Antifragility and Big Tech

Two interesting things happened to me the other day.

Facebook rejected my ads for allegedly attempting to exploit controversial social issues for commercial gain, and I discovered my Duolingo account had been hacked.

Facebook’s presumably automated ad checking algorithms flagged advertisements I attempted to run for violating their policy regarding controversial issues. What issues? Pet bandanas advertised as being made in the USA. I’m not sure whether it was the idea of putting a scarf on a cat or letting people know where the scarf was made that shocked the tender sensibilities of Facebook’s enforcement wing. I’ve requested a review and await clarification on that point. I am not holding my breath.

The very same day I checked into Duolingo to continue my leisurely-paced Spanish education and, happening to click on my account information, discovered that my profile picture, password, and contact email address had been changed.

Congratulations, AryanxD. I hope you enjoyed your time with my Pearl Level badge.

These two object lessons reinforced something I’ve been thinking about and preaching but, apparently, not practicing adequately: depending on Big Tech is careless to the point of recklessness. Google’s single sign-on is very, very convenient. It’s also a serious vulnerability. Think about how many websites, services, and even devices you can log into automatically once authenticated through your Google credentials. Fortunately for me, I’ve been moving away from the Google ecosystem for some time now, otherwise AryanxD might have had access to a lot more than my Duolingo account settings.

And then there’s Facebook. This is a new business for me. I’m not dependent on it for income–which is good, because there hasn’t been any yet–and I’m not putting all my marketing eggs in Facebook’s basket. It’s just one of several social media venues I’m using for marketing. As much as I find Facebook’s policies and political leanings unsavory, their reach is undeniable and I would be a fool not to try to use it for outreach. And yet, as near as I can tell based on what I have seen so far, my ads were being rejected for merely using the phrase “made in the USA” to describe very conventional products marketed to people on the basis of pet ownership, not political opinion. The violation seems to be the perception that “made in the USA” is a signal to people Facebook finds objectionable. I’ll leave that observation without further comment and allow you, the reader, to make of it what you will.

The common thread is this. Depending on Facebook for advertising or Google for authentication leaves me at their mercy. These are massive companies who seem to be at least indifferent to the concerns of individual customers simply by virtue of their scale. Building around them is building in vulnerability.

Which brings us to the antifragile approach. Antifragility is a concept made famous by Nassim Taleb to describe systems which respond to disruptions by becoming stronger, as opposed to fragile systems which break or resilient systems which return to normal.

In this case, Facebook has provided me with some excellent ad material which I am using to promote my brand on competing social media platforms such as MeWe that are more open to a broad array of opinions, or at least aren’t outright hostile to a particular perspective. The good people at Duolingo were kind enough to reset my password and disconnect my account from Google. I quickly changed the password to something much more secure and switched my contact email to my personal address.

The moral? Move away from the centralized web. Don’t be fooled by the apparent convenience of outsourcing your information security to companies that sell information for profit. Build your own decentralized, redundant networks. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, first make yourself invulnerable, then be ready to seize opportunities that present themselves.

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