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Facebook Tests Prompts That Ask Users If They’re Worried a Friend is ‘Becoming an Extremist’

Some Facebook users in the United States are being served a prompt that asks if they are worried that someone they know might be becoming an extremist. Others are being notified that they may have been exposed to extremist content.

It is all part of a test the social media company is running that stems from its Redirect Initiative, which aims to combat violent extremism, Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, told CNN. Screen shots of the alerts surfaced on social media Thursday. “This test is part of our larger work to assess ways to provide resources and support to people on Facebook who may have engaged with or were exposed to extremist content, or may know someone who is at risk,” Stone said. “We are partnering with NGOs and academic experts in this space and hope to have more to share in the future,” Stone added. One of the alerts, a screen grab of which made the rounds on social media Thursday, asks users, “Are you concerned that someone you know is becoming an extremist?” “We care about preventing extremism on Facebook,” explained that alert, according to a screen grab posted on social media. “Others in your situation have received confidential support.”

The Facebook Loophole that Lets World Leaders Deceive and Harass Their Citizens

Facebook has repeatedly allowed world leaders and politicians to use its platform to deceive the public or harass opponents despite being alerted to evidence of the wrongdoing. The Guardian has seen extensive internal documentation showing how Facebook handled more than 30 cases across 25 countries of politically manipulative behavior that was proactively detected by company staff. The investigation shows how Facebook has allowed major abuses of its platform in poor, small and non-western countries in order to prioritize addressing abuses that attract media attention or affect the US and other wealthy countries. The company acted quickly to address political manipulation affecting countries such as the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Poland, while moving slowly or not at all on cases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Mexico and much of Latin America.

TikTok: Rampant product placement

In the world of TikTok, brands have the opportunity to get products out into the real world – or make stories of them already being out there. The platform turns placement into consumption as consumers participate – or play – with the products. Product placement on the platform could come from just giving products out to creators, or partnering with them, as is done on other platforms. However, it could also come from amplifying organic content or trends that are already happening with a brand’s products … Viewers are the stars. When it comes to distinguishing between viewers and audiences on TikTok, just as with content and ads, the lines are blurred. In fact, many TikTok users are also creators. For these creators, the feed is their stage and this where the opportunity for sponsorship and placement lies for brands.

Conspiracy Theorists Who’d First Popularized QAnon Now Accused of Financial Motives

In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board. Over the next several months, they would create videos, a Reddit community, a business and an entire mythology based off the 4chan posts of “Q,” the pseudonym of a person claiming to be a high-ranking military officer. The theory they espoused would become Qanon, and it would eventually make its way from those message boards to national media stories and the rallies of President Donald Trump.

Now, the people behind that effort are at the center of a fractious debate among conspiracy enthusiasts, some of whom believe the three people who first popularized the Qanon theory are promoting it in order to make a living. Others suggest that these original followers actually wrote Q’s mysterious posts…

Qanon was just another unremarkable part of the “anon” genre until November 2017, when two moderators of the 4chan board where Q posted predictions, who went by the usernames Pamphlet Anon [real name: Coleman Rogers] and BaruchtheScribe, reached out to Tracy Diaz, according to Diaz’s blogs and YouTube videos. BaruchtheScribe, in reality a self-identified web programmer from South Africa named Paul Furber, confirmed that account to NBC News. “A bunch of us decided that the message needed to go wider so we contacted Youtubers who had been commenting on the Q drops,” Furber said in an email… As Diaz tells it in a blog post detailing her role in the early days of Qanon, she banded together with the two moderators. Their goal, according to Diaz, was to build a following for Qanon — which would mean bigger followings for them as well… Diaz followed with dozens more Q-themed videos, each containing a call for viewers to donate through links to her Patreon and PayPal accounts. Diaz’s YouTube channel now boasts more than 90,000 subscribers and her videos have been watched over 8 million times. More than 97,000 people follow her on Twitter.

Diaz, who emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, says in her YouTube videos that she now relies on donations from patrons funding her YouTube “research” as her sole source of income. Diaz declined to comment on this story. “Because I cover Q, I got an audience,” Diaz acknowledged in a video that NBC News reviewed last week before she deleted it.

