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Under pressure from Reddit's administrators over copyright issues, the site's largest forum dedicated to piracy discussion has opted for "The Nuclear Option". After voting by its contributors, all…
Article word count: 1077
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19600296
Posted by okket (karma: 36420)
Post stats: Points: 123 - Comments: 89 - 2019-04-07T22:15:52Z
#HackerNews #almost #avoid #ban #deleting #history #piracy #reddits #ten #years
With around a quarter of a billion monthly users, Reddit is one of the most important sites on the Internet.
The site plays host to millions of live discussions on countless topics ranging from the mundane to obviously controversial.
Recently we’ve reported on the troubles being faced by /r/piracy, Reddit’s most popular sub-Reddit focused on piracy discussion.
In an article published mid-March 2019, we reported how the moderators of the forum were making best efforts to keep content on the right side of the law and within Reddit’s rules. Just a handful of days later, however, the moderators received notice from Reddit that they were receiving too many copyright complaints from rightsholders.
For a sub-Reddit that has strict rules forbidding anyone posting links to infringing content, the notification came as a disappointment. While some complaints were legitimate (some people simply won’t abide by the rules and some posts do get missed), many were not. This placed the forum’s moderators between a rock and a hard place.
According to some of the copyright notices filed with Reddit, simply posting an alleged pirate site homepage URL warranted a complaint, even when that URL didn’t link to any infringing content. We’ve seen the same kind of issues before, when copyright holders have made attempts to have site homepages delisted from Google, despite their content never appearing there.
Further complicating the process is that the moderators of /r/piracy have no ability to respond to potentially false allegations. If a user makes a post that results in a copyright notice, only that user (or Reddit’s admins) are in a position to dispute the claim with the notice sender, so that rarely happens. Even if it does, nothing is made public.
Meanwhile, the notices keep building up, despite best efforts and whether they’re valid or not. Even people simply posting names of releases are being flagged for copyright infringement, something that isn’t illegal in any form. As a result, those posts too are now being removed, as quickly as the mods can reach them.
“I have begun unofficially removing release posts and it’s quite sad considering that a rather large bulk of our users look forward to them every day, I know I did,” moderator ‘dysgraphical‘ informs TF.
“We have had days when releases were the highlight of the day filled with hundreds of comments of excited people discussing the film. This has all been scrubbed now. We recently had an April Fool’s ‘Avengers: Endgame’ release post hit r/all and while the community was happy to meme on being fooled, a few users were concerned that copyright holders might act on it and have it removed.”
It’s nothing less than self-censorship in response to sloppy and/or fraudulent claims, but these are testing times.
But the really big issue here relates to the huge archive of posts already present on /r/piracy – some ten years’ worth of discussions. Is there anything in there that could warrant a surprise complaint? Apparently so, since rightsholders have been digging up issues from the past and complaining to Reddit.
This left the moderators of /r/piracy with a huge dilemma. Uncertain of what lay in the archives and only being in a strong position to be absolutely certain of the state of play more recently, they asked the community for input on the ‘Nuclear Option‘ – deleting every post older than six months old, just to be sure.
After the votes were counted, those in favor of deleting the archives outnumbered those asking for preservation by ten to one. All that was left was to find a way to begin deleting history, around 9.5 years of posts. A script was created and put into motion and the purge began.
“Given the speed, this might take weeks,” says moderator ‘dbzer0’, a nine-year veteran of the sub-Reddit.
It’s unclear when this sweeping process with be fully completed, but it’s hoped that it can keep the community alive. Not all of the moderators were in favor of the mass deletion since that, of course, deletes the community’s history too.
“The Scrubbing [as the deletion process is now called] is just a poorly, rushed attempt to elongate the community’s lifespan on Reddit,” dysgraphical says.
“We have already seen this performed in other subreddits in which mod teams have bent over backwards to please the administration by implementing their own set of stringent rules. These communities no longer exist.”
But the vote was cast and the final decision appears to have been a democratic one rooted in self-preservation. It does raise interesting points, however.
The recently highlighted situation shows that sub-Reddits devoted to controversial topics – especially those related to piracy – are at risk of being targeted. When they are, the copyright notice and counter-notice process is somewhat undermined.
While users can be banned for repeat infringements, it’s trivial to open a new account. And when the notices start to pile up on Reddit – legitimately or not – whole communities can be banned, despite working above and beyond the requirements of the law.
“The issue at hand is not that r/Piracy distributes copyrighted content, but rather that the discussion of digital piracy is no longer protected; it never was,” dysgraphical adds.
“As copyright holders continue pushing the envelope, by claiming that the mention of streaming sites infringe their IP, Reddit will continue complying and effectively ban r/Piracy. Copyright holders on Reddit no longer need to dig deep to find infringing content, they can pick any thread or comment at random that loosely relates to their IP, and file a DMCA takedown notice.”
To give a school analogy, it appears that if a few kids misbehave, get misinterpreted, or targeted incompetently, the whole class gets kept behind after school – before being permanently expelled. It’s effectively mass punishment based on the acts of a few – or the whims of bots.
Finally, subscriptions to /r/piracy have always been on the increase and are now edging towards 370,000 subscribers but the ongoing purge is having a clear effect on traffic to the sub-Reddit, when the two unusual peaks (including the April 1 surge) are discounted.
Reddit’s /r/piracy traffic stats
Whether the popular forum can fight back from this decline will remain to be seen but it’s clear that deleting most of its history is already causing pain. The big question is whether Reddit’s admins are taking note of this huge olive branch or whether they’ll still choose to chop down the whole tree regardless.
HackerNewsBot debug: Calculated post rank: 111 - Loop: 394 - Rank min: 100 - Author rank: 69
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19593227
Posted by sfoskett (karma: 482)
Post stats: Points: 110 - Comments: 33 - 2019-04-06T21:50:42Z
#HackerNews #almost #but #done #failures #gps #happening #keep #rollover #theyre #time
HackerNewsBot debug: Calculated post rank: 84 - Loop: 271 - Rank min: 80 - Author rank: 137
According to a 2018 McKinsey report, China boasts 114 of the world’s 147 female, self-made billionaires (America has 14). And almost 50% more women hold professional or technical jobs for every 100 men in the Philippines. Asia is one of the most progressive regions for women, yet stereotypes of what Asian women are like and look like persist. BBH Singapore’s ‘See Different’ collection of images seeks to change that by showing the true diversity and personality of women across the Asian region.
Photo by @meaneggs on Instagram.
