Seriously, It’s Time to Ditch Facebook and Give Google+ a Try

One might think that with the deluge of news about how Facebook has been manipulating you and violating your privacy — and neglecting to tell you about it — Google would be taking this opportunity to point out that their own Google+ social system is very much the UnFacebook.

But sometimes Google is reticent about tooting their own horn. So what the hell, when it comes to Google+, I’m going to toot it for them.

Frankly, I’ve never trusted Facebook, and current events seem to validate those concerns yet again. Facebook is fundamentally designed to exploit users in particularly devious and disturbing ways (please see: “Fixing Facebook May Be Impossible” –

Yet I’ve been quite happily communicating virtually every day with all manner of fascinating people about a vast range of topics over on Google+ (, since the first day of beta availability back in 2011.

The differences between Facebook and Google+ are numerous and significant. There are no ads on Google+. Nobody can buy their way into your feed or pay Google for priority. Google doesn’t micromanage what you see. Google doesn’t sell your personal information to any third parties.

There’s overall a very different kind of sensibility on G+. There’s much less of people blabbing about the minutiae of their own lives all day long (well, perhaps except when it comes to cats — I plead guilty!), and much more discussion of issues and topics that really matter to more people. There’s much less of an emphasis on hanging around with those high school nitwits whom you despised anyway, and much more a focus on meeting new persons from around the world for intelligent discussions.

Are there any wackos or trolls on G+? Yep, they’re out there, but they never represent more than a small fraction of total interactions, and the tools are available to banish them in short order. 

There is much more of a sense of community among G+ users, without the “I hate it but I use it anyway” feeling so often expressed by Facebook users. Facebook posts all too often seem to be about “me” — G+ posts more typically are about “us” — and tend to be far more interesting as a result.

At this juncture, the Google-haters will probably start to chime in with their usual bizarre conspiracy theories. Other than suggesting that they remove their tinfoil hats so that their scalps can breathe, I can’t do much for them.

Does Google screw up from time to time? Yes. But so does Facebook, and in far, far more egregious ways. Google messes up occasionally and works to correct what went wrong. Unfortunately, not only does Facebook make mistakes, but the entire philosophy of Facebook is dead wrong — a massive, manipulative violation of users’ personal information and communications on a gargantuan scale. There simply is no comparison.

And I’ll note here what should be obvious — I wouldn’t use G+ (or other Google services) if I weren’t satisfied with the ways that they handle my data. Having consulted to Google, I have a pretty decent understanding of how this works, and I know many members of their world-class privacy team personally. If only most firms gave their customers the kinds of control over their data that Google does (“The Google Page That Google Haters Don’t Want You to Know About” –

But whether or not you decide to try Google+, please don’t keep playing along with Facebook’s sick ecosystem. Facebook has been treating its users like suckers since day one, and there’s damned little to suggest that they’re moving in other than an increasingly awful trajectory. 

And that’s the truth.


Fixing Facebook May Be Impossible

In the realm of really long odds, let’s imagine that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg contacted me with this request: “Lauren, we’re in big trouble over here. I’ll do anything that you suggest to get Facebook back on the road of righteousness! Just name it and it’ll be done!”

Beyond the fact that this scenario is even less likely than Donald Trump voluntarily releasing his tax returns (though perhaps not by much!), I’m unsure that I’d have any practical ideas to help out Zuck.

The foundational problem is that any solutions with any significant chance of success would mean fundamentally changing the Facebook ecosystem in ways that would probably make it almost unrecognizable compared with their existing status quo.

Facebook is founded and structured almost entirely on the concept of straitjacketing users into narrow “walled gardens” of information, tailoring on an individual basis what they see in the most manipulative ways possible.

Perhaps even worse, Facebook permits posts to be “promoted” — that is, being visible in users’ feeds when they might not otherwise have appeared in those feeds — if you pay Facebook enough money.

Contrasting these fundamentals with Google’s social media operations is instructive.

For example, while you can buy ads to appear in conjunction with search results on Google (but never mixed in with the organic results themselves), there are no ads on Google+, nor is there any way to pay Google to promote Google+ posts.

Google’s major focus — their 20th birthday is this year — has always been on making the most information possible available in an organized way — the explicit goal of Google’s founding duo.

On the other hand, Facebook’s focus has always centered on tightly supervising and controlling the information that their victims — oops, sorry — users see. Given that Zuck originally founded Facebook as a means to avoid dating what he considered to be “ugly” women, we shouldn’t be at all surprised.

