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My memories are now just Meta training data

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My memories are now just Meta training data

In the novel by RC Sherriff The Hopkins Manuscript, readers are transported to a world 800 years after a catastrophic event wiped out Western civilization. Searching for clues to a blank spot in their planet’s history, scientists from a new world order discover journal entries in a swamp-infested wasteland formerly known as England. For the inhabitants of this new empire, it is only through this record of a retired schoolteacher’s monotonous rural life, his petty vanities and his attempts to raise prize chickens, that they begin to learn about 20th century Britain.

If I were to teach futuristic beings about life on Earth, I once believed I could produce a time capsule deeper than Sheriff’s mean protagonist Edgar Hopkins. But as I reviewed my Facebook posts from a decade ago this week, I was presented with the possibility that my legacy may be even more monotonous.

Earlier this month, announced goal that my teenage status updates were exactly the kind of content you want to pass on to future generations of artificial intelligence. Of June 26th, Old public posts, vacation photos, and even the names of millions of Facebook and Instagram users around the world would be effectively treated as a time capsule of humanity and transformed into training data.

That means my mundane posts about college essay deadlines (“3 energy drinks in 1,000 words to finish”), as well as fuss-free vacation snaps (one captures me slumped over my phone on a stopped ferry) are on point. to become part of that corpus. The fact that these memories are so boring and also very personal makes Meta’s interest more disturbing.

The company says it’s only interested in content that’s already public: private messages, posts shared exclusively with friends, and Instagram Stories are off limits. Despite that, AI is suddenly feasting on personal artifacts that, for years, have been gathering dust in unvisited corners of the Internet. For those reading from outside Europe, the deed has already been done. The deadline announced by Meta applied only to Europeans. Posts from American Facebook and Instagram users have been training Meta AI models since 2023, according to company spokesperson Matthew Pollard.

Meta isn’t the only company turning my online history into AI fodder. WIRED’s Reece Rogers recently discovered that Google’s AI search feature was copying her journalism. But figuring out exactly what personal remains are feeding future chatbots wasn’t easy. Some sites I’ve contributed to over the years are difficult to track down. The first social network Myspace was acquired by Time Inc. in 2016, which in turn was acquired by a company called Meredith Corporation two years later. When I asked Meredith about my old account, I was told that Myspace had since been spun off into an advertising company, Viant Technology. An email sent to a contact for the company listed on its website was returned with a message saying the address “could not be found.”

Asking companies still in business about my old accounts was easier. Blogging platform Tumblr, owned by WordPress owner Automattic, said that unless I have opted out, public posts I made as a teenager will be shared with “a small network of content and research partners, including those who train AI models” in February. advertisement. YahooMail, which I used for years, told me that a sample of old emails, which have apparently been “anonymized” and “aggregated,” are being “used” internally by an AI model to do things like summarize messages. Microsoft-owned LinkedIn also said my public posts were being used to train AI, although some “personal” details included in those posts were excluded, according to a company spokesperson, who did not specify what those personal details were.

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