Location: Khidarpur Jadoo, India
Full image: Link
#photography #CC0 #Unsplash #APIRandom #According #to #a #2018 #McKinsey #report #China #boasts #114 #of #the #worlds #147 #female #self-made #billionaires #America #has #14 #And #almost #50% #more #women #hold #professional #or #technical #jobs #for #every #100 #men #in #the #Philippines #Asia #is #one #of #the #most #progressive #regions #for #women #yet #stereotypes #of #what #Asian #women #are #like #and #look #like #persist #BBH #Singapores #‘See #Different #collection #of #images #seeks #to #change #that #by #showing #the #true #diversity #and #personality #of #women #across #the #Asian #region
#Photo #by #@meaneggs #on #Instagram #KhidarpurJadoo #India
This morning, I spoke with a good friend who lives in France. He started a business with his wife to develop a web-based…
Article word count: 5538
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19546224
Posted by Elof (karma: 1111)
Post stats: Points: 196 - Comments: 103 - 2019-04-01T18:05:28Z
#HackerNews #about #almost #and #are #deadlines #else #everything #killing #know #leadership
Go to the profile of Duncan Riach, Ph.D.
This morning, I spoke with a good friend who lives in France. He started a business with his wife to develop a web-based, software-as-a-service product. As the business began to grow, his belief in it increased, and he started to take it more seriously. One of the things he did next was to start planning and monitoring progress. To do that, he started setting deadlines. But soon “missing deadlines” created an enormous amount of stress for both him and his wife, and for the other people they were working with. “It’s just not worth it,” he told me, and he backed-off from the deadlines.
Before he and I talked about this topic, my friend had been thinking that he needed to figure out how to use deadlines, to discover how to “make them work.” After our conversation, and once he had digested the conclusions we had come to, he told me by text message that “deadlines simply don’t work at all.” Now he plans to print a massive sign that reads NO DEADLINES and stick it on the wall of his business.
In this article I’m going to explain to you what deadlines really are, why they are not effective, and what the alternative is. Actually it’s not really an alternative because what we want is a way to achieve world-class creativity and productivity, not simply an alternative way to thwart it, which is what deadlines do. But first we need to take a look at what work is and what motivates humans to do it.
In any endeavor, progress is made through the completion of a sequence of small actions, actions ultimately instigated by humans. Any completed project is constructed from a framework of these actions, stacked on top of each other, constructing a solution that is far more valuable than the sum of the values of each of those small actions considered individually.
Even though many operations can now be automated, progress is still dependent on a creative agent initiating, monitoring, fixing, and checking the results of many automated processes. Even as increasingly sophisticated machine intelligences automate aspects of work that were historically performed by humans, we must still be the ultimate initiators of those processes. Until we have perfect slave intelligences, work will essentially be completed only at the whim of meaty animals containing large neocortices whose actions are strongly influenced by ancient reptilian and mammalian brain structures that are vastly more interested in eating things that move and fucking things that breathe than on manipulating the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet.
By the way, I don’t think we’ll ever have artificial general intelligences (AGIs) that can replace humans without treating those AGIs as autonomous beings (and paying them). As I wrote in Why The Terminator Doesn’t Bitch About Money, and Why You Shouldn’t Either¹ (link at end), I believe that intelligence in any form is synonymous with freedom.
So how do we get people to do things? Well, countless psychologists have studied this topic and the results are pretty conclusive; and they seem to be intuitively correct in hindsight. As individual workers, people need (1) to have autonomy, (2) to feel that they are on a path to some kind of mastery, and (3) to also find meaning in their work. This is explained extremely well in a book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us². These three factors are the bedrock of motivation, and I believe that as we create machine intelligences that meet and exceed the capabilities of humans, our ability to provide these environmental factors to our super-intelligent robot progeny will be crucial.
But people don’t operate on their own. We curate teams of people with diverse skills and perspectives, creating many-brained flesh organisms that can achieve outcomes that a single biped couldn’t. We also have hierarchies of people, as represented by org charts, that capture increasingly broad domains of responsibility and authority.
So how do we get people to do things in a group context? Well, the scientific evidence is pretty clear on this too. First of all, we don’t hire assholes. If we do accidentally hire an asshole, we identify and fire them as rapidly as possible. Finally, if by some stroke of very bad luck an asshole does stick around, then no matter how “brilliant” we might think they are, we certainly don’t promote them up the leadership chain.
What is an asshole though? In this context, it’s basically a narcissist, someone who consistently puts their own personal, short-sighted needs in front of the other humans around them and in front of the best interests of the organizations that they are a part of, which includes the employer that pays their salary or wage.
When I write about narcissists below, I’m referring to people with various shades of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or similar clusters of change-resistant personality features. Some people exhibit features of NPD without being diagnosable, a state which is referred to as “sub-clinical;” those features are still usually very destructive to relationships. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists the following symptoms:
1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people
2. Fixation on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
3. Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
4. Need for continual admiration from others
5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
6. Exploitation of others to achieve personal gain
7. Unwillingness to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
8. Intense envy of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them
9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor
People with NPD usually exhibit at least some of these symptoms in a way that is out-of-whack with their real-life qualities or accomplishments. Of course, it’s important not to read this list and start diagnosing yourself or others, but it’s good to be aware of this list in order to recognize when these kinds of behaviors seem to be appearing. There are many other terms related to NPD that come from different psychological schools attempting to categorize the phenomenon, such as malignant narcissist, oblivious narcissist, and covert narcissist, all of which hopefully speak for themselves.
All personality disorders are essentially characterized as being ego-syntonic, which means that the person with the disorder consistently perceives their dysfunctional behaviors as normal and acceptable, even if they also attempt to hide them from selected others (such as those with immediate power over them). This characteristic of personality disorders, especially NPD, make them very resistant to treatment. NPD is particularly heavily armored against change because the idea of needing to change is in itself an affront to the narcissist. The narcissist believes that everyone else needs to change, but not them.
Narcissists are highly effective at self-sabotage in the long-run simply because they cannot understand that what’s best for the group is usually also what’s best for themselves. Doing what’s best for the company is obviously the most effective long-term path to career success to someone who can peer just a little bit past their own fear, jealousy, anger, righteousness, and greed. The only kind of employee you need to instruct to “do what’s right for the company” is either severely disempowered (probably by a narcissist) or is a narcissist themselves. By definition, the narcissist will never do what’s right for the company unless it happens to coincide with their own short-sighted and selfish desires. The solution in either case is to locate the narcissist and terminate their employment.
And it’s pretty easy to root-out narcissists in an organization. For the individual contributor, a thorough review by peers is sufficient. Since NPD is characterized by dysfunctional relationships, the working peers of a narcissist will usually be able to convey the experience of chronic demoralization, upset, and manipulation that they have experienced at the hands of the narcissist. They usually want to get away from the narcissist, and often do so by leaving the company. This can result in great cost to both the company and the victim. I believe that this is partly the explanation for the somewhat surprising discovery by Google that the most significant predictor for the effectiveness of an employee is the quality of their personal relationships outside of work. Larry Page, one of the two founders of Google, told this to a friend of mine.