To reach a more mainstream audience (older people and “normies,” who on their own would have trouble navigating the fringe message boards), Diaz said in her blog post she recommended they move to the more user-friendly Reddit. Archives listing the three as the original posters and moderators show they created a new Reddit community… Their move to Reddit was key to Qanon’s eventual spread. There, they were able to tap into a larger audience of conspiracy theorists, and drive discussion with their analysis of each Q post. From there, Qanon crept to Facebook where it found a new, older audience via dozens of public and private groups…

As Qanon picked up steam, growing skepticism over the motives of Diaz, Rogers, and the other early Qanon supporters led some in the internet’s conspiracy circles to turn their paranoia on the group. Recently, some Qanon followers have accused Diaz and Rogers of profiting from the movement by soliciting donations from their followers. Other pro-Trump online groups have questioned the roles that Diaz and Rogers have played in promoting Q, pointing to a series of slip-ups that they say show Rogers and Diaz may have been involved in the theory from the start.

Those accusations have led Diaz and Rogers to both deny that they are Q and say they don’t know who Q is.

Why Teens Are Falling for TikTok Conspiracy Theories

TikTok–the platform skews young—reportedly one-third of its daily users in the US are 14 or younger—and celebrity gossip has long been the lingua franca of social media for people of all ages. Right-wing conspiracy groups like QAnon have been spreading made up stories about those in power on networks like Facebook for years. Now those ideas have jumped to TikTok where they’re being metabolized by much younger consumers. Those things all scan. What doesn’t, however, is why teens believe them.

The short answer? TikTok is full of crazy ideas—conspiracies are no different. They’ve been normalized by the platform where many young people spend most of their time. “Many of these conspiracy sites and stories are entertaining. They are social gathering spots. They are exciting,” says Nancy Rosenblum, Senator Joseph S. Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government at Harvard University and co-author of A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy. “It’s small wonder that teenagers who ‘live on the screen’ would be drawn to the drama.”

Easy access to social media’s redistribution tools worsens this problem. With every like, share, send, and retweet, teenagers are popularizing this content worldwide. “On social media, repetition substitutes for validation,” says Russel Muirhead, a professor of democracy and politics at Dartmouth College and Rosenblum’s co-author. “Repetition is what breathes air into conspiracy theories, and social media is all about repetition. But repeating something that’s false does not make it more true! Teenagers are just as vulnerable to this as grown ups.”

This wouldn’t be such a problem if teenagers weren’t so attached to social media. So fond, in fact, that some 54 percent of teens get the bulk of their news from it. If this sounds concerning, that’s because it is. With teenagers relying on TikTok as their sole source of information, it makes sense for my generation to become absorbed in webs of falsities and to live as largely uninformed citizens.

Big Tech Continues Its Surge Ahead of the Rest of the Economy

While the rest of the U.S. economy languished earlier this year, the tech industry’s biggest companies seemed immune to the downturn, surging as the country worked, learned and shopped from home. From a report:

On Thursday, as the economy is showing signs of improvement, Amazon, Apple, Alphabet and Facebook reported profits that highlighted how a recovery may provide another catalyst to help them generate a level of wealth that hasn’t been seen in a single industry in generations. With an entrenched audience of users and the financial resources to press their leads in areas like cloud computing, e-commerce and digital advertising, the companies demonstrated again that economic malaise, upstart competitors and feisty antitrust regulators have had little impact on their bottom line. Combined, the four companies reported a quarterly net profit of $38 billion.

Amazon reported record sales, and an almost 200 percent rise in profits, as the pandemic accelerated the transition to online shopping. Despite a boycott of its advertising over the summer, Facebook had another blockbuster quarter. Alphabet’s record quarterly net profit was up 59 percent, as marketers plowed money into advertisements for Google search and YouTube. And Apple’s sales rose even though the pandemic forced it to push back the iPhone 12’s release to October, in the current quarter. On Tuesday, Microsoft, Amazon’s closest competitor in cloud computing, also reported its most profitable quarter, growing 30 percent from a year earlier. “The scene that’s playing out fundamentally is that these tech stalwarts are gaining more market share by the day,” said Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “It’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ for this group of tech companies and everyone else.”

What It’s Like To Get Locked Out of Google Indefinitely

When he received the notification from Google he couldn’t quite believe it. Cleroth, a game developer who asked not to use his real name, woke up to see a message that all his Google accounts were disabled due to “serious violation of Google policies.” His first reaction was that something must have malfunctioned on his phone. Then he went to his computer and opened up Chrome, Google’s internet browser. He was signed out. He tried to access Gmail, his main email account, which was also locked. “Everything was disconnected,” he told Business Insider. Cleroth had some options he could pursue: One was the option to try and recover his Google data â” which gave him hope. But he didn’t go too far into the process because there was also an option to appeal the ban. He sent in an appeal.

