How Fb is entrenched


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Facebook's changes under the hood are a power takeover.

My colleague Mike Isaac wrote about Facebook's latest move to more seamlessly connect its apps – the main social network, Instagram, and the messenger chat app – behind the scenes. Facebook's products would stay separate, but over time they would interact in ways they hadn't before.

For example, Facebook starts with people using Instagram to send a photo to someone using Messenger, and vice versa. In the future, you may be able to text a friend who only uses WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, through your Messenger account.

It could be – possibly? – practical things that come from putting these apps together, especially for businesses. But the more Facebook acts as a unified empire rather than a constellation of apps, the harder it will be for a government to break Facebook and the harder it will be for rivals to break away from the company's dominance.

What is happening now shows the difficulty in verifying the power of superstar companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. When the effects of small changes become apparent, it may be too late to do something about it.

The more the company brings its app family together on Facebook, the more difficult it becomes to untangle the company's takeover of Instagram and WhatsApp. Some scientists and others said Facebook should abandon these apps because they viewed these acquisitions as an illegal tactic to deter the company from competing.

The other risk is that a more unified Facebook will make it harder for the company to go down. Could a new messaging app be successful if Facebook seamlessly integrates its 3 billion users into Messenger and convinces people not to bother going anywhere it's new?

This is not a theoretical risk. There is a history of technology companies that tie their products or customer information together to make them invulnerable. Sometimes it works.

Over the years, Google has merged the once separate parts of its internet advertising business into a largely unified system that makes it difficult for anyone to buy or sell ads online without going through Google. A generation ago, Microsoft got caught in the water because it was trying to expand its dominance by linking its new Internet browser to Windows. (That didn't work, mostly because governments and courts rejected the practice.)

Facebook putting its apps together is technically different from what Google and Microsoft have done, but the practical effect is largely the same. Both Google and Microsoft said – as Facebook is now saying – that the combination of their products would be useful for customers. Perhaps. It definitely helped expand the power of these companies.

(Side note: is it actually useful to message someone on Instagram using Messenger or whatever? People tend to use Facebook's apps in different ways.)

One change from the history of technology is that people are now aware of the risks that companies face with their products. When Mike first wrote about Facebook's app integration plan in early 2019, some lawmakers and regulators wondered if it was a ploy to isolate Facebook.

The question is what to do about the risk of Facebook slowly consolidating. Regulators could say no to Facebook sticking their apps together, but Facebook could bet that lawmakers and regulators are moving slower than they are. And Facebook's cynicism is probably right.

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I encourage you to read this article from Reveal, a nonprofit investigative news organization, about high injury rates in Amazon warehouses and how Amazon's public defense of occupational safety has at times been refuted by corporate documents and private management discussions.

One of the stark and disturbing conclusions I have drawn from this research is that technology cannot overhaul faulty systems built by humans. In fact, technology sometimes makes them worse.

Reveal found that Amazon package warehouses that used more robots and other automated human assistants – a technology that Amazon says is said to make work safer and more efficient – had a significantly higher rate of serious injury in the workplace than in conventional cases warehouses.

Reveal reporting found that this happened because the company used robotic bearings to raise productivity rates to levels so high that more Amazon employees were cornering, repeating the same movements and doing other things that resulted in more injuries. The article states that none of Amazon's dozen of Amazon's safety initiatives that Reveal reviewed suggested slowing production rates to reduce injuries.

Amazon did not respond to Reveal's questions about the company's injury data, but did inform the news organization that significant investments had been made in the health and safety of workers.

This report added to my concerns that too often we have false hopes for automation and other types of technologies to solve complex problems. Too many Americans lack the internet? Just wait for the new wireless technology to magically fix the problem. Are cities clogged with cars? Wait for robotic cars to magically fix them. No and no.

That's not to say technology can never help solve problems, but it's not a magic wand. If people set unrealistic expectations about moving goods quickly, those same people could use technology to relieve them of responsibility for fixing the problem.

GAH, THE INTERNET! Well, the U.S. presidential debate has been fucking messy and my colleagues have explanations on some of the misleading information that has been circulated online about it, including false rumors that Joe Biden was asked questions beforehand and the joy of a far right group about it being violent endorsed because it was mentioned by President Trump.

The software watches you: Students spoke to my colleagues in the Times about what it was like to use software that could trap fraud in online exams by tracking people's eye movements through a webcam and other steps. Spoiler alert: these students didn't love it.

Ah, the innocent days when the internet judged people by their looks: Mashable makes a compelling case that HOTorNOT, one of the first websites to go viral and have strangers rated, has become a blueprint for internet activity in the 20 years since it was founded – and not all in a bad way.

This kitten looks like he'd love to be carried around in a backpack.

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