Digitally Literate #207


The Great Hack
Digitally Lit #207 – 7/27/2019

Hi all, my name is Ian O’Byrne and welcome to issue #207 of Digitally Literate.

In this newsletter I distill the news of the week in technology into an easy-to-read resource. Thank you for reading. Please subscribe if you haven’t already.

This week I worked on a number of things in the background. More info coming soon.

This week’s issue will be a deepdive. Buckle up. 🙂


The Great Hack – Official Trailer (2:27)

In this newsletter, I’ve been actively questioning the role of technology as it disrupts democratic processes. Netflix’s new documentary, The Great Hack will hopefully make you think a bit more deeply about your digital footprint.

The documentary provides a deep dive into the world of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and copious amounts of money. I also love the fact that the whole film begins as you follow David Carroll as he considers the questions that abound in these areas.

Do yourself a favor. Stop reading this newsletter. Go watch the documentary. Come back after you’ve finished. I have some questions.


Facebook lost control of our data. Now it’s paying a record $5 billion fine.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday announced that Facebook agreed to pay a $5 billion fine over privacy violations and its failure to inform tens of millions of users about a data leak that happened years ago. The fine is the largest the US regulator has levied against a tech company.

To prevent Facebook from deceiving its users about privacy in the future, the FTC’s new 20-year settlement order overhauls the way the company makes privacy decisions by boosting the transparency of decision making and holding Facebook accountable via overlapping channels of compliance.

This fine is primarily a response to Facebook’s actions as part of the Cambridge Analytica “data breach.” The FTC also announced today separate law enforcement actions against data analytics company Cambridge Analytica. The settlement alleges that the company used false and deceptive tactics to harvest personal information from millions of Facebook users.

This fine will go directly into the U.S. Treasury’s General Fund. The $5 billion is a fraction of Facebook’s overall revenue, representing approximately 9% of the company’s 2018 revenue.

Facebook to pay separate $100 million SEC fine over Cambridge Analytica scandal

The social network has also agreed to pay the US Securities and Exchange Commission $100 million over charges of making “misleading disclosures” over the risk of abusing users’ data.

The full complaint from the SEC holds a number of damning details about Facebook’s actions. Specifically, Facebook ignored warnings about “sketchy” Cambridge Analytica in 2015. You should also skim this Twitter thread from Jason Kint as he unpacks the complaint.

Even though this is only a fraction of the settlement with the FTC, I believe the SEC complaint is much more important. I believe that this was not a “data breach.” Facebook was doing was Facebook does. They collect and archive your data, and then sell it off to others. When this all comes to light, the social network deflects, obfuscates, and dissembles.

Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds

The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded Thursday that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016, an effort more far-reaching than previously acknowledged.

The heavily redacted report, titled, “Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure” is the first volume the committee has publicly released, after more than 200 witness interviews and the collection and review of nearly 400,000 documents. Subsequent volumes will deal with Russia’s effort to use social media and disinformation to influence voters.

When I talk about online disinformation campaigns, family & friends give me an eye roll with comments like “Uhhh…Russia.” Regardless of political tribes, we need to acknowledge that the US (& other nations) have been under attack using social media & other tools to influence our perspectives.

What’s your screenome? It may be more important than screen time

What’s your screenome? “Screenome” is a play on the word “genome,” which refers to the unique set of genetic material that every living organism contains.

In a paper published in the journal Human-Computer Interaction, social scientists at Stanford define a screenome as “the record of individual experiences represented as a sequence of screens that people view and interact with over time.”

HOW you interact might be more important than HOW LONG.

Does Technology Spell Doom for Close Relationships?

This post by Omri Gillath in the Scientific American discusses the recent trend of the “solomoon.” Solomooning, according to recent news articles, is a new phenomenon in which just-marrieds take a post-wedding trip separately from each other.

The post goes on to share research by Gillath and colleagues as they examine disposability and the ways in which social media impacts intimacy with others.

Gillath crystalizes some of these challenges:

Taken as a whole, they paint a gloomy picture of our relational future. A significant cause of these trends is people’s tendency to immerse themselves in technological advancements without considering the implications. Technology is not going to stop or go away, so unless we start taking these implications seriously, we may wake up one day in the near future with a broken heart and without the relationships that are so vital to our wellbeing.


Cleanse your Facebook account

After watching the documentary and reviewing the stories I shared…are you ready to delete your Facebook account?

Probably not. As we’ve regularly discussed in this newsletter, technology regularly offers us reasons to stop using their products, apps, and services. Yet…we stick around for some reason.

If you’re not going to delete your account…take some time and give it a good cleanse, or refresh.

Download your information from your settings. To download your information:

  1. Click at the top right of any Facebook page and select Settings
  2. Click Download a copy of your Facebook data at the bottom of General Account Settings
  3. Click Start My Archive

After that, test out two of the options shared in the post above (Facebook Timeline Cleaner and F___book Post Manager), to clean out your data.

I’m still deciding whether or not it is time to delete my Facebook account. I have been in the process of scaling back what the social network knows about me. I’ve been downloading and deleting all of my photos from the service. I’ve also refreshed my privacy settings as well. I’ll test out the tools above…and a total purge may soon be in my future.

What about you? 🙂

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I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Rutger Hauer

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This week I started finally watching the Showtime documentary about the Wu-Tang Clan. The four part docuseries is all about the honesty the members of the super group weave into their rhymes. You can listen to some of the tracks from the series here.

Digitally Literate is a summary of all the great stuff from the Internet this week in technology, education, & literacy. Say hey with a note at or on the social network of your choice.

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