How Mark Zuckerberg Totally Fucks Up Everything He Touches
A few years on, Silicon Valley’s brief obsession with the metaverse has assumed the quality of a bad dream, half-remembered. Legless avatars beckoned us into barren digital landscapes to … stand around and talk about NFTs? Parcels of “property” sold for millions of dollars? It was a … virtual world? No? A mixed-reality game? No? A new frontier? An escape from meatspace? A layer on top of it? Companies raised and spent of dollars on the metaverse without ever quite getting their stories straight about what it was supposed to be or do — they didn’t just lack a good pitch beyond “getting in early,” they lacked a coherent concept to pitch in the first place.
The metaverse was a term in search of a trend; a trope in search of instantiation; a failed act of summoning by leaders who really thought they could control the weather. In an obituary published on Insider, Ed Zitron suggests the ultimate cause of death was the arrival of yet another next big thing:
The Metaverse fell seriously ill as the economy slowed and the hype around generative AI grew. Microsoft shuttered its virtual-workspace platform AltSpaceVR in January 2023, laid off the 100 members of its “industrial metaverse team,” and made a series of cuts to its HoloLens team. Disney shuttered its Metaverse division in March, and Walmart followed suit by ending its Roblox-based Metaverse projects. The billions of dollars invested and the breathless hype around a half-baked concept led to thousands — if not tens of thousands — of people losing their jobs.
But the Metaverse was officially pulled off life support when it became clear that Zuckerberg and the company that launched the craze had moved on to greener financial pastures. Zuckerberg declared in a March update that Meta’s “single largest investment is advancing AI and building it into every one of our products.”
He lays a great deal of responsibility for the hype at the feet — or in the space below the floating torso — of one man. “Zuckerberg misled everyone, burned tens of billions of dollars, convinced an industry of followers to submit to his quixotic obsession, and then killed it the second that another idea started to interest Wall Street,” he writes. Which is fair: Changing Facebook’s name to Meta was a bold attempt not just to rebrand a company but to set an industry agenda, and while it ultimately failed, it sort of worked for a while.
One question worth dwelling on, however, is whyit worked at all — and why people like Zuckerberg were so zealously committed to it, despite the massive costs. Low interest rates couldn’t have hurt. Crypto-adjacency had something to do with it. A sense of impending stagnation among tech giants surely provided some anxious fuel. Maybe they just read Snow Crash in high school and thought: What if that, but not cool?
Empty offices and newly empowered employees drove some tech executives out of their minds, and the Metaverse promised a solution, or at least functioned as a response. It represented an intoxicating fantasy, just not one that most of us would recognize — or, if we did, one that we might recognize as sort of a nightmare.
Executive fantasies — and executive autonomy in general — get short shrift in most popular theories about How Things Work, I think, especially in the tech industry, where superstar founders and CEOs are given considerable deference and leeway. They live weird lives, develop idiosyncratic views of the world, and have unusual amounts of power. It’s fair to assume that the leadership at a big tech firm is interested in maximizing efficiency and profit, for themselves or for shareholders. It’s the job description and often explains a lot, but not everything — sometimes it legitimizes what can seem like much more instinctual and personal decisions made under the auspices of the cold logic of capitalism. It certainly falls short in the case of Elon Musk’s Twitter, for example, where executive whims are the only thing with any remaining explanatory power.
Consider what crypto looked like from the very top: not just a potentially promising area for investment, a modest but meaningful grassroots phenomenon among users, or an engine for wealth, but also the crude fantasy of total regulatory freedom, a path to a stateless, tech-centric world. AI, too, represents, among other things, a profound tech-exec fantasy: an endless supply of cheap and obedient labor and a chance to take ownership of the means, of, well, everything. The metaverse was for Facebook/Meta, as Zitron suggests, a “means to an increased share price,” but it also resembled an executive crusade — it was the awkward Zuck in those metaverse announcement videos, more animated than he’s ever been — and it’s not that hard to imagine why.
The metaverse was another supreme executive fantasy. Most broadly, it offered the prospect of a new frontier, the likes of which Zuckerberg hasn’t seen since, well, his conquest of the last one. More immediately, it was a way to make remote work more like in-office work for everyone, but especially for bosses, who understood it as a way to regain control and authority over their newly WFHing employees. It was a theoretical solution to the suddenly pressing problem of expensive and empty real estate — replacing a finite resource with an infinite one. (Meta has long talked about being a remote-work-friendly company but pays for millions of square feet of office space around the world.) From one executive to an audience of other executives, the metaverse — at least Zuck’s take on it — offered a vision of the future in which everything was different but also pretty much the same: a disruptive technology that maintained the basic order of things, and where you once again knew what your employees were up to, even if they were just avatars.