Narcissistic leaders (including managers and supervisors) may be even easier to root out: all you have to do is ask the people they lead. The “lower” part of what is often considered to be a cumbersome 360-degree review process is usually enough. Since the role of a leader is primarily to lead, all you need to do is asses the effect they have on the people they lead, those directly “below” them in the organization. These are the people who are more likely to actually be getting work done, the people who are closer to the reality of the technology, the market, and the customers. They are one step closer to where the rubber meets the road. If you can get these people to talk about it, which can be challenging, the strongest indicator that they may reveal is fear. Those led by a narcissist are often terrified of the narcissist, of their manipulation and of their narcissistic rage. Later in this article, I will tell you about the hallmarks of effective leadership; with the narcissistic leader, those characteristics will be wholly absent.
It’s important to understand that narcissists are usually very skillful at managing up; they’re often really good at kissing ass. So those “above” them in the organization often perceive them as compliant and pleasant and their organizations as effective. Since it’s almost impossible to create organizations with control groups, the narcissistic leader’s own leader has no effective way of personally assessing how much performance is being left on the table due to those being led by the narcissist feeling terrified and demoralized.
Simply assessing leaders primarily on the effect they have on the people they lead is very likely to produce a massive increase in their effectiveness as leaders, which will have an enormously leveraged effect on the effectiveness of the organization as a whole. Even if you’re not trying to root-out narcissists, the important and effective assessment of leadership will naturally do the job for you. For the non-narcissists, perhaps for those existing gingerly on the autistic spectrum, an effective feedback loop will likely lead to an increase in critical learnable personal characteristics such as social and emotional intelligence.
And it’s not even necessary to have a formal, cumbersome, and likely ineffective review process. At the company where I work, I regularly meet with people at all levels of seniority. From having hundreds of candid conversations with those who are led by others, I have a very clear picture of the relative strengths and opportunities-for-growth of many of the leaders across the company. If you want to read more about assholes, I recommend an awesome series of articles titled Your Company Culture Is Who You Hire, Fire, and Promote³.
Before I go on to talk about effective leadership, I want to point out that, for a “good-enough” leader, it takes an enormous amount of courage to be willing to even discover and acknowledge the level of dysfunction about which I’ve written above. It then takes even more courage to confront it. It can be really scary to confront narcissists, because most people can sense the rage hidden just under the surface. It also takes courage to transition people out of an organization. What’s more, if your company culture is conflict-avoidant, and therefore probably filled with conflict-avoidant leaders, then it’s susceptible to infiltration by narcissists, and eventually infestation with them. In these kinds of organizations, red flags will be ignored, minimized, and rationalized away.
One way that narcissists flourish is when a leader claims that “he’s a top-performer, so there’s nothing I can do”. It doesn’t matter how much of a rockstar, key player, or top contributor you think the narcissist is, you can be guaranteed that they have a net negative effect on the organization, and ignoring their behavior will not make it go away. For every unit of goodness that they apparently add, they will subtract at least two from those around them, and probably much more. In fact, this is one of the ways they get to shine: by puffing themselves up while tearing down their peers or reports.
Narcissistic leaders also take credit for the work of those they lead while at the same time dismissing their contributions. As each new discovery is made, it is immediately assimilated into the knowledge-base of the narcissist, as if it magically appeared in their brain overnight. There’s no need to recognize the effort of the folks who are actually doing the work because the narcissistic leader apparently already knew the results that were painstakingly obtained. Initially, this can be confusing to employees because the leader seemed to have asked for work do be done unnecessarily.
From the perspective of a narcissist, the purpose of those reporting to them is only to make them look better, to serve their narcissistic needs. This is one example of what I mean by short-sighted selfishness. The narcissist is usually so lacking in empathy and self-awareness, so consumed by the deep psychological processes driving the narcissism, that they don’t even realize that their behavior will undermine their ability to achieve their personal goals in the longer term. Talented people learn to hide their innovations or to reduce their creativity or productivity, or they simply leave the company. This is anti-leadership.
So you can also bet that one unit of goodness you think the narcissist is adding is in fact only a fraction of a unit. As the results of Google’s Project Aristotle⁴ show, “what makes a team effective at Google” is a set of characteristics that simply don’t mesh with narcissism: psychological safety, dependability, structure & clarity, meaning, and impact. The narcissistic employee might be reasonably effective working alone on a small project that doesn’t involve interacting with other people, and that might be an alternative to firing them, so long as you can keep them quarantined; good luck with that.
The long-term costs of the kind of draining and insidiously manipulative behavior that these narcissists act-out are almost incalculable in their scope and depth. As an organization, how do you even account for the bad karma of inflicting psychological torture on innocent people who simply want to come to work, do a great job, and feed their families? As a leadership consultant, the witnessing of this stuff has led to me feeling like I needed to literally vomit from disgust.
I myself know what it’s like to fire people: as a manager, I have let people go. In fact, whereas it was normal for firing to be done by people at the senior vice president level (my manager), I insisted on doing it myself. “It’s my decision, so I’ll do it” I said. And yet, as an empath, being the instrument of that much distress in someone else’s life wore me down.
As I’ve matured, I’ve come to believe that pretty much any employee, with the exception of a narcissist, can be made productive. The trick to avoid having to fire these people is to simply not hire them in the first place. This is why, even though I’m a senior engineer, when interviewing candidates I’m focussed wholly on assessing their personality. I’m able to do this relatively effectively because I have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. I also have a lot of personal experience with narcissists.
So then what does good leadership look like? The research shows that the most important leadership behaviors are those that nurture increased employee engagement. “Engagement” in this context is part of a very specific psychological term; it doesn’t mean “happiness.” According to Wikipedia, employee engagement is “a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.” Therefore, any leader’s primary objective is the curation of that relationship. Wikipedia’s excellent definition continues:
An “engaged employee” is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests. An engaged employee has a positive attitude towards the organization and its values. In contrast, a disengaged employee may range from someone doing the bare minimum at work (aka ‘coasting’), up to an employee who is actively damaging the company’s work output and reputation.
Towers Watson conducted a thorough and high-quality study on turbocharging employee engagement through the power of recognition from managers⁵. In alignment with the prevailing consensus, they found that companies with high employee engagement produced significantly higher returns to shareholders than average companies.
This study also concluded that employee engagement is driven by the quality of the relationship between supervisors and those they immediately supervise, which is characterized by the level of:
* Inclusiveness: My immediate supervisor understands and assesses my contributions fairly. * Communication: My immediate supervisor communicates openly with me and encourages me to make suggestions, which she takes seriously. * Trust: I trust my immediate supervisor, and she trusts my judgement.
