This Is How Human Extinction Could Play Out
Author: Bill McKibben
Date Written: Apr 9, 2019 at 4:41 AM
Date Saved: 4/14/19, 10:54 AM
Stubs of corn chopped down because of heat and lack of rain in Nebraska, 2012. “In the human game, the single most important question is probably ‘What’s for dinner?’ writes McKibben. “And when the answer is ‘Not much,’ things deteriorate fast.”
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Excerpted from “FALTER: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” by Bill McKibben. Published by Henry Holt and Company April 16th 2019. Copyright © 2019 by Bill McKibben. All rights reserved.
Oh, it could get very bad.
In 2015, a study in the Journal of Mathematical Biology pointed out that if the world’s oceans kept warming, by 2100 they might become hot enough to “stop oxygen production by phyto-plankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis.” Given that two-thirds of the Earth’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton, that would “likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans.”
A year later, above the Arctic Circle, in Siberia, a heat wave thawed a reindeer carcass that had been trapped in the permafrost. The exposed body released anthrax into nearby water and soil, infecting two thousand reindeer grazing nearby, and they in turn infected some humans; a twelve-year-old boy died. As it turns out, permafrost is a “very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark” — scientists have managed to revive an eight-million-year-old bacterium they found beneath the surface of a glacier. Researchers believe there are fragments of the Spanish flu virus, smallpox, and bubonic plague buried in Siberia and Alaska.
Or consider this: as ice sheets melt, they take weight off land, and that can trigger earthquakes — seismic activity is already increasing in Greenland and Alaska. Meanwhile, the added weight of the new seawater starts to bend the Earth’s crust. “That will give you a massive increase in volcanic activity. It’ll activate faults to create earthquakes, submarine landslides, tsunamis, the whole lot,” explained the director of University College London’s Hazard Centre. Such a landslide happened in Scandinavia about eight thousand years ago, as the last Ice Age retreated and a Kentucky-size section of Norway’s continental shelf gave way, “plummeting down to the abyssal plain and creating a series of titanic waves that roared forth with a vengeance,” wiping all signs of life from coastal Norway to Greenland and “drowning the Wales-sized landmass that once connected Britain to the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.” When the waves hit the Shetlands, they were sixty-five feet high.
There’s even this: if we keep raising carbon dioxide levels, we may not be able to think straight anymore. At a thousand parts per million (which is within the realm of possibility for 2100), human cognitive ability falls 21 percent. “The largest effects were seen for Crisis Response, Information Usage, and Strategy,” a Harvard study reported, which is too bad, as those skills are what we seem to need most.
I could, in other words, do my best to scare you silly. I’m not opposed on principle — changing something as fundamental as the composition of the atmosphere, and hence the heat balance of the planet, is certain to trigger all manner of horror, and we shouldn’t shy away from it. The dramatic uncertainty that lies ahead may be the most frightening development of all; the physical world is going from backdrop to foreground. (It’s like the contrast between politics in the old days, when you could forget about Washington for weeks at a time, and politics in the Trump era, when the president is always jumping out from behind a tree to yell at you.)
But let’s try to occupy ourselves with the most likely scenarios, because they are more than disturbing enough. Long before we get to tidal waves or smallpox, long before we choke to death or stop thinking clearly, we will need to concentrate on the most mundane and basic facts: everyone needs to eat every day, and an awful lot of us live near the ocean.
FOOD SUPPLY first. We’ve had an amazing run since the end of World War II, with crop yields growing fast enough to keep ahead of a fast-rising population. It’s come at great human cost — displaced peasant farmers fill many of the planet’s vast slums — but in terms of sheer volume, the Green Revolution’s fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery managed to push output sharply upward. That climb, however, now seems to be running into the brute facts of heat and drought. There are studies to demonstrate the dire effects of warming on coffee, cacao, chickpeas, and champagne, but it is cereals that we really need to worry about, given that they supply most of the planet’s calories: corn, wheat, and rice all evolved as crops in the climate of the last ten thousand years, and though plant breeders can change them, there are limits to those changes. You can move a person from Hanoi to Edmonton, and she might decide to open a Vietnamese restaurant. But if you move a rice plant, it will die.
