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    Are more regulations the answer? Why not build a better product, the one that people want, that doesn’t invade their privacy and win the old fashioned way?

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      Unfortunately most people don’t know what the underlying problems are, what they want, or what the alternatives are. and the network effect is strong.

      “Facebook are creepy creep creeps”
      “ Yeah, but it’s how I chat to all my friends”.
      “You’re scrolling through hundreds of ads and inane driven from strangers and people you haven’t talked to in 20 years”.
      “It didn’t used to be like this, it’s a recent change, and besides, if I don’t look at it all I’ll miss important ones from my friends”.
      “Facebook knows more about you than your partner”.
      “Err, stop being a hater!”

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        Have you tried explaining that if they keep using facebook then RMS will call them FaceBoogers? :)

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        Because abusing people’s personal data lends a competitive advantage. It’s sort of like environmental regulations on cars: it’s easier to build a dirty car than a clean one, individuals don’t have much incentive to pay more for cleaner cars, and improving a design’s emissions comes with a real and noticeable performance penalty. Yet, society in the aggregate is harmed when a large proportion of cars are dirty, so regulations are put in place to do what no individual player is incentivized to do. It’s the same with web companies: people just want a web store with good recommendations/a social network that makes them feel fuzzy, and companies will implement that in the easiest and highest-margin way they can, without stressing overmuch about the bad effects of, say, selling “their” collected user data to advertisers. Protecting user privacy is basically detrimental to companies' immediate success, and users don’t want to switch when the privacy-respecting alternatives are worse to use. So if the world would be better if everyone were using privacy-respecting software, but most individuals are disincentivized to make that choice on their own, how do you get to that better situation? You introduce an external force. “Grassroots movements” sound appealing as ever, but that’s hard when people are as emotionally connected as they are with, say, a social network, and practically speaking it’s clearly not working. The other option is regulation, which is promising because it doesn’t involve people boycotting a major form of social interaction.

        Also, wrt social networks in particular: how do you build a competitor to Facebook? Its whole value is that everyone you want to talk to is on it, so how do you “build a better product” against that?

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          I appreciate the analogy, but with some caveats. If I drive a dirty car, it’s easy to see how the pollution goes from me to you. If I choose to use Facebook, how does that hurt you? (At this point, people often say, oh, what if you upload my picture and tag me? But I can do that on any site, not just Facebook. So what you’re really asking for is regulations prohibiting users from uploading pictures.)

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            You’re right, the analogy’s not perfect, and the collateral damage isn’t as direct with Facebook. The issue is more the standard monopoly effect: if you want to talk with people over the internet, there’s one such service that includes an appreciable portion of the human population, Facebook. Everything else only works if everyone you want to talk to is technically inclined or shares a hobby or something. In this way it’s sort of like the Bell telephone monopoly of the good ol' days. That was dealt with by breaking Bell up, but breaking up a social network’s sort of an oxymoron since being one big thing is why it’s valuable. So here’s a thought: instead of or in addition to privacy regulations, you require Facebook support federated protocols for activity feeds and chat (they did support XMPP at one point, but it was never federated so it didn’t actually help). That way if someone wants to start Dorkbook, their users are all able to connect with their friends who see no reason to switch off Facebook, and Facebook is only able to collect user data when one or both chatters are on FB. In this scheme, Facebook would still have an advantage over privacy-respecting social networks by dint of all that juicy ad money, but at least others would have the chance to try and build a better product.

            Edit: to answer your question directly, it hurts me because my choices are to either use Facebook and have my personal data abused, or not and lose my ability to talk with a lot of people. Like with Bell, people could either boycott and lose the ability to send messages outside of the mail, or pay into a company with business practices they dislike.

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              How does federation work in practice? I’m on facebook. My friend’s on dorkbook. How much of my profile can they see? (and vice versa)

              I use facebook in part because I can post things to a semi limited audience of “all” my friends. And critics can moan, but the privacy controls seem reasonable for that. But if half my friends are on dorkbook, that either means they don’t see my private posts, or I have to open them up to dorkbook, but that seems like a permission nightmare. Like do I have to go through a list of all federated providers and approve the ones I trust? Otherwise my profile is essentially public to anyone who signs up as a federated “partner”.

              Not saying federation is bad, but seems a little much to start. I mean, there’s 700 static blog of the week packages, and new ones all the time. But for all that, nobody ever explains “I made a private blog for my friends and here’s what happened.” With all the pearl clutching, I’d expect to see about 10x (infinity x?) more experiment with just making a blog, putting a password in front of the RSS, and telling your friends. Why does nobody even try? Maybe only you and three friends do it, but surely you can try it and learn something from what happens?

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                Agreed - you’ve identified the same problem I see with any federated social media, and your proposed approach makes a lot of sense.

                I’m not convinced the issues with federation are solvable, and at any rate starting at a much smaller scale makes a lot of sense.

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              And contact list, it doesn’t matter how secure my “black phone” is or if I don’t have a phone and just use a land line, if all my friends have inadvertantly told Facebook my name, aliases, address, landline number, date of birth and picture, because they use the Facebook or Messenger app which uploads all their contacts.

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            Depends on what way you lean politically. As a socialist I think more regulations are definitely the answer, but a libertarian would say that the market will support the better product.

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                Government seems to work best when run by career bureaucrats, okay-ish when run by politicians, and worst when run by corporate lobbyists, whose job often is to make government fail. So it depends on where the regulations come from.

                I do think that a heavily regulated Web is not the answer, if only because I wouldn’t want to create another barrier to entry for small businesses. That said, it’s astounding how careless many of these venture-funded companies are with user data. I wish I could get more specific.

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                  IMO this is the better libertarian argument. It’s very hard for the markets to prefer a product with fewer recommendation engines and such features, which unfortunately also infringe on privacy.

                  This is a hard sell, that’s for sure, but making it easier to self-host email and what have you would nudge people in the right direction.

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              This seems wrong. The web originally was done with academics and corporations. That didn’t work so well. The model of selling people out with ads made money for sites. Also, venture capital focusing on growth to sell people out in various ways. That became dominant because it produced results. Here’s an article about that which seems closer to the truth: