“Is staring into my buzz 24 hours a day activity to accomplish me aphotic and stupid?”
Ask that catechism and you’ll get lots of opinions back. But we allegation abstracts if we’re activity to get a absolute acknowledgment to that and abounding added questions about the appulse of technology, says the Markup co-founder Julia Angwin.
“There isn’t abstracts on some of these absolutely important questions,” Angwin said on the latest adventure of Recode Media. “We would like to aggregate data, array of at scale, not aloof a few anecdotal interviews, but as best we can bigger abstracts sets about these questions.”
That makes the not-yet-launched Markup’s anatomy of “data journalism” altered from outlets like FiveThirtyEight, which assay absolute abstracts sets and accomplish predictions about capacity alignment from political elections to Major League Baseball. “That’s absolutely accepted and alarming work,” Angwin said, but already the new armpit launches in aboriginal 2019 she and her aggregation will be proactively architecture new abstracts sets — article she and her co-founder Jeff Larson ahead did at ProPublica — in the absorption of ytic journalism.
“We will book accessible annal requests,” she said. “We will use automatic abstracts accumulating beyond the internet. We will do crowdsourcing. One affair we did a lot at ProPublica was body accoutrement that bodies could use to accord their abstracts to us in absolute specific ways. So with the Facebook political ads we congenital a browser extension. Bodies could add it to their browser and afresh aback they were on Facebook it would yze which ads were political and accelerate it to us.”
“We would body the accoutrement so they didn’t accept to absolutely do anything,” Angwin added. “The alone affair they accept to do is install the tool. So I brainstorm we’ll do a agglomeration of that.”
You can accept to Recode Media wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast.
Below, we’ve aggregate a abounding archetype of Peter’s chat with Julia.
Peter Kafka: This is Julia Angwin who I’ve accepted for … we’re activity to date ourselves … at atomic a decade.
Yeah, let’s aloof go with a decade.
You acclimated to assignment at the Bank Street Journal. I was allotment of AllThingsD, which was Journal-adjacent.
So we affectionate of competed. You were great. You got nominated for Pulitzers. I did not. You went to ProPublica. You were allegation ass there, accoutrement Facebook and all sorts of abuses by tech giants and others and now you accept founded a new aggregation called?
Which is a publication-to-be.
Yes, it will activate publishing annual in aboriginal 2019.
You appear this anniversary that there’s a brace altered agency to armamentarium a new advertisement these days. You can go ask bodies for money, absolute consumers for money. That’s, a lot of bodies who appear on this appearance allocution about their paywall or cable strategy. You can acquisition a absolute affluent actuality to armamentarium your company. You guys went with Action B for now.
Yes, we did. To be clear, we went with a non-profit, altruistic model.
So, it’s $23 actor in berry money?
That’s acceptable seed. Twenty of that’s from Craig Newmark, who best of us apperceive as Craig from Craigslist, and afresh some altered acceptable bodies from foundations.
OK. We set the table. This is absolute exciting. Bodies are absolute aflame about what you are doing. Do you appetite to call aloof briefly what it is and afresh we can blow at it a little bit?
Yeah, absolutely. So, The Markup is a non-profit newsroom, as I said. We’re activity to be investigating the impacts of technology on society. By technology-
Specifically attractive at tech.
Yeah. Technology, we affectionate of attending at two altered ways. So one is the companies that you anticipate of as tech. The big tech platforms. But also, technology is actuality acclimated in all sorts of ways, right? The algorithm that decides who gets flagged for added screening at the airport, right? There’s technology that’s actuality acclimated in all sorts of agency in our lives that’s-
This is affectionate of the Recode pitch, right? Tech is aggregate now.
And aggregate is tech.
I anticipate Mark Andreessen’s “software is bistro the world.” He may accept started it afore you guys did.
He’s apparently bigger at it than we are too. So it’s tech-infused, but a specific focus. It seems like, or at atomic that’s what you were advertisement at ProPublica, focused on the Facebooks of the world. Or are you activity to advance it out?
I’d say appropriately focused on Facebooks and some of the assignment we did there, for instance, was about the software acclimated for bent sentencing or the algorithms acclimated in allowance for redlining. So we affectionate of disconnected our time amid the big tech giants and the use of tech in added genitalia of life.
And your apriorism is, and accurately — your apriorism is correct, up until now there absolutely hasn’t been a lot of acceptable consistently, skeptical, data-focused advertisement on technology.
I anticipate I would byword it aloof hardly different, which is I anticipate there are a lot of absolutely acceptable reporters accomplishing skeptical, acute reporting. But what we accept lacked as an industry, journalism aloof bedridden financially, and we accept lacked the assets for absolutely accelerated abstracts investigations, which are expensive. So that’s how we’re activity to admission the topic, with a agents that is bisected programmers, bisected journalist. So that’s absolute expensive, and the kinds of investigations we’re activity to do are maybe booty a continued time.
So explain what data-focused journalism is and how it differs from the FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver “data journalism.”
I’m disturbing because I absolutely would like to appear up with a new chat to differentiate myself from what bodies anticipate of as abstracts journalism but I haven’t appear up with that chat yet. But I will let you apperceive aback I do.
Essentially abstracts journalism has continued meant attractive at absolute abstracts sets, right? So if you attending at FiveThirtyEight, they’re absolutely acceptable at statistical, meta-yses of absolute data. So that’s why they do polls, you know, baseball, the Fed, these are all abstracts set-
Sets that exists. Accession abroad has calm the data.
They’re accomplishing the acute assignment of allegory it.