A 2017 study in Australia, home to some of the world’s highest-tech farming, found that “wheat productivity has flatlined as a direct result of climate change.” After tripling between 1900 and 1990, wheat yields had stagnated since, as temperatures increased a degree and rainfall declined by nearly a third. “The chance of that just being variable climate without the underlying factor [of climate change] is less than one in a hundred billion,” the researchers said, and it meant that despite all the expensive new technology farmers kept introducing, “they have succeeded only in standing still, not in moving forward.” Assuming the same trends continued, yields would actually start to decline inside of two decades, they reported. In June 2018, researchers found that a two-degree Celsius rise in temperature — which, recall, is what the Paris accords are now aiming for — could cut U.S. corn yields by 18 percent. A four-degree increase — which is where our current trajectory will take us — would cut the crop almost in half. The United States is the world’s largest producer of corn, which in turn is the planet’s most widely grown crop.
Corn is vulnerable because even a week of high temperatures at the key moment can keep it from fertilizing. (“You only get one chance to pollinate a quadrillion kernels of corn,” the head of a commodity consulting firm explained.) But even the hardiest crops are susceptible. Sorghum, for instance, which is a staple for half a billion humans, is particularly hardy in dry conditions because it has big, fibrous roots that reach far down into the earth. Even it has limits, though, and they are being reached. Thirty years of data from the American Midwest show that heat waves affect the “vapor pressure deficit,” the difference between the water vapor in the sorghum leaf’s interior and that in the surrounding air. Hotter weather means the sorghum releases more moisture into the atmosphere. Warm the planet’s temperature by two degrees Celsius — which is, again, now the world’s goal — and sorghum yields drop 17 percent. Warm it five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit), and yields drop almost 60 percent.
It’s hard to imagine a topic duller than sorghum yields. It’s the precise opposite of clickbait. But people have to eat; in the human game, the single most important question is probably “What’s for dinner?” And when the answer is “Not much,” things deteriorate fast. In 2010 a severe heat wave hit Russia, and it wrecked the grain harvest, which led the Kremlin to ban exports. The global price of wheat spiked, and that helped trigger the Arab Spring — Egypt at the time was the largest wheat importer on the planet. That experience set academics and insurers to work gaming out what the next food shock might look like. In 2017 one team imagined a vigorous El Niño, with the attendant floods and droughts — for a season, in their scenario, corn and soy yields declined by 10 percent, and wheat and rice by 7 percent. The result was chaos: “quadrupled commodity prices, civil unrest, significant negative humanitarian consequences . . . Food riots break out in urban areas across the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America. The euro weakens and the main European stock markets lose ten percent.”
At about the same time, a team of British researchers released a study demonstrating that even if you can grow plenty of food, the transportation system that distributes it runs through just fourteen major choke-points, and those are vulnerable to — you guessed it — massive disruption from climate change. For instance, U.S. rivers and canals carry a third of the world’s corn and soy, and they’ve been frequently shut down or crimped by flooding and drought in recent years. Brazil accounts for 17 percent of the world’s grain exports, but heavy rainfall in 2017 stranded three thousand trucks. “It’s the glide path to a perfect storm,” said one of the report’s authors.
Five weeks after that, another report raised an even deeper question. What if you can figure out how to grow plenty of food, and you can figure out how to guarantee its distribution, but the food itself has lost much of its value? The paper, in the journal Environmental Research, said that rising carbon dioxide levels, by speeding plant growth, seem to have reduced the amount of protein in basic staple crops, a finding so startling that, for many years, agronomists had overlooked hints that it was happening. But it seems to be true: when researchers grow grain at the carbon dioxide levels we expect for later this century, they find that minerals such as calcium and iron drop by 8 percent, and protein by about the same amount. In the developing world, where people rely on plants for their protein, that means huge reductions in nutrition: India alone could lose 5 percent of the protein in its total diet, putting 53 million people at new risk for protein deficiency. The loss of zinc, essential for maternal and infant health, could endanger 138 million people around the world. In 2018, rice researchers found “significantly less protein” when they grew eighteen varieties of rice in high–carbon dioxide test plots. “The idea that food became less nutritious was a surprise,” said one researcher. “It’s not intuitive. But I think we should continue to expect surprises. We are completely altering the biophysical conditions that underpin our food system.” And not just ours. People don’t depend on goldenrod, for instance, but bees do. When scientists looked at samples of goldenrod in the Smithsonian that dated back to 1842, they found that the protein content of its pollen had “declined by a third since the industrial revolution — and the change closely tracks with the rise in carbon dioxide.”
