Facebook Knows More About You Than the CIA

The titans of social media are trapped, and we’re all suffering for it. As free services, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube monetize you by keeping you engaged, so they can show you more ads. The services are designed to exploit our brain chemistry, flashing us notifications and giving us one more hit of algorithm-recommended video. If they didn’t, their revenue would dwindle and shareholders would be unhappy. This is not a mutually beneficial relationship, as the platforms like to say; it’s a parasitic one. Social media hoovers up our energy and most intimate data, and in return we get anxiety and the destabilization of democracy. It’s gotten to the point where the tech giants know more about you than the government …

This App Lets Your Instagram Followers Track Your Location

A new app knows what your Instagram-loving friends did last summer. Called Who’s in Town, the iOS and Android app is ostensibly designed to show you, well … who’s in town. But it does much more than that. Users who download the app and grant it access to their Instagram account are presented with an eerie interactive map of every place the people they follow have visited and shared online since they created their profile. The map updates in real time and is sourced from the wealth of location data the average Instagram user willingly uploads to the platform each time they opt to use its popular geotag feature in a story or post. This information is nominally public already, …

Wellness Startup’s Generic Viagra Ads Flout Facebook Rules

On television and radio, the ads are fairly innocuous: “Hey guy,” a female narrator says playfully in one TV spot for Hims, a men’s wellness brand that sells prescription drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, oral herpes, social anxiety, hair loss, and other conditions. “Hi there. Welcome to Hims.” The ad invites viewers to “get ED treatment started for only $5,” next to a close-up of a young man pressing a white pill seductively to his lips. What appear to be customer reviews are superimposed over the image: “Should have done it years ago and I feel like the young stud that I always imagined I was," says one. "Outstanding product, works above and beyond our expectations," reads another. Much like …

The Existential Crisis Plaguing Online Extremism Researchers

A couple of hours after the Christchurch massacre, I was on the phone with Whitney Phillips, a Syracuse professor whose research focuses on online extremists and media manipulators. Toward the end of the call, our conversation took an unexpected turn. Phillips said she was exhausted and distressed, and that she felt overwhelmed by the nature of her work. She described a “soul sucking” feeling stemming in part from an ethical conundrum tied to researching the ills of online extremism and amplification. In a connected, searchable world, it’s hard to share information about extremists and their tactics without also sharing their toxic views. Too often, actions intended to stem the spread of false and dangerous ideologies only make things worse. The …

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Met With President Trump

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump lobbed another attack against Twitter on its own platform, calling the company “very discriminatory” and saying “they don’t treat me well as a Republican.” He then accused the company of “playing political games” and called on Congress to “get involved.” It wasn’t the first time Trump complained about a supposed anticonservative bias on Twitter, but it was noteworthy for another reason: It turns out the president was scheduled to meet Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey later that day. Twitter policy head Vijaya Gadde notified employees Tuesday that their boss was supposed to meet with Trump in a 30-minute, closed-door meeting later that afternoon, according to a company email reviewed by WIRED. According to the email, …