the technological architecture created by these companies.
„Spying is accomplished mostly through connected personal devices — especially, for now, smartphones — that people keep practically glued to their bodies.
„Data is gathered about each person’s communications, interests, movements, contact with others, emotional reactions to circumstances, facial expressions, purchases, vital signs: an ever-growing, boundless variety of data.“
Mr Lanier says the ocean of personal data these companies extract from the internet is turned into behavioural data that allows them to predict and manipulate our behaviour.
„[These] platforms have proudly reported on experimenting with making people sad, changing voter turnout, and reinforcing brand loyalty,“ he said.
Just one example: in 2014, Facebook executives apologised after a scientific paper revealed the company had conducted secret psychological tests on 700,000 users, without its users‘ knowledge, in which it tried to manipulate its users‘ emotions to see what effect it would have on the status updates they posted or how they would use Facebook’s „like“ button.
It’s worth remembering what Facebook is.
It is a member of a group of companies that are engaged in something called „surveillance capitalism“.
According to Professor Shoshana Zuboff, the author who coined the term, surveillance capitalism refers to the „new economic order“ that has emerged in the age of the internet and smartphone.
She says the companies that practice it lay claim to our personal information, our „data“, as „free raw material“ to be aggressively harvested.
Some of the data they collect are used for product or service improvement, but the rest is considered as a proprietary „behavioural surplus“.
That surplus data is then fed into machine intelligence which turns the data into „prediction products“ that „anticipate what you will do now, soon and later“.
According to Professor Zuboff, social media companies trade those „prediction products“ in a new kind of marketplace for behavioural predictions which she calls „behavioural futures markets“.
„Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are eager to lay bets on our future behaviour,“ she wrote in her 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.
„The competitive dynamics of these new markets drive surveillance capitalists to acquire ever-more-predictive sources of behavioural surplus: our voices, personalities, and emotions.
„Surveillance capitalists discovered that the most-predictive behavioural data come from intervening in the state of play in order to nudge, coax, tune, and herd behaviour towards profitable outcomes.
„It has become difficult to escape this bold market project, whose tentacles reach from the gentle herding of innocent Pokemon Go players to eat, drink, and purchase in the restaurants, bars, fast-food joints, and shops that pay to play in its behavioural futures markets to the ruthless expropriation of surplus from Facebook profiles for the purposes of shaping individual behaviour, whether it’s buying pimple cream at 5:45pm on a Friday, clicking ‚yes‘ on an offer of new running shoes as the endorphins race through your brain after your long Sunday morning run, or voting next week.
„Just as industrial capitalism was driven to the continuous intensification of the means of production, so surveillance capitalists and their market players are not locked into the continuous intensification of the means of behavioural modification and the gathering might of instrumentarian power.“
Google invented surveillance capitalism
Professor Zuboff says Google invented and perfected surveillance capitalism in the early 2000s „in much the same way that a century ago General Motors invented and perfected managerial capitalism“.
„Google was the pioneer of surveillance capitalism in thought and practice, the deep pocket research and development, and the trailblazer in experimentation and implementation, but it is no longer the only actor on this path,“ she wrote.
„Surveillance capitalism quickly spread to Facebook and later to Microsoft. Evidence suggests that Amazon has veered in this direction, and it is a constant challenge to Apple, both as an external threat and as a source of internal debate and conflict.“
She published those words in 2019.
A little later that year, the Guardian described the book as an „epoch-defining international bestseller, drawing comparisons to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring“.
The mass surveillance of society has made companies extremely wealthy
One of the points Professor Zuboff has repeatedly made about surveillance capitalism is how profitable it is for the companies that practice it.
The ocean of personal data they hoover up is turned into unimaginable wealth and power, making the companies more powerful than nation-states.
It helps to explain why those tech companies have come to dominate stock markets.
Last year, when researchers at the International Monetary Fund tried to figure out why there seemed to be a large disconnect between stock markets and the real world during one of the worst global recessions in memory, one thesis they considered was that the outsize influence of the big five tech companies — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, which accounted for 22 per cent of the market capitalisation on US stock markets — was making US financial markets appear healthier than they were.
At any rate, it comes back to the question of what type of organisation should be running a country’s quasi-public messaging board.
Are we happy to leave it to surveillance capitalists to run a „public good“ of that kind?