Yes. Right. Correct. And that’s absolutely accepted and alarming work. What we appetite to do is aggregate our own data. And the acumen is that abounding of the questions that are so important for association to answer, like, “Is staring into my buzz twenty-four hours a day activity to accomplish me aphotic and stupid?” There’s not an absolute abstracts set.
You don’t absolutely allegation to abstraction that.
I feel like we do allegation some abstracts on that. Right?
So my point is there isn’t abstracts on some of these absolutely important questions. We would like to aggregate data, array of at scale, not aloof a few anecdotal interviews, but as best we can bigger abstracts sets about these questions.
There is a ache of ytic journalism that has been data-focused for a continued time.
I’m absolute old, but I do bethink for years accession on a bi-weekly I would assignment with who would go to the … I don’t apperceive the appointment was called, but they’d appear aback saying, “I appetite to adduce a data-focused” … you apperceive a lot of it would be activity through buzz books or whatever, but the abstraction of demography big clumps of abstracts and application it to acquaint a story.
Absolutely. All I appetite to do is calibration up that blazon of assignment and focus it appear tech and society.
This is assignment you’ve been doing.
Really well, at ProPublica.
The actuality I’m best accustomed with is the actuality you’ve gone afterwards Facebook about. Gone afterwards is the hardly the amiss verbiage.
But good. You captivated them to annual assorted times. Acquaint us your greatest hits of your Facebook reportage.
So with Facebook there were a brace of altered strands in our reporting. One of them was abominable advertising. So we accomplished that they had accustomed advertisers the adeptness to ambition ads absolutely granularly, and in actuality they had this adeptness to block bodies from seeing your ad. So you could buy an ad and say, “never appearance it to a atramentous person.” So there was a little bead bottomward agenda alleged “Exclude These Groups” and they had ancestral groups in there. And so-
This sounds bad.
It already sounds bad.
But to comedy devil’s advocate, this diminutive targeting is the abstraction that has fabricated Facebook as able and acknowledged as it is. The acceptable allotment of their angle is, “We’re activity to bear ads to bodies you appetite to bear ads to.” That’s a acceptable thing, not a bad thing.
Right, it aloof happens to be actionable in assertive categories of advertising: Housing, employment, and credit. So administration are and apartment advertisers and acclaim advertisers can not discriminate in announcement by race. So Facebook enabling this could able-bodied be illegal. These cases are now in the courts. So I’ll let the courts decide, but-
There’s a agitation about the amends of this. And Facebook-
There’s a agitation about the liability, right? So the catechism is absolutely is Facebook as a belvedere accountable or is it advertisers themselves who are liable? That’s the debate. The agitation about whether you can do abominable announcement in those categories is acclimatized law.
I anticipate there was one … you did a alternation of these, and on a agglomeration of them, Facebook said, “Yeah, sorry,” or “We’ll fix it.” … there was one area they pushed aback and said, “No, you’re wrong.”
On age bigotry in employment. So we begin dozens of the arch companies in America were acute in their ads. They would ambition their application ads aloof to adolescent workers. And Facebook itself was targeting their own application ads to adolescent workers. And Facebook disputed, A, its accountability as the platform, but, B, they said, “Look, you can accept a multi-pronged application strategy. Let’s say you’re application Facebook to ability the adolescent workers but you accept accession action for extensive earlier workers.” That’s article that bodies accept to prove to the courts. The cloister would accept to absolutely feel bright that this doesn’t aperture the age bigotry laws that we accept on the books in both accompaniment and federal law.
So abrogation a the amends of it, this is good, important journalism. Shines a light. Lets bodies apperceive what’s activity on. Basal journalism, right? Basal in the-
… in the way that you would like journalism to be basic. You were accomplishing it at ProPublica, which is additionally a non-profit. They accept a archetypal area they broadcast on their own armpit and afresh additionally administer their actuality to places like the New York Times or assignment with New York Times. So it got lots of absorption again, like I said. It got Facebook to accede its mistakes in abounding cases. So why not accumulate accomplishing that at ProPublica?
ProPublica was a abundant abode for me to do this work. But Jeff and I … my partner, he’s been my accomplice on all these investigations, he’s array of the programmer, I’m the journalist, although I anticipate we’re both a little of both. I accept a programming accomplishments as well.
Yeah, I grew up in Palo Alto. Steve Jobs was a acquaintance and he was funding-
Like a neighbor-neighbor? Nextdoor?
No, not nextdoor. But everybody knew him.
You apperceive what I mean, he was around. He adjourned a affairs for all fifth graders to apprentice to program. So I abstruse in fifth brand and my parents were both programmers, so I consistently was activity to be a programmer. I advised algebraic in academy and my university didn’t accept computer science, but I took computer science and I formed my summers at Hewlett-Packard. I was activity to aback afterwards graduation to Hewlett Packard, but I fell in adulation with journalism.
This was not aloof “I was about tech and I abstruse BASIC.”
No, no, I did Pascal and Lisp. Lisp was an amazing language, I would like to say.
I’m comatose like I’ve heard of Lisp.
They’re all old languages and bodies now would beam at me. So I haven’t coded for a continued time. I assumption the way you were Bank Street Journal-adjacent, I’m coding-adjacent now.
Got it. So you’re accomplishing all that, afresh at ProPublica. They gave you the assets to do this acceptable stuff. I’m aloof allegation a little bit because there’s got to be a story, right? It could be as basal as, “I capital to do my own affair beneath my own advocacy and not be allotment of article else. I capital to do my own thing.”
No, so it’s a simple story, which is that-
I’m abiding they’d like you to accumulate blockage and accomplishing journalism at ProPublica.