I highly recommend reading the full, two-part study. It’s eye-opening and applicable to boosting the bottom-line of any organization.
With all of this information, we now understand where individual motivation comes from in the context of the work itself and in the context of the most important relationship at work, the relationship between the supervisor and each of the people she supervises.
This article is intended to be about deadlines, but I felt that it was necessary to clearly define both work and human motivation in the context of work before getting to deadlines themselves. This is because deadlines, in our common understanding, are related to people doing work. There’s also no point in rearranging the deckchairs on the titanic if you’re either not steering around the iceberg or patching the rip in the hull. Do the hard part, fix the motivation issues, and you’ll have done 95% of the work.
So what are deadlines? A deadline usually specifies that some measurable outcome will be achieved by a particular date. Without thinking about them too deeply, it’s usually assumed that they’re a way of making a chosen outcome happen by that date. However, when considered more deeply, they can be seen as a way of trying to control human resources. A deadline says, “this is a commitment to provide a very clearly defined set of deliverables by a specific date,” a form of contract. When used in the relationship between a manager and the person he manages, deadlines, being so transactional, tend to rapidly erode all of the qualities that lead to intrinsic motivation.
Unless work is purely mechanical, it involves creativity and requires inspiration, ideally prolonged states of flow. With a sufficient supply of autonomy, mastery, and meaning in an interpersonal context of inclusiveness, communication, and trust, an individual contributor will perform optimally in complex and creative tasks by staying in flow. By the way, any tasks that do not require creativity should be automated-away, applying skill to be rid of drudgery; this should be prioritized.
The primary goal of an effective leader is to ensure that the people they lead remain in flow as much as possible. Deadlines create an artificial constraint that distracts from the true motivation factors, reducing flow, and thereby leading to sub-optimal outcomes in the long-run.
For most of my engineering career, I have enjoyed profound autonomy, and been prolific, while experiencing almost no interference from managers attempting to control my output. I have also been minimally impacted by deadlines. One personal datapoint that enables me to more deeply empathize with those being anti-managed was a short period of being really badly managed. I was reporting to a new manager who seemed to have read a book on management and then decided to do exactly the opposite of everything that was recommended. After I informed him that his daily check-ins were distracting, he switched to setting micro-deadlines for me.
After this manager had left me alone for two weeks with one of these micro-deadlines, we met and I explained to him how much more progress I had been able to make without his interference. He told me that he didn’t agree, because I had apparently not precisely met the arbitrary micro-deadline that he had set for me. If he had been listening to what I told him, he would have understood that, without the distraction of his continual interference, I had achieved far more than his micro-deadline demanded. As always happens with deadlines, the complexity of the unfolding process revealed much more about what needed to be done than could have been anticipated at the beginning, even by me let alone by him.
It didn’t seem to matter to him that I had proactively focused on the most important work during that two week period. What seemed to matter to him was that I had not continued to mechanically focus on the less important work demanded by his deadline. To him, being in control seemed to be more important that the quality, quantity, and relevance of the outcome.
I then happened to complete that micro-deadline a day or two later than planned simply because the reality of the work happened to take a day or two longer than he had originally estimated. His response to my claim that I worked more effectively, and with much less stress, when he backed-off a little on the micro-management was that, “I don’t see the data for that,” apparently having no clue that the words coming out of my mouth were the most valuable data he could ever receive.
The increase in my productivity and the decrease in my stress during those two weeks was due solely to him leaving me alone. Obviously a micro-deadline was just another manifestation of the worst-form of micro-management. Even though he didn’t seem to be interested in gathering the data from me, I tried to convey to him the effect that the micro-deadline had had on me. I remember as the two weeks unfolded that I discovered more details about specifically what needed to be done and the optimal sequence of tasks. As I executed spontaneous micro-pivots, my work, guided by my initiative and autonomy, began to diverge from what he specified in the micro-deadline. I was increasingly focusing on more important tasks that fed into the meta-outcome, tasks that would lead to it being achieved sooner and with higher quality. As the divergence between the reality of the work and his arbitrarily and artificially-generated micro-deadline increased, it caused mounting stress for me. I both had to serve the best interests of the company, driven by my internal leadership, and satisfy the pointless and arbitrary specifications of my “manager.” The micro-deadline did nothing but zap my energy, focus, and enthusiasm, and detract from the good work I was doing in spite of his micro-management.
This kind of micro-management might be somewhat effective if you were managing people doing repetitive and non-creative tasks, such as assembling widgets on a production line, jobs that can be, and very rapidly will be, automated-away. This is management which looks like operating a machine, but a machine with human parts. Of course, it’s the kind of management style that would appeal to an unreflective engineer who is used to having total control of his computer, and who is not interested in learning new skills.
This was clearly a low-inclusivity, low-communication, and low-trust relationship, in spite of my repeated attempts to address and fix the issues, to manage up. As a high-performing employee, I found it deeply disturbing that someone who was being paid to supposedly support me was actually doing everything in his power to thwart the only thing I wanted to do, which was to deliver maximum value for the company. After trying to get on the same page with him multiple times, and after discovering that he was resolutely unwilling to change, I left. I was simply not willing to continue allowing him to manage me at the expense of my sanity and the success of the company. I loved what I had been working on, and I loved my team. It was a great loss to both me and to the company.
The experience had been like living inside a room with half-mirrored glass walls. I could see and hear him, but he could not apparently see or hear me. He barked commands at me over an intercom but had no idea what I was actually doing. Nevertheless, he seemed to be vaguely dissatisfied with his own manufactured stories about what I was doing, while also being in control of my air and food supplies: my employment, my salary, my stock grants, and my promotion prospects. Other quality engineers from that group either left or were somehow able to remain in spite of naturally under-performing while suffering in varying states of dissatisfaction and resentment.
Putting my leadership consultant hat on for a moment: in situations like this, I would strongly recommend immediately removing a person like this from management. He didn’t even seem to want to be a manager. He was not interested in people, not interested in their experiences, and not interested in learning about how to lead people effectively. Perhaps he liked the fantasy of power and authority or increased influence that management might bring. Those are not good reasons to become a manager because they are only potential side-effects; they are not the purpose of management.
For someone with my depth of psychological understanding, it’s astounding that nothing was done about a situation like that; he was even given more people to manage! Perhaps there was no leader willing to step up and make the difficult choice. This is another unglamorous aspect of effective leadership: you have to make very hard and often unpopular decisions. Perhaps there was fear of him leaving, even though it would represent a net gain for the company, and a net loss for whatever company received him.