A rational CEO thinking about his shareholders certainly could have made any number of bad or misguided choices in Mark Zuckerberg’s position, especially under the strange circumstances of a pandemic; still, it’s hard to explain Meta without an unusually empowered CEO becoming intensely committed to a fantasy that, then and now, didn’t resonate much with anyone but him, and maybe an audience of similarly disoriented corporate leaders.
What was unusual about the metaverse from the outside, circa 2021, was how little it offered to anyone but executives, who alternated between hyping it as imminent, far-off, or as already existing in games like Roblox, which was news to the millions of people playing them. It felt uncanny and hollow, and when people stopped talking about it so much, nobody who wasn’t directly invested seemed to care. It’s true that Silicon Valley has shifted its attention to AI, but what really killed the metaverse was workers returning to the office. In 2022, outside of tech, major firms that had shifted to remote work started demanding employees come back. In the tech industry, which has traditionally been fairly amenable to remote work, a season of brutal layoffs was accompanied by more stringent return-to-office plans. In a March update to staff and investors, which made only passing references to the Metaverse, Zuckerberg wrote about the need for a “year of efficiency”:
Our early analysis of performance data suggests that engineers who either joined Meta in-person and then transferred to remote or remained in-person performed better on average than people who joined remotely. This analysis also shows that engineers earlier in their career perform better on average when they work in-person with teammates at least three days a week.
From the outside, this reads like an anti-pitch for the metaverse office, which Meta had been pitching just a few months earlier — or, for Zuckerberg, maybe just a dream deferred until the graphics are good enough.
It’s fitting that Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO and the avatar of the industry’s next executive fantasy, is the one who wants to bury the last one. “I think definitely one of the tech industry’s worst mistakes in a long time was that everybody could go full remote forever,” he said in an interview this week. “I would say that the experiment on that is over, and the technology is not yet good enough that people can be full remote forever.”
Big (personal) data is becoming big tech’s new currency – and most definitely a commodity well beyond its obvious usefulness, the latest revelation about Facebook’s dubious business practices seems to suggest.
Leaked Facebook emails, chat logs, minutes from meetings and various other documents dating back to between 2011 and 2015 show that the company was willing to abuse personal user data in a number of ways in order to advance its business.
NBC News said that it has had access to the leaked material, consisting of thousands of pages. The picture they paint is of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his executives playing ruthless corporate games in deliberate disregard of the privacy of billions of Facebook subscribers.
Facebook has now been exposed as using its unique, massive personal data collection to reward or punish allies and competition, as the case may be. While publicly declaring its commitment to user privacy, the company was looking for ways to use the data it collects to its maximum advantage.
As if sharing it to third-parties operating on its platform was not enough, the social media giant sought to trade it for more advertising money coming its way from other giants, such as Amazon, or to deny it to direct competition, such as an unnamed chat app, the broadcaster is reporting. And occasionally, the documents show, Zuckerberg would allow access to this digital gold mine to developers who were his “personal friends.”
Facebook has denied that it favored companies and developers for their advertising dollars, or for the sake of personal ties – and while it may be unethical, the practice laid out in the documents leaked anonymously and shared by UK investigative journalist Duncan Campbell with three media outlet, has not given rise to accusations that these actions were illegal, NBC News said.
But it should give pause to Facebook users who are discovering the arrogance of the company that likes to speak with a forked tongue: calming concerns about its practices through PR efforts, and then giving the issue of privacy little to no regard, as the leaked documents show. Instead, Facebook was feverishly attempting to (ab)use the sensitive private data at its disposal, for all it is worth.
When Facebook rolled out facial recognition tools in the European Union this year, it promoted the technology as a way to help people safeguard their online identities.
“Face recognition technology allows us to help protect you from a stranger using your photo to impersonate you,” Facebook told its users in Europe.
It was a risky move by the social network. Six years earlier, it had deactivated the technology in Europe after regulators there raised questions about its facial recognition consent system. Now, Facebook was reintroducing the service as part of an update of its user permission process in Europe.
Yet Facebook is taking a huge reputational risk in aggressively pushing the technology at a time when its data-mining practices are under heightened scrutiny in the United States and Europe. Already, more than a dozen privacy and consumer groups, and at least a few officials, argue that the company’s use of facial recognition has violated people’s privacy by not obtaining appropriate user consent.The complaints add to the barrage of criticism facing the Silicon Valley giant over its handling of users’ personal details. Several American government agencies are currently investigating Facebook’s response to the harvesting of its users’ data by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm.
Facebook’s push to spread facial recognition also puts the company at the center of a broader and intensifying debate about how the powerful technology should be handled. The technology can be used to remotely identify people by name without their knowledge or consent. While proponents view it as a high-tech tool to catch criminals, civil liberties experts warn it could enable a mass surveillance system.