Yeah, we had a continued chat with them about what we wanted, Jeff and I. The affair is you are accustomed maybe added afresh with the … we did about a year’s account of assignment aftermost year on Facebook. But the year before, we had done allowance algorithms and bent accident array and those algorithms that were biased and those investigations were absolutely heavy-duty. I was activity that I aloof didn’t like accepting to choose. I feel like there’s such important things accident in the bent amends arrangement with algorithms, and additionally Facebook. And so I assumption my ambitions were aloof that I capital added teams. I capital there to be added of us. I capital to accept 20 reporters or 15.
And you bulk you could do that bigger on your own than activity to Craig Newmark and saying, “Can you accord an added 20 actor bucks for ProPublica so we can armamentarium this aural ProPublica?”
So I had conversations with ProPublica about whether I could do it internally and that was my aboriginal thought, was I’ll adduce to them that I would do it internally. But for a accomplished agglomeration of affidavit they weren’t into that idea. You know, they’re a adolescent abode themselves. So the abstraction of accepting already a startup aural the startup-
Yeah, it’s a lot.
It’s a lot, right? So we all agreed in a absolute developed way that it was bigger for anybody to go their abstracted ways.
You should not apologize for actuality aggressive and saying, “I capital to run my own thing,” and accomplishing that-
I did appetite to run my own thing, but I absolutely was additionally absolutely abashed of active my own thing. So I’m cool advantageous that I begin a business partner. I apparently wouldn’t accept larboard if it was aloof Jeff and I. I anticipate we were acute abundant to apperceive that journalists are not consistently the greatest at active a business.
I don’t apperceive what you’re talking about.
So it wasn’t absolutely until we begin Sue Gardner and she agreed to accompany us that we begin the aplomb to do it on our own.
She’s from Wikimedia/Wikipedia.
I’m absolutely ytical about what it agency that you’re accomplishing this as a non-profit. At atomic initially you don’t intend to allegation bodies for this content. Again, I’m absolutely not exaggerating, but apparently one out of every two guests that comes on this appearance is accession out some way to allegation bodies or is already charging bodies for their agreeable and it’s now array of, the new accepted acumen is, “selling subscriptions, or some adaptation of that, is not alone a acceptable abstraction for your business, but it’s inherently acceptable for the journalism. Bodies who bulk what you do will pay you for it and if you accomplish actuality bodies value, it’s a blameless cycle.” What does it beggarly this is activity to be a non-profit? Does it beggarly that this affectionate of assignment can’t be accurate by the market?
Well, I don’t know. I’m not a absolute able on business models in journalism, but I apperceive what I’ve accomplished in journalism over the many, abounding years that I’ve been in it. What I’ve apparent is that the for-profit archetypal has led to the shrinking of assets for ytic assignment and long-form and the actuality that I do, which is resource-intensive. I absolutely saw that at the Bank Street Journal. Aback I got to ProPublica, it was my aboriginal time at a non-profit journalism company. I had never in my activity been in a newsroom that was expanding. It was incredible. There was no circuit of layoffs, there was no abhorrence and alarming all the time. It absolutely assertive me that for the moment we’re in adapted now, this is the way I would like to be. I appetite to be in the allotment that seems to be thriving. I accede with you, there’s a lot of questions. How continued are these affluent bodies activity to abutment us, right? I anticipate for the affectionate of assignment we do, investigative, big-ticket work, it’s adamantine for me to brainstorm that readers absolutely appetite to abutment it admitting advantageous anon through a paywall.
The earlier archetypal for acknowledging ytic journalism, some aggregate of … you had a advertisement and it was ad- accurate and/or maybe there subscriptions like the Bank Street Journal, and that affidavit that were affluent abundant … and for a continued time there were a agglomeration of them … could do ytic journalism. Depending on your appearance of it, it was either a aces affair to do, abounding stop. And/or it was a alluring affair to do and it got you prizes and it fabricated added journalists appetite to assignment there. Absolute often, you could see the bad adaptation of this, which is a 10- or 12- or 50-part adapted appear at the end of the year, congenital for an accolade board and not for absolute readers and absolute few bodies would absolutely get through the thing.
But now we’re in a apple area you’re saying, “We appetite to do this stuff, it’s good. Abounding stop.” But it’s not affronted to the business model. I assumption I’m aloof array of talking ceaseless because I’m aggravating to bulk out if it’s a bad affair that you’re not selling, you’re not allurement bodies to pay for this directly.
Well, we are, aboriginal of all, activity to ask bodies to donate. So we launched our changeless website, which absolutely is aloof an about us folio and has a accord page. So we’re-
How’s it going? We’re four canicule into it.
Yeah. I beggarly there’s not a lot of donations yet.
But we haven’t apparent the money, right? We haven’t appear any news, but we are activity to achievement that our readers will donate. What we’re activity to do is the barter off that we’re activity to make, and this is activity to be our admired affair because we like action about ad tech, is we’re not activity to clue them. A lot of bodies ask for money and they do all the surveillance and tracking and abstracts mining, but we are activity to accept a absolutely apple-pie website and do as little as possible. There’s some things like the Stripe acquittal processor or MailChimp or article that ability … You can’t abstain some of it.
“We are activity to be as blameless tracking-wise as we possibly can.”
We’re activity to account the reader’s aloofness as best we can and we achievement that that encourages them to appetite to accord to us.
There’s absolutely a ample association of bodies who are absolutely intellectually, theologically adjoin to ad tracking. It absolutely upsets them. They’re absolute articulate on the internet.
It seems some of those are the above Facebook admiral who all aloof larboard in the aftermost week.
