Monthly Archives: April 2019

Is Mark Zuckerberg the Achilles’ heel of Facebook?


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Mariene Awaad/Bloomberg

 

Commentary
By Bill Owen – TechNewsBlog.net – April 4, 2019

I would like to preface this commentary by saying that I would like nothing more that to be able to say to Mark Zuckerberg: “Way to go. Keep up the great work.” But I can’t, at least right now, and holding out for that day is probably a useless exercise, unfortunately. Many others feel the same way and this commentary will address some of the reasons why. Each section will address a key issue, with additional links to articles that documents questionable activities. Comments and links have been distilled down through quite a bit of material, which should bring a lot of varied information into focus.

Note: Other companies will be discussed in an upcoming commentary soon. We will start off with the long-standing and ever-present circus that is Facebook.

Introduction

The premise and essential purpose of Facebook was somewhat novel and had a lot of potential. Mark Zuckerberg ran with his concept/vision. Once the momentum started to build, Facebook became a runaway freight train, and successful in many ways. However, it was never presented as a company that had any concern for your privacy. Quite the opposite. Mark Zuckerberg (referenced as MZ for the remainder of this commentary) DISDAINS privacy. A little too arrogant and intrusive of an approach, to be sure. He does not have a very becoming history of integrity, which is why the Facebook ship may eventually run onto rocky shores at some point, as impossible as that seems right now, of course. A lot of smoke and mirrors from the fearless leader, from the early days right up to today, and no doubt continuing into the future. The following sections of the commentary discusses and documents various areas of importance and concern.

[For details and a chronology of Facebook from the beginning, see the following link]: Facebook

Integrity


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There will be quite a few compelling examples of the impact that Facebook has had over time, what it has gone through legally, and where it is headed. It may be fair to say that a lot of the drama that Facebook has gone through to date was unnecessary and did not have to happen. There is one main reason why it did, and something is going to give eventually. As stated in a previous posting recently, MZ is without a doubt a loose cannon of a leader. Irresponsible in many areas, where responsibility is revered and expected from a leader. This expectation comes from other executives and employees in the company, investors/stakeholders, peers at other technology companies and companies in general. It doesn’t seem to come up much, but there are many embarrassed Chairpersons, CEO’s and Presidents of other corporations around the world, and especially in the U.S., when one of their own, no matter what age or generation, is conducting the loose cannon approach to business. What most people recognize is that Facebook took off and went viral despite Mark Zuckerberg at a certain point. Credit needs to go to all of the dedicated staff/employees, and last, but not least, the general public and businesses that buy in to the platform. If it was not for them, there would not be a Facebook.

Despite the fact that you are buying into the program by joining and clicking on “I Accept” without reading the entire, if any, of the legal details/disclaimers on what you are signing up for, Facebook needs to be responsible in how it conducts its business. Sure, it’s covered by its legal clauses, but are they conducting their business with the member’s best interests in mind, or only their own interests? That’s the ethical question we need to ask ourselves. Many large corporations have been brought to their knees due to mismanagement. That result was due to people that were, or were not, in a management position, let alone at the lofty Chairman, CEO or President level.

Accountability


AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Where has all of the accountability gone? If the people that carry out activities that could eventually land them in hot water have an overwhelming sense that they can’t be touched, what then? We are unfortunately, for the time being, experiencing that right now. Our legal system has become a shell of what it once was, and was designed to be. Stiff fines and a slap on the wrist is status quo. For some corporations, it’s a mosquito bite. In an unrelated example,right now, I’m putting this together and shaking my head, as a well known person who completely fabricated an incident at the felony-level was let go on all 16 counts. Literally no explanation, just let go. A two-tiered judicial system. What happened to “If you do the crime, you do the time”? The legal system plays favorites and is corrupt on a lot of levels. They are influenced further by certain “behind the scenes” entities to bring about judicial/legal outcomes that are pretty outrageous. Just a bigger picture of accountability that is expected by all of us, not to mention business. If you or I had done the same thing, you know the outcome.

