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Children ‘Interested in’ Gambling and Alcohol, According To Facebook

The social network’s advertising tools reveal 740,000 children under the age of 18 are flagged as being interested in gambling, including 130,000 in the UK. Some 940,000 minors — 150,000 of whom are British — are flagged as being interested in alcoholic beverages. These “interests” are automatically generated by Facebook, based on what it has learned about a user by monitoring their activity on the social network. Advertisers can then use them to specifically target messages to subgroups who have been flagged as interested in the topic. In a statement, Facebook said: “We don’t allow ads that promote the sale of alcohol or gambling to minors on Facebook and we enforce against this activity when we find it. We also work closely with regulators to provide guidance for marketers to help them reach their audiences effectively and responsibly.” The company does allow advertisers to specifically target messages to children based on their interest in alcohol or gambling. A Facebook insider gave the example of an anti-gambling service that may want to reach out to children who potentially have a gambling problem and offer them help and support.

Her iPhone Died. It Led To Her Being Charged As a Criminal

Chris Matyszczyk from ZDNet retells the draconian story of a Financial Times writer who wasn’t able to prove she purchased a ticket for the London buses because her phone died (she used Apple Pay), which led to her being charged a criminal. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the report:

Today’s witness is Jemima Kelly. She’s a writer for The Financial Times. Please don’t let any personal thoughts about that get in the way of her story. You see, she just experienced a little technological nightmare. A cheery digital convert, she admits she often leaves the house without her wallet. But surely not without her iPhone. Apple Pay is, after all, a contemporary joy. It’s right up there with Tinder in its ability to make your life easier.

Kelly, indeed, hops on London buses and uses Apple Pay to tap her payment instead of buying a ticket the old-fashioned way. Which, as she cheerily described, is easy unless a ticket inspector wanders by. Just after your iPhone’s battery has died. She couldn’t prove that she’d paid, but gave her personal details and assumed there’d be a record of her probity on the transportation company’s computers. But then she was charged with, well, not providing proof of payment. Charged as in would be forced to go to court and to plead guilty or not guilty within 21 days. Here’s where things got (more) awkward. Kelly produced a bank statement that proved she’d paid. The transportation company — Transport For London — insisted this wasn’t enough.

It seems she’d failed another digital task — registering her Apple Pay with Transport For London. She was edging ever closer to criminal status. But did her Apple Pay details need to be registered? Kelly revealed: “They told me, ‘there is no requirement for cards to be registered, the same as paying for any goods and services in a shop’. But it’s not the same, actually; in a shop, you are given a breakdown in the form of a receipt.” So, here she was, contactless and receiptless. Next, she heard that her court case had happened and she’d been found guilty. Oh, and she also owed a fine of around $592.
In the end, Kelly managed to get back to court and persuade the judge to void her conviction, but the process took months.

“Her story, however, aptly describes how the digital world demands our complete and unyielding participation,” writes Matyszczyk. “Digital systems are designed by those who strive for complete perfection and consistency. Which doesn’t describe the human condition at all.” Do you think digitizing everything is a good thing?

YouTube is Experimenting With Ways To Make Its Algorithm Even More Addictive

While YouTube has publicly said that it’s working on addressing problems that are making its website ever so addictive to users, a new paper from Google, which owns YouTube, seems to tell a different story.

It proposes an update to the platform’s algorithm that is meant to recommend even more targeted content to users in the interest of increasing engagement. Here’s how YouTube’s recommendation system currently works. To populate the recommended-videos sidebar, it first compiles a shortlist of several hundred videos by finding ones that match the topic and other features of the one you are watching. Then it ranks the list according to the user’s preferences, which it learns by feeding all your clicks, likes, and other interactions into a machine-learning algorithm. Among the proposed updates, the researchers specifically target a problem they identify as “implicit bias.” It refers to the way recommendations themselves can affect user behavior, making it hard to decipher whether you clicked on a video because you liked it or because it was highly recommended. The effect is that over time, the system can push users further and further away from the videos they actually want to watch.