Facial recognition works by scanning faces of unnamed people in photos or videos and then matching codes of their facial patterns to those in a database of named people. Facebook has said that users are in charge of that process, telling them: “You control face recognition.”
But critics said people cannot actually control the technology — because Facebook scans their faces in photos even when their facial recognition setting is turned off.
“Facebook tries to explain their practices in ways that make Facebook look like the good guy, that they are somehow protecting your privacy,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. “But it doesn’t get at the fact that they are scanning every photo.”Rochelle Nadhiri, a Facebook spokeswoman, said its system analyzes faces in users’ photos to check whether they match with those who have their facial recognition setting turned on. If the system cannot find a match, she said, it does not identify the unknown face and immediately deletes the facial data.
At the heart of the issue is Facebook’s approach to user consent.
In the European Union, a tough new data protection law called the General Data Protection Regulation now requires companies to obtain explicit and “freely given” consent before collecting sensitive information like facial data. Some critics, including the former government official who originally proposed the new law, contend that Facebook tried to improperly influence user consent by promoting facial recognition as an identity protection tool.
“Facebook is somehow threatening me that, if I do not buy into face recognition, I will be in danger,” said Viviane Reding, the former justice commissioner of the European Commission who is now a member of the European Parliament. “It goes completely against the European law because it tries to manipulate consent.”
European regulators also have concerns about Facebook’s facial recognition practices. In Ireland, where Facebook’s international headquarters are, a spokeswoman for the Data Protection Commission said regulators “have put a number of specific queries to Facebook in respect of this technology.” Regulators were assessing Facebook’s responses, she said.
In the United States, Facebook is fighting a lawsuit brought by Illinois residents claiming the company’s face recognition practices violated a state privacy law. Damages in the case, certified as a class action in April, could amount to billions of dollars. In May, an appeals court granted Facebook’s request to delay the trial and review the class certification order.
Nikki Sokol, associate general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement, “This lawsuit is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”Separately, privacy and consumer groups lodged a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in April saying Facebook added facial recognition services, like the feature to help identify impersonators, without obtaining prior consent from people before turning it on. The groups argued that Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree that prohibits it from deceptive privacy practices.
“Facebook routinely makes misrepresentations to induce consumers to adopt wider and more pervasive uses of facial recognition technology,” the complaint said.
Ms. Nadhiri said Facebook had designed its consent process to comply with the new European law and had previewed its approach with European regulators. As to the privacy groups’ complaint, she said the social network had notified users about expanded facial recognition services.
“We provide clear information to people about how we use face recognition technology,” Ms. Nadhiri wrote in an email. The company’s recently updated privacy section, she added, “shows people how the setting works in simple language.”
Facebook is hardly the only tech giant to embrace facial recognition technology. Over the last few years, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have filed facial recognition patent applications.
Critics said Facebook took an early lead in consumer facial recognition services partly by turning on the technology as the default option for users. In 2010, it introduced a photo-labeling feature called Tag Suggestions that used face-matching software to suggest the names of people in users’ photos. People could turn it off. But privacy experts said Facebook had neither obtained users’ opt-in consent for the technology nor explicitly informed them that the company could benefit from scanning their photos. “When Tag Suggestions asks you ‘Is this Jill?’ you don’t think you are annotating faces to improve Facebook’s face recognition algorithm,” said Brian Brackeen, the chief executive of Kairos, a facial recognition company. “Even the premise is an unfair use of people’s time and labor.” The huge trove of identified faces, he added, enabled Facebook to quickly develop one of the world’s most powerful commercial facial recognition engines. In 2014, Facebook researchers said they had trained face-matching software “on the largest facial dataset to date, an identity labeled dataset of four million facial images.” Ms. Nadhiri said Facebook had consulted with privacy experts on its photo-tagging feature. It also recently notified users in the United States who had the site’s face-identification services turned on that they could turn them off, she said. “We have always respected people’s choices,” she said. But Facebook may only be getting started with its facial recognition services. The social network has applied for various patents, many of them still under consideration, which show how it could use the technology to track its online users in the real world.