Facebook could eventually be in peril, despite its current success, valuation, etc., much to the dismay of hard working employees who may have a vision themselves. They may be “all in” and absorbed in the current Facebook culture, but just what is that culture? Is the vision espoused by MZ the best for Facebook, its employees and its followers?  Accountability is one of the most admired qualities of a leader. So is integrity. MZ seems to lack both. That should be a red flag for all involved. Documented quotes throughout Facebook’s history reveals a “leader” that thinks a little too highly of himself. The following link is also at the end of this posting with other select links: WikiQuotes – Mark Zuckerberg (link to “Dumb F***s” quote, etc. at top of his WikiQuotes page). Many say that one particular quote will haunt him for a long time. I would say that it is etched-in stone and not going away. That is one of many examples of MZ’s arrogance and lack of leadership attitude that he displays on a regular basis. Whether he is before Congress or talking with the press over allegations of any sort, MZ talks from both sides of his mouth. He would like us to believe that he will changes things. He always says that he will, but never does.

Even as this commentary is released, MZ is hard at work saying all the right things to the media about changes to come, etc. Based on his past comments and a consistent lack of results on promises made, none of us should believe anything he says at this point. He will have to put his money where his mouth is and prove it.

Governance/Company Policy

MZ is riding the gravy train and momentum of Facebook with impunity. Even the mighty Facebook has an Achilles’ Heel, maybe multiple Achilles’ Heels. It does not help that the most prominent risk is running the company. In an ideal world, the Board at Facebook would seriously look at their leader and make sure that there is an understanding between them and him. Unless that Board and group of executives signed their lives away to Mark Zuckerberg, they would be able to leverage a sane and responsible approach to their business. As a group of executive leaders, and as a company in general, they could be so much more, but they are not. Can MZ be booted from Facebook? Most corporations have a provision built into the company rules of corporate governance that allows for the forced exiting of a leading executive should the current circumstances warrant it. Was MZ able to insert some kind of clause to prevent that? He sure acts like he did. Here is a link that explains that very topic and why MZ cannot be touched internally right now, while others can get the swift axe from him at any time: No matter how bad things get at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg will be Chairman for as long as he wants, experts agree . The arrangement has just added more arrogance to someone that was never short on arrogance.   

Leadership style and some cleaning up of the internal culture need to happen. But, of course, as explained in the link above, arrangements were made where MZ has complete control, even to the point that if any executive even hints of a focus on needed change and working with MZ on it, or a potential coup, he can kick them out immediately, and they know it. Their hands are tied. “My way or the highway”. That is one of the main reasons why corporate Boards are set up: to prevent unwise and/or impulsive decisions that may impact the company in a negative way. Things are discussed, viewpoints are laid out on the table, and any agreed-upon changes are made, understanding the implications of any unwise moves. Could that policy change at Facebook? Maybe. Changes that occur will more than likely come from outside of the company looking in, and those institutions will have every legal right to address specific issues with MZ and others, when the time comes. And it is rapidly approaching. There have been a few warning shots fired over MZ’s bow fairly recently, the Congressional Hearings in April 2018 and others. Details of those encounters will be provided in the following links below. MZ will no doubt have to “Face” the music in the future many times.

MZ should not be exempt from the typical company rules of corporate governance that help keep companies moving along responsibly. Just because he and his lawyers are legally allowed to add wording that completely keeps him safe, does that make it right to do so? As mentioned, corporate executives and the Boards at other companies are holding themselves to a much higher level of responsibility and integrity. What makes MZ so special?  That internal provision designed to protect MZ completely needs to be changed, and no one, no matter who they think they are, should be above it. Certain areas of corporate law need to be reexamined and updated, and put in place to protect those very corporations, their executive staff, all employees and members of the public joining up on the platforms.

Based on what we have seen so far, there is no way that MZ plans to relinquish his iron grip on Facebook and his vision of No Privacy For All. In the early days of Facebook, MZ alluded that our days of privacy are over, and that could be true, especially for those that have opted in to Facebook. When you consider that there are over 2.2 billion monthly active users on Facebook, that represents approximately one third of the population of the globe. Even if you take into account multiple personal and business accounts, it is very near 2 billion people. If you are reading this now, there is a very high probability that you have an account.