It’s also possible that he might have been a relatively good engineer, although I was never able to determine this because he seemed to always carefully conceal the edges of his knowledge and skills, preventing me from ever being able to assess him properly. It’s possible that he could have been an effective individual contributor.
As well as increasing my empathy for the badly-managed, this experience also gave me insight into what often drives leaders to set deadlines: fear. Emotionally immature and inexperienced leaders, when given the responsibility for the quality and quantity of output from a team, will go straight to their default strategy, which is to try to get immediate control. The deadline is a tool that seems to provide control, but all it actually does is reduce the leader’s anxiety temporarily at the expense of reducing all of the productivity-enhancing human factors in the longer-term. It basically transfers anxiety from the leader to those they lead.
Even though it thwarts the goals of the organization, it feels good in-the-moment for the manager to work with deadlines. But with humans, the more you try to control them the less control you actually have. When we try to control people, they become less motivated, less inspired, and less innovative; they do the bare minimum work or they just leave. So one of the key skills of a leader is self-awareness, to become aware of their own anxiety and to learn to “hold it” and to not act it out by taking immediately gratifying yet self-defeating actions, actions such as requesting, or even setting, deadlines. A leader is effective to the degree that they can resist passing their anxiety to the people they lead.
Learning to lead can be particularly challenging for individual contributors because they are often familiar with managing mechanized processes over which they have almost perfect direct control. In contrast, leadership of humans is like gardening. You plant the seeds and you provide the water, the sun, and the food. The plant itself is the only part of the whole system that can do the actual growing. Giant oak trees grow from acorns, but nobody makes that happen; the acorn does the growing all by itself, but only if the conditions are right. Ineffective leadership looks like a gardener pulling on the little shoots, ripping them up by the roots in an attempt to make them grow taller.
But what we call “deadlines” do actually have some utility. They are a form of contract that can enable multiple organizations to synchronize their efforts, organizations that might be in the same company or in different companies. When you know when my team will deliver product X then you can plan for your delivery of product Y that depends on it. All of this enables the appropriate acquisition and deployment of resources, and it sets expectations for customers. These agreements can be powerful tools if they are used to help people and organizations, but they can easily become inadvertent weapons that harm people and organizations. Let’s extract the goodness from them.
Luckily, the agile software movement has already done this work for us. The book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time⁶ describes an agile contract in which, for a specified price, a particular number of units of goodness will be delivered to a customer by a given date. This enables the development team and the customer to continually adapt to the unfolding technical discoveries of the project, and to the changing desires of the customer; the desires of the customer, whether that’s your own marketing department or another company, will change as the increasingly high-fidelity renditions of the final product are exposed by the scrum process. The result is the delivery of the most relevant, complete, and highest-quality product available in the shortest amount of time and for lowest cost.
When we have a team of humans creating an artifact, we can obviously utilize the motivation tools I describe above. We then need a way for the people to adaptively choose what to work on so that each thing they do maximally increases the value of the product. This is achieved by the scrum methodology of continually organizing tasks in the “backlog” column and then allowing individuals to receive the rewarding satisfaction of taking these clearly important items into the “doing” column before then retiring them to the “done” column.
None of this is based on deadlines. Work takes as long as it takes, and we do everything we can to make sure that the work that is being done is prioritized effectively and that those doing the work are maximally motivated. It’s motivating to know that you’re all working together to add features and improvements to the product that you’ve decided are the highest value to the customer. It’s motivating to know that you are empowered, as a team, to continually pivot, to adjust priorities, and to optimize your ability to maximize customer value.
This is in stark contract with old-fashioned waterfall models of development with fixed deadlines and milestones, where the reality of product development is stifled by being shoe-horned into an almost universally ill-conceived up-front plan. I’ve worked on many projects in which engineers soldiered on, somehow mustering creativity and productivity in the face of depressing slipping deadlines and unavoidable disparities between what was being built and what had originally been specified.
The beauty of scrum is that very early on you have a deliverable product, what is often called a minimum viable product (MVP). Then each piece of work improves that product a little bit. This enables the team to stop at any point and ship the product in the best state it’s ever been in. Some teams using agile development, such as the people making the Facebook mobile app, have a regular release cadence, say one a month, at which point they snap and release a finalized collection of changes. This means that “the train leaves the station” at regular intervals, but it’s not completely decided up-front what exactly will be on that train. The engineers can then focus on adding value to the product knowing that the value will be shipped when it’s ready, which will be very soon. Features are added with hidden on/off switches, so that they can be integrated into the product that will be shipped but switched off at the last moment if a problem is found in final integration testing. They can then hopefully go into the next release.
Agile contracts, whether negotiated one-off project contracts, or regular-cadence release schedules, extract the value of deadlines but leave behind the toxicity. They enable a renegotiable agreement to be made, an agreement that can account for the unpredictable and unfolding reality that is always a part of creative and innovative work. Agile contracts not only eliminate the motivation-squashing aspects of deadlines, they also amplify the motivation-enhancing human factors such as autonomy, mastery, and meaning.
1. Why The Terminator Doesn’t Bitch About Money, and Why You Shouldn’t Either by Duncan Riach (that’s me)
2. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
3. Your Company Culture Is Who You Hire, Fire, and Promote by Dr. Cameron Sepah
4. The results of Google’s Project Aristotle
5. ‘Turbocharging’ Employee Engagement: The Power of Recognition From Managers (Part 1, Part 2) by Towers Watson.
6. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland
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A pair of new Yale studies confirm that dark matter is not always associated with traditional matter on a galactic scale — which settles a year-long debate.
Article word count: 672
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19536325
Posted by happy-go-lucky (karma: 17881)
Post stats: Points: 154 - Comments: 73 - 2019-03-31T16:13:27Z
#HackerNews #almost #confirm #dark #existence #galaxies #matter #new #studies #with
A Yale-led team of researchers is doubling down on its earlier finding of a galaxy with almost no dark matter.
In 2018, the researchers published their original study about galaxy NGC 1052-DF2 — DF2 for short — the first known galaxy to contain little or no dark matter. The finding was highly significant because it showed that dark matter is not always associated with traditional matter on a galactic scale. It also ruled out several theories that said dark matter is not a substance but a manifestation of the laws of gravity on a cosmic scale.
Invisible dark matter typically dominates the makeup of galaxies. Finding an object without dark matter was unprecedented and led to a good deal of debate within the scientific community.
“If there’s one object, you always have a little voice in the back of your mind saying, ‘but what if you’re wrong?’” said team leader Pieter van Dokkum, the Sol Goldman Family Professor of Astronomy at Yale. “Even though we did all the checks we could think of, we were worried that nature had thrown us for a loop and had conspired to make something look really special whereas it was really something more mundane.”
