[Plura-list] Facebook threatens ad-transparency group; The madness of elite varsity sports; Bob Dylan sings a EULA

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sun Oct 25 12:25:57 EDT 2020


This weekend's events:

Milehicon (Fri/Sat/Sun): https://milehicon.org/


Today's links

* Facebook threatens ad-transparency group: Ad Observatory gets the
Power Ventures treatment.

* The madness of elite varsity sports: WWI by another means.

* Bob Dylan sings a EULA: You've already made a legally binding
commitment to watch this.

* This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🎃 Facebook threatens ad-transparency group

Ad Observatory is an NYU project that enlists Facebook users to record
the ads they see, building a database of the ads Facebook runs and to
check whether Facebook is adhering to its own policies, for example, on
labeling and limiting political ads


The project has been extensively used by journalists and transparency
activists to hold Facebook to account for failing to live up to its own
standards. It relies on a browser plugin that Facebook users choose to
install to help with the transparency effort.

Facebook's dismal track record on advertising, combined with the urgent
concerns about disinformation in paid political advertising in the runup
to the 2020 election, are cause for alarm.

The company, however, sees it as cause for a legal threat.

Facebook has sent a legal threat to NYU demanding that they take down Ad
Observatory and stop supporting the plugin (once again, this is a plugin
that Facebook users choose to install specifically to hold the company
to account).


Holy fucking shit, is that a bad look for Facebook.

I mean, even by Facebook standards, that is a bad look for Facebook.
People and institutions across the USA are getting ready for pogroms and
civil war 2.0 and Facebook's answer is to sic lawyers on its academic

Facebook claims the plugin violates its terms of service, and while the
company got its start by violating Myspace's terms of service and
building tools to help its users import their Myspace messages to
Facebook, they have since changed tunes.

In 2009, Facebook set US legal precedent by suing Power Ventures, a
company that offered users a way to read their Facebook messages and
messages from rival services in a combined inbox.

They said that breaking FB's terms of service was a violation of the
1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a broad cybercrime bill passed in
haste after a screening of Wargames panicked President Ronald Reagan,
then in the early stages of dementia.

FB's legal threat against Ad Observatory builds on that groundbreaking
precedent, but the facts here are very different. For starters, the
precedent been largely overturned by Linkedin's failed bid to block a
competitor called Hiq from scraping its listings.

But more importantly, FB is trying to suppress academic researchers who
have revealed the company's indifference to upholding its own election
disinformation policies from continuing to report on its misdeeds.

Here, FB is once again on thin legal ice. Last year, they suffered a
stinging defeat in Sandvig v Barr, where the ACLU got a judge to say
that the First Amendment interests of watchdogs trumped FB's terms of


NYU, to its credit, has publicly announced that they intend to wipe
their asses with FB's threat.

Meanwhile, this is another reason for you to delete Facebook - and then
write to your Member of Congress and ask them to direct the DoJ to break
up that cancer of a company.


🎃 The madness of elite varsity sports

When I think of the last 40 years of neoliberalism, I think of a game of
musical chairs, in which the music's tempo steadily increases, the
number of chairs rapidly decreases, and the penalties for not having a
chair become more ever-more cruel.

Movements for racial, gender and gender identity justice are a source of
panic for the most precarious chair-chasers, because these movements
increase the number of people who get to compete for chairs - but don't
increase the number of chairs in play.

The wealthiest, most powerful people could mobilize their fortunes to
secure chairs and for a long time, the game served them: the increasing
desperation for chairs on the part of everyone else translated into
ready access to toadies, jesters, bodyservants and courtesans.

But we're at the endgame. The number of chairs is trending to single
digits. The world will soon boast one or more trillionaires. You can't
amass a trillion dollars solely by raiding the pathetic reserves of poor
people - you've gotta pauperize some billionaires.

The 2019 Varsity Blues scandal revealed the desperation of the
chair-habituated mid-upper echelon, who had participated and benefited
from the maintenance of a wildly unequal society but now saw that their
kids would have no place in it.


It turns out that the Varsity Blues parents were amateurs. The real pros
don't cheat their kids into sports-based elite college admissions - they
*destroy* their kids to get sports-based elite college admissions.

Ruth S Barrett's feature in the current issue of The Atlantic exposes
the jaw-dropping world of ultra-rich families' tormented children and
their desperate, moneyball gambits to buy their way into sports


It's a longread and worth your time, but here's a quick tldr: you've got
kids whose parents move Olympians into their guest-cottages to train
them in squash or fencing in private gymnasia on their sprawling estates.

They spend vast fortunes flying them around the country and the world
competing. Children are exhorted by professional athletes to stab each
other with fencing foils until they are at the point of collapse.

Then they're given a break to eat dinner out of a cooler toted by
nannies who bark math problems at them. Their parents argue about
whether to disclose their kids' multiple concussions to new coaches, and
the kids grow up with long-term chronic sports-related disabilities.

And the thing is, the Ivies and Big Ten schools were already seeing
through all of this before the pandemic. Even schools that really wanted
to have a top lacrosse or water-polo team were savvy enough to
understand that these kids had already peaked.

If you're 18 and performing in the 94th percentile after being trained
for a *decade* by Olympians, nothing the school does will make you any
better. How could they? If you want to find prodigies, pick undertrained
kids who still perform competitively and polish *them*.