Privacy

The company has a policy, like many social media platforms, of having default account settings that have all sorts of implications. Unbeknownst to people signing up for the first time, it is very easy for someone signing up to bypass their “security” settings before they get rolling on the site. “I’ll take care of it later”. Especially when you are staring at the obligatory provisions of use/disclaimers of the site that goes on in tiny print for the equivalent of 4-5 pages. Most of the time, “later” never happens. Despite all the money-making reasons that Facebook has behind all of this, it would be refreshing to see these companies incorporate an “opt-in” policy vs. “opt-out”, which is the default setting now for many companies. You have to opt out of analytical functionalities within the platform: advantage company. Also, advantage for any of the third parties that are receiving loads of analytics data on your input, buying preferences, specific location, etc, through Facebook and other social sites. We have been given updates on what our specific personal information is being used for and by whom. But you can be sure that not all of that will be known. So it is a choice you need to make. Chances are very good that your personal data may not be going where you want or expect. Facebook is basically a digital diary of your life. What once used to be a diary or private notebook hidden or locked away somewhere to be pulled-out and written in for inspirational notations and posterity, is now open to the world. We have been so socially engineered that we do not give it a second thought.

Future of Facebook and corporate policy in general/Conclusion

The future of Facebook, as it stands now, is in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg. Don’t expect any significant changes to come through him personally, based on his past activities and overall attitude. There is a much better chance that it will stay the same or get much more interesting.

Regarding corporate policy rulings: It is not happening right away, but I feel confident that a number of far-reaching corporate internal policy rulings will be made on accountability issues and privacy issues for business. Hopefully rulings that will stick.
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Note on upcoming related future commentary

Commentary on other technology companies will be coming soon that reveals some similarities to how Facebook is run, regarding privacy issues primarily, but having overall responsible management at the same time. Most, if not all, of the other example companies hold themselves accountable in the boardroom, for starters. Working together as a truly cohesive executive Team is the glue that keeps it all together.

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Following are key links and references for your review. Links are in chronological order by date published, per category:

From last commentary – Related links (“Hundreds of millions of Facebook passwords exposed internally”, published on March 27, 2019)

Published April 11, 2018
Facebook’s Arrogance Crisis: Can Mark Zuckerberg Claw Back Control? | Opinion (Submitted on April 11, 2018 by Alex Pentland and David Shrier on the last of two days (April 10th – 11th) of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee joint hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill). Newsweek.com.

Published  February 18, 2019
Yes, Mark Zuckerberg Is a “Digital Gangster” Who Violates Your Privacy, but Here’s Why You Still Won’t Quit Facebook (By Ben Brown for CCN, a part of Hawkfish AS. CCN is an unbiased financial news site reporting on US Markets and Cryptocurrencies, based in Norway).

Accountability/Integrity related links

Published September 11, 2018
Mark Zuckerberg’s Truth Problem  Fortune.com  Commentary on Facebook. Includes 5 minute video of portions of question-grilling by key Congressionals. Fortune.com.

WikiQuotes – Mark Zuckerberg  Some choice quotes over the years. See his “Dumb F***s” quote from the early years, at the top of his WikiQuotes page. That quote also referenced in the Fortune.com link directly above.

Wikipedia – Mark Zuckerberg  Everything you want to know, or do not want to know, about the fearless leader of Facebook.

Governance/Company Policy related links

Published April 9, 2018
Investor groups call for Mark Zuckerberg to resign  TheVerge.com

Published October 18, 2018
A Push to Remove Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as Chairman Has New Backers  BARRON’S

Published October 18, 2018
Tech Founders’ Absolute Power Is Destroying Company Culture  Wired.com

Published  December 5, 2018
No matter how bad things get at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg will be Chairman for as long as he wants, experts agree  CNBC.com (Markets)

Privacy related links

Published September 25, 2018
Is Mark Zuckerberg Going to Ruin Instagram, the Last Fun Social Network?  Instagram’s co-founders quit yesterday amid reports of tension with Facebook.  Esquire.com.