Bees help crops, obviously, so that’s scary news. But in August 2018, a massive new study found something just as frightening: crop pests were thriving in the new heat. “It gets better and better for them,” said one University of Colorado researcher. Even if we hit the UN target of limiting temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, pests should cut wheat yields by 46 percent, corn by 31 percent, and rice by 19 percent. “Warmer temperatures accelerate the metabolism of insect pests like aphids and corn borers at a predictable rate,” the researchers found. “That makes them hungrier[,] and warmer temperatures also speed up their reproduction.” Even fossilized plants from fifty million years ago make the point: “Plant damage from insects correlated with rising and falling temperatures, reaching a maximum during the warmest periods.”
JUST AS PEOPLE have gotten used to eating a certain amount of food every day, they’ve gotten used to living in particular places. For obvious reasons, many of these places are right by the ocean: estuaries, where rivers meet the sea, are among the richest ecosystems on Earth, and water makes for easy trade. From the earliest cities (Athens, Corinth, Rhodes) to the biggest modern metropolises (Shanghai, New York, Mumbai), proximity to saltwater meant wealth and power. And now it means exquisite, likely fatal, vulnerability.
Throughout the Holocene (the ten-thousand-year period that began as the last ice age ceased, the stretch that encompasses all recorded human history), the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere stayed stable, and therefore so did the sea level, and hence it took a while for people to worry about sea level rise. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted in 2003 that sea level should rise a mere half meter by the end of the twenty-first century, most of that coming because warm water takes up more space than cold, and while a half meter would be enough to cause expense and trouble, it wouldn’t really interfere with settlement patterns. But even as the IPCC scientists made that estimate, they cautioned that it didn’t take into account the possible melt of the great ice sheets over Greenland and Antarctica. And pretty much everything we’ve learned in the years since makes scientists think that those ice sheets are horribly vulnerable.
Paleoclimatologists, for instance, have discovered that in the distant past, sea levels often rose and fell with breathtaking speed. Fourteen thousand years ago, as the Ice Age began to loosen its grip, huge amounts of ice thawed in what researchers call meltwater pulse 1A, raising the sea level by sixty feet. Thirteen feet of that may have come in a single century. Another team found that millions of years ago, during the Pliocene, with carbon dioxide levels about where they are now, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet seems to have collapsed in as little as a hundred years. “The latest field data out of West Antarctica is kind of an OMG thing,” a federal official said in 2016 — and that was before the really epochal news in the early summer of 2018, when eighty-four researchers from forty-four institutions pooled their data and concluded that the frozen continent had lost three trillion tons of ice in the last three decades, with the rate of melt tripling since 2012. As a result, scientists are now revising their estimates steadily upward. Not half a meter of sea level rise, but a meter. Or two meters. “Several meters in the next fifty to 150 years,” said James Hansen, the planet’s premier climatologist, who added that such a rise would make coastal cities “practically ungovernable.” As Jeff Goodell (who in 2017 wrote the most comprehensive book to date on sea level rise) put it, such a rise would “create generations of climate refugees that will make today’s Syrian war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production.”