Facebook’s decision to ban legitimate news from being shared in the middle of a global pandemic is a breathtaking display of defiance. It is also entirely consistent with the social media behemoth’s belligerent corporate character.
The move – which inadvertently resulted in Facebook pages of health departments in Queensland, WA and ACT being wiped just before a critical vaccine rollout begins – shocked the Australian media and political establishment. But, in hindsight, nobody should have been surprised. This was vintage Zuckerberg. You don’t blitzscale your way from Harvard dorm room to trillion-dollar titan in the space of a few years without putting lots of noses out of joint.
The Australian government’s media bargaining code, which is at the centre of the dispute, has been endlessly debated over the past year. Media companies say they should be paid for producing journalism that benefits the platforms, but they lack the bargaining power to extract any value for it. Tech giants claim they do not really benefit from the existence of news, that news represents a small part of the overall activity on their platforms, and since they actually send these news organisations free traffic they shouldn’t be paying them anything.
There are merits to both sides of the argument.
Yet there is little doubt stronger regulation of Google and Facebook is urgently needed. The two companies have scarily dominant positions in their respective markets of search and social media, and also an entrenched duopoly in digital advertising. Meanwhile, their ascent has coincided with a host of societal problems ranging from rising misinformation and fake news, to a troubling surge in online conspiracy theories and growing internet addiction.
The media bargaining code attempts to revolve the digital duopoly’s market dominance by using the threat of arbitration to force Google and Facebook to strike commercial deals with media companies. Could there have been a more straightforward solution? A digital platform tax or levy may have been cleaner and simpler and has existing parallels elsewhere in the economy.
There are already taxes on addictive and harmful products (think cigarette excise), and levies on disruptive new market entrants that are used to compensate legacy incumbents also exist (for example, the levies on Uber rides that are distributed to taxi licence holders).
Regardless, the debate about the merits of the media bargaining code in Australia has now become moot. The bill to bring the code into law has sailed through the lower house of Parliament and is all but certain to be passed by the Senate. Facebook is effectively saying that the overwhelming majority of elected officials in a sovereign parliament are wrong.
It is possible that a news-free Facebook could be positive for society and the media industry in the medium term. But at this fragile moment in history – a once in a century health crisis coupled with a fake news epidemic – for the primary gateway to information for millions of people to block critical information from being shared was chillingly irresponsible.
Throughout its relatively short history, Facebook has pursued a win at all costs, take no prisoners approach to business. It has also shown little regard for the wreckage it has left behind. For many years its official corporate mantra was “move fast and break things”.
When a potential competitor emerges, Facebook either buys it (as it did with WhatsApp and Instagram) or copies its key features (as it has done with Snapchat and Tiktok).
It has repeatedly abused the privacy of its users and demonstrated a shocking ineptitude at thwarting the misinformation and conspiracy theories that have flourished on its platform, which are now demonstrably weakening democracies.
The spat over the media bargaining code highlights the fiendishly complex task governments face in regulating digital giants with operations that span the globe, billions of users and perhaps unrivalled power.
Tech proponents argue Australia’s regulation is deeply flawed – and to an extent they may have a point. But there is flawed regulation all across the economy. Most wildly profitable and dominant companies (even Google) begrudgingly accept these kinds of impositions as part of their social licence to operate, a cost of doing business. Not Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg’s middle finger to the Australian government has been noticed all around the world. Already Canada is signaling it will copy the media code, while Europe (which has tried repeatedly to force the digital giants to pay news organisations, with much less success than Australia) is likely to follow.
Facebook has repeatedly shown it does not mind a scrap. But this may be its biggest fight yet, and it is only just beginning.
If the lack of news is a deal-breaker for your use of Facebook, how can you delete your account – and what are the consequences?
With Facebook blocking all news pages and links from its Australian service, some people will be weighing up how they’ll continue to use the social media platform.
Facebook is ubiquitous, and for many of us serves as a link to our friends, family, events, photos and memories. After Facebook’s snap decision on Thursday to block Australians from seeing news articles on its platform, some users began experimenting with loopholes to continuing sharing news, even resorting to breaking up the text in creative ways or using pictures of cats when posting news stories, to throw Facebook off the scent. But in the hours since, those loopholes appear to have been closed.
Is the lack of news a deal-breaker for your use of Facebook? If so, how will you go about deleting your account – and what are the consequences? And are there good alternatives for services that serve news to you?
