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Opinion Editorials

Who’s missing next to Zuckerberg as he testifies at the political circus?

(EDITORIAL) Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t testifying because of web privacy violations, this is all a political opportunity with a dash of regulatory salivation thrown in.

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Cambridge Analytica. The name of this company has become synonymous with a breach of your privacy. Several years ago, the company took advantage of a loophole that gave them access to 50 million Facebook users’ information. The story is convoluted, but the entire timeline is laid out here so you can see this is about more than just your privacy.

Today, Facebook has begun alerting users if their info was used by Cambridge Analytica to politically target them without their direct consent. But there is no recourse other than the sheer knowledge that your info was used. How novel.

Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg has headed to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress about this situation, which we all know will turn into a dog and pony show filled with political bluster from both sides as they use their time to lecture and stump, and maybe ask a semi-informed question or two.

Why is Zuckerberg on the hot seat alone? Because they’re the biggest visible fish in the sea, so Facebook will be made an example of. Their entire business model is to make money off of your information, and they’ve been pretty open about that since day one.

But Zuck didn’t set the tone, Eric Schmidt at Google did. And social media platforms have followed suit ever since.

Think about it – you know that Facebook collects the data you insert into their walled garden, but Google manufactured your tv, all of your phones, Gmail accounts, and your home assistant, and it’s obvious what they’re doing with all of that data as it is mined and consolidated in a much less obvious way than Facebook. And it’s strange that Google hasn’t come up in any of these talks of collusion, given the depth of their data and lax requirements of advertisers.

That takes us to the overreactions of today – you know that all of you deleting your Facebook accounts aren’t really deleting anything other than your access, right? Facebook still retains the rights to your photos, posts, and past activity. Just as Schmidt noted above as it pertains to Google.

So your information was used to be advertised to. Nothing new to see here. In fact, it’s not even new that Facebook data could be used politically. Although Facebook seemed to turn the other way when this information was being used, they’re certainly no political virgins – Carol Davidsen, director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America, said Sunday on Twitter of Facebook, “They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”

So it’s not new that Facebook allows third parties to use your data. It’s also not new that the data is openly used for political targeting. So why is this call for Congressional hearings now that the toothpaste is so far out of the tube that it’s down the sink!?

Sadly, politics. Because this time it benefited someone that’s popular to hate. But the result will have nothing to do with politics at all.

People under 30 never lived a life with privacy and can tell you that they know it doesn’t exist – and if it’s gone, it’s still on a social media company’s servers somewhere. And if you take a quiz about what kind of bread you are, you know that your info is going to be used for something, because we all know that if you don’t pay for a product, YOU are the product (that’s an old line dating back eras). This is what politicians intend on legislating, good or bad.

Sure, Zuckerberg is the target of the hearings because of the Cambridge Analytica situation that benefited Trump instead of literally anyone else on the planet, but again, he’s flying solo because he’s the biggest fish in the social media sea.

And he should not be in the hot seat alone.

Jack Dorsey should be sitting next to him. Steve Huffman should be sitting next to him. Reid Hoffman should be sitting next to him. Eric Schmidt should be sitting right behind Sundar Pichai.

But it’s more than that. If Zuckerberg is on the hot seat, so should every company that ever uses your data without your direct consent or complete understanding. The politicians and talking heads are all dominating the airwaves right now screaming about privacy, and stomping around that it must be addressed (again, they’re over a decade late). So why not force the auto insurers that use your smartphone info, or health insurers that can use your smartphone activity to indicate your activity levels (and duh, insurability). Why not the fitness apps that report user locations to the public, accidentally unveiling secret military bases? Why not television manufacturers for using data above and beyond what cable knows (like app usage), selling that info to the highest bidders?

Try to tell me this is about privacy. It’s not. So let me tell you where this is going.

Zuckerberg’s flamboyant “let them eat cake” attitude is something the tech world is used to, but politicians are not. What’s at stake is the very nature of Facebook. What are they? How can politicians regulate them? How can they protect users based on the marginal information they kind of understand and kind of don’t?

The bottom line is that they’re asking if Facebook is a media company, a moniker they’ve brushed off for years. That’s where this is going. And they are a media company. Because they are, but are not legislated as one, politicians have set a trap for ol’ Zuck.

And he shouldn’t be alone testifying. He should have a litany of counterparts at various social media companies up there. But their first step is to pin him with being a media company so they can simply regulate the rest.