To reduce this bias, the researchers suggest a tweak to the algorithm: each time a user clicks on a video, it also factors in the video’s rank in the recommendation sidebar. Videos that are near the top of the sidebar are given less weight when fed into the machine-learning algorithm; videos deep down in the ranking, which require a user to scroll, are given more. When the researchers tested the changes live on YouTube, they found significantly more user engagement. Though the paper doesn’t say whether the new system will be deployed permanently, Guillaume Chaslot, an ex-YouTube engineer who now runs AlgoTransparency.org, said he was “pretty confident” that it would happen relatively quickly.

Social media stress can lead to social media addiction

Social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Instagram are known to cause stress in users, known as technostress from social media. However, when faced with such stress, instead of switching off or using them less, people are moving from one aspect of the social media platforms to another — escaping the causes of their stress without leaving the medium on which it originated.

Research into the habits of 444 Facebook users revealed they would switch between activities such as chatting to friends, scanning news feeds and posting updates as each began to cause stress. This leads to an increased likelihood of technology addiction, as they use the various elements of the platform over a greater timespan.

Researchers from Lancaster University, the University of Bamberg and Friedrich-Alexander Univeristät Erlangen-Nürnberg, writing in Information Systems Journal, found that users were seeking distraction and diversion within the Facebook platform as a coping mechanism for stress caused by the same platform, rather than switching off and undertaking a different activity.

Can An Individual Still Resist The Spread of Technology?

When cellphones first appeared, they gave people one more means of communication, which they could accept or reject. But before long, most of us began to feel naked and panicky anytime we left home without one. To do without a cellphone — and soon, if not already, a smartphone — means estranging oneself from normal society. We went from “you can have a portable communication device” to “you must have a portable communication device” practically overnight… Today most people are expected to be instantly reachable at all times. These devices have gone from servants to masters…

Few of us would be willing to give up modern shelter, food, clothing, medicine, entertainment or transportation. Most of us would say the trade-offs are more than worth it. But they happen whether they are worth it or not, and the individual has little power to resist. Technological innovation is a one-way street. Once you enter it, you are obligated to proceed, even if it leads someplace you would not have chosen to go.

The column argues “the iPhone X proves the Unabomber was right,” citing this passage from the 1996 manifesto of the anti-technology terrorist. “Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it.”

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Social media copies gambling methods to create psychological cravings

Social media platforms are using the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and ingrain their products in the lives of their users, experts warn.

These methods are so effective they can activate similar mechanisms as cocaine in the brain, create psychological cravings and even invoke “phantom calls and notifications” where users sense the buzz of a smartphone, even when it isn’t really there.

“Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites,” said Natasha Schüll, the author of Addiction by Design, which reported how slot machines and other systems are designed to lock users into a cycle of addiction. “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”

Whether it’s Snapchat streaks, Facebook photo-scrolling, or playing CandyCrush, Schüll explained, you get drawn into “ludic loops” or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback — and the rewards are just enough to keep you going.

“If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,” said Schüll. “We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.”

Recreating the slot machine

The pull-to-refresh and infinite scrolling mechanism on our news feeds are unnervingly similar to a slot machine, said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google who has been described as the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.

“You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing,” Harris wrote.

We cannot know when we will be rewarded, and more often than not we don’t find anything interesting or gratifying, much like gambling. But that’s precisely what keeps us coming back.

“The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens,” said Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit.

“Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions … to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”

Like gambling, which physically alters the brain’s structure and makes people more susceptible to depression and anxiety, social media use has been linked to depression and its potential to have an adverse psychological impact on users cannot be overlooked or underestimated.

For instance, phone dependency, driven by high social-media usage, can lead us to think our phone is vibrating, or that we have received a message, even when we haven’t.

“Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals,” said Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behaviour, from the University of Michigan. “These social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine [does] and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.”

“There are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.”

Tech insiders have previously said “our minds can be hijacked” and that Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones, while some have confessed they ban their kids from using social media.

However, the number of monthly active users of Facebook hit 2.13 billion earlier this year, up 14% from a year ago. Despite the furore around its data privacy issues, the social media monolith posted record revenues for the first quarter of 2018, making $11.97bn, up 49% on last year.

A key reason for this is because Facebook has become so entrenched in our lives: we can’t put it down.

Behavioural psychologist, Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has conceptualised how people become attached to social media.

“It starts with a trigger, an action, a reward and then an investment and its through successive cycles, through these hooks, that habits are formed. We see them in all sorts of products, certainly in social media and gambling. This is a big part of how habits are changed.”