How will I get my news?
If you previously relied mostly on Facebook for news it’s time to find an alternative, and the service(s) you choose will depend on how you like to consume your content.
If you’re moving to a new social media network, Twitter is an obvious choice. On Twitter, as with Facebook, you get to pick your friends, companies, personalities and outlets, and see their updates in a feed. A lot of news outlets post the same stories to Facebook and Twitter, and may even be more active on the latter now Facebook is out. One advantage of Twitter is you can follow a wide variety of news without crowding your feed too much. For example, you can save curated lists of people and outlets, say, by topic or friend group, to keep things separated. Or you can save specific searches so you’re always up to date on a specific topic or hashtag (those little phrases starting with # that people use to categorise comments, like #auspol for Australian politics).
If you’re sticking with Facebook to keep up with friends, you might just want a straight news service or aggregator to get the latest headlines. Google News is available on every type of device and is good for either skimming the headlines or diving deep into a topic. It has curated “top stories”, suggestions based on your tastes, and you can save favourite sources and topics to a custom feed. On mobile phones, a News Showcase feature lets you read some usually paywalled stories for free. Apple News is similar if you solely use Apple devices, though its premium offering Apple News+ is more curated and you need to pay for it.
For a more DIY option you can collect things called RSS Feeds, which show you every article published on a given website, but they can be messy. Some more advanced RSS reading services, like Feedly, make it easier to create your own news service.
Finally, you can always go directly to the outlets you like. Bookmark the topic pages on websites you’re interested in, or many news outlets also offer newsletters, podcasts and apps to make accessing news more convenient.
What happens to my photos and posts if I delete Facebook?
If you’ve been on the social network for years you might wonder what the repercussions would be if you deleted that app and nuked your account. And the truth is, depending on how you’ve used it, there can be consequences.
Completely deleting your Facebook account will delete all the posts and photos you’ve shared on the service, and remove you from conversations and posts on other people’s Facebook feeds. You will no longer be able to use Facebook Messenger or access any conversations you had there.
If you used Facebook to sign up to other services, such as Spotify or Instagram, you may find it difficult to access them once your account is deleted. Facebook hardware products, such as Portal smart displays and Oculus VR (virtual reality) headsets, require a Facebook account for most functions. In the case of Oculus, you could lose any games you paid for if you delete Facebook.
After 30 days your Facebook account data becomes unrecoverable, although Facebook says it may take 90 days until all your data is gone from its servers.
So how do I do it without losing all my stuff?
For a less nuclear option you can “deactivate” your account; in which case the company keeps your data and you can still use Messenger. Other apps and websites can still log you in with Facebook, and you can reinstate your account in the future.
So if you’re removing yourself from Facebook, you first have to decide whether you’d like the option to come back later. If you do, you should choose a deactivation. If not, you want a deletion. Either way you will go to the same place.
How do you delete or deactivate a Facebook account?
On a computer:
- Log in to Facebook and hit the triangle at the top right of the page.
- Click on Settings and Privacy, and then Settings.
- Click on Your Facebook Information, and then Deactivation or Deletion.
On the mobile app:
- Tap the three horizontal lines at the bottom (iPhone) or top (Android) right of the screen.
- Scroll down and tap Settings and Privacy, and then Settings.
- Scroll down and tap Account Ownership and Control, then Deactivation and Deletion. See below for how to recoup your old posts, including photos.
Deactivation is as simple as entering your password and confirming a few times, but if you’re deleting your account and want to keep your stuff there are a few loose ends to tie up first.
Facebook can send your photos and videos directly to another service, such as Dropbox or Google Photos. Or, alternatively, you can download and store any or all information from your Facebook account. This can take some time if you want to keep everything, as it might include years of posts, photos, videos, comments, messages, event details and group discussions, marketplace listings, location information and advertising data. To do either of these things, follow the steps above but at step three choose Transfer a Copy of Your Photos, or Download Your Information.
How do you access Instagram if you’ve ditched Facebook?
Next, you’ll want to make sure you can still access other services. You can keep using Instagram after a Facebook deletion but you may need to make some changes. Before deleting Facebook go to Instagram’s settings, hit Accounts Center, then Logging in Across Accounts, and make sure it’s turned off. If you originally signed up to Instagram via Facebook, this will prompt you to create a password. Now your Instagram and Facebook accounts are separated – but be aware they are the same company and do share your data.