Well, they all get religion. They don’t acknowledgment the money, though, I’ve noticed. They accumulate the money. Yeah. Those are acceptable stories. The accomplished WhatsApp affair was so weird. I was aloof activity aback to the story.
Did you apprehend the adventure today? It was so great.
Yeah. I apprehend the story. I went aback and begin my adventure from 2016 which aloof tracked the WhatsApp guy’s comments from 2010. Announcement is terrible. They’re absolutely commendation Tyler Durden from whatever that impaired cine was with Brad Pitt. Action Club. Had this very, “Ads are terrible, man, and we’ll never do it.” Afresh they advertise the aggregation for $22 billion. Afresh a few years later, “Oh, yeah. We awash our aggregation to an announcement company.” That’s how that’s activity to work.
I additionally adulation that Brian Acton … I’m ambagious here, but Brian Acton, who’s the antecedent of the Forbes adventure today is putting money into-
Signal and that’s a aloofness thing, but his co-founder Jan Koum, the band was, “Has larboard to accompany his accumulating of air-cooled Porsches.”
Air-cooled Porsches. Yeah. That was a absurd detail.
That was abundant though.
I don’t alike apperceive what that means, but it sounds absolutely glamorous.
It sounds fancy. Let’s allocution about area the money’s advancing from because there is no chargeless money, right? Like Craig Newmark, my accessory Kara Swisher, a lot of bodies like Craig Newmark. You had some band here, I’ll adduce it aback to you, saying, “He’s abundant because we’re altogether aligned.” Let’s say anybody is alive with the best intent, but how do you insulate yourself aback Craig Newmark eventually says, “I don’t like that adventure you did,” or acquisition some way to accurate disapproval or says, “You guys are accomplishing great, but I’m not activity to armamentarium this anymore.” How do you absorber yourself in the money?
Yeah. That’s a acceptable question. In our conversations with Craig arch up to this investment, what was so abundant about those conversations was that he said, “I apperceive that I can never see a adventure afore it’s published. I will not anytime see one. I would like to email you if I anticipate it needs a correction.” I said, “Yes. You can do that. That would be fine.” He additionally has said, “I’m not absolutely activity to canyon forth … I could canyon forth some belief idea, but I may or may not and you don’t accept to do any of them.” In agreement of funders, that’s about as abundant as you can ask for. Now, did he assurance a arrangement in claret adage that? No, but I accept him. He doesn’t accept to accept an absorption in meddling. Honestly, we wouldn’t let ourselves be meddled with, either.
Right. It’s not that there are no strings attached, you aloof can’t see the strings or you’re unaware. I beggarly you’re activity into this eyes open, I guess, and you anticipate he’s as acceptable a abettor as you could ask for.
Yeah. I beggarly I ahead formed for Rupert Murdoch.
Yeah. I cashed some of those checks. Aloof to be clear, was absolute hands-on in assorted ways.
He absolutely brand journalism. He brand newspapers. He brand actuality in it added than he does authoritative money from it I think.
Did you attending at … All right, I bethink Pierre Omidyar had acceptable absorbed and he founded The Intercept and afresh a brace added stuff. There was a blend there. Are there things we can apprentice from that or one affluent guy is altered from the added affluent guy?
Yeah. I beggarly I don’t apperceive abundant about what has happened to The Intercept to apperceive if that’s article to do with Pierre’s allotment or not. The belief I apperceive mostly accept to do with sources accepting austere inadvertently, which is abhorrent and adverse and that breach my affection as a journalist. Whether those were avoidable, what led to that, I don’t know, but I assumption I wouldn’t say that there’s article that came agreeable out to me from that. I would say that aback we were attractive at funding, the best important affair to me was that we … Aloof not accept somebody who’d appetite to interfere. The foundations absolutely are belled for absent to interfere. They about capital to armamentarium aloof one exhausted or one topic.
Like I said, there’s no chargeless money. Accession is consistently giving you money with article in mind, doesn’t beggarly it’s bad. It’s aloof there’s a acumen they’re giving it to you.
Right, but it is absorbing … I don’t apperceive if you apperceive this. I absorb a agglomeration of time now in the weeds in the foundations, but MacArthur and some added foundations absolutely put calm a agreement that said that journalism allotment should be complete grants. A lot of them accept active it and committed to that. That is a abundant affair because I anticipate there is a growing acceptance that A, journalism isn’t activity to armamentarium itself at atomic until accession abstracts out the best axis ever, and B, belted grants are aloof a way of censorship or authoritative the stories. I begin that the big foundations, the ones whose names you know, are appealing acceptable about that.
10 years ago was the rise. Craigslist has been growing for a continued time, but Craigslist was absolutely growing. At the aforementioned time, newspapers were falling off a cliff. Lots of people, including myself, affiliated those things. You feel adequate alive with Craig Newmark. He’s additionally altruistic to added journalistic endeavors, $20 actor to CUNY. You don’t see this as absolution for whatever he did or didn’t do to papers?
The accuracy is I don’t apperceive what motivates him and I’m not activity to speculate, right? I absolutely feel like about as a journalist, I try not to focus on motivations because it’s apparently true, for instance, that Facebook’s motivations in accomplishing the drop-down agenda for ancestral bigotry were fine, but the aftereffect ability be they were breaking civilian rights laws.
“I don’t affliction what you meant. I affliction what you did.”
Yes. I feel that way about allotment too, which is I don’t apperceive what motivates Craig to do this. I’m absolutely grateful. We aren’t activity to booty accumulated money. We wouldn’t booty money from Google or Facebook, but we will booty money from individuals in the tech industry or in added industries.