What’s really breathtaking is how ill-prepared we are for such changes. Goodell spent months reporting in Miami Beach, which was literally built on sand dredged up from the bottom of Biscayne Bay. He managed to track down Florida’s biggest developer, Jorge Pérez, at a museum opening. Pérez was not, he insisted, worried about the rising sea because “I believe that in twenty or thirty years, someone is going to find a solution for this. If it is a problem for Miami, it will also be a problem for New York and Boston — so where are people going to go?” (He added, with Trump-level narcissism, “Besides, by that time I’ll be dead, so what does it matter?”) To the extent that we’re planning at all, it’s for the old, low predictions of a meter or less. Venice, for instance, is spending $6 billion on a series of inflatable booms to hold back storm tides. But they’re designed to stop sea level rise of about a foot. New York City is building a “U-Barrier,” a berm to protect Lower Manhattan from inundation in a storm the size of Hurricane Sandy. But as the sea level rises, winds like Sandy’s will drive far more water into Manhattan, so why not build it higher? “Because the cost goes up exponentially,” said the architect. The cost is already starting to mount. Researchers showed in 2018 that Florida homes near the flood lines were selling at a 7 percent discount, a figure growing over time because “sophisticated buyers” know what is coming. Insurance companies are balking: basements from “New York to Mumbai” may be uninsurable by 2020, the CEO of one of Europe’s largest insurers said in 2018.
SOME OF the cost of climate change can be measured in units we’re used to dealing with. Testimony submitted by climate scientists to a federal court in 2017, for instance, said that if we don’t take much stronger action now, future citizens would have to pay $535 trillion to cope with global warming. How is that possible? Take one small county in Florida, which needs to raise 150 miles of road to prevent flooding from even minimal sea level rise. That costs $7 million a mile, putting the price tag at over $1 billion, in a county that has an annual road budget of $25 million. Or consider the numbers from Alaska, where officials are preparing to move one coastal village with four hundred residents that’s threatened by rising waters at a cost of up to $400 million — $1 million a person. Multiply this by everyone everywhere, and you understand why the costs run so high. A team of economists predicted a 12 percent risk that global warming could reduce global economic output by 50 percent by 2100 — that is to say, there’s a one-in-eight chance of something eight times as bad as the Great Recession.
But some things can’t be measured, and the damage there seems even greater. For instance, the median estimate, from the International Organization for Migration, is that we may see two hundred million climate refugees by 2050. (The high estimate is a billion.) Already “the likelihood of being uprooted from one’s home has increased sixty percent compared with forty years ago.” The U.S. military frets about that because masses of people on the march destabilize entire regions. “Security will start to crumble pretty quickly,” said Adm. Samuel Locklear, former chief of U.S. Pacific Command, explaining why climate change was his single greatest worry.
The biggest worry for people losing their homes is . . . losing their homes. So, let me tell you about a trip I took last summer, to the ice shelf of Greenland. I was with a pair of veteran ice scientists and two young poets — a woman named Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, and another named Aka Niviana, who was born on this largest of all the Earth’s islands, a massive sheet of ice that, when it melts, will raise the level of the oceans more than twenty feet.
And it is melting. We landed at the World War II–era airstrip in Narsarsuaq and proceeded by boat through the iceberg-clogged Tunulliarfik Fjord, arriving eventually at the foot of the Qaterlait Glacier. We hauled gear up the sloping, icy ramp of the glacier and made camp on an outcrop of red granite bedrock nearly a kilometer inland. In fact, we made camp twice, because the afternoon sun swelled the stream we’d chosen for a site, and soon the tents were inundated. But after dinner, in the late Arctic sunlight, the two women donned the traditional dress of their respective homelands and hiked farther up the glacier, till they could see both the ocean and the high ice. And there they performed a poem they’d composed, a cry from angry and engaged hearts about the overwhelming fact of their lives.
The ice of Niviana’s homeland was disappearing, and with it a way of life. While we were on the ice sheet, researchers reported that “the oldest and thickest sea ice” in the Arctic had melted, “opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen even in summer.” Just up the coast from our camp, a landslide triggered by melting ice had recently set off a hundred-foot tsunami that killed four people in a remote village: it was, said scientists, precisely the kind of event that will “become more frequent as the climate warms.”
The effect, however, is likely to be even more immediate on Jetnil-Kijiner’s home. The Marshalls are a meter or two above sea level, and already the “king tides” wash through living rooms and unearth grave- yards. The breadfruit trees and the banana palms are wilting as saltwater intrudes on the small lens of fresh water that has supported life on the atolls for millennia. Jetnil-Kijiner was literally standing on the ice that, as it melts, will drown her home, leaving her and her countrymen with, as she put it, “only a passport to call home.”