Once a habit is formed something previously prompted by an external trigger, like a notification, email, or any sort of ring or ding, is no longer needed, Eyal remarked.

It is replaced or supplemented with an internal trigger meaning that we form a mental association between wanting to use this product and seeking to serve an emotional need.

“The products are built to be engaging and what’s engaging for some is addictive for others, that’s clear.”

Facebook Really Wants You to Come Back

The social network is getting aggressive with people who don’t log in often, working to keep up its engagement numbers.

It’s been about a year since Rishi Gorantala deleted the Facebook app from his phone, and the company has only gotten more aggressive in its emails to win him back. The social network started out by alerting him every few days about friends that had posted photos or made comments—each time inviting him to click a link and view the activity on Facebook. He rarely did.

Then, about once a week in September, he started to get prompts from a Facebook security customer-service address. “It looks like you’re having trouble logging into Facebook,” the emails would say. “Just click the button below and we’ll log you in. If you weren’t trying to log in, let us know.” He wasn’t trying. But he doesn’t think anybody else was, either.

“The content of mail they send is essentially trying to trick you,” said Gorantala, 35, who lives in Chile. “Like someone tried to access my account so I should go and log in.”

What Makes You Click (2016)

“The biggest psychological experiment ever is being conducted, and we’re all taking part in it: every day, a billion people are tested online. Which ingenious tricks and other digital laws ensure that we fill our online shopping carts to the brim, or stay on websites as long as possible? Or vote for a particular candidate?

The bankruptcies of department stores and shoe shops clearly show that our buying behaviour is rapidly shifting to the Internet. An entirely new field has arisen, of ‘user experience’ architects and ‘online persuasion officers’. How do these digital data dealers use, manipulate and abuse our user experience? Not just when it comes to buying things, but also with regards to our free time and political preferences.

Aren’t companies, which are running millions of tests at a time, miles ahead of science and government, in this respect? Now the creators of these digital seduction techniques, former Google employees among them, are themselves arguing for the introduction of an ethical code. What does it mean, when the conductors of experiments themselves are asking for their power and possibilities to be restricted?”

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Children as young as 13 are attending ‘smartphone rehab’

Children refusing to put down their phones is a common flashpoint in many homes, with a third of British children aged 12 to 15 admitting they do not have a good balance between screen time and other activities.

But in the US, the problem has become so severe for some families that children as young as 13 are being treated for digital technology addiction.

One ‘smartphone rehab’ centre near Seattle has started offering residential “intensive recovery programs” for teenagers who have trouble controlling their use of electronic devices.

The Restart Life Centre says parents have been asking it to offer courses of treatment to their children for more than eight years.

Hilarie Cash, the Centre’s founder, told Sky News smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices can be so stimulating and entertaining that they “override all those natural instincts that children actually have for movement and exploration and social interaction”.

Child psychotherapist Julie Lynn Evans, who has worked with hospitals, schools and families for 25 years, said her workload has significantly increased since the use of smartphones became widespread among young people.

“It’s a simplistic view, but I think it is the ubiquity of broadband and smartphones that has changed the pace and the power and the drama of mental illness in young people,” she told The Telegraph.

A ComRes poll of more than 1,000 parents of children aged under 18, published in September 2015, found 47 per cent of parents said they thought their children spent too much time in front of screens, with 43 per cent saying this amounts to an emotional dependency.”

“Social Media” has destroyed discourse

Hossein Derakshan, an Iranian-Canadian author, media analyst, and performance artist writes in MIT Technology Review:

“Like TV, social media now increasingly entertains us, and even more so than television it amplifies our existing beliefs and habits. It makes us feel more than think, and it comforts more than challenges. The result is a deeply fragmented society, driven by emotions, and radicalized by lack of contact and challenge from outside. This is why Oxford Dictionaries designated “post-truth” as the word of 2016: an adjective “relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.”

[…]

Traditional television still entails some degree of surprise. What you see on television news is still picked by human curators, and even though it must be entertaining to qualify as worthy of expensive production, it is still likely to challenge some of our opinions (emotions, that is).