You would booty money from a Facebook executive?
Yeah and that’s fine.
Maybe a above Facebook executive.
Maybe a above Facebook executive.
Who still has some money alike admitting he feels bad about how he fabricated it.
In between. He could aloof accept one beneath Porsche.
I appetite to allocution to you about Facebook and what they’re activity through and how it’s affiliated to what you’re focused on. We’re talking afterwards 2016 elections, Cambridge Analytica, and a lot of things get conflated about what Facebook is activity through. Your advertisement has contributed to that and I anticipate in a absolute way. Now it’s accepted acumen that bodies are affronted at Facebook and users are abrogation in allotment affiliated to all this anger. Do you anticipate that’s true?
Well, you apperceive that’s the affair that is so adamantine about the tech companies, is we don’t accept a lot of absolute data. We absolutely don’t alike accept the agnate of Nielsen for TV ratings. Facebook says, “This is-”
Those [Nielsen] are absolute awkward user numbers.
Right, which is absolute awkward user numbers. Thank you. Facebook tells us how abounding bodies they say are application it. They acquaint us how abounding bodies saw anniversary ad. There’s no absolute metrics. To me, the absolute catechism that I’m absorbed in is accouterment those absolute metrics.
Right. Facebook measures this, allegedly absolute rigorously. They’re consistently allurement users, “How do you feel?” But they’re not administration that information.
Sure, but we don’t apperceive what it is.
What I feel like my mission is, is to accommodate some counterpoint to that, some added data. It will never be as acceptable as Facebook’s data, but conceivably I can accommodate a little bit of data. Because I don’t apperceive if bodies are abrogation Facebook. Truthfully, I feel like a agglomeration of techies got a little formed up about it, some aristocratic people, but my approved accompany are application it all the time, still.
Yeah. It’s absolutely adamantine for me to reconcile. I’m acute abundant to be alert of those narratives, but I don’t apperceive how to alter them. I additionally accept this gut that the Cambridge Analytica thing, which is supposedly, according to Facebook executives, a behemothic affair acquired a lot of approved bodies to be agitated with Facebook, is absolutely a proxy for Trump. If this was the exact aforementioned adventure but you replaced Trump with Clinton, it would be beneath of a big deal. If it was aloof a abstracts aperture and it was acutely alone to elections, bodies would aloof accept a ambiguous shrug.
I mean, I feel like I accept some abstracts to abutment your antecedent because in 2010-
I led the alternation at the Journal, “What They Know.”
I was ambience you up, but okay. Good.
Yes. I know. Thank you for ambience me up. Basically we did a lot of these aforementioned stories. We begin all of the top apps on Facebook were burglary user data. We begin a company, RapLeaf, that was basically accomplishing absolutely what Cambridge Analytica did.
I stepped over this while you were cogent me. This is important. You did a alternation for the Journal alleged What They Apperceive was you, Emily Steel.
Very characteristic …
Awesome accumulation of people. The big abstraction was you were acknowledgment to a ample admirers how abstracts accumulating works, accurately on the internet and internet advertising, but aloof broadly how bodies are tracking what you’re doing.
Yeah. We did a lot of these stories, agnate to Cambridge Analytica, about how third parties were accepting all the Facebook abstracts and afresh Facebook was like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. We’ll fix it.” RapLeaf, which was accomplishing political targeting application the aborigine account and award bodies online application that information.
RapLeaf. I bethink RapLeaf.
Yeah. It aloof didn’t accept the resonance at the time. Aboriginal of all, it was 2010, so we were maybe all not application our phones absolutely as abundant and so anchored in Facebook at the time. Also, it was aloof a little abstruse and techie. I anticipate you’re adapted though, the political moment, what happened at that acclamation was everybody acquainted so surprised. Like, “Oh my God. What happened in 2016?”
Remember aback in 2016. Yeah. Who can we blame? What happened? What went wrong?
Yeah. I feel like there’s … The affair that makes me crazy about it is we don’t know. Bodies say, “Oh, it’s all because of the aphotic ads on Facebook or the Russians.” We’ll never apperceive because alone Facebook has that data.
That is a crazy thing. That’s not accurate in any added allotment of our acclamation process. You can see radio ads, TV ads, book ads. All of those things are accessible for the accessible to see.
It’s still adamantine to anatomize absolutely why accession in Wisconsin who voted for Obama x cardinal of years and angry about and voted for Trump, but at atomic you can see who bought ads there.
Yeah, right. Exactly. My point is you’re never activity to absolutely absolutely know, but I anticipate there was additionally some catechism about whether it was some atramentous abracadabra online.
Yeah. I’m animated you teed it up, because I did appetite to ask you about that alternation because it’s a abundant series. I was account it this anniversary in alertness for this. A lot of it, you guys were aing this as ytic journalists. You’re saying, “Hey, I appetite to appearance you article and article you should apperceive about.” The allegation is this is something, by the way, that’s wrong. A lot of it reads like a album for “this is aloof how agenda affectation announcement works. It’s how ad tech works.” I was apprehensive if you acquainted like, “Boy, I ambition we’d begin the adverse affair that absolutely would’ve gotten people’s attention.” Because you’d say, “We showed this actuality how this aggregation was able to clue her bottomward to the pixel and bulk out her age and what she busy and all this stuff.” Again, like you said, there was no resonance for it.
Do you anticipate there was … You bare a Cambridge Analytica to accomplish that pop?
Yeah. No. This is area you and I accept some fights about ad tech.
Because aback I aboriginal came out with that series, you were like, “That’s aloof how ad tech works.”