So, you can understand the quiet rage that flowed through the poem the two women had written, a poem they now shouted into a chill wind on this glacier that owed up to the great ice sheet, silhouetted against the hemisphere’s starkest landscape. It was a fury that came from a long and bitter history: the Marshalls were the site of the atom bomb tests after the war, and Bikini Atoll remains uninhabitable, just as the United States left nuclear waste lying around the ice when it abandoned the thirty bases it had built in Greenland.
The very same beastsThat now decideWho should liveAnd who should die . . .We demand that the world see beyond
SUVs, ACs, their pre-packaged convenience
Their oil-slicked dreams, beyond the belief
That tomorrow will never happen
But, of course, climate change is different, the first crisis that, though it affects the most vulnerable first and hardest, will eventually come for us all.
Let me bring my home to yours
Let’s watch as Miami, New York,
Shanghai, Amsterdam, London
Rio de Janeiro and Osaka
Try to breathe underwater . . .
None of us is immune.
Science can tell us a good deal about this crisis. Jason Box, an American glaciologist who organized the trip, has spent the last twenty-five years journeying to Greenland. “We called this place where we are now the Eagle Glacier because of its shape when we first came here five years ago,” Box said. “But now the head and the wings of the bird have melted away. I don’t know what we should call it now, but the eagle is dead.” He busied himself replacing the batteries in his remote weather stations, scattered across the ice. They tell one story, but his colleague Alun Hubbard, a Welsh scientist, conceded that there were limits to what instruments could explain. “It’s just gobsmacking looking at the trauma of the landscape,” he said. “I just couldn’t register the scale of how the ice sheet had changed in my head.”
But artists can register scale. They can transpose the fact of melting ice to inundated homes and bewildered lives, gauge it against long history and lost future. Science and economics have no real way to value the fact that people have lived for millennia in a certain rhythm, have eaten the food and sung the songs of certain places that are now disappearing. This is a cost only art can measure, and it makes sense that the units of that measurement are sadness and fury — and also, remarkably, hope. The women’s poem, shouted into the chill wind, ended like this:
Life in all forms demands
The same respect we all give to money . . .
So each and every one of usHas to decideIf weWillRise
And so, we must — in fact, this book will end with a description of what that rising might look like. But if, as now seems certain, the melt continues, then the villages of the Marshalls and the ports of Greenland will be overwhelmed. And we will all be a little poorer, because a way of being will have been cut off. The puzzle of being human will have lost some of its oldest, most artful pieces.
“The loss of Venice,” Jeff Goodell writes, wouldn’t be about just the loss of present-day Venetians. “It’s the loss of the stones in the narrow streets where Titian and Giorgione walked. It’s the loss of eleventh- century mosaics in the basilica, and the unburied home of Marco Polo, and palazzos along the Grand Canal. . . . The loss of Venice is about the loss of a part of ourselves that reaches back in time and binds us together as civilized people.”
We all have losses already. Where I live, it’s the seasons: winter doesn’t reliably mean winter anymore, and so the way we’ve always viscerally told time has begun to break down. In California, it’s the sense of ease: the smell of the fire next time lingers in the eucalyptus groves. There are many ways to be poorer, and we’re going to find out all of them.
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This explains why we get such horrible results from people we elect’
While stitching a cut on the hand of a 75-year-old farmer, whose hand was caught in the squeeze gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man.
Eventually, the topic got around to politicians and their role as our leaders.
The old farmer said, “Well, as I see it, most politicians are ‘Post Turtles’.”
Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle’ was.
The old rancher said, “When you’re driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a post turtle,”
The old farmer saw the puzzled look on the doctor’s face so he continued to explain, “You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he’s up there, he’s elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of idiot put him up there to begin with.”
Best explanation of a politician I’ve ever heard.
Gabrielle Peters, a wheelchair user in Vancouver, reminds people to ask before touching or pushing their chair.
— Read on www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/a-wheelchair-user-s-guide-to-consent-1.4982862
“Just a stick” that keeps me from bumping into things? I don’t think so, it is actually a White Cane that allows me to avoid obstacles and provides me the freedom to access and explore my world, talking GPS apps provide the rest.