As for non-Facebook apps and services you used Facebook to sign up for, most will have an option in their settings to choose a different login or unlink from Facebook. If you’re unsure if this applies to any services you use, go to Facebook’s settings and hit Apps and Websites to see a list of services you’ve linked to Facebook.
What are some other services for sharing photos?
Google Photos and Apple iCloud are services you may already be using to back up pics from your phone. But you can also use them to share pictures with others, tag people and make comments. If you’re specifically wanting to share photos of the kids you can set up shared folders in Google Photos that do this automatically. Tinybeans is another good app specifically made for sharing photos of kids with family members and friends.
If you’re deleting Facebook entirely and want a Messenger replacement, Signal is probably closest since it’s secure and has seamless integration between mobile and web. You could say the same for WhatsApp, but if you’re completely expunging Facebook from your life that’s a no-go. If you need all the goofy stickers and video chat features, your phone’s default iMessage or Android Messenger is as good as you may get.
Groups and events are the hardest Facebook features to replace, as it can feel like you’re going to miss out if you’re not on Facebook. But there are alternatives, just make sure you have a phone number and/or active email for each of your friends before you leave. Paperless Post is a good service that lets you create events, send invites and track RSVPs, and you can always create a group chat on your messaging platform of choice.
If there was ever any doubt about Facebook’s cavalier attitude to the network of users it has created, this news blackout is definitive. To Facebook, we are all merely pieces of data to be observed, exploited and monetised. As citizens we are worthless.
Australians need to respond with our mouses. We need to unfriend Facebook and find alternative places to connect and collaborate, free of its surveillance models and reckless self-interest.
The 30 per cent of Australians who rely on Facebook as their primary source of news will have to find it elsewhere or live a fact-free life following the Big Tech behemoth’s decision on Thursday to purge journalism from its site.
Overnight, Facebook has removed access to its users from any site that smells like news: not only local major mastheads such as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, but also specialist sites like The Conversation and global leaders such as The New York Times.
It also seems Fire and Rescue NSW, the Bureau of Meteorology, MS Research Australia, Doctors without Borders and state health departments are among many placed on the blacklist, showing the scope of the Mark Zuckerberg edict from Silicon Valley.
This is an arrogant and reckless move that will be dangerous for all Australians who are relying on an evidence-based response to a global pandemic, but also self-destructive to Facebook. While Facebook argues it does not make much money from news in its network, it is wilfully turning a blind eye to its value. News provides the facts and evidence to anchor what it claims is a ubiquitous digital experience.
If there was ever any doubt about Facebook’s cavalier attitude to the network of users it has created, this news blackout is definitive. To Facebook, we are all merely pieces of data to be observed, exploited and monetised. As citizens we are worthless.
By rejecting the decisions of our elected representatives to implement the findings of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s review of its monopoly power, Facebook is asserting its commercial interests should prevail over the public interest. Indeed, Facebook seems more comfortable with its networks supporting despots and dictatorships by algorithmically fomenting division than respecting a government working in support of democracy.
This decision was made hours after our elected leaders from across the political spectrum endorsed the work of experts to deliver a significant reform that will make our democracy stronger.
The News Media Bargaining Code, the brainchild of the ACCC and its chairman Rod Sims, was a systemic response to the monopoly power that Google and Facebook exert over advertising and its impact on public interest journalism.
Under Australian law there is now a legal mechanism to place a value on fact-based news within the digital platforms that have come to dominate our online world with their algorithmically powered engines of division, distortion and denial.
The spectre of the code – with its global precedence – has already begun to do its job. Google has rushed to finalise premium-content deals with media organisations. These deals will not only make the Australian media, which has shed more than 5000 jobs in the past decade, stronger; it will help address the built-in weaknesses of digital platforms that refuse to discriminate fact from fiction.
And they were only the first step in the program of digital platform reform that the ACCC has laid out to address the power of the Google/Facebook monopoly.
A review of privacy laws is currently under way, looking at the way Australians’ personal information is collected and monetised by online platforms with a view to designing consumer rights and protections. A separate process is focussing on the responsibilities social media should have to address harmful misinformation and disinformation, dispelling for good the myth that they are platforms with no broader social obligations for the harm they cause.