That is how it started, right? Our absolute aboriginal adventure was absolutely alone about online tracking.
Which, again, is a acceptable affair that you were d bodies how it works because by the way, they still don’t apperceive how it works.
Correct. Absolute quickly, we did acquisition abounding abuses, right? We begin all those Facebook apps that were burglary data. We activated 100 iPhone and Android apps, abounding of which were demography user data. In fact, Apple came out with a new way of ambience identifiers as a aftereffect of that blazon of abuse. We begin Google was tricking the Safari web browser into acceptance it to set cookies. They paid a $22 actor accomplished to the FTC. We started off with added of an explanatory, but we absolutely did end up in a abode area we begin things that absolutely afraid us. In fact, one of my favorites belief was the one area we looked at aback you log in to a website, put your username and password, who was sending that advice to third parties. The Bank Street Journal was one of the top offenders of sending that to the third parties.
I beggarly I do bethink talking to a lot of ad tech execs. I acclimated to pay added absorption to that business. They were all absolute afraid and agitated about what you were accomplishing and they were absolutely afraid you were activity to acquisition article terrible. Afresh they had a aggregate blow of abatement by the end of it. Their capital aegis was, for best of what you were reporting, was, “Well, yeah. That’s what we do and one, we allegation to be able to do this affectionate of announcement to abutment whatever we’re publishing, and two, it’s bigger than …” Afresh they would name the acclaim agenda industry or article else. “We’re beneath invasive than x, y, or z.” I’m d you heard a lot of that.
Yeah. Do you anticipate that the accepted customer is added a than they were about this actuality and/or do you anticipate they affliction about this stuff?
I don’t know. I anticipate bodies accept a little bit added ability than they did then. I anticipate bodies still don’t apperceive how abundant to care. I anticipate collectively as a society, we absolutely aloof don’t apperceive how abundant to affliction because we don’t apperceive how abundant it matters. If it swung the election, afresh it absolutely matters.
If it was aloof allowance at the edge, maybe it doesn’t bulk or it’s article we can abate against. That’s why I feel that I’m aloof absolutely committed to demography a abstracts apprenticed admission to these questions because I feel like we aloof don’t accept abundant affirmation to apperceive how abundant they matter. I’m accessible to the abstraction that aggregate I’ve done is meaningless, but I would still like to do it to prove that.
Just so we’re clear, I’m not suggesting what you’re accomplishing is meaningless, but I am adage it takes-
No, but I’m absolutely actuality austere about that.
It takes a assertive affectionate of backbone to go, “This is important. I’m activity to accumulate accomplishing it and eventually bodies are activity to appreciate” — it sounds wrong, the way I’m framing it. Absolute about I anticipate it’s adamantine to do this affectionate of assignment and not get pats on the aback from approved bodies or to see bodies handing over their claimed advice for the agnate of a bonbon bar. Additionally aloof fundamentally, I’m absorbed in the abstraction of whether bodies … I anticipate my gut is that aback bodies say they affliction about privacy, they absolutely beggarly pornography, health/insurance, and maybe voting. If any of that they anticipate is actuality exposed, they’d be absolutely worried. Beyond that, they apparently don’t affliction that much.
Yeah. I anticipate the acumen is that we aloof don’t apperceive how abundant it matters. Right?
We absolutely don’t know. If we were in China, area they accept an algorithm that determines if you’ve gone in the Western arena area there’s a Muslim accumulation that they’re afraid about them actuality terrorists. They accept an algorithm that if you go to the gas station, afresh you do a assertive amusing media column or whatever, and afresh they bandy you in a re-education affected because you’re too risky. Now if that was accident here, bodies would aback be a lot added anxious about their claimed data.
That’d be absolute bad.
Right. My point is we aloof don’t know. If that happened, afresh we would all retroactively like, “Oh my God. I ambition I’d never active up for any of those apps because the government would booty that data.”
Right, but the abstraction that Google sees my email, I’m aloof not activity to anticipate about it and maybe I’ll apprehension that they’ve beatific me an ad that seems to be cogitating of my email, and that upsets me. Or you go all the way to the apple of acted area — I apperceive tech reporters who accept this — that Facebook is alert to what I’m adage on my buzz and confined me ads, which is not true. And if you’re a tech actuality you should apperceive bigger than that. But if you’re a approved person, that sounds like a reasonable affair to assume, that Facebook is that acute that they’re accomplishing it.
Well, I accept to say like that one has appear to me so abounding times.
People say to me accurately about Instagram that they feel like it’s … The ads they see there are so altogether accompanying to article they’ve aloof mentioned and they admiration if it’s articulation related. Those are the kinds of things we appetite to test, right? Because I apperceive that Facebook has said abounding times it’s not true. You apperceive their almanac of truthiness is blotchy and I would aloof like to assay that premise, right?
And so what we’re activity to do is assay all such things, and bisected of them will never prove out and bisected of them will about-face out to true.
I beggarly to me what that says is bodies don’t accept how abundant they are accession about you that alike admitting you don’t anticipate you’re giving them this information, you are either anon through Facebook or through any added web interaction. And they can affiliate calm this account of you that knows you bigger than you think.
And yet every already in a while, it turns out to be true. Like Uber was absolutely demography abstracts off your buzz about your movements aback you weren’t application Uber, right? Alike admitting their affair said they weren’t. So every already in a while, those guys are cheating the system.
Oh yeah. I’m not adage they’re paragons of virtue. I’m aloof adage in this case the acumen they’re able to bear targeting announcement is because they’ve developed this absolutely acceptable targeted advertising.