Teen could change lives with new Smart Cane
— Read on www.680news.com/video/2018/08/22/teen-could-change-lives-with-new-smart-cane/
I have posted below this long list of Facebook infractions some comments related to my beliefs about Personal Responsibility on matters such as this.
A brief history of Facebook’s privacy hostility ahead of Zuckerberg’s testimony
TechCrunch / Natasha Lomas
Indeed, in the face of the snowballing Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal, the company’s leadership (see also: Sheryl Sandberg) has been quick to try to spin an idea that it was simply too “idealistic and optimistic” — and that ‘bad actors’ exploited its surfeit of goodwill.
This of course is pure fiction.
Facebook’s long history of privacy hostility should make that plain to any thinking person. As former FTC director David Vladeck wrote earlier this month: “Facebook can’t claim to be clueless about how this happened. The FTC consent decree put Facebook on notice.”
To be clear, that’s the 2011 FTC consent decree — ergo, a major regulatory privacy sanction that Facebook incurred well over six years ago.
Every Facebook privacy screw up since is either carelessness or intention.
Vladeck’s view is that Facebook’s actions were indeed calculated. “All of Facebook’s actions were calculated and deliberate, integral to the company’s business model, and at odds with the company’s claims about privacy and its corporate values,” he argues.
So we thought it would be helpful to compile an alternative timeline ahead of Zuckerberg’s verbal testimony, highlighting some curious details related to the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal — such as why Facebook hired (and apparently still employs) the co-director of the company that built the personality quiz app that “improperly shared” so much Facebook data with the controversial company — as well as detailing some of its other major privacy missteps over the years.
There are A LOT of these so forgive us if we’ve missed anything — and feel free to put any additions in the comments.
Facebook: An alternative timeline
February 2004 — Facebook is launched by Harvard College student Mark Zuckerberg
September 2006 — Facebook launches News Feed, broadcasting the personal details of Facebook users — including relationship changes — without their knowledge or consent. Scores of users protest at the sudden privacy intrusion. Facebook goes on to concede: “We really messed this one up… we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them.”
November 2007 — Facebook launches a program called Beacon, injecting personal information such as users’ online purchases and video rentals on third party sites into the News Feed without their knowledge or consent. There’s another massive outcry — and a class action lawsuit is filed. Facebook eventually pays $9.5M to settle the lawsuit. It finally shutters the controversial program in 2009
February 2009 — Facebook revises its terms of service to state that users can’t delete their data when they leave the service and there’s another outcry. Backpeddling furiously in a subsequent conference call, Zuckerberg says: “We do not own user data, they own their data. We never intended to give that impression and we feel bad that we did”
April 2010 — four senators call on Facebook to change its policies after it announces a product called Instant Personalization — which automatically hands over some user data to certain third-party sites as soon as a person visits them. The feature has an opt-out but Facebook users are default opted in. “[T]his class of information now includes significant and personal data points that should be kept private unless the user chooses to share them,” the senators warn
May 2010 — following another user backlash against settings changes Facebook makes changes to its privacy controls yet again. “We’re really going to try not to have another backlash,” says Facebook’s VP of product Chris Cox. “If people say they want their stuff to be visible to friends only, it will apply to that stuff going forward”
May 2010 — EPIC complains again to the FTC, requesting an investigation. The watchdog quietly begins an investigation the following year
May 2010 — Facebook along with games developer Zynga is reported to the Norwegian data protection agency. The complaint focuses on app permissions, with the Consumer Council warning about “unreasonable and unbalanced terms and conditions”, and how Facebook users are unwittingly granting permission for personal data and content to be sold on
June 2011 — EPIC files another complaint to the FTC, focused on Facebook’s use of facial recognition technology to automatically tag users in photos uploaded to its platform
August 2011 — lawyer and privacy campaigner Max Schrems files a complaint against Facebook Ireland flagging its app permissions data sinkhole. “Facebook Ireland could not answer me which applications have accessed my personal data and which of my friends have allowed them to do so,” he writes. “Therefore there is practically no way how I could ever find out if a developer of an application has misused data it got from Facebook Ireland in some way”
November 2011 — Facebook settles an eight-count FTC complaint over deceptive privacy practices, agreeing to make changes opt-in going forward and to gain express consent from users to any future changes. It must also submit to privacy audits every two years for the next 20 years; bar access to content on deactivated accounts; and avoid misrepresenting the privacy or security of user data. The settlement with the FTC is finalized the following year. Facebook is not fined