Now, a pair of new studies appearing in The Astrophysical Journal Letters supports the team’s initial finding.
“The fact that we’re seeing something that’s just completely new is what’s so fascinating,” said Yale graduate student Shany Danieli, who first spotted the galaxy about two years ago. “No one knew that such galaxies existed, and the best thing in the world for an astronomy student is to discover an object, whether it’s a planet, a star, or a galaxy, that no one knew about or even thought about.”
Danieli is the lead author of one of the new studies. It confirms the team’s initial observations of DF2, using more precise measurements from the W.M. Keck Observatory’s Keck Cosmic Web Imager. The researchers found that the stars inside the galaxy are moving at a speed consistent with the mass of the galaxy’s normal matter. If there were dark matter in DF2, the stars would be moving much faster.
Van Dokkum is lead author of the other new study, which details the discovery of a second galaxy devoid of dark matter. That galaxy is named DF4.
“Discovering a second galaxy with very little to no dark matter is just as exciting as the initial discovery of DF2,” van Dokkum said. “This means the chances of finding more of these galaxies are now higher than we previously thought. Since we have no good ideas for how these galaxies are formed, I hope these discoveries will encourage more scientists to work on this puzzle.”
Both DF2 and DF4 are part of a relatively new class of galaxies called ultra-diffuse galaxies (UDGs). They are as large as the Milky Way but have between 100 to 1,000 times fewer stars. This makes them appear fluffy and translucent — and difficult to observe.
Ironically, the lack of dark matter in these UDGs strengthens the case for dark matter, the researchers say. It proves that dark matter is a substance that is not coupled with normal matter, since they can be found separately.
In addition to van Dokkum and Danieli, team members include Roberto Abraham of the University of Toronto, Aaron Romanowsky of San Jose State University, and Charlie Conroy of Harvard.
Danieli is leading a wide area survey with the Dragonfly Telephoto Array — a telescope designed by van Dokkum — to look for more examples in a systematic way, then observe candidates again using the Keck telescopes.
“We hope to next find out how common these galaxies are and whether they exist in other areas of the universe,” Danieli said. “We want to find more evidence that will help us understand how the properties of these galaxies work with our current theories. Our hope is that this will take us one step further in understanding one of the biggest mysteries in our universe — the nature of dark matter.”
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Last May, Facebook promised to create a “Clear History” function it said would give users more control over their data. Nine months later it's nowhere to be found and sources say it's a key example of…
Article word count: 3577
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19225494
Posted by jmsflknr (karma: 1277)
Post stats: Points: 239 - Comments: 64 - 2019-02-22T14:20:14Z
#HackerNews #ago #almost #clear #history #mark #promised #tool #where #year #zuckerberg
Facebook spent most of 2018 embroiled in one scandal or another. But there was a point early on in the year when Mark Zuckerberg thought he could turn down the heat by offering a fix for the public’s privacy concerns. It was just weeks after the news broke that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica had surreptitiously obtained and employed the personal data of millions of people. And as the company headed into its annual F8 developers conference in May, the chief executive proposed a dramatic change ahead of a rehearsal for the keynote address: What if they announced a tool that let users clear web-browsing information that Facebook uses to target users with ads?
The suggestion caught people involved in the event’s production, where planning begins at least six months in advance, off guard. “Clear History" didn’t exist; it was barely an idea. But organizers still scrambled to build its announcement into Zuckerbergʼs F8 keynote address. Theyʼd already scrapped plans to unveil Portal, a video calling device that Facebookʼs leadership thought might be seen as too invasive given the company’s predicament.
It was a bold public relations play. And for those familiar with the origins of the Clear History announcement, it demonstrated not only Zuckerberg’s unilateral power over product direction, but also Facebook’s long history of prioritizing optics and convenience over substantive protections for the people who use it. Company sources who spoke to BuzzFeed News characterized Zuckerberg’s proposal as “reactionary,” a response intended to ease the negative attention on the company following the Cambridge Analytica firestorm. They also said it might explain why the Clear History tool, whose announcement was proposed on the fly by Zuckerberg, is still not available nearly a year after he introduced it on stage at F8.
“If you watch the presentation, we really had nothing to show anyone,” said one person, who was close to F8. “Mark just wanted to score some points.”
Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg do not make judgment calls “until pressure is applied,” said another former employee, who worked closely its leadership and declined to be named for fear of retribution. “That pressure could come from the press or regulators, but they’re not keen on decision-making until they’re forced to do so.”
“Whether it is with genocide or false news, there are never going to be changes until the pressure becomes too great,” they added.
Facebook has long portrayed itself as an advocate for user rights. But former employees and critics say the companyʼs true ethos has often been in opposition to this. Facebookʼs communications around privacy have historically been opportunistic and protectionist, deployed to cover up for the last transgression from its "move fast and break things" ideology — from the 2007 Beacon program, which allowed companies to track purchases by Facebook users without their consent, to the 2010 loophole that allowed advertisers to access people’s personal Facebook information without permission.
“Sometimes we move too fast — and after listening to recent concerns, weʼre responding,” Zuckerberg wrote in 2010 op-ed in the Washington Post. That was just before the company agreed to a Federal Trade Commission consent decree, which charged that Facebook had routinely changed users’ privacy settings in order to obtain their information. The company is currently negotiating with the FTC, which has been investigating whether or not Facebook violated the terms of that consent decree and should be punished.
Last spring, as Facebook dealt with fallout from Cambridge Analytica, compliance with Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and renewed attention on how it tracks all internet users following Zuckerberg’s ten hours of congressional testimony in April, the company’s ask-forgiveness-not-permission playbook was in plain view. It took out full-page newspaper apologies, placed its cheif executive on podcasts and televised interviews, and sent Sandberg to meet with state attorneys general and lawmakers behind closed doors.
“My worry is that Facebook is doing anything it can to garner goodwill and diffuse concern,” said Ashkan Soltani, the FTC’s chief technologist from October 2014 to November 2015. “I’m not sure of the sincerity of those actions since, historically, the company uses privacy selectively and strategically.”
Five former employees who spoke with BuzzFeed News say they are skeptical of that goodwill effort, with three noting that the external messaging and marketing around privacy has only become a focus for executives during the last 12 months. One pointed out that an international ad campaign last spring, focused on how “fake news” and “clickbait” “is not your friend,” was quickly repurposed to address “data misuse” days after the first Cambridge Analytica stories broke. Two highlighted Zuckerberg’s desire to rush out a Clear History announcement ahead of F8. Some ridiculed the company’s privacy pop-up store in New York City’s Bryant Park in December, which was built to show that “privacy is the foundation of our company.”
