Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Live by the Facebook, Die by the Facebook

I've been locked out of Facebook on my home computer due to their Trend Micro glitch/hustle/scam.  They halt my login stating that malware has been found on my PC, and force me to download ransomware from Trend Micro and run it to continue to use the platform, to "keep Facebook safe."

Except every part of that is wrong.

My home computer is an iMac, not a PC.  It has no malware.  Macs don't get viruses.  (Shut up, you know they don't really, at least not the way malware circulates for Windows.  Clickbait articles from anti-malware software publishers will suggest they've found some MacOS virus running rampant, but then they trot out a proof-of-concept demo, if even that.  A Mac user could get defrauded via phishing, of course, but that's not a software exploit, that's a human exploit.)

Sophos Home has provided my iMac with a clean bill of health in any case.  The only filth in this computer is my saucy repartee.  My friend Brent does enough anti-malware work in his day job that I trust his expertise on which protection suite to install.

And because my home computer runs MacOS High Sierra and not Windows, it cannot run the Trend Micro ransomware to unlock Facebook.  I can download it but it won't run.  Turns out .EXE files only run in Windows.  I'm just stuck.  Can't log in to Facebook at all.

It's not keyed to my IP address because Facebook still works on my iPhone on wifi.  Alas, that's not good enough for business use but will suffice for light recreational consumption.  All my other apps, utilities, data, shared drives, etc, are on the desktop computer, not my cell, and those are needed to get  real work done.  But it proves the lockout is more device-specific than just an IP range.

It's not Safari-specific because Facebook still works fine on Steph's Macbook Pro, four feet to the left of me.  Both our accounts log in just fine.  This also eliminates iCloud as a possible culprit as both Macs here and my iMac at work are all mirrored into each other via the various iCloud app suite frameworks and drives.

It must be some manner of MAC address or other exact device identifier for my iMac in particular, because I wasn't even able to get around the lockout by clearing cache and cookies, restarting, or even installing Chrome or Tor Browser.  I guess I could leave Tor on my system and go use some cryptocurrency to buy a rock of black tar heroin.  Maybe some other time.

A friend of mine who has inside access at Facebook reached out to me and is helping see if he can untangle this mess, and I'm very grateful for that and hope he can make some headway.

Anyway, at the same time as wanting to put my head through the wall with frustration, I had a chance to think about how utterly dominant Facebook has become as a small business interface.  The rest of all my business contact is just a footnote by comparison.  And that means my ability to make a living is basically held hostage to Facebook's whims.  Not good.
They can lock small business owners out of their official pages any time they want.  They could demand ransom payments of serious amounts.  What choice would we have but to pay or suffer steep losses of contact and reach?  It's not fully shut-us-down dangerous, but it would change the equation on advertising tremendously.

Part of Facebook's power as a platform for businesses comes from the targeted advertising being so overwhelmingly effective for the price it costs.  We have the ability to tailor hyperspecific advert sets that reach exact customer demographic segments, and for a pittance we can address them for relatively exact periods of time, and in such a way that they see the promotion organically as they are going about their recreational web consumption.

That's huge because advertising outside Facebook is so much worse, in essentially every way.  It's less precise to hit a mark, more expensive to craft a message payload to deliver, and vastly more difficult to measure exactly who you reached, with what, and when.  To say nothing of conventional adverts being, well, tacky and commercial-ish.  Whereas on Facebook they're so much less intrusive when done well, and amount to "Here is this cool thing."

Platforms like Google and Yelp are the next tier down and neither of them is offering anywhere near the pound-for-pound value to a business.  And they are the next-best things!

Then there would be retrenching to old media like television, radio, and tree corpses of various kinds.  Expensive and horrifically wasteful.  You pay out the nose and you're all but shouting into the wind.

And yet, and yet, and yet... now I find myself wondering what it will take to get back to broader and more effective advertising in these other media.  Because obviously I can't count on Facebook.  One little lockout and all of a sudden my marathon runner is hobbling along on a wooden leg.  It's breathtaking how crippling this feels to my ability to do my work for the store.

This is only shallow malice, too!  This is just a money grab, focused in the tech sphere.  Much like how they've been manipulating feeds to push businesses for more and more money in order to get their content seen.  What happens when it's about something more pernicious than money?  We know Facebook has been somewhat onerous lately in pushing a political focus... what happens when you don't write what they like?  Or post the photos or videos they approve of?  What happens when you are trying to make a living but you are lacking in your... comradeship?

(It sounds paranoid and excessive until it happens and then you're like wait this is insane how can this really be taking place in this day and age)

And so far we're only contemplating action by the social media platform owner!  (Users are the product.  Business advertisers are ostensibly the customers.  Facebook has made it pretty clear right now who needs whom more.)  When the hive mind truly sets in and a generation of consumers simply live in social media without thinking... that's when we'll be stuck in an episode of Black Mirror.  Not to keep coming back to that reference, but a show about the dark side of ubiquitous communications technology is pretty damned topical to almost everything any of us are doing every day.

Review culture already has us well on the way to "Nosedive" and the bookend segments of "White Christmas."  I'm heartened to see some degree of backlash happening.  Thoughtful consumers no longer instantly believe the one angry guy who 1-starred the restaurant because of some atypical experience where management perhaps fumbled its attempt to make good.  But not all consumers are thoughtful consumers.  A bad review absolutely hurts a business, it drives some amount of casual bread-and-butter traffic away.  And small businesses can only run that rotisserie for a short while; the customer journeys to each competitor in turn, happy until the one thing that pisses him off that day, moves to the next, same thing happens, and then he ends up shrugging, assuming all commerce is awful and always will be, mise well just go to Wal-Mart.  And... (/gestures around at all of this)

I am told this particular Facebook lockout lasts a few days and then goes away on its own.  That likely won't happen until after this article sees print, but I'll edit this paragraph when it does.  Until I get my account back, then... I guess I'll just go stare at the ceiling and try to plan how I'll continue doing business with the ever-tightening ratchet of big social media companies that are becoming more and more powerful in this arena.

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