There’s also a review of the creepy world of ad-tech, where automated, virtual trading floors are running real-time auctions for our attention every time we visit a news page.
But this sort of expression on democratic reform is a red line for Facebook, which believes its network is stronger than our public institutions.
Australians need to respond with our mouses. We need to unfriend Facebook and find alternative places to connect and collaborate, free of its surveillance models and reckless self-interest.
Peter Lewis is the director of the Centre for Responsible Technology.
The Facebook-owned messaging service has been hit by a global backlash over privacy. Many users are migrating to Signal or Telegram. Should you join them?
WhatsApp soon issued a clarification, explaining that the new policy only affects the way users’ accounts interact with businesses (ie not with their friends) and does not mandate any new data collection. The messaging app also delayed the introduction of the policy by three months. Crucially, WhatsApp said, the new policy doesn’t affect the content of your chats, which remain protected by end-to-end encryption – the “gold standard” of security that means no one can view the content of messages, even WhatsApp, Facebook, or the authorities.
But the damage had already been done. The bungled communication attempts have raised awareness that WhatsApp does collect a lot of data, and some of this could be shared with Facebook. The BBC reported that Signal was downloaded 246,000 times worldwide in the week before WhatsApp announced the change on 4 January, and 8.8m times the week after.
WhatsApp does share some data with Facebook, including phone numbers and profile name, but this has been happening for years. WhatsApp has stated that in the UK and EU the update does not share further data with Facebook – because of strict privacy regulation, known as the general update to data protection regulation (GDPR). The messaging app doesn’t gather the content of your chats, but it does collect the metadata attached to them – such as the sender, the time a message was sent and who it was sent to. This can be shared with “Facebook companies”.
Facebook’s highly criticised data collection ethos has eroded trust in the social network. Its practices can put vulnerable people at risk, says Emily Overton, a data protection expert and managing director of RMGirl. She cites the example of Facebook’s “people you may know” algorithm exposing sex workers’ real names to their clients – despite both parties taking care to set up fake identities. “The more data they profile, the more they put people in vulnerable positions at risk.”
And the social network isn’t known for keeping promises. When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, it pledged to keep the two services separate. Yet only a few years later, Facebook announced aims to integrate the messaging systems of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. This appears to have stalled owing to technical and regulatory difficulties around encryption, but it’s still the long-term plan.
Why are people choosing Signal over Telegram?
Signal, a secure messaging app recommended by authorities such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Edward Snowden, has been the main beneficiary of the WhatsApp exodus. Another messaging app, Telegram, has also experienced an uptick in downloads, but Signal has been topping the charts on the Apple and Android app stores.
Signal benefits from being the most similar to WhatsApp in terms of features, while Telegram has had problems as a secure and private messaging app, with its live location feature recently coming under fire for privacy infringements. Crucially, Telegram is not end-to-end encrypted by default, instead storing your data in the cloud. Signal is end-to-end encrypted, collects less data than Telegram and stores messages on your device rather than in the cloud.
Does Signal have all the features I am used to and why is it more private?
Yes, Signal has most of the features you are used to on WhatsApp, such as stickers and emojis. You can set up and name groups, and it’s easy to send a message: just bring up the pen sign in the right-hand corner.
Signal has a desktop app, and you can voice and video chat with up to eight people. Like WhatsApp, Signal uses your phone number as your identity, something that has concerned some privacy and security advocates. However, the company has introduced pin codes in the hope of moving to a more secure and private way of identifying users in the future.
As well as being end-to-end encrypted, both WhatsApp and Signal have a “disappearing messages” feature for additional privacy. The major difference is how each app is funded. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, whose business model is based on advertising. Signal is privacy focused and has no desire to analyse, share or profit from users’ private information, says Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET.
Signal is supported by the non-profit Signal Foundation, set up in 2018 by WhatsApp founder Brian Acton and security researcher (and Signal Messenger CEO) Moxie Marlinspike, who created an encryption protocol that is used by several messaging services, including WhatsApp and Skype as well as Signal itself. Acton, who left Facebook in 2017 after expressing concerns over how the company operated, donated an initial $50m to Signal, and the open-source app is now funded by the community. Essentially that means developers across the world will continually work on it and fix security issues as part of a collaborative effort, making the app arguably more secure.