December 2011 — Facebook agrees to make some changes to how it operates internationally following Schrems’ complaint leading to an audit of its operations by the Irish Data Protection Commission
September 2012 — Facebook turns off an automatic facial recognition feature in Europe following another audit by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission. The privacy watchdog also recommends Facebook tightens app permissions on its platform, including to close down developers’ access to friends data
May 2014 — Facebook finally announces at its developer conference that it will be shutting down an API that let developers harvest users’ friends data without their knowledge or consent, initially for new developer users — giving existing developers a year-long window to continue sucking this data
May 2014 — Facebook only now switches off the public default for users’ photos and status updates, setting default visibility to ‘friends’
May 2014 — Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan runs a pilot of a personality test app (called thisisyourdigitallife) on Facebook’s platform with around 10,000 users. His company, GSR, then signs a data-licensing contract with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, in June 2014, to supply it with psychological profiles linked to US voters. Over the summer of 2014 the app is downloaded by around 270,000 Facebook users and ends up harvesting personal information on as many as 87 million people — the vast majority of whom would have not known or consented to data being passed
May 2015 — Facebook finally shutters its friends API for existing developers such as Kogan — but he has already been able to use this to suck out and pass on a massive cache of Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica
December 2015 — the Guardian publishes a story detailing how the Ted Cruz campaign had paid UK academics to gather psychological profiles about the US electorate using “a massive pool of mainly unwitting US Facebook users built with an online survey”. After the story is published Facebook tells the newspaper it is “carefully investigating this situation” regarding the Cruz campaign
February 2016 — the French data watchdog files a formal order against Facebook, including for tracking web browsing habits and collecting sensitive user data such as political views without explicit consent
August 2016 — Facebook-owned WhatsApp announces a major privacy U-turn, saying it will start sharing user data with its parent company — including for marketing and ad targeting purposes. It offers a time-bound opt-out for the data-sharing but pushes a pre-ticked opt-in consent screen to users
November 2016 — facing the ire of regulators in Europe Facebook agrees to suspend some of the data-sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook (this regional ‘pause’ continues to this day). The following year the French data watchdog also puts the company on formal warning that data transfers it is nonetheless carrying out — for ‘business intelligence’ purposes — still lack a legal basis
November 2016 — Zuckerberg describes the idea that fake news on Facebook’s platform could have influenced the outcome of the US election as “a pretty crazy idea” — a comment he later describes as flippant and a mistake
May 2017 –– Facebook is fined $122M in Europe for providing “incorrect or misleading” information to competition regulators who cleared its 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp. It had told them it could not automatically match user accounts between the two platforms, but two years later announced it would indeed be linking accounts
September 2017 — Facebook is fined $1.4M by Spain’s data watchdog, including for collecting data on users ideology and tracking web browsing habits without obtaining adequate consent. Facebook says it will appeal
October 2017 — Facebook says Russian disinformation distributed via its platform may have reached as many as 126 million Facebook users — upping previous estimates of the reach of ‘fake news’. It also agrees to release the Russian ads to Congress, but refuses to make them public
February 2018 — Belgian courts again rule Facebook’s tracking of non-users is illegal. The company keeps appealing
March 2018 — the Guardian and New York Times publish fresh revelations, based on interviews with former Cambridge Analytica employee Chris Wylie, suggesting as many as 50M Facebook users might have had their information passed to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge or consent. Facebook confirms 270,000 people downloaded Kogan’s app. It also finally suspends the account of Cambridge Analytica and its affiliate, SCL, as well as the accounts of Kogan and Wylie
March 21, 2018 — Zuckerberg gives his first response to the revelations about how much Facebook user data was passed to Cambridge Analytica — but omits to explain why the company delayed investigating
March 2018 — the FTC confirms it is (re)investigating Facebook’s privacy practices in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the company’s prior settlement. Facebook also faces a growing number of lawsuits