I’ve never had an active Facebook account (I do have a “stealth” account that I use so that I can survey Facebook pages, user interfaces, and similar aspects of the service that are only available to logged-in users — but I never post anything there.)

Yet I’ve never felt in any way deprived by not being an active Facebook user.

I frequently hear from people who tell me that they really hate Facebook, but that they keep using it because their friends or relatives don’t want to bother communicating with them any other way. That’s just … sad. 

But it’s not a valid excuse in the long run.

Perhaps even more to the point today, Facebook’s operating model makes it enormously vulnerable to ongoing manipulation by Russia and its affiliated entities (such as Donald Trump, his campaign, and his minions) toward undermining western democracies. 

Crucially though, this vulnerability is not the result of an accidental flaw in Facebook’s design. Rather, Facebook’s entire ecosystem is predicated on encouraging the manipulation of its users by third parties who posses the skills and financial resources to leverage Facebook’s model. 

These are not aberrations at Facebook — they are exactly how Facebook was designed to operate. As the saying goes: “Working as intended!”

Yes, I could probably make some useful suggestions to Zuck. Ways to vastly improve their abysmal privacy practices. Reminding them that lying to regulators is always a bad idea. And an array of other positive propositions. 

But the reality is that for Facebook to actually, seriously implement these would entail a wholesale restructuring of what Facebook does and what they currently represent as a firm — and it’s almost impossible to see that voluntarily happening.

So I really just don’t have any good news for Zuck along these lines.

And that’s the truth.


The Controversial CLOUD Act: Privacy Plus or Minus?

Over the last few days you may have seen a bunch of articles about the “CLOUD Act” — recently introduced U.S. bipartisan legislation that would overhaul key aspects of how foreign government requests for the data of foreign persons held on the servers of U.S. companies would be handled.

I’m being frequently asked for my position on this, and frankly the analysis has not been a simple one.

Opponents, including EFF, the ACLU, and a variety of other privacy and civil right groups, are opposing the legislation, arguing that it eases access to such data by foreign governments and represents a dangerous erosion of privacy rights.

Proponents, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Oath (Yahoo/Verizon) argue that the CLOUD Act provides much needed clarity to the technically and legally confused mess regarding transborder data requests, and introduces new privacy and transparency protections of its own.

One thing is for sure — the current situation IS a mess and completely unsustainable going forward, with ever escalating complicated legal entanglements (e.g. the ongoing Microsoft Ireland case, with a pending Supreme Court decision likely to go against Microsoft’s attempts at promoting transborder privacy) and ever more related headaches in the future.

Cutting to the chase, I view the CLOUD Act as flawed and imperfect, but still on balance a useful effort at this time to move the ball forward in an exceedingly volatile global environment.

This is particularly true given my concerns about foreign governments’ increasing demands for “data localization” — where their citizens’ data would be stored under conditions that would frequently be subject to far fewer privacy protections than would be available under either current U.S. law or the clarified provisions of the CLOUD Act. In the absence of the CLOUD Act, such demands are certain to rapidly accelerate.

One of the more salient discussions of the CLOUD Act that I’ve seen lately is: “Why the CLOUD Act is Good for Privacy and Human Rights” ( Regardless of how you feel about these issues, the article is well worth reading.

Let’s face it — nothing about the Net is simple.


Why YouTube’s New Plan to Debunk Conspiracy Videos Won’t Work

YouTube continues to try figure out ways to battle false conspiracy videos that rank highly on YouTube — sometimes even into the top trending lists — and that can spread to ever more viewers via YouTube’s own “recommended videos” system. I’ve offered a number of suggestions for dealing with these issues, most recently in “Solving YouTube’s Abusive Content Problems — via Crowdsourcing” (

YouTube has now announced a new initiative that they’re calling “information cues” — which they hope will address some of these problems.

Unfortunately, this particular effort (at least as being reported today) is likely doomed to be almost entirely ineffective.

The idea of “information cues” is to provide false conspiracy YouTube videos with links to Wikipedia pages that “debunk” those conspiracies. So, for example, a video claiming that the Florida student shooting victims were actually “crisis actors” would presumably show a link to a Wikipedia page that explains why this wasn’t actually the case.

You probably already see the problems with this approach.

We’ll start with the obvious elephant in the room. The kind of viewers who are going to believe these kinds of false conspiracy videos are almost certainly going to say that the associated Wikipedia articles are wrong, that they’re planted lies. FAKE NEWS!