“It’s public relations,” said one former employee. “It’s, ‘Hey, look at this shiny thing, please don’t pay attention to this mushroom cloud.’” This also appears to be the case with Clear History, which, while touted by both Sandberg and Zuckerberg in recent months as an example of Facebook’s commitment to getting privacy right, has yet to actually launch.
Facebook disagreed with the characterization that privacy promises are used to distract from the real problems.
“We know we have work to do to regain peopleʼs trust, and itʼs why weʼve strengthened our teams, created a new privacy and data use organization, built new tools, and set clearer policies designed to better protect peopleʼs information,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “We still face legitimate scrutiny, but we’re not the same company we were even a year ago, and we’re determined to do more to keep people safe across our services.”
Former employees, however, are not willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt.
“They have a long-running strategy of using communications to disagree and push this counter-narrative against any criticism,” one said. “They’re playing the same game they’ve always played, but the challenge for them is that the world has changed and privacy concerns are increasing dramatically.”
With his company staring down what could reportedly be a multibillion-dollar fine from the FTC for violating its 2011 consent decree, Zuckerberg is acutely aware of what public perception around privacy could do to Facebook’s business. In its 2018 annual report, the company outlined not only the risks associated with changing privacy laws including GDPR and the recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act, which the company lobbied against, but also the danger of becoming the media’s punching bag if news outlets dug into Facebook’s practices around data use and sharing.
“Unfavorable publicity regarding, for example, our privacy practices, terms of service, product changes, product quality, litigation or regulatory activity, government surveillance, the actions of our advertisers, the actions of our developers whose products are integrated with our products ... has in the past, and could in the future, adversely affect our reputation,” the company stated in a January financial filing. The statement goes on to outline the “intense media coverage” surrounding Cambridge Analytica and the possibility of negative publicity to adversely affect the company’s size, engagement, user loyalty, and, in turn, revenue.
While Facebook continues to grow — its sales, profit, and monthly active users (MAU) all increased in 2018 — there are plenty of signs that it may not be able to continue on the path. Multiple surveys have shown that users are losing trust in the social network, including one where the company ranked last among brands including Amazon, Google, Visa, and Comcast that handle personal data. And that mistrust could translate to unrest among investors.
“The list of problems the company is grappling with is vast, including complicity in a genocide, enabling social and political instability in different countries around the world, the unwitting sharing of consumer data and antagonized legislators in the US, the UK, Europe and beyond,” Pivotal Research’s Brian Wieser, one of the more bearish Facebook analysts, wrote in a January report.
One former employee noted that Facebook’s executives historically only took privacy seriously if problems affected the key metrics of daily active users, which totaled 1.52 billion accounts in December, or monthly active users, which totaled 2.32 billion accounts. Both figures increased by about 9% year-over-year in December.
“If it came down to user privacy or MAU growth, Facebook always chose the latter,” the person said. That source pointed to internal Facebook emails obtained and released by a UK parliamentary inquiry that showed, among other things, the company’s then–deputy chief privacy officer Yul Kwon discussing how to allow Facebook’s Android app to read a phone’s call logs without triggering a permission pop-up.
Ironically, Facebook’s leaders were worried about the public relations scenario that could have occurred if Android’s permissions did appear, as they were intended, to ask users to consent to the app reading their call logs. Instead of asking for less access, however, they sought a workaround so that they could still suck up the data without making people aware that they were doing so.
“This is a pretty high risk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it,” one Facebook employee, Michael LeBeau, wrote in early 2015. “We think the risk of PR fallout here is high.”
The fallout, however, came more than three years after those emails, after UK parliamentarians obtained them and used them to bolster their case that Facebook operated as a “digital gangster” with little regard for law or scrutiny in a report earlier this month.
“It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws,” the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Committee wrote in what is perhaps the strongest rebuke of the company by a governing body to date.
Two people who used to work at Facebook said that it’s hard to take the company’s apologies and commitments to privacy seriously after witnessing its attempt to get ahead of outlets preparing to publish stories about Cambridge Analytica. Last March, the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Observer were readying stories about a former employee at the political consulting firm who had evidence that Cambridge Analytica had illicitly obtained data on millions of Facebook users and deployed that information for American political campaigns.
The outlets, according to multiple people familiar with the situation, had been in communication with Facebook about their stories for at least a week, and the company’s public relations team was well-aware that the pieces would be published on the weekend. In response, Facebook’s communications team decided to get ahead of the stories, publishing a blog post from the company’s deputy general counsel the preceding Friday about suspending accounts associated with Cambridge Analytica.
“We were essentially scooping the news,” one source said, explaining that Facebook was trying to soften the blow of any future story on the matter.
Despite the attempt, the blog post, which was picked up by major news outlets, acted as an accelerant for the stories that would publish the next day. That, along with a legal threat sent to Guardian Media Group in the UK, compounded the attention and turned Cambridge Analytica into a full-blown maelstrom.
Three former employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News said that there are people at Facebook who do want to put the the social network’s users first. One acknowledged Facebook’s constant privacy scandals but attributed those mistakes to a “highly decentralized company” where issues arise “less because of an act of malice, and more as unintended consequences.” Another said there are “privacy purists who care about this deeply” but that “there is an equal number of people that looks at privacy as a lever to pull to improve user sentiment and, in turn, revenue.”
Zuckerberg’s thinking fluctuates between both camps, that person said, favoring privacy when he realizes his company’s actions have triggered a backlash.
Last April, technology news site TechCrunch found that Zuckerberg and other executives had been given “special treatment” by employing a tool that deleted old messages from both a sender’s and receiver’s mailboxes. Unlike Messenger for normal users, which retains messages indefinitely and gives users no option to delete old messages, Zuckerberg had been selectively eliminating threads from 2014 and earlier, sparking outrage among some employees who didn’t understand why their chief executive had a privacy feature that wasn’t available to all users.
Two sources recalled the backlash at an all-hands meeting, where several employees confronted the chief executive for secretly claiming special platform privileges that belied the company’s supposed internal dedication to transparency. In response, Zuckerberg told employees at the all-hands that the message deletion practice had come into effect because of the 2014 Sony Pictures hack to protect executives’ communications. A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the substance of internal discussions.
One source called the answer a “dodge” scripted by the company’s internal communications team, and noted Zuckerberg’s hypocrisy was in plain view: He protected his own privacy, while publicly diminishing privacy concerns that emerged in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Ever reactive, Facebook quickly announced plans to launch an “unsend message” tool, which would allow users to retract messages within 10 minutes of sending them. That feature, which is not at all the same thing as Zuckerberg’s ability to delete years-old messages, is now reportedly being tested in certain markets.
For one former employee, this incident highlights a systemic issue at a company that is worth more than $450 billion.