March 2018 — Facebook outs new privacy controls, as part of its compliance with the EU’s incoming GDPR framework, consolidating settings from 20 screens to just one. However it will not confirm whether all privacy changes will apply for all Facebook users — leading to a coalition of consumer groups to call for a firm commitment from the company to make the new standard its baseline for all services
April 2018 — the UK’s data watchdog confirms Facebook is one of 30 companies it’s investigating as part of an almost year-long probe into the use of personal data and analytics for political targeting
April 2018 — Facebook announces it has shut down a swathe of Russian troll farm accounts
April 2018 — Zuckerberg agrees to give testimony in front of US politicians — but continues to ignore calls to appear before UK politicians to answer questions about the role of fake news on its platform and the potential use of Facebook data in the UK’s Brexit referendum
April 2018 — the Canadian and British Columbian privacy watchdogs announce they are combining existing investigations into Facebook and a local data firm, AggregateIQ, which has been linked to Cambridge Analytica. The next day Facebook reportedly suspends AggregateIQ‘s account on its platform
April 2018 — Facebook says it has started telling affected users whether their information was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica
On Tue 4/10/2018 8:51 AM The Blind Side Group posted:
For those of you who still think that it’s up to people to take responsibility for their data, read this. If you can read this and still think that, I believe you have truly drunk the Facebook Zuckerberg Kool-Aid. 1984 brought to you by massive unaccountable corporations, not the government. At least not yet.
Albert Ruel’s April 10, 2018 Response:
Blind Side Group Members and all, this is all very well known and documented and has been so throughout the history of Facebook, and for that matter all social media outlets. It’s been talked about in all of my circles of influence, so anyone who wasn’t aware of how Facebook used their info is a victum by choice in my view. I agree that we are all victums in this matter, however my contention is that we’re mostly willing risk takers, and those not willing have either removed themselves or not signed up to begin with.
Let’s take the matter of public Wi-Fi connections available to us in Airports and other public places. Have you, or any of this list’s members ever heard or read articles suggesting that we don’t do any banking or other sensitive online stuff while on one of these public Wi-Fi, and after hearing/reading same go right ahead and connect anyway to check our Visa or bank statements? If those people are hacked are we still going to feel sorry for the victum who knowingly walked into a known danger zone? Yes, the criminals ought to be prosecuted for stealing my private info even though I knew I was endangering said info by virtue of the time and place I opted to make it vulnerable, however I maintain that the victum has some responsibility to keep their stuff safe/safer.
In fact, is it not true that if you didn’t lock your home or automobile and a thief makes off with your goods the insurance companies will hold the victum responsible to some degree? I do trust that Facebook will be held to account on this matter, and I suspect they will make changes to their privacy rules as a result, however in order for the platform to remain a viable business model and free to the subscribers those changes will be few and of little consequence. Otherwise it need not exist, or Facebook will have to start charging a monthly fee for us to use it to stay in touch with our friends, family members, Grade School mates and fellow Service Club members, and to read the news of our choosing.
Once again folks, these guys make millions of dollars offering us a free service, one that in actual fact is the largest “Focus Group” in the world, to which 2.9 billion people have willingly signed up and shared all they’re willing to share on a most public forum. Hell, just yesterday I received advertisements for lawn mowers and chainsaws shortly after posting my Facebook Personal Responsibility rant containing those two words. Last September I Checked in on Facebook from a Golf Cource, places I very rarely attend, and for the next week or so I received golf related advertisements. Is this only happening to me, and only in the past week or so? I dare say not, and it’s how it’s always been on Facebook, and if you didn’t know you ought to have known. This great synopsis provided on The Blind Side email group is merely a compilation of the news that’s been out there since Facebook began, so only the truly unplugged will not have heard all or some of these concerns.
Folks, if you walk through a dark alley on the Lower East Side of Vancouver in the middle of the night you’ll be in additional danger of being mugged or killed, if you put your money on the table of a casino, whether legal or illegal your money will be in danger of being removed from you, and if you walk in the middle of a busy street you’ll be in danger of being run over. Yes, there are victums, and there are risk takers. Please don’t confuse the two. I was completely aware that Facebook and other corporations were accessing my info, and I was, and still am willing to undertake that risk. I also understand that others aren’t willing, and I respect their choices.