Locklin on science

Decoupling from fakebook

Posted in privacy by Scott Locklin on October 5, 2017

I was around for the glory days of the internet: the 90s and early 2000s. Back then it was truly what it was supposed to be; a decentralized network where you could find all kinds of interesting data and interact with people who share obscure interests with you. The browser was organized to help you, rather than monetize you for evil megacorporations. And there was plenty of stuff that wasn’t browser intermediated. Very little of the remaining internet is anything like early libertarian internet. /chan probably comes closest, with some of the blockchain projects being in the correct utopian spirit. There is nothing inherent in modern day internets which prevents us from having decentralized social networks; a protocol which does this could be built directly into browsers, but nobody has done it yet, so the interwebs decay into the corporate surveillance dystopia we have today.

I’ve always disliked Facebook as a company.  Zuckerberg stole the idea from the Winkelvoss entity, and they even lifted the blue and white color scheme and layout from Friendster. I continued to use it for much too long as a way of sharing pictures with my friends and family, a chat application, a sort of recent cache of things I’m interested in, and a way of keeping touch with distant relatives and people I went to grammar school with. Reading Tim Wu’s “The Attention Merchants” finally made me realize there is no reason to use it, and lots of good reasons not to. One big reason not to continue: it’s a waste of time. You only get so much time on earth, and real human interaction is vastly more important than wasting even a few minutes a day on fake human interaction.

One of the sinister things about it is having as an audience hundreds of people you barely know (and if your privacy settings aren’t set to maximum; the entire world). You begin to censor yourself. While this is natural in any community; these people are not really your community.  There is no existing actual community where your Aunt Sadie, three of your ex girlfriends, a half dozen people you knew in the third grade, your second boss and some guy you met at a party once all watch your every interaction. Such an agglomeration of people is actually a nightmare.

Social networks should not be owned by profit-making companies; in this situation you are the product, and your very being is strip mined for nickels and dimes. It is inherently and trivially wrong to do this. We know now that some people catch depression from logging into this corporate dystopia. Some of the finest minds of our generation have worked very hard to make FB as addictive and misery spreading as a slot machine.

Sharing data with your friends, something the internet should be used for, is more difficult without companies like this, but it can be done; Diasporia, Riot/Matrix.org, Mastodon, Telegram, Signal all exist and I encourage people who need this sort of thing to use them.  People who want to keep my contact information in a handy place; use linkedin (which isn’t as obnoxious or time wasting as FB, but is still obnoxious), or find me here.



Even examining FB on their merits as a business: the ads they’ve served me have been a joke from the beginning. “Become a Physics Teacher” was an early and hilarious regular one. I’m pretty sure my Ph.D. in that subject (which was in my profile) qualifies me for such a job without any additional training.  Subsequent ones have been similarly ridiculous; they serve me ads for dishwasher soap (don’t own a dishwasher), money for “refugees” (sorry, I’ve read “Italy and her Invaders” and know how this story ends), NBA (don’t care about sportsball), potato chips (make my own) and various objects I’ve already purchased on the internet, generally from the same company serving a facebook ad. The one overt ad I clicked on in my entire FB career was for a home CRISPR kit, and I didn’t buy it.

These ads are annoying in that they are incorrect, but they’re also annoying in that FB is tracking my browsing in sites that have nothing to do with FB activities. It also offends my engineering sensibilities that Amazon or ebay pays FB for a display ad for stuff they know I have already purchased.  Yes, I understand why this happens: their purchase database doesn’t talk to the ad server, and yes, Amazon can afford to do this, but why should FB get paid even a penny CPM for this? There is also compelling evidence their click traffic is mostly fake. Weird things certainly happen when my non-secure browser window is open to a FB tab; I wouldn’t put it past them. We also know unambiguously that their metrics are science fiction.

If you want to follow me into the unFBing abyss; a checklist for you.

  • For normies who use phone-apps that rely on FB for identity; fix that first. Since I have never and will never do this, it wasn’t a consideration for me; best of luck.
  • Download your data if you want it for something. I did. Some of the links and photos will be amusing later. Some of this data may be useful in the event that some kind hearted software engineer actually create a useful decentralized social network which doesn’t treat its users as cattle to be exploited.
  • Delete your data. They make it really hard to do this, which is one of the reasons I don’t want to persist in using their shitty software. It’s also really hard to get at old data, and their reminders of what  thing I said or did 4 years ago are not helpful. I wanted to use this  and this to help assist in doing so, but they were flakeypants. So I moved on to:
  • Delete your account. Supposedly it will be fully deleted from backups and such in a couple of months. I think EU regulations require a hard delete,  but it isn’t in their T&C. You will get a hilariously misformatted message like this


BR BR BR!!!!

Next up: getting google out of my life as well.


Review and summary of Wu’s book


NSA scandal notes

Posted in privacy by Scott Locklin on June 12, 2013
  • Almost 3 months ago, I wrote the following passage:

“One privacy advantage Yandex has which Google never will: Yandex does not do business with American intelligence agencies. I do not like the fact that Google has become an arm of US intelligence agencies. It is to their credit that Google discloses their relationship with the US government (most of Silicon Valley is in bed with the spooks, but they don’t talk about it). It is the surveillance state that I abhor. Yandex may very well be doing the same thing with the Russian government, but the FSB is a much smaller threat to American civil rights than our own spooks. While I see no immanent dangers from the all-seeing eye, and I am far from paranoid, the US is going through a weird time right now, and history is a dark and bloody subject. Do I really want the future government to know what websearches I was doing in 2010? No, thanks, tovarich.”

  • Breakdown of the history behind this at Takimag, along with a  proposal I reproduce here:

“I have a modest proposal. If there is truly nothing to worry about, all domestic government employees, officials, lobbyists, apologists, and contractors should be compelled by law to publish their telephone metadata records and personal Internet communications to the general public. Private-sector data-miners (AKA me) will keep track of it and report on our findings. Doubtless it will provide interesting information about the rampant corruption and foreign-agent contacts in our government. While terrorism is a problem, it seems to me that corruption and foreign agents’ influence on domestic politics is a more serious problem. If they have nothing to hide, they should have nothing to worry about. Surely the “transparency president” would agree?”

  • Credit where it is due, Google is doing damage control, and attempting to release some real data about the FISA requests
“We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.”
  • Did you know that “boundless informant” runs on open source platforms? Well, it does (see page 4 here). Does anyone who publishes open source software want this to happen? I certainly don’t (though I only have one item up which could possibly be used as such). Some lawyer at the Gnu foundation or EFF needs to get to work on a license which excludes spooks and their contractors. Not that it will actually stop such people, but there is no point making it easy for them.