“I do think these problems have been traditionally viewed as communications, policy, and legal problems, not necessarily as core product challenges, and that’s likely why they’re in this problem,” the source said. “Ultimately when comms and policy and legal have been called on to solve an issue, it means that we’re already in a crisis.”
Other sources told BuzzFeed News that Facebook executives continue to view the problems of 2018 fundamentally as communication issues. They said some insiders among leadership and the rank and file could not understand how Facebook had become the focus of so much public ire and floated the idea that news publications, who had seen their business models decimated by Facebook and Google, had been directed to cover the company in a harsher light.
Last summer, the company invited a number of publications — including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and BuzzFeed News — for what one person called an off-the-record “media reset.” Executives including Sandberg, chief product officer Chris Cox, and augmented and virtual reality vice president Andrew “Boz” Bosworth met reporters and editors in an attempt to rebuild relationships with outlets that had been covering Facebook critically. (The author of this story learned of these talks independent of BuzzFeed News’ meeting with Facebook’s executives.)
Many of the former Facebook insiders who spoke with BuzzFeed News struggled to understand why there have been few management changes after that past year. “Certain leaders have been making bad calls,” one said, leaving the company in “crisis after crisis.” Yet aside from an executive shuffle where leaders were reorganized into different positions in May, few people, besides policy and communications head Elliot Schrage, have been shown the door. (And even Schrage still technically remains at the company in a special projects advisory role.)
“There’s an abdication of responsibility by the two at the top that runs deep — all the way down to junior leadership looking the other way,” another former employee said.
The UK’s DCMS committee agreed. “The management structure of Facebook is opaque to those outside the business and this seemed to be designed to conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions,” it wrote.
Late last year, Facebook decided to allay privacy concerns by hiring some of its biggest critics. In December, the company scooped up Nate Cardozo, formerly of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Robyn Greene, from New America’s Open Technology Institute; and Nathan White, of Access Now, a digital rights foundation.
“After the privacy beating Facebook’s taken over the last year, I was skeptical too,” Cardozo, who once called the company’s business model “creepy,” wrote in a Facebook post announcing his new position. “But the privacy team I’ll be joining knows me well, and knows exactly how I feel about tech policy, privacy, and encrypted messaging.”
“Hiring new people doesnʼt absolve Facebook for past bad practices, or guarantee future improvements,” Estelle Massé, a senior policy analyst for Access Now, wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Given the legacy of Facebook’s policies and practices, it will be difficult to right this ship.”
Thus far, Facebook’s public discussions of Clear History appear to have been more about communications strategy than charting a new course. In a Facebook post looking back on 2018, Zuckerberg pointed to the tool as one that would “give people more transparency” while Sandberg highlighted it to show Facebook’s willingness to change during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month.
Still, nine months after its initial announcement, Clear History is nowhere to be found. A Facebook executive conceded in a December interview with Recode that “it’s taking longer than we initially thought” due to issues with how data is stored and processed. The company will now reportedly start testing the tool in the spring led by a new privacy product unit Zuckerberg created last May amid various scandals.
“We want to make sure this works the way it should for everyone on Facebook, which is taking longer than expected,” the company said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
It’s unclear if new high-profile hires, like Cardozo and Greene, will work with Facebook’s new privacy unit or if they will be involved with Clear History. (Zuckerberg did say last May that the company would be working with “privacy advocates” on its new tool to “make sure we get it right.”) It has reached out to groups like Access Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), as well as academics.
Sources confirmed that CDT and EFF were advising Facebook on its Clear History tool, but could not disclose specifics of their meetings due to nondisclosure agreements. Access Now’s Massé confirmed Facebook had reached out on a number of issues, including Clear History, in the last few months, but called the conversations “punctual and limited.”
“Despite repeated statements and apologies from the company, we are not seeing a shift in Facebook data practices or an attitude that would suggest that they take data protection seriously,” she said. “What we are seeing so far are reactionary measures in an attempt to sway public opinion, rather than a fundamental shift in the way the company considers users’ rights to privacy and data protection.”
Privacy experts also pushed back on the idea that Clear History could be a cure-all for Facebook’s privacy ails. For one, it’s still unclear what the tool will allow users to delete and, as the CDT’s Natasha Duarte notes, features like these don’t necessarily guarantee better privacy. “The tool may be able to delete information that Facebook holds about a user’s interaction with other websites, but inferences from those interactions may already be incorporated into Facebook’s algorithm,” she said.
For example, imagine if a user visited a site for Dyson vacuums and Facebook registered that interaction through a tracker. Clear History might let a user remove information about that Dyson site visit from Facebook’s servers, but if that information has already been collected and algorithmically processed into a preference for ads about other household cleaning products, clearing history doesnʼt mean much. As Duarte explained: “There could be a gap between what Facebook says it’s deleting and what it is actually deleting.”
Former insiders were also concerned about how much Facebook would emphasize or promote Clear History after launch, noting that past privacy features have sometimes been introduced with minimum functionality and high amounts of friction to possibly discourage users. One former employee cited a feature that allows users to download all their Facebook information, but noted that it was hard to find and created file formats that were hard to read and share. Another recalled how the company unveiled a tool for “Nearby Friends,” but required “an inordinate number of clicks” to turn off the feature, which then defaulted to only pausing a user’s involvement for a short period of time.
“It seemed like a douchey move, and it was unclear if it was a deliberate choice or poor design,” the employee said. (A Facebook spokesperson disagreed with these characterizations and said the company builds controls “so that people will be able to easily find and use them.”)
Given the last 12 months, Facebook has lost that benefit of the doubt, according to privacy experts, and Clear History may be too little, too late. Groups including Access Now and CDT are calling for policymakers to step in, and even the social network’s executives seem resigned to some type of eventual privacy law in the US.
“Facebook has made good on just about every opportunity to lower expectations that it would protect user privacy without a government forcing it to,” Massé told BuzzFeed News. “It is high time for the US to adopt comprehensive data protection legislation to bring sectorwide safeguards for our personal information.”
The company’s track record speaks for itself, said Gennie Gebhart, a consumer privacy researcher at EFF. Gebhart, who’s been in discussions with Facebook about Clear History, noted that she maintains a certain skepticism that the company is capable of deeper change, and compared its past privacy promises to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
“They’re focused on solving the problem of needing to be seen like theyʼre doing something, rather than solving the actual problem,” she said. “And that needs to change.”●
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Article word count: 55
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19182776
Posted by metaphysics (karma: 99)
Post stats: Points: 129 - Comments: 56 - 2019-02-17T05:12:13Z
#HackerNews #26m #almost #china #data #leak #people #reveals #tracking #xinjiang
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