What's more, these kids are basket cases. They arrive at university with
no grip on reality, no capacity for self-management or
self-actualization. They spiral into substance abuse and mental health

These sports admission programs often have their roots in an attempt to
provide space at elite schools for poorer kids, especially kids of color
(that was definitely the case with the USC football team when I taught

But the chair-having motherfuckers figured out how to buy these seats, too.

And why? Why destroy your kids' health and their sanity? Why watch as
your adolescent daughter gets *stabbed in the throat* in a fencing
competition and then re-enroll her in fencing?

Because the number of chairs trends to single digits. That's why you pay
nannies to do oppo research on the kids your offspring competes against;
it's why you pay dirty tricksters to bombard admission departments with
dirt on kids competing with yours for a spot on the team.

All that was *before* covid: parents waking up and realizing that they
were destroying their kids' life for a gambit that would probably fail,
but doing it anyway because they knew that a world of trillionaires
would leave the chairless grubbing for roots and insects.

And now the elite schools are simply getting rid of the teams these
children have been optimized to play for, in a process that recognizes
that they were just a way for the wealthiest, whitest plutes to buy
their way in.

Hilariously, billionaire parents have responded by starting  "urban"
leagues for elite sports to create the appearance (if not the reality)
that your fencing team might not be a back-door for the ex-CEO of
American Express's progeny to attend an ivy.

While others are promising second-tier colleges that starting a water
polo team will bring in a bunch of full-tuition kids who've been honed
from birth to simulate one another's death by drowning. It ain't gonna
work. Here's a telling quote:

"Sorry, but there’s no way in hell. What parent wants to have a child
who’s going to be playing for a bottom-tier school with bottom-tier
academics in the armpit of the United States? I want to be polite. But
there’s no way in hell." -Water-polo mom from Stamford.

In Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty describes how the Age of
Colonization ended primogeniture, whereby great fortunes were kept
intact by passing inheritances solely to the eldest son, while other
kids became spouses or clerics.

Colonial looting made it possible for the Great Families to bud off new
fortunes for each of their offspring, for two or three generations. When
they exhausted the world's supply of brown people to enslave and rob,
that ended.

Plutes whose parents and grandparents' cohorts had each started a new
fortune had to tell their own kids that the ride was over. But any
system that has been in place since your grandad was a kid is
effectively eternal and it was unthinkable that the eternal would end.

So the plutes decided that it wouldn't end. They would all get new
fortunes, and since they'd exhausted the world's supply of poor people,
they turned on each other. We call that fight World War I.

For 40 years, the world's wealth has been gathered into fewer and fewer
hands, as oligarchy's musical chairs game has run faster and more
vicious. Now, the chairs are tending to single digits.

Plutes are desperate. The idea that their kids would lead worse lives
than theirs - an idea the rest of us have been expected to swallow for a
quarter-century - is unthinkable.

So they're not accepting it. They are destroying their own kids in a bid
to acquire one of the final chairs. Most of those kids will not get a
chair, and the ones that do will be broken and shriveled things, stunted
by a lifetime of abuse.

But it's not them I'm worried about. I'm worried about the kids that
*don't* get a chair. Their parents were willing to torture their own
kids *from birth* to get them a chair. When that fails, what will Plan B
look like?


🎃 Bob Dylan sings a EULA

The rise and rise of terms of service is a genuinely astonishing
cultural dysfunction. Think of what a bizarre pretense we all engage in,
that anyone, ever, has read these sprawling garbage novellas of
impenetrable legalese.

And yet, there they are, looming over us, and, even more bizarrely, they
are generally enforceable, even when they confiscate rights as basic as
the right to sue over negligence or malice.


Terms of Service are "the biggest lie on the internet":

> Qualitative findings suggest that participants view policies as
nuisance, ignoring them to pursue the ends of digital production,
without being inhibited by the means.


Many artists have attempted to awaken us from our slumbering acceptance
of this outrageous practice. There's Dima Yarovinsky's 2018 "I agree,"
which printed out the ToS of popular services:


Before that, there was R Sikoryak's incredible "Terms and Conditions,"
which reproduced the entire Itunes ToS as a series of comics pages, each
in the style of a different artist, with cartoon Steve Jobs uttering
these unreadable words.


Today, I found a new treasure in the genre, Damien Slash's's
impersonation of Bob Dylan singing a "standard user agreement." It is
the most remarkable 34 seconds I've experienced since waking.


All of this is grimly hilarious, like mocking the official state religion.

This is probably a good opportunity to remind everyone of my standard
email footer:

READ CAREFULLY. By reading this email, you agree, on behalf of your
employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from
any and all NON-NEGOTIATED  agreements, licenses, terms-of-service,
shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure,
non-compete and acceptable use policies ("BOGUS AGREEMENTS") that I have
entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and
assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and
privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release
me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.


🎃 This day in history

#10yrsago Rand Paul supporters pin down and curb-stomp MoveOn activist –

#5yrsago NSA spying: judge tosses out case because Wikipedia isn’t
widely read enough

#1yrago How an usher at (and would-be star of) Hamilton organizes the
women’s bathrooms during intermission

#1yrago Zuck claims he chows down with politicos from “across the
spectrum” but they all seem to be far-right creeps


🎃 Colophon

Today's top sources: Super Punch (https://www.superpunch.net/), Jeremy B

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 518 words (76615 total).

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