Yeah. And additionally the added affair none of us appetite to accept is that we’re not as different as we think. Like we’re aloof like affectionate of accessible and predictable.
This is data-driven journalism. So the way you appetite to aggregate the abstracts is how?
So we’ll do-
You appetite to airing about with a clipboard and poll people?
Maybe. I achievement it doesn’t appear to that, but it might.
That’s a way, right?
Yeah. No. It is. We’re activity to do all the accepted things, right? We will book accessible annal requests. We will use automatic abstracts accumulating beyond the internet. We will do crowdsourcing. One affair did a lot at ProPublica was body accoutrement that bodies could use to accord their abstracts to us in absolute specific ways. So with the Facebook political ads we congenital like a browser extension. Bodies could add it to their browser and afresh aback they were on Facebook it would yze which ads were political and accelerate it to us.
So you’re allurement bodies to banderole actuality for you.
Yeah. But we would body the accoutrement so they didn’t accept to absolutely do anything, right? Like the alone affair they accept to do is install the tool. So I brainstorm we’ll do a agglomeration of that. You apperceive we’ve done crazy things like Jeff and Surya went on a baiter alfresco of Mar-a-Lago and scanned the WiFi accidentally to appearance that it was absolutely accessible to hackers.
That was you guys?
I anticipation is was Gizmodo.
It was a collective affair with Gizmodo, yeah.
It was a abundant story.
It was the best fun ever. So we are aggravating to acquisition a way to do added canoeing investigations.
Yeah. I beggarly it’s so terrifying. So terrifying.
I beggarly if we could do it, like-
Exactly! That’s the point of you aloof got, absolutely got on a baiter and were able to aces up like Trump, pornography, printer, WiFi, .
Also to accessible ports basically. Yeah. Yep.
… from Mar-a-Lago. That’s a abundant story. But one of the things you appetite to do is aggregate this actuality in mass. You’ve got a battle with Facebook and some of the added tech platforms as able-bodied about the agency you appetite to do automatic abstracts collecting?
Well, yeah. I mean, so, automatic abstracts accumulating on the internet is time accustomed technique. Lots of journalists do it. But it technically can aperture the agreement of service.
So what is automatic abstracts collecting?
So basically you body a little thing. It’s alleged a spider or a crawler that goes out and basically … The way Google indexes the web, you go out, you attending at every web folio and aggregate the advice from it, and afresh they do it to index. We don’t usually clamber the accomplished web. We would do a clamber of article absolute specific. But we body accoutrement like that to acquisition data, right? So a affectionate of archetypal affair we would apparently do is attending for, you apperceive if there’s a new awful way that bodies are actuality tracked online. So there was a brace years aback article alleged canvas fingerprinting. Like you couldn’t ascertain it in your browser. You could clamber the web, attending for all the websites that are application that technique, right? And broadcast a account of those sites.
And Facebook says you can’t do this because?
So ample on Facebook is banned by their agreement of service. So accurately Facebook is a belted garden. You’re absolutely alone declared to see your own feed.
And this is not congenital as an anti-journalism feature?
No. It’s basically so that added bodies don’t archetype all the abstracts and they can accomplish a battling amusing network.
Right. It’s for competitive, bartering reasons.
Right. You know, they face a lot of competition.
Yeah. But that’s the idea, right? The affair that fuels us is this data. We aren’t activity to monetize it. I beggarly geez. They still assert on this accomplished affair about they don’t accept your abstracts and somehow magically appears in added sources. It’s so tiresome. But it’s what makes the affair go, right? So they appetite to assure that and absolute the admission to it.
Yeah. So they and others accept limitations on what you can aggregate application automatic means. And endemic are apparently the best austere that I apperceive of. And so we don’t do ample beyond Facebook. It would breach their agreement of account and it would additionally absolutely be technically difficult to do, because they accept absolute acceptable abstruse measures adjoin it. So for instance, aback we do abstracts accumulating on Facebook like the one we did with political ads, we aloof congenital a apparatus so that users could accelerate us their data. So we feel like that’s abundant beneath advancing because a user apparently should accept some adapted to accept their abstracts and accelerate it to somebody.
So the bargain announcer in me wants to say, “Oh. Well, see there’s irony here. This is the array of actuality Cambridge Analytica something, something, article was accomplishing …” And by the way, Facebook anticipation they were accomplishing acceptable by absolution the Cambridge Analyticas of the apple aggregate this abstracts and now you can see why they appetite to, in accession to bartering reasons, why they appetite to be added careful about this stuff.
I say the aberration amid us and Cambridge Analytica, although there are many, but one absolutely key one is, so for instance, the Facebook political ad beneficiary apparatus we built, it absolutely strips out every distinct bit of anecdotic information. So the alone affair we accustomed was the ad. We didn’t apperceive which, your Facebook ID, we didn’t absolutely alike apperceive your IP address, what location, what country you were in. So we knew annihilation about the bodies who acclimated it and contributed [to] it, and we congenital the apparatus to accede with the European abstracts aegis standards. So we tend to be absolutely targeted in our abstracts collection. I wrote a book alleged Dragnet Nation, right? And the abstraction is dragnets, area they indiscriminately aggregate abstracts are array of, you know, they accomplish you feel like it’s unfair. And so we advisedly try not to body dragnets to body absolutely targeted abstracts collection, aloof acknowledgment one specific question.
Do you feel like, and I assumption this is apparently accurate of any announcer accomplishing anything, frankly, that the aberration amid what your assets are and the assets of a Facebook that you’re aggravating to apprentice about, stripping out the David and Goliath, array of, chastity comedy of it, that aloof like, you’re aloof perceptually at this behemothic disadvantage and you can never absolutely get to the acknowledgment you want. And they accept it all. And it’s abaft a wall. You’ll never get to it.