We’ve cheered on and red flagged both sides of the social media boom since before it began, but watching people not in tune with technology fumble over regulating it is simply bad for business.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note…so let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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Opinion Editorials

COVID-19 acts are unfortunately too short sighted

(BUSINESS NEWS) The biggest flaw in the CARES act is simply that it won’t last. Numerous issues have extended the life of COVID-19 but the act hasn’t matched it.

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The CARES act gives an additional $600 weekly to those on unemployment assistance. The idea being that, combined with the $380 already granted by unemployment, the payments would roughly equal the wage of the average worker prior to the pandemic- about $1,000 weekly.

But on July 31st, the expansion that CARES provides will expire, and benefits will return to pre-pandemic amounts. Those currently receiving the maximum payment will see a 61% decrease in their income. In states that offer lower benefit payments, that percentage goes even higher. All of this comes during a national rental crisis, and moratoriums on evictions across the country are also nearing their ends or being extended last minute.

This isn’t the first or only “yuge” hole in the federal government’s COVID-19 safety net. Many Americans (this writer included) have seen neither hide nor hair of their promised stimulus checks. The HEROES act, which is being billed as a second round of stimulus money, remains under debate- as it has been for several weeks.

And the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain businesses to provide two weeks of paid leave to workers who may be sick (or caring for someone who is) has plenty of problems too, namely the laundry list of exceptions to it.

This is just the most recent push to return to the pre-virus economy before effective protective measures have been put in place for workers and consumers alike. After all, with cases of COVID-19 spiking again in the US, it’s apparent that the act is still absolutely necessary. Our lawmakers either lack patience, or compassion – take your pick. Frankly, I say it’s both.

Not only have countless health experts warned that reopening too early will be disastrous, but if a second lockdown is in our future, all of the time, money, and human lives that went into reopening will be wasted.

There is a silver lining among the storm clouds on the horizon. Because ballooning unemployment has created long wait times for benefit applicants, unemployment assistance programs are shelling out retroactive back payments to those deemed eligible.

Good news, at least, for laid off workers who have been waiting months to hear their fate.

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Opinion Editorials

Women-owned businesses make up 42% of all businesses – heck yeah!

(EDITORIAL) Women-owned businesses make a huge impact on the U.S economy. They make up 42% of all businesses, outpace the national growth rate by 50%, and hire billions of workers.

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Women entrepreneurs make history in the U.S as female-owned businesses represent 42% of all businesses, while continuing to increase at DOUBLE the national growth rate!

Women are running the world, and we are here for it! The 2019 American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, states 13 million women are now self-employed entrepreneurs. From 2014 to 2019, women-owned businesses grew 21%. Think that’s impressive? Well, businesses owned by women of color grew 43% within the same timeframe, with a growth rate of 50%, and currently account for 50% of all women-owned businesses! Way to go! What this also means is that women employ over 2.4 million workers who together generate $422.5 billion in revenue.

What can we learn from these women that’ll help you achieve success in your businesses?

  1. Get informed: In a male-dominated business industry, women are often at a disadvantage and face multiple biases. So, know your stuff; study, research, and when you think you know it all…dig deeper!
  2. Stay hungry: Remember why you started this journey. Write down notes and reminders, goals, and inspirations, hang them up and keep them close.
  3. Ask for advice: Life is not meant to go through alone, so ask questions. Find a mentor and talk to people who have walked a similar path. Learning from them will only benefit your business.

Many of these women found ways to use their passion to drive their business. It may not be exactly what they thought it would be when they started out, but is it ever? Everyone has to start off small and rejection is part of the process. In fact, stories of rejection often serve as inspiration and encouragement to soon-to-be self starters.

Did you know J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” book was turned down TWELVE times? Seven books later with over 400 million copies sold, the Harry Potter brand is currently valued at over 15 billion. While you might not become a wizard-writing fantasy legend like J.K Rowling, you sure as heck can be successful. So go for it, and chase your dreams.

If you want to support women-owned businesses, start by scrolling through Facebook or doing some research to find women-owned businesses in your community. Then, support by buying or helping to promote their products. Small businesses, especially women-owned, black women-owned, and women of color-owned, are disproportionally affected by the current economic crisis ignited by a health pandemic. So if you can, shop small and support local. And remember, there’s a girl (or more) doing a happy dance when you checkout!

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