He received a response the next day: Google had determined he had broken their terms of service, though they didn’t explain exactly what had happened, and his account wouldn’t be reinstated. (Google has been approached for comment on this story.) Cleroth is one of a number of people who have seen their accounts suspended in the last few days and weeks. In response to a tweet explaining his fear at being locked out of his Google account after 15 years of use, others have posted about the impact of being barred from the company that runs most of the services we use in our day-to-day lives. “I’ve been using a Google account for personal and work purposes for years now. It had loads of various types of data in there,” said Stephen Roughley, a software developer from Birkenhead, UK. “One day when I went to use it I found I couldn’t log in.” Roughley checked his backup email account and found a message there informing him his main account had been terminated for violating the terms of service. “It suggested that I had been given a warning and I searched and searched but couldn’t find anything,” added Roughley. “I then followed the link to recover my account but was given a message stating that my account was irrecoverable.” Roughley lost data including emails, photos, documents and diagrams that he had developed for his work. “My account and all its data is gone,” he said.

Zuckerberg Acknowledges ‘Risk of Civil Unrest’ After US Elections, Promises Newsfeed Updates, too little too late

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told analysts on a conference call Thursday evening that the company plans to post notices at the top of users’ news feeds on November 3rd discrediting any claims by either candidate in the U.S. presidential election that they have won the election if the site deems the claim premature… The move, said Zuckerberg, is being made because “There is a risk of civil unrest across the country, and given this, companies like ours need to go well beyond what we’ve done before.”

The conference call with analysts followed a third-quarter earnings report Thursday afternoon in which Facebook’s results topped expectations, helped by gains in active users that also were higher than Wall Street expected.

Zuckerberg said Facebook “helped 4.4 million people register [to vote] exceeding the goal that we set for ourselves this summer.”

The Left and the Right Speak Different Languages—Literally

A study analyzing patterns in online comments found that liberals and conservatives use different words to express similar ideas.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University collected more than 86.6 million comments from more than 6.5 million users on 200,000 YouTube videos, then analyzed them using an AI technique normally employed to translate between two languages.

The researchers found that people on opposing sides of the political divide often use different words to express similar ideas. For instance, the term “mask” among liberal commenters is roughly equivalent to the term “muzzle” for conservatives. Similar pairings were seen for “liberals” and “libtards” as well as “solar” and “fossil.”

“We are practically speaking different languages—that’s a worrisome thing,” KhudaBukhsh says. “If ‘mask’ translates to ‘muzzle,’ you immediately know that there is a huge debate surrounding masks and freedom of speech.”

In the case of politically tinged comments, the researchers found that different words occupy a similar place in the lexicon of each community. The paper, which has been posted online but is not yet peer reviewed, looked at comments posted beneath the videos on four channels spanning left- and right-leaning US news—MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, and OANN.

KhudaBukhsh says social networks might use techniques like the one his team developed to build bridges between warring communities. A network could surface comments that avoid contentious or “foreign” terms, instead showing ones that represent common ground, he suggests. “Go to any social media platform; it has become so toxic, and it’s almost like there is no known interaction” between users with different political viewpoints, he says.

But Morteza Dehghani, an associate professor at the University of Southern California who studies social media using computational methods, finds the approach problematic. He notes that the Carnegie Mellon paper considers “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) and “ALM” (all lives matter) a “translatable” pair, akin to “mask” and “muzzle.”

“BLM and ALM are not translations of each other,” he says. “One makes salient centuries of slavery, abuse, racism, discrimination, and fights for justice, while the other one tries to erase this history.”

Dehghani says it would be a mistake to use computational methods that oversimplify issues and lack nuance. “What we need is not machine translation,” he says. “What we need is perspective-taking and explanation—two things that AI algorithms are notoriously bad at.”

These Shocking Charts Show Just How Much Richer Billionaires Have Gotten Since Covid

The world’s wealthiest individuals have become even richer during the coronavirus pandemic as the prices of financial assets have been supported by widespread policy intervention while employment and wages, well, not so much.

The richest five billionaires, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk, saw a 59% increase in their total wealth, from $358 billion to $569 billion.