Published March 27, 2019
Opinion: Big Tech, after years of watching us, is now being watched  (Good rundown on Amazon, Alphabet (Google) , Apple and Facebook). A number of the companies that will be discussed in the upcoming follow-up commentary on corporate responsibility and privacy. MarketWatch.com

Published April 3, 2019
Millions of Facebook Records Found on Amazon Cloud Servers  Latest news. Seriously, sketchy news about Facebook is so common, you have to be picky about which article links to share. Bloomberg.com

MISC (General background)

Published April 5, 2018
How to Prevent a Faltering CEO from Damaging Your Company  This link offers some insight into internal dealings with questionable leadership abilities and activities/attitudes by CEO’s. This article is largely focused on companies that did not act in time, but could have. As mentioned previously in this commentary and within links on this posting, Facebook’s situation is a bit different in that other executives and the Board’s hands are tied. A good overview of a typical scenario, however.  Strategy+Business.com

Deepfakes may try to ruin the world. But they can come for you too


Getty Images

Joan E. Solsman

By Joan E. Solsman, Senior Reporter for CNET | April 4, 2019 6:00 AM PDT

But — bright side! — videos with your face on somebody else’s body usually aren’t as tantalizing to bad guys as, say, creating political chaos.

Thinking about deepfakes tends to lead to philosophical head-scratchers. Here’s one: Should you worry about your face being grafted into hardcore pornography if deepfakes are bent on sabotaging global power?

Deepfakes are video forgeries that make people appear to be doing or saying things they never did. Similar to the way Photoshop made doctoring images a breeze, deepfake software has made this kind of manipulated video not only accessible but also harder and harder to detect as fake.

And chances are, unless you’ve scrupulously kept your image off the internet, a deepfake starring you is possible today.

“All of those images that you put of yourself online have exposed you,” said Hany Farid, a Dartmouth researcher who specializes in media forensics to root out things like deepfakes.  “And you gave it up freely. Nobody forced you to do it, it wasn’t even stolen from you — you gave it up.”

Facial recognition: Your face, your password
This is part of a CNET special report exploring the benefits and pitfalls of facial recognition.
CNET

Deepfakes represent a different, more malicious kind of facial recognition. Traditional facial recognition already plays a growing role in your life: It’s the technology that helps you find all the snapshots of a specific friend in Google Photos. But it also could scan your face at an airport or concert without your knowledge.

Unlike most facial recognition, which essentially turns the features of your face into a unique code for computers, deepfake software aims to mash up identity so well you don’t even question its truth. It poses a nightmare scenario not just of ruining your life, but also of manipulating the public’s perception of heads of states, powerful CEOs or political candidates.

That’s why media forensics experts like Farid, and even researchers for the Pentagon, are racing to find methods to detect deepfakes. But Matt Turek, the manager of Pentagon’s deepfakes program at DARPA, has said that its much easier to make a convincing deepfake today than it is to detect one.

Deepfake technology figures out how various points of a human face interact on camera to convincingly fabricate a moving, speaking human — think a photorealistic digital puppet. Artificial intelligence has fueled the rapid development of deepfakes, but it’s a technology that must also be fed a diet of facial images to produce a video.

Unfortunately, the rise of deepfakes has arrived after more than a decade of online social sharing put almost everyone’s face on the internet. But staying out of the public eye doesn’t inoculate anyone from deepfakes, because in today’s world, almost everyone is exposed.

Face swap

Here’s another fun deepfake headscratcher: How bad does something have to be for Reddit and Pornhub both to ban it?

Deepfakes come in different shapes, sizes and degrees of stomach-sinking monstrosity. There are three main types, but the simplest and most widely known is a face swap.

