This article is the standard way of reporting Meta’s announcement that, to comply with a new EU ruling, they will allow users to pay not to be shown adverts. It’s likely that only privacy-minded and better-off people are likely to do so, given the size of the charge.
What isn’t mentioned in this type of article, but which TechCrunch helpfully notes, is that the issue is really about tracking. By introducing a charge, Meta hopes that they can gain legitimate consent for users to be tracked so as to avoid a monthly fee.
Meta is responding to "evolving European regulations" by introducing a premium subscription option for Facebook and Instagram from Nov. 1.
Anyone over the age of 18 who resides in the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland will be able to pay a monthly subscription in order to stop seeing ads. Meta states that “while people are subscribed, their information will not be used for ads.”
Subscribing via the web costs around $10.50 per month, but subscribing on an Android or iOS device pushes the cost up to almost $14 per month. The difference in price is down to the commission Apple and Google charge for in-app payments.
The monthly charge covers all linked accounts in a user’s Accounts Center. However, that only applies until March 1 next year. After that, an extra $6 per month will be payable for each additional account listed in a user’s Accounts Center. That extra charge increases to $8.50 per month on Android and iOS.
I don’t know enough on a technical level to know whether this is true or false, but it’s interesting from an ethical point of view. Meta’s chief AI scientist believes that intelligence is unrelated to a desire to dominate others, which seems reasonable.
He then extrapolates this to AI, pointing out that not only are we a long way off from a situation of genuine existential risk, but that such systems could be encoded with ‘moral character’.
Fears that AI could wipe out the human race are "preposterous" and based more on science fiction than reality, Meta's chief AI scientist has said.
Yann LeCun told the Financial Times that people had been conditioned by science fiction films like “The Terminator” to think that superintelligent AI poses a threat to humanity, when in reality there is no reason why intelligent machines would even try to compete with humans.
“Intelligence has nothing to do with a desire to dominate. It’s not even true for humans,” he said.
“If it were true that the smartest humans wanted to dominate others, then Albert Einstein and other scientists would have been both rich and powerful, and they were neither,” he added.
Well, we can but hope. The backlash from Instagram-obsessed people would be too much for politicians to bear, however…
Meta has—as it must—warned its investors that it’s in deep trouble in Europe. It’s neither a threat nor a bluff, but rather a statement of fact: without a successor to the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield deal, which the EU’s top court nuked a couple of years back, Facebook and Instagram will be forced to pack up and abandon the European market.
Indeed, this uncomfortable reality was made clearer last month, when Ireland’s privacy regulator submitted a draft decision to its EU peers that would ban Facebook and Insta from transferring Europeans’ personal data to the U.S., because there is no longer any legal basis for these transfers to continue.
I find it astonishing that even Facebook’s critics, let alone the markets, haven’t glommed onto the reality of the situation. I suspect the culprit is a deep-seated notion that Mark Zuckerberg’s all-powerful company can somehow fix this by modifying its legendarily bad privacy behavior—as though it had some brilliant solution hidden up its sleeve, just waiting until the last possible second before pulling it out.
While I’m not a fan of Nicholas Carr’s approach to technology (“is Google making us stupid?") I do have sympathy with Cal Newport’s more nuanced and considered approach.
Writing in The New Yorker, Newport considers whether we should be allowing teenagers to use social media at all. By this, he doesn’t mean the ‘social internet’, which I explore further in this post.
Our son turns 15 soon and while we’ve grudgingly allowed him to use WhatsApp (I don’t use any FacebookMeta products) he isn’t allowed an Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok account. Digital parenting is a thing.
I’m not sure, however, that we should be so quick to give up on interrogating the necessity of these technologies in our lives, especially when they impact the well-being of our children. In an attempt to keep this part of the conversation alive, I reached out to four academic experts—selected from both sides of the ongoing debate about the harm caused by these platforms—and asked them, with little preamble or instruction, the question missing from so much of the recent coverage of the Facebook revelations: Should teen-agers use social media? I wasn’t expecting a consensus response, but I thought it was important, at the very least, to define the boundaries of the current landscape of expert opinion on this critical issue.
For a particularly dispiriting case study of how long it sometimes takes to establish definitive causation between behaviors and negative outcomes, consider the effort involved in connecting smoking to lung cancer. The first major study showing a statistical correlation between cigarettes and cancer, authored by Herbert Lombard and Carl Doering of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health, was published in 1928. I recently came across an article in the archives of TheAtlantic from 1956—nearly thirty years later—in which the author was still trying to convince skeptics who were unhappy with the types of confounding factors that are unavoidable in scientific studies. “If it has not been proved that tobacco is guilty of causing cancer of the lung,” the article pleads, “it has certainly been shown to have been on the scene of the crime.”
What is obvious, however, is that regardless of what answers we end up with, we need to keep debating these fundamental questions. As Zuckerberg emphasized in his defensive post, he wants us to concede that his products are inevitable, and that we have no choice but to move on to discussing their features and safeguards. We might think we’re really sticking it to these social-media giants when we skewer their leaders in congressional hearings, or write scathing commentary pieces about the shortcomings of their moderation policies, but, in some sense, this response provides a reprieve because it sidesteps the conversation that these companies are trying hardest to avoid: the conversation about whether, in the end, the buzzy, digital baubles they offer are really worth all the trouble they’re creating.