How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance capitalism is everywhere. But it’s not the result of some wrong turn or a rogue abuse of corporate power — it’s the system working as intended. This is the subject of Cory Doctorow’s new book.

Facebook Will Pay Users To Log Off Before 2020 Election

Facebook is offering users money to refrain from using the site and Instagram in the weeks leading up to the bitterly contested November elections. The New York Post reports:
To assess the impact of social media on voting, the company will pay selected members up to $120 to deactivate their accounts beginning at the end of September. “Anyone who chooses to opt-in — whether it’s completing surveys or deactivating FB or IG for a period of time — will be compensated,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois tweeted last week. “This is fairly standard for this type of academic research.” The Silicon Valley giant said it expects 200,000 to 400,000 people to take part.

“Representative, scientific samples of people in the US will be selected and invited to participate in the study. Some potential participants will see a notice in Facebook or Instagram inviting them to take part in the study,” Facebook said. “Study samples will be designed to ensure that participants mirror the diversity of the US adult population, as well as users of Facebook and Instagram.” The results of the study are expected to be released sometime next year.

Addicted To Losing: How Casino-Like Apps Have Drained People of Millions

NBC News spoke to 21 people who said they were hooked on casino-style apps and had spent significant sums of money. The industry is almost entirely unregulated. From a report:
Shellz, 37, a nurse from Houston, spends at least two hours a day with her husband playing a casino-style smartphone game called Jackpot Magic. The app offers a variety of typical casino games to play, including their favorite, called Reel Rivals, a game in which players accrue points by playing a virtual slot machine. As in a real casino, players exchange money for coins to bet. Unlike in a real casino, there is no way to win money back or earn a payout on coins. But that has not stopped Shellz and her husband from spending about $150,000 in the game in just two years. She asked to use her in-game username so her family does not find out how much money they have spent on the game. “We lie in bed next to each other, we have two tablets, two phones and a computer and all these apps spinning Reel Rivals at the same time,” she said. “We normalize it with each other.” Jackpot Magic is an app made by Big Fish Games of Seattle, one of the leaders in an industry of “free-to-play” social games into which some people have plowed thousands of dollars. Big Fish Games also operates a similar app, Big Fish Casino. Both are labeled as video games, which allows the company and others like it to skirt the tightly regulated U.S. gambling market. But unlike the gambling market, apps like Jackpot Magic and Big Fish Casino are under little oversight to determine whether they are fair or whether their business practices are predatory.

NBC News spoke to 21 people, including Shellz and her husband, who said they were hooked on the casino-style games and had spent significant sums of money. They described feelings of helplessness and wanting to quit but found themselves addicted to the games and tempted by the company’s aggressive marketing tactics. Most of the 21 players wished to remain anonymous, as they were ashamed of their addictions and did not want their loved ones to find out about their behavior. A 42-year-old Pennsylvania woman said she felt saddened that she spent $40,000 on Big Fish Casino while working as an addiction counselor. “The whole time I was working as an addiction counselor, I was addicted to gambling and with no hope of winning any money back,” she said. Big Fish Games did not make anyone available for an interview, nor did the company respond to detailed questions. The company has said in previous court filings that only a fraction of the game’s players actually spend money. In a response to NBC News’ inquiries, the company issued a statement saying its games are not gambling and should not be regulated as su

US Teens Are Being Paid to Spread Disinformation on Social Media

The Washington Post covered “a sprawling yet secretive campaign that experts say evades the guardrails put in place by social media companies to limit online disinformation of the sort used by Russia” during America’s last presidential campaign in 2016.

According to four people with knowledge of the effort, “Teenagers, some of them minors, are being paid to pump out the messages…”
The campaign draws on the spam-like behavior of bots and trolls, with the same or similar language posted repeatedly across social media. But it is carried out, at least in part, by humans paid to use their own accounts, though nowhere disclosing their relationship with Turning Point Action or the digital firm brought in to oversee the day-to-day activity. One user included a link to Turning Point USA’s website in his Twitter profile until The Washington Post began asking questions about the activity. In response to questions from The Post, Twitter on Tuesday suspended at least 20 accounts involved in the activity for “platform manipulation and spam.” Facebook also removed a number of accounts as part of what the company said is an ongoing investigation…

The months-long effort by the tax-exempt nonprofit is among the most ambitious domestic influence campaigns uncovered this election cycle, said experts tracking the evolution of deceptive online tactics. “In 2016, there were Macedonian teenagers interfering in the election by running a troll farm and writing salacious articles for money,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix….”