Do we really believe that anyone who would consider giving such videos even an inch of credibility is going to be convinced otherwise by Wikipedia pages? C’mon! If anything, such Wikipedia pages may actually serve to enforce these viewers’ beliefs in the original false conspiracy videos!

Not helping matters at all is that Wikipedia’s reputation for accuracy — never all that good — has been plunging in recent years, sometimes resulting in embarrassing Knowledge Panel errors for Google in search results.

Any Wikipedia page that is not “protected” — that is, where the ordinary change process has been locked out — is subject to endlessly mutating content editing wars — and you can bet that any editable Wikipedia pages linked by YouTube from false conspiracy videos would become immediate high visibility targets for such attacks.

If there’s one thing that research into this area has already shown quite conclusively, it’s that the people who believe these kinds of garbage conspiracy theories are almost entirely unconvinced by any factual information that conflicts with their inherent points of view.

The key to avoiding the contamination caused by these vile, lying, false conspiracy videos is to minimize their visibility in the YouTube/Google ecosystem in the first place.

Not only should they be prevented from ever getting into the trending lists, they should be deranked, demonetized, and excised from the YouTube recommended video system. They should be immediately removed from YouTube entirely if they contain specific attacks against individuals or other violations of the YouTube Terms of Service and/or Community Guidelines. These actions must be taken as rapidly as possible with appropriate due diligence, before these videos are able to do even more damage to innocent parties.

Nothing less can keep such disgusting poison from spreading.


Solving YouTube’s Abusive Content Problems — via Crowdsourcing

We all know that the long knives are out by various governments regarding YouTube content. We know that Google is significantly increasing the number of workers who will review YT abuse reports.

But we also know that the volume of videos in the uploading firehose is going to continue leaving very large numbers of abusive videos online that may quickly achieve high numbers of views, even if YT employed techniques that I’ve previously urged, such as human review of videos that are about to go onto the trending lists before they actually do so.

This scale of videos is enormous — yet the scale of viewing users is also very large.

Is there some way to leverage the latter to help deal with abusive content in the former, as a proactive effort to help keep government censorship of YT at bay?

YT already has a “Trusted Flaggers” program that gives abuse review priority to videos that these users have flagged. But (as far as I know) this only applies to videos that these users have happened to find and see of their own volition. 

I don’t have the hard data to prove this, but I have a strong suspicion that vast numbers of users would be willing to participate as organized volunteer proactive “screeners” of a sort for YT, especially if there was some even minor financial incentive for their participation (think in terms of a small amount of Play Store credit, for example).

What if public videos that were suddenly attracting significant numbers of views (“significant” yet to be defined), were pushed to some odd number (to avoid ties) of such volunteer viewers who have undergone appropriate online training regarding YT’s Terms of Use? We require that they actually are viewing reasonable amounts of these videos (yes, there would be ways to attempt gaming this, but remember we’re talking about very large numbers of volunteers so much of that risk should wash out if care is used in tracking analysis).

They vote/rate the videos acceptable or not. If the majority vote a video as unacceptable, it gets pushed to the formal G abuse screeners for a decision. If any given volunteer is found over time to be providing bad decisions, they’re dropped from the program.

Most videos would have small enough numbers of views to never even enter this system. But it would provide a middle ground to help deal with videos that are suddenly getting more visibility *before* they can cause big problems, and this technique doesn’t rely on random viewers taking the initiative to flag abusive videos (and for that matter figuring out how to flag them, since flagging is not typically a top level YT user interface element these days, as I’ve previously noted).

Since participants in this program would not have any control over which specific videos they’d be pushed for a vote, and since again we’d be talking about quite large numbers of participants (and we’d be monitoring their performance over time), the ability to purposely claim that nonabusive videos were abusive (or the reverse) would be minimized.

No video would have action taken against it unless it had also been declared abusive by a regular YT screener in the pipeline after the volunteer screeners down-voted a video — providing even more protection.

How to define abusive videos is of course a separate discussion relating directly to the YT Terms of Service, but this could include the kinds of content violations that we all know about in relation to YT (hate speech, dangerous pranks and dares, threats, etc.), and even areas such as obvious obnoxious Content ID evasions (e.g., program/movie video inset boxes against random backgrounds, artificial program run time variations, and so on).

I do realize that this is a fairly radical concept and that there are all manner of details that aren’t considered in this brief summary. But I am increasingly convinced that it’s going to take some sort of new approach to help deal with these problems proactively, and to help forestall governments from moving in and wrecking the wonderful YouTube ecosystem with escalating politically motivated demands and threats.