One patent application, published last November, described a system that could detect consumers within stores and match those shoppers’ faces with their social networking profiles. Then it could analyze the characteristics of their friends, and other details, using the information to determine a “trust level” for each shopper. Consumers deemed “trustworthy” could be eligible for special treatment, like automatic access to merchandise in locked display cases, the document said. Another Facebook patent filing described how cameras near checkout counters could capture shoppers’ faces, match them with their social networking profiles and then send purchase confirmation messages to their phones. In their F.T.C. complaint, privacy groups — led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research institution — said the patent filings showed how Facebook could make money from users’ faces. A previous EPIC complaint about Facebook helped precipitate a consent decree requiring the company to give users more control over their personal details. “Facebook’s patent applications attest to the company’s primary commercial purposes in expanding its biometric data collection and the pervasive uses of facial recognition technology that it envisions for the near future,” the current complaint said. Ms. Nadhiri said that Facebook often sought patents for technology it never put into effect and that patent filings were not an indication of the company’s plans. But legal filings in the class-action suit hint at the technology’s importance to Facebook’s business. The case was brought by Illinois consumers who said that Facebook collected and stored their facial data without their explicit, prior consent — in violation, they claim, of a state biometric privacy law. If the suit were to move forward, Facebook’s lawyers argued in a recent court document, “the reputational and economic costs to Facebook will be irreparable.”
SF Supervisor Pushes to Remove Bastard Zuckerberg Name From SF General Hospital
San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin is trying to get Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s name removed from a local hospital in response to the recent scandals connected to the social media giant, according to a report in Business Insider.
Peskin on Tuesday asked the city attorney how to go about removing Zuckerberg’s name from San Francisco General Hospital, a facility to which Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $75 million, Business Insider reported.
Peskin also asked that the city revisit its policy on offering naming rights in exchange for gifts, according to remarks provided to the business site.
Earlier this year, nurses working at the hospital protested over the attachment of the Facebook CEO’s name to the facility in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donated $75 million to the institution in 2015 in exchange for naming rights. But Peskin believes the name now reflects poorly on the city.
“We’ll see what my colleagues in the public think about this, but I think it’s a wakeup call to Facebook that it’s time to reform their corporate culture,” he said.
If the city ultimately approves removing the name, it may have to return some or all of the money donated by Zuckerberg should he request it.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s open borders lobbying group and the United States Chamber of Commerce has teamed up to push an end-of-the-year plan to give amnesty to upwards of 3.3 million illegal aliens.
FWD.us, Zuckerberg’s pro-immigration lobbying organization, has orchestrated efforts with the Chamber of Commerce to bring illegal aliens enrolled in the President Obama-created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress to pass an amnesty for the nearly 800,000 to 3.3 million illegal aliens.
Zuckerberg’s group and the Chamber of Commerce are working with IBM and the Microsft Corporation to get illegal aliens into meetings with lawmakers in order to promote an amnesty plan, as described in the FWD.us statement.
In September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on behalf of President Trump’s administration that the DACA program would be officially ended in March 2018. Since the announcement, big business leaders, the open borders lobby and both GOP and Democrat political establishments have been scrambling to craft and quickly pass an amnesty for the DACA illegal aliens.
Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Neil Bradley said it would be “unthinkable” to not give an amnesty to DACA recipients and illegal aliens who are eligible for DACA.
“The clock is ticking for hundreds of thousands of people who have become an integral part of our communities and economy,” Bradley said in a statement. “A failure to achieve a meaningful solution for DACA would have a negative impact on our economy and our society. It is unthinkable for a nation of immigrants to fail to address this crisis before these hardworking people are forced out their jobs, schools, and communities.”
Likewise, IBM Vice President Christopher Padilla touted in a statement the multinational corporation’s hiring of DACA illegal aliens.
“Every day Dreamers make positive contributions to our company and our economy,” Padilla said. “We have over 30 Dreamers who work at IBM, and I’ve had the chance to meet many of them over the past couple weeks when they’ve come to DC to share their stories directly with Members of Congress.”
“IBM stands by our Dreamers and we are encouraging Congress to pass legislation before the end of the year that would allow these young men and women to continue living and working in the only country many of them have ever known,” Padilla continued.
Padilla’s promoting of DACA illegal alien employees at IBM come just as the company employs more people in India, not the U.S. than any other country in the world, Breitbart Tech reported. In India, the average IBM salary is roughly $17,000 a year. In the U.S., the average IBM salary comes in at $100,000 for senior IT specialists.
At the same time, IBM has consistently lobbied for more foreign workers to be imported to the U.S. through the H-1B visa instead of hiring qualified Americans. Between 2014 and 2016 alone, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty attempted to import nearly 25,000 foreign workers to take U.S. jobs.
The DREAM Act is one of the largest amnesties for DACA illegal aliens that have been crafted thus far in Congress, allowing not just those on the DACA rolls to permanently remain in the U.S., but also those who are eligible for DACA.
The amnesty legislation would apply to roughly 3.3 million illegal aliens in the U.S., according to the Migration Policy Institute, and would set at least 1.7 million of those illegal aliens on a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
Once given U.S. citizenship, illegal aliens are then allowed to bring their foreign relatives to the U.S. in what is known as “chain migration.” As Breitbart News has reported, a DACA chain migration could range from a mass migration of 9.9 to 19 million foreign nationals entering the U.S. over the next few decades.