The messages — some of them false and some simply partisan — were parceled out in precise increments as directed by the effort’s leaders, according to the people with knowledge of the highly coordinated activity, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the privacy of minors carrying out the work… The messages have appeared mainly as replies to news articles about politics and public health posted on social media. They seek to cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process, asserting that Democrats are using mail balloting to steal the election — “thwarting the will of the American people,” they alleged. The posts also play down the threat from covid-19, which claimed the life of Turning Point’s co-founder Bill Montgomery in July…

By seeking to rebut mainstream news articles, the operation illustrates the extent to which some online political activism is designed to discredit the media. While Facebook and Twitter have pledged to crack down on what they have labeled coordinated inauthentic behavior, in Facebook’s case, and platform manipulation and spam, as Twitter defines its rules, their efforts falter in the face of organizations willing to pay users to post on their own accounts, maintaining the appearance of independence and authenticity.

One parent even said their two teenagers had been posting the messages since June as “independent contractors” — while being paid less than minimum wage.

The ‘Brushing’ Scam, Fake Amazon Reviews

It has hit the headlines after thousands of Americans received unsolicited packets of seeds in the mail, but it is not new. It’s an illicit way for sellers to get reviews for their products. And it doesn’t mean your account has been hacked. Here’s an example of how it works: let’s say I set myself up as a seller on Amazon, for my product, Kleinman Candles, which cost $3 each. I then set up a load of fake accounts, and I find random names and addresses either from publicly available information or from a leaked database that’s doing the rounds from a previous data breach. I order Kleinman Candles from my fake accounts and have them delivered to the addresses I have found, with no information about where they have been sent from. I then leave positive reviews for Kleinman Candles from each fake account — which has genuinely made a purchase.

This way my candle shop page gets filled with glowing reviews (sorry), my sales figures give me an algorithmic popularity boost as a credible merchant — and nobody knows that the only person buying and reviewing my candles is myself. It tends to happen with low-cost products, including cheap electronics. It’s more a case of fake marketing than cyber-crime, but “brushing” and fake reviews are against Amazon’s policies. Campaign group Which? advises that you inform the platform they are sent by of any unsolicited goods.

Facebook Threatens To Cut Off Australians From Sharing News

The threat escalates an antitrust battle between Facebook and the Australian government, which wants the social-media giant and Alphabet’s Google to compensate publishers for the value they provide to their platforms. The legislation still needs to be approved by Australia’s parliament. Under the proposal, an arbitration panel would decide how much the technology companies must pay publishers if the two sides can’t agree. Facebook said in a blog posting Monday that the proposal is unfair and would allow publishers to charge any price they want. If the legislation becomes law, the company says it will take the unprecedented step of preventing Australians from sharing news on Facebook and Instagram.

US Tech Stocks Are Now Worth More Than the Entire European Stock Market

The dominance of major U.S. tech stocks in recent years has pushed the sector past another milestone as it is now more valuable than the entire European stock market, according to Bank of America Global Research. The firm said in a note that this is the first time the market cap of the U.S. tech sector, at $9.1 trillion, exceeds Europe, which including the U.K. and Switzerland is now at $8.9 trillion. For reference, the firm said that in 2007, Europe was four times the size of U.S. technology stocks.

Tech pulling ahead of the European continent comes as the U.S. market has become increasingly concentrated in mega-cap tech stocks, worrying some market strategists. The five biggest tech names — Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook — accounted for 17.5% of the S&P 500 in January, and the rotation into tech during the coronavirus pandemic has pushed that number well above 20%. Consumer tech goliath Apple is worth more than $2 trillion by itself. The run for Amazon might be the most stunning of the group. The company has been growing into a dominant force in e-commerce since the 1990s, but the explosion of the cloud computing industry has helped its stock surge over the past decade. Its share price was about 20 times higher on Thursday than it was in August 2010.

Amazon Drivers Are Hanging Smartphones in Trees To Get More Work

A strange phenomenon has emerged near Amazon.com delivery stations and Whole Foods stores in the Chicago suburbs: smartphones dangling from trees. Contract delivery drivers are putting them there to get a jump on rivals seeking orders.