Yeah. But I anticipate that’s accurate of every affectionate of … Accoutrement clandestine companies is like that because, I mean, I was a business anchorman for a continued and accoutrement Eon is the aforementioned way. You know, you don’t get a lot of admission into what’s activity on.
Eon doesn’t let you in and say, “Hey. Here’s all the oil spills actuality we’ve got.”
I beggarly who knows what they do, but I don’t anticipate so.
I mean, to be fair, there are some absolutely fun companies to cover, like a Annual Corp or a Myspace area it’s aloof abounding of characters who acquaint you all kinds of crazy shit.
Oh media is a abundant industry to awning because no one can accumulate their aperture shut.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
But I do feel like there’s a huge aberration but I additionally feel like that the actuality that those businesses are so blurred agency that array of annihilation that you get is news. And it can apparently accessible added things. And so I assumption I see it added as an opportunity.
Yeah. Well, acutely if it’s hard, accession abroad has not done it probably.
Right. That’s what I like. Those kinds of things.
You charge accept a ambition list, right? You’re activity to barrage in 2019. You appetite to advance with a adventure on … You’re not activity to acquaint me.
I’m not activity to acquaint you.
But with this stuff, and you talked about this as array of … This is one of the belief I saw, it talked about this actuality array of accurate blazon of, you apperceive …
Thank you. It’s backward in the day. The botheration with the accurate adjustment is absolute about you do this agreement and annihilation comes of it, right?
Yeah. Right. No results.
It’s boring. And this a botheration with lots ytic journalism and journalism, aloof lots of actuality aloof doesn’t bulk to annihilation and if you’re acceptable about it, you don’t broadcast it because you apperceive there’s no adventure there. But you set an added high-bar for yourself.
Yeah. No, it’s cool hard, right? And that’s accurate with investigations. It’s absolutely accurate with these types of abstracts investigations. One affair we accept been cerebration about is whether we, we accept to allocution to our attorneys about this, but I would absolutely like to broadcast a “no results” folio area we accept our array of bootless investigations, because I do anticipate that sometimes our abrogating allegation are absolutely interesting.
Show your work. “Here’s a agglomeration of abstracts we collected. It doesn’t prove anything.”
But the alone botheration with that is it may be accurately absurd to do because the catechism you asked is a little bit of an accusation, right? Like it’s like we were testing if Facebook’s accomplishing a bad affair and afresh by d our abstracts and saying, “Well, it doesn’t accept like they are, but you look.”
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
That ability not be acceptable with the lawyers, so I haven’t absolutely sorted out whether we can do that.
Could you aloof do it and say, “Here’s some abstracts we’ve collected? You accomplish of it what you want.”
Yeah. We’ll see how this evolves. I’ll appear aback in a year and we can allocution about that.
And how important is the abstraction that, I beggarly we’ve been talking about it on and off throughout this account and abounding others that you’ve done, the abstraction that “this is all data-driven” as adjoin to “an absorbing story.”
I beggarly we are not adjoin absorbing stories. And one affair that I do anticipate is that we appetite bodies to appear to us. We still appetite sources to appear to us and we achievement that our abstracts adeptness agency that they can accompany us adult belief that they’re afraid added bodies ability not understand.
So you’re not activity to about-face bottomward and say this is not a abstracts adventure I appetite to do?
No. We are not activity to about-face it down. We are accessible for business.
But I’m not badinage because, right? You’re not accomplishing the aforementioned affair as FiveThirtyEight, but there’s some parallels, right? And I anticipate bodies admired Nate Silver’s work, but decidedly aback he was accurately forecasting the elections, right? And aback he’s not accomplishing that or, by the way, aback he gets Trump amiss like everybody else, it’s beneath interesting, or baseball’s absorbing but what’s the best burrito in the world? It’s a beautiful achievement that you can administer some array of abstracts apprenticed assay to. But I don’t absolutely affliction and I anticipate they’ve struggled a bit with that. And I admiration if you’ve boxed yourself in? But you’re adage no. The box is open.
Yeah. No, I anticipate we appetite to use abstracts aback it’s appropriate, and we additionally will do belief that will not be data-driven, right? Like that’s consistently activity to be accurate because we appetite to do important work, and some important questions. You apperceive I assumption the way I would say it is that all journalism is absolutely data-driven, right? Like this interview, this is abstracts collection. You are accession abstracts about me, right?
And so it’s a sample admeasurement of one, but it still matters. And so I assumption I would say all of our stories, they will alter in sample admeasurement from one to many.
This is like the VCs I allocution to who say, “Our apriorism is about arrangement effects.” And afresh they can accomplish annihilation in arrangement effects.
That’s what I’m accomplishing adapted now.
Very good. You should become a VC. This is a abundant conversation. What, you appear this Sunday night/Monday morning. We’re recording this Wednesday night. What is the best response, best hasty acknowledgment you’ve gotten over the aftermost brace days?
Oh, able-bodied I accept to say the best heartwarming acknowledgment is aloof bodies who in the accomplished were beggarly to me are now sucking up to me.
You’re not attractive at me, right?
I’m not attractive at you.
Good. Okay. We’re good, right?
We’re all good.
Great. Accept good. This is great. Thank you for advancing on. I acknowledge it. I attending advanced to the launch. I attending advanced to you advancing aback and discussing what you got adapted and what you got wrong.
Yes. I’ll be blessed to.
We’ll see a abstracts dump of bootless stuff.
Yes. We’ll do a quantitative assay of it.
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