Face-swapping deepfakes can be harmless fun. One meme plasters actor Nicolas Cage‘s face into a potpourri of movies and shows he’s never starred in, with him as Indiana Jones or every actor on Friends. Tweets sticking Steve Buscemi’s mug on Jennifer Lawrence go viral for their weirdness.

But they can be insidious too, like the face of an unwitting victim grafted onto graphic pornography. This weaponized form of face swap has violated famous women, like Scarlett Johansson and Gal Gadot. But it’s also made victims of others who aren’t celebrities. This involuntary pornography is what’s prohibited by both Reddit and Pornhub.

The main asset that somebody needs to create a deepfake of you is a collection of a few hundred images of your face. Because deepfake software uses machine learning, it needs data sets of your face and another face in a destination video in order to swap them convincingly. That’s one reason celebrities and public figures are such easy targets: The internet is packed with source photos and videos to build these image stockpiles.

Your best protection against becoming the star of a deepfake depends on the lengths to which you’re willing to go to keep your image out of anyone else’s hands — including keeping it off the internet. (So, yeah, good luck with that.)

Scarlett Johansson
Actress Scarlett Johansson has characterized her fight against malicious deepfakes as a “lost cause,” telling the Washington Post: “Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired.”
Jay Maidment/Marvel

 

A few hundred images of you may sound like a lot to gather, but these don’t need to be individual still shots or selfies. Multiple frames pulled from one or more videos can fill in the gaps. Everytime an iPhone shot a video of you, it was capturing at least 30 frames per second.

And quality trumps quantity in a deepfake dataset. The ideal is a wide selection of facial images without blurring or obstructions, from a variety of angles and with a range of facial expressions. The quantity needed can decrease if the angles and facial expressions are well coordinated with the desired destination video.

These quirks of the data sets can yield bizarre advice about how to reduce your exposure. Wearing heavy makeup is good protection, especially if you change it up a lot.

Obstructions in front of a face, even brief ones, are particularly tricky for deepfake technology to work around. But the defenses that exploit that weakness aren’t necessarily helpful. Farid once joked about a potential defensive strategy with a politician. “When you’re talking with everyone around, every once and a while just wave your hand in front of your face to protect yourself,” he recounted telling him. The politician indicated that wasn’t a helpful idea.

Grim horizons

Deepfake programs for face-swapping are readily available free online, making the technology relatively accessible for anyone with motivation, some simple technological know-how and a powerful computer.

Other types of deepfake are more sophisticated. Thankfully, that means you’re less exposed to being a victim. Unfortunately, these are the ones that harbor more dangerous possibilities.

Comedian and filmmaker Jordan Peele publicized one of these kinds of deepfakes, called an impersonation or “puppet master” fake, by posing as President Barack Obama in a deepfake video a year ago. Peele impersonates Obama’s voice, but the deepfake video synthesized a new Obama mouth and jaw to be consistent with the audio track.

However, the creation of that video actually required a reassuring degree of practiced skill. Peele’s script was designed so his speech would match the ebbs and flow of Obama’s original head movements and gestures. And the success of the vocals was rooted in Peele’s well-honed Obama impersonation.

But a higher level of sophistication, termed deep video portraits, are like deepfakes on steroids. While most manipulation in deepfake videos is limited to facial expressions, an international team of researchers transferred three-dimensional head position and rotation, eye gaze and eye blinking from one source actor to another target actor.

Click

The result is a bit like a motion-capture sequence, without actually needing to capture motions when the videos were shot. With two ordinary videos, the researchers’ program synchronized the movements, blinks and eye direction onto somebody else’s face.

But the ultimate threat of deepfakes isn’t how sophisticated they can get. It’s how willingly the public will accept what’s fake for the truth — or believe somebody’s false denial because who even knows what’s true anymore?

“The public has to be aware that this stuff exists … but understand where we are with technology, what can and cannot be faked —  and just slow the hell down,” Farid said. “People get outraged in a nanosecond and start going crazy. Everybody’s got to just slow the f**k down.”

Originally published April 3.
Update, April 4: Adds background about DARPA.