But there are concerns over whether Signal can maintain this free model as its user base increases to the tens, or potentially in the future, hundreds of millions. Signal is adamant it can continue to offer its service for free. “As a non-profit, we simply need to break even,” says Aruna Harder, the app’s COO.
Signal is exclusively supported by grants and donations, says Acton. “We believe that millions of people value privacy enough to sustain it, and we’re here to demonstrate that there is an alternative to the ad-based business models that exploit user privacy.”
I want to move to Signal. How do you persuade WhatsApp groups to switch?
The momentum away from WhatsApp does appear to be building, and you may find more of your friends have switched to Signal already. But persuading a larger contact group can be more challenging.
Overton has been using Signal for several years and says all her regular contacts use the app. “Even when dating online, I ask the person I want to go on a date with to download Signal, or they don’t get my number.”
Some Signal advocates have already begun to migrate their groups over from WhatsApp. Jim Creese, a security expert, is moving a neighbourhood text group of 100 people to Signal. He is starting with a smaller sub-group of 20, some of whom struggle with technology. Creese says most are ambivalent about switching “as long as the new method isn’t more difficult”.
He advises anyone who’s moving groups across apps to focus on the “why” first. “Explain the reasons for the change, how it is likely to affect them, and the benefits. Don’t rush the process. While WhatsApp might not be where you want to be today, there’s no emergency requiring an immediate move.”
Moore thinks the shift away from WhatsApp will continue to gain momentum, but he says it will take time to move everyone across. Until then, it’s likely you will need to keep both WhatsApp and Signal on your phone.
Moore is in the process of moving a family chat to Signal, for the second time. “When I originally tried, one family member didn’t understand my concerns and thought I was being overcautious.
“However, the recent news has helped him understand the potential issues and why moving isn’t such a bad idea. The next hurdle will be getting my mother to download a new app and use it for the first time without me physically assisting her.”
Some use the internet, some function without servers, some are paid and others are free, but all these apps claim to have one thing in common—respect for user privacy
Image: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
An open-source service, Jami doesn’t store users’ personal information on a central server, guaranteeing users full anonymity and privacy. Around since 2013, Christophe Villemer, advocacy vice-president of the Canada-based messenger app, says, “We really are a newcomer in the market, we estimate there are around 100,000 users around the globe but our community is growing every day.” He says Jami is peer-to-peer, which means it doesn’t require a server for relaying data between users. Therefore, users don’t have to worry about a third party conserving their video or data on its servers. With features such as HD video calling, instant and voice messaging, and file sharing, the service is free to use. All the connections are end-to-end encrypted. “At Jami, we think that privacy is a primary right on the internet. Everybody should be free not to give their data to corporations to benefit from an essential service on the internet,” says Villemer. “Also, we think that our solution, as it’s peer-to-peer, is globally better for the environment because it does not rely on huge server farms or data-centers,” he adds. Users of the service have no restrictions in terms of the size of the files they share, nor speed, bandwidth, features, number of accounts or storage. In addition, if users are on the same local network, they can communicate using Jami even if they are disconnected from the internet. “There will never be advertising on Jami,” says Villemer.Briar
Briar Messenger is a not-for-profit organisation that started off as a project by Michael Rogers in an attempt to support freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to privacy. In India, Briar is extremely popular in Kashmir. Reason? It can work without the internet via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Launched in 2018, this application uses direct, encrypted connections to prevent surveillance and censorship. Briar allows users to form private groups (with one admin that can invite others), write blogs, and also create public discussion forums. The application doesn’t rely on central servers and sends across messages without leaking metadata.Torsten Grote, senior developer, Briar Messenger, says, “Briar is for users who have higher security requirements such as not wanting to reveal who their contacts are (think journalist and source) or for users who need to keep the communication going when the internet is not available, be it because of natural disasters or deliberate shutdowns.” So far, Briar has around 200,000 downloads on Google Play and around 100,000 downloads from their website. The application is also available on F-Droid and other independent stores, which don’t track downloads. However, “thanks to the WhatsApp policy change,” says Grote, “we are seeing 7x the usual number of downloads.”Threema