Social media, in contrast, uses algorithms to encourage comfort and complaisance, since its entire business model is built upon maximizing the time users spend inside of it. Who would like to hang around in a place where everyone seems to be negative, mean, and disapproving? The outcome is a proliferation of emotions, a radicalization of those emotions, and a fragmented society. This is way more dangerous for the idea of democracy founded on the notion of informed participation.

This means we should write and read more, link more often, and watch less television and fewer videos — and spend less time on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Our habits and our emotions are killing us and our planet. Let’s resist their lethal appeal.”

More people died taking selfies in India than anywhere in world, study says

“In 2015 alone, Indians taking selfies died while posing in front of an oncoming train, in a boat that tipped over at a picnic, on a cliff that gave way and crumbled into a 60-foot ravine and on the slippery edge of a scenic river canal. Also, a Japanese tourist trying to take a selfie fell down steps at the Taj Mahal, suffering fatal head injuries.

Researchers analysed thousands of selfies posted on Twitter and found that men were far more likely than women to take dangerous selfies. It found 13 per cent were taken in what could be dangerous circumstances, and the majority of victims were under the age of 24.

The most common cause of death worldwide was “falling off a building or mountain,” which was responsible for 29 deaths. The second most second-most common being hit by a train, responsible for 11 deaths.

The authors hope the study will serve as a warning of the hazards and inspire new mobile phone technology that can warn photo-takers if they are in a danger zone.

Last year, no-selfie zones were also established in certain areas of the massive Hindu religious gathering called the Kumbh Mela because organisers feared bottlenecks caused by selfie-takers could spark stampedes.”

The Outrage Machine

This short video explores how the online world has overwhelmingly become the popular outlet for public rage by briefly illustrating some of the many stories of everyday people which have suddenly become public enemy number one under the most misunderstood of circumstances and trivial narratives. With the web acting like a giant echo-chamber, amplifying false stories and feeding on the pent-up aggression of the audience watching the spectacle, The Outrage Machine shows how these systems froth the mob mentality into a hideous mess, as a good example of where the spectacle goes and how its intensity has to keep ratcheting up in order maintain the audience attention, in a culture of dwindling attention spans, distraction and triviality.

Filmmaker and author Jon Ronson also recently wrote a book about this topic too, which is quite good. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. His TED talk is essentially a 17 min overview:

And a longer presentation with interview and Q&A from earlier this year:

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Google Glass user treated for internet addiction caused by the device

Thanks to Antonietta for the link.

“Scientists have treated a man they believe to be the first patient with internet addiction disorder brought on by overuse of Google Glass.

The man had been using the technology for around 18 hours a day – removing it only to sleep and wash – and complained of feeling irritable and argumentative without the device. In the two months since he bought the device, he had also begun experiencing his dreams as if viewed through the device’s small grey window.

The existence of internet addiction disorder linked to conventional devices such as phones and PCs is hotly debated among psychiatrists. It was not included as a clinical diagnosis in the 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the official reference guide to the field, and many researchers maintain that its effects are merely symptoms of other psychological problems.

But Dr Andrew Doan, head of addictions and resilience research at the US navy’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Programme (Sarp) and co-author of the paper on the patient, published in the journal Addictive Behaviours, says people are clearly suffering from problems related to internet addiction, and it is only a matter of time before the research and treatments catch up.

“People used to believe alcoholism wasn’t a problem – they blamed the person or the people around them,” Doan said. “It’s just going to take a while for us to realise that this is real.”

The patient – a 31-year-old US navy serviceman – had checked into the Sarp in September 2013 for alcoholism treatment. The facility requires patients to steer clear of addictive behaviours for 35 days – no alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes – but it also takes away all electronic devices.

Doctors noticed the patient repeatedly tapped his right temple with his index finger. He said the movement was an involuntary mimic of the motion regularly used to switch on the heads-up display on his Google Glass.

He said he was “going through withdrawal from his Google Glass”, Doan explained, adding: “He said the Google Glass withdrawal was greater than the alcohol withdrawal he was experiencing.”

He said the patient used Google Glass to improve his performance at work, where he was able to quicken his job of making inventories of convoy vehicles for the navy.

By the time the patient checked into the facility, he was suffering from involuntary movements, cravings, memory problems and dreaming as if he was wearing the glasses. When he was not wearing them he felt irritable and argumentative …”