I Do Not Want Mark’s Metaverse

In a blog posted two days ago, I highlighted phrases and sentences from Mark Zuckerberg’s recent keynote speech sketching his vision of Meta’s intended metaverse. Here are thoughts triggered by his words: 

1. “ you’re going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine … “This isn’t about spending more time on screens … [include] communities whose perspectives have often been overlooked … consider everyone …” 

No, Mark, be honest. This is about getting more people into Meta, and about getting them to spend more time in the metaverse, because that’s the only way you can sustain the growth your shareholders expect, and the only way you can withstand the onslaught of firms like Tiktok that now have greater appeal to the next generation of users. 

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What is Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, and Do We Want It?

In a recent blog, I suggested that we have finally lost patience with Facebook after new revelations by whistleblower Frances Haugen and the Wall Street Journal. Leaked documents show that FB knows that almost six million VIPs are given special dispensation to violate their content standards; criminals use FB to recruit women, incite violence against ethnic minorities, and support government action against political dissent; Instagram is toxic to many young girls, contributing to poor self-image, mental health, and suicidal thoughts; the firm relaxed its safeguards too soon after the U.S. election, contributing to the January 6 riot; and FB is incapable of suppressing election and vaccine misinformation. 

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Facebook Was Soon to Be Held to Account: Will Meta Escape the Consequences?

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg built an app to connect Harvard undergrads to one another. By 2006, it was available to anyone over the age of 13. Soon thereafter, his Facebook (FB) social media firm was animated by the concept that connectivity was a human right for the world’s billions. FB is now visited by almost 3 billion distinct users each month. The firm has become a monopoly, counting Instagram and WhatsApp among its divisions. (Further details appear in Chapters 11 and 17 of Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do.) 

FB’s dominance has led to serious problems which are well known. Its news feed widely shares toxic material — misinformation, hate speech, and fake news. People post private information which FB exploits commercially through surveillance capitalism. Fake social media participants constructed by Russia in the 2016 US presidential election and other elections has skewed the results. Children’s addiction to social media harms their sense of self-worth and their physical and mental health and well-being.

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A Review of: ‘People Count: Contact-Tracing Apps and Public Health’

Cybersecurity expert Prof. Susan Landau’s valuable and insightful recent book, People Count: Contact-Tracing Apps and Public Health, stresses that trust in government is essential to making contact tracing work for everyone. 

Contact tracing is a process for identifying, informing, and monitoring people who might have come into contact with a person who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease such as COVID-19.  It starts with a positive test. Public health officials then need to know who that person might have inadvertently infected. This requires tracking down anyone that person had contacted (was “close enough” for “long enough”) recently (14 days in the case of COVID). They can then be informed that they might have been infected and take measures to quarantine and monitor for symptoms. For example, restaurants initiate tracing by recording the name and phone number of one person in each party taking a table in the restaurant. 

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Technology and lifestyle in the COVID 4th wave and beyond

My blog post of May 18 suggested that some of the COVID-forced changes in work will survive past-COVID: “Large companies will shrink their office space footprint. Landlords will suffer economically, spaces will be vacant, and prices will drop. Many employees will work at home far more frequently than they did pre-pandemic. Many employees will no longer have a permanent desk; rather, they will grab a free desk when they are in the office. There will be less business travel, with more business conducted via teleconference. Progressive conferences will allow for both on-site and virtual attendance. Reductions in travel by [land and air will help] the environment.” 

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Chilling New Technologies for Surveillance

Technologists are creating increasingly more sophisticated digital technologies capable of monitoring us. 

The most mature technology is that of RFID tags. Now as small as grains of rice, RFID tags typically track the location and movement of items through an assembly line, warehouse, store, or library. The tags can also be attached to personal possessions such as clothing, passports, or cash.  RFID tags can be and are implanted in animals in order to track them in the wild. This is not now done to humans, although people may be carrying items with RFIDs and be tracked without realizing it. 

Other location tracking uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) of satellites. It allows mobile devices to know where on earth they are located, and also allows location tracking on those devices, and hence to monitor the whereabouts of a person carrying the phone. A chilling example of this occurred in a political protest in Ukraine in January 2014, when individuals who were in the barricaded city centre of Kiev received text messages saying ‘Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance’. 

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Working at home during and after COVID

My blog post of February 11 shared the account of four people who, despite COVID, have preserved and in some cases enhanced family connections and communication through the use of teleconferencing technologies. This essay will look at the present and future of distance collaboration for work. 

It has not been easy, especially for couples who both have jobs and who have school-age children at home. There have been severe stresses in maintaining concentration and balancing work time; periods helping children with schoolwork; and time for chores, exercise, play, and being alone. 

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Physically separated, socially connected

Contributed by Ron Baecker, an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).

My family is widely separated. I live in Canada. My brother-in-law, niece, nephew, and their families are in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; my cousins, their children, and their families are in Argentina, Spain, England, and on both coasts of the USA. Typically, I visit my niece and nephew once or twice a year; I manage a trip to Buenos Aires or Bilbao, Spain, about every 3 years. But not recently. I therefore Facetime with either my nephew or my niece almost every week. We also are about to have our fourth global family Zoom. This started out to celebrate individual birthdays, with great spirit and feeling of bringing the family closer together. The next event will celebrate 3 birthdays — ages 78, 41, and 9 — and a recent birth in the family in London. The 9-year-old birthday event will see us participating in a day-long scavenger hunt. What fun!

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Senior Care Homes Aren’t Ready for the Second Wave

Contributed by Ron Baecker and Gary Feldman

Ron Baecker is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019). Gary Feldman, MD, FAAP, FABMG, is a retired physician who was the Public Health Officer of Ventura County and Riverside County in California for 14 years. They are two of the co-authors of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide.

The COVID-19 Solutions Guide, published in mid-June, described the effects of the first wave of the virus on senior care in North America as follows:

As of early June, over one-third of the known COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been to residents and staff living and working in nursing and long-term care homes. As of early May, a shocking 82% of the known virus deaths in Canada have been to those in long-term care. A Canadian Forces report commissioned by the province on Ontario, released in late May, reported numerous incidents of poor infection control, residents being denied food or being fed improperly, residents being treated roughly, and staffing problems. A flurry of lawsuits is expected. In Ontario, a $50 million suit was filed on May 1, 2020, alleging that one of Canada’s largest operators of senior residences and long-term care facilities lacked “proper sanitation protocols and adequate testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19”. In the United States, nursing homes have sought emergency protection from lawsuits alleging improper care.”

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What’s New in the Second Edition of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide

Contributed by Ron Baecker, who is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).

The Second Edition of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide will be published and available this Friday.

We had not anticipated writing a second edition so soon. Yet events this fall suggested that it was important that we do so. Our goal is to make current the story we tell about the pandemic, the problems it is causing, and the solutions we recommend. What we describe below has happened in part because of the unwise actions of politicians with little understanding or respect for science, and a willingness to sacrifice human life for political ends. Another cause has been the poor judgment of young people, whose natural desire for partying and close physical contact has contributed to a substantial extension of the first wave of the virus. Also, some clergy have placed their insistence on congregate worship above public health advice, adding to the viral spread.

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