Someone places several devices in a tree located close to the station where deliveries originate. Drivers in on the plot then sync their own phones with the ones in the tree and wait nearby for an order pickup. The reason for the odd placement, according to experts and people with direct knowledge of Amazon’s operations, is to take advantage of the handsets’ proximity to the station, combined with software that constantly monitors Amazon’s dispatch network, to get a split-second jump on competing drivers. That drivers resort to such extreme methods is emblematic of the ferocious competition for work in a pandemic-ravaged U.S. economy suffering from double-digit unemployment. Much the way milliseconds can mean millions to hedge funds using robotraders, a smartphone perched in a tree can be the key to getting a $15 delivery route before someone else. Drivers have been posting photos and videos on social-media chat rooms to try to figure out what technology is being used to receive orders faster than those lacking the advantage.

Facebook and Google Serve As Vectors For Misinformation While Hobbling Local Journalism and Collecting Taxpayer Subsidies, Group Says

Facebook and Google are hollowing out local communities by serving as vectors for misinformation while hobbling local journalism and collecting taxpayer subsidies, a new paper from progressive think tank the American Economic Liberties Project charges. Both companies cite benefits their platforms offer small businesses as a key defense against critiques of their size and power. The paper, dated Aug. 30, is sure to presage further scrutiny of the impact they’ve had on local communities.

The brief, by Pat Garofalo, the group’s director of state and local policy, argues that: Google doesn’t do enough to protect against fraud, allowing scammers to get their own numbers and websites listed on Google to the detriment of legitimate businesses. Facebook, by design, boosts shoddy and sensationalist content, crowding out legitimate local news and information, all as it and Google have come to dominate the local advertising market that was long the lifeblood of community journalism. Both have sucked up potentially billions in local taxpayer dollars via tax breaks as well as subsidies and discounts on utilities they’ve gotten in exchange for building data centers. Garofalo recommends remedies including more antitrust enforcement at the federal and state levels and an end to preferential treatment by states and localities, either voluntarily or under force of law.

Google Search and Dark Patterns

Previously, the search engine had marked paid results with the word “Ad” in a green box, tucked beneath the headline next to a matching green display URL. Now, all of a sudden, the “Ad” and the URL shifted above the headline, and both were rendered in discreet black; the box disappeared. The organic search results underwent a similar makeover, only with a new favicon next to the URL instead of the word “Ad.” The result was a general smoothing: Ads looked like not-ads. Not-ads looked like ads. This was not Google’s first time fiddling with the search results interface. In fact, it had done so quite regularly over the last 13 years, as handily laid out in a timeline from the news site Search Engine Land. Each iteration whittled away the distinction between paid and unpaid content that much more. Most changes went relatively unnoticed, internet residents accepting the creep like the apocryphal frog in a slowly boiling pot.

But in January, amid rising antitrust drumbeats and general exhaustion with Big Tech, people noticed. Interface designers, marketers, and Google users alike decried the change, saying it made paid results practically indistinguishable from those that Google’s search algorithm served up organically. The phrase that came up most often: “dark pattern,” a blanket term coined by UX specialist Harry Brignull to describe manipulative design elements that benefit companies over their users. That a small design tweak could inspire so much backlash speaks to the profound influence Google and other ubiquitous platforms have — and the responsibility that status confers to them. “Google and Facebook shape realities,” says Kat Zhou, a product designer who has created a framework and toolkit to help promote ethical design. “Students and professors turn to Google for their research. Folks turn to Facebook for political news. Communities turn to Google for Covid-19 updates. In some sense, Google and Facebook have become arbiters of the truth. That’s particularly scary when you factor in their business models, which often incentivize blurring the line between news and advertisements.”

Google’s not the only search engine to blur this line. If anything, Bing is even more opaque, sneaking the “Ad” disclosure under the header, with only a faint outline to draw attention. […] But Google has around 92 percent of global search marketshare. It effectively is online search. Dark patterns are all too common online in general, and January wasn’t the first time people accused Google of deploying them. In June of 2018, a blistering report from the Norwegian Consumer Council found that Google and Facebook both used specific interface choices to strip away user privacy at almost every turn. The study details how both platforms implemented the least privacy-friendly options by default, consistently “nudged” users toward giving away more of their data, and more. It paints a portrait of a system designed to befuddle users into complacency. […] That confusion reached its apex a few months later, when an Associated Press investigation found that disabling Location History on your smartphone did not, in fact, stop Google from collecting your location in all instances.