In 2012, three young software developers from Switzerland decided to create a secure instant messenger that would prevent the misuse of user data by companies and surveillance by governments. After Facebook bought WhatsApp in early 2014, the number of users climbed to 2 million in just a few weeks. “In Threema, all communication is protected in the best possible way by end-to-end encryption. Since Threema is open source, users can independently verify that Threema doesn’t have access to any user data that could be handed over to third parties,” says Roman Flepp, head of marketing and sales, Threema.One of Threema’s guiding principles is “metadata restraint”, which means if there is no data, no data can be misused, either by corporations, hackers or surveillance authorities. Currently, the messenger has over 9 million users. In the light of the recent WhatsApp privacy issue, Flepp claims the daily download numbers have increased significantly, by a factor of 10. This growth has been consistently high since the policy change was announced. He adds, “This whole controversy could be a game changer. Now more and more people are looking around for a more private and secure messaging solution.”The application can be used not only by individual users, but also businesses. Threema has various business solutions such as Threema Work and Threema Education. “Especially in the business environment, it is crucial that a secure and privacy-compliant solution is used for work-related communication. We see a great demand, more than 5,000 companies are already using our business solution Threema Work,” says Flepp. Currently, the team is working on creating a multi-device solution that will allow users to use Threema on multiple devices.****While a bunch of these applications are great options for secure peer-to-peer messaging, it is not a very sustainable revenue model for most of these companies. Hence, a few of them have moved to offer enterprise solutions. “For business use, a consumer-focused messaging app [like WhatsApp] is insufficient because it isn’t designed with business requirements for security, privacy, and compliance in mind,” says Shey.Post the recent announcement about the policy changes, a lot of government organisations and companies banned the use of applications like WhatsApp on company-issued devices and for work. We take a look at some applications that offer paid messaging solutions to businesses.Wire
Troop Messenger was launched in mid-2018 as an internal messaging app for enterprises. “It is a home-grown, made in India, robust and a secured business messaging platform,” says CEO and founder Sudhir Naidu. A single platform, it enables internal teams to chat, make audio and video calls, convert them into conferencing, share screens, and create groups. It also features a self-destructible chat window to exchange secured information, and will shortly introduce an email client so users can both send e-mails and messages. “We have pledged that we would not sell any kind of user data to any third-party organisations. We assess and track all kinds of intrusions and attacks and follow the policy of honestly disclosing to clients if there is a breach which involves a threat to their data,” says Naidu. Additionally, Troop follows a stringent and comprehensive internal security framework and policy, in terms of development, testing and release.Besides Indian enterprises, Troop Messenger has been seeing good traction from the US, UK and the Middle East, informs Naidu. “We see three times the usual daily registrations for our platform, since the [WhatsApp] policy came out,” he says. “Businesses that were using WhatsApp before are actively looking out for much safer and business-oriented platforms such as ours,” he adds.Arattai
Zoho Corp, which has products like Zoho Mail and Zoho Business Suite, released a beta version of its messaging application Arattai, meaning chit-chat in Tamil, in the middle of the pandemic in 2020. “More than 70,000 users have already downloaded Arattai and we didn’t advertise at all,” says Praval Singh, VP, marketing at Zoho Corp. “The final application is close to being launched,” he adds. As a privately held company, Singh says, their focus is on user privacy. “We have retained that we’ve held that stance in many ways for our enterprise and business users. And we would like to take it forward with consumer applications as well. For example, we don’t use our own application or data of users to share with third parties, either as a monetisation strategy or for any other reason. So, data that sits on an application doesn’t go to a third party,” he says. In fact, they own their data centers. Therefore, they are not dependent on any third party or public clouds for storage. Spike
Initially released in October 2018, Spike is a conversational and collaborative email application that turns legacy email into a synchronic chat-like experience, adding tasks, collaborative notes and multimedia to create a single feed for work.Instead of using another application, Spike turns an individual’s email address inbox into a hub for chatting with co-workers, friends, and family–as well as a place to work on documents, manage tasks, and share files. Unlike WhatsApp groups, says Dvir Ben-Aroya, co-founder and CEO of Spike, “Spike groups provide a real-time collaborative tool for businesses, without switching between separate team messenger apps.” The application promises to store minimum data to provide fast communication and ensure privacy. Currently, Spike has over 100,000 active teams using this application.“We’ve seen a drastic uptick in users after the WhatsApp announcement, but since we track minimal user data, we cannot access specific data or directly attribute these users’ behaviour with correlation to using WhatsApp,” he says. Its highest user base is in the US, Germany, the UK, and it is very popular in India, especially among students and educators.(With inputs from Namrata Sahoo)