Apple co-founder says we should ditch Facebook — permanently

Steve Wozniak doesn't know if his phone is listening, but he's minimizing risks.

Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images
  • Steve Wozniak didn't hold back his feelings about the social media giant when stopped at an airport.
  • The Apple co-founder admitted that devices spying on his conversations is worrisome.
  • Wozniak deleted his Facebook account last year, recommending that "most people" should do the same.

When most people are stopped at an airport, they're unlikely to chat about the news of the day. Perhaps Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was early for his flight. He recently took a few moments out to talk with a TMZ reporter while walking through D.C.'s Reagan National Airport to tell them to beware of listening cell phones, as well as to delete their Facebook account.

"There are many different kinds of people, and some the benefits of Facebook are worth the loss of privacy. But to many like myself, my recommendation is — to most people — you should figure out a way to get off Facebook."

The initial context of the conversation was privacy. This is an issue that affects us all, being that your information is for sale for as little as $10, and the sellers are unconcerned about the identity of the purchasers. Wozniak mentioned the news that Alexa (along with Google Assistant) is not only recording your conversations, but that employees are listening in. Corporate claims that tuning in to private user dialogues helps improve technical capabilities. We should be very wary of such claims.

Then again, spying via audio almost seems quaint compared to the patent Amazon filed that would allow their fleet of home-delivery drones to record video of your private property and feed it into your personal algorithm. Does that tree appear to be dying? Suddenly, your feed is filled with fertilizer options. What Would Wozniak Do about that?

Steve Wozniak Warns People to Get Off Facebook Over Privacy Concerns

The reporter never got that deep into the rabbit hole, though Wozniak sums up his privacy concerns:

"I worry because you're having conversations that you think are private, you're saying words that shouldn't be listened to because you don't expect it, but there's almost no way to stop it. People think they have a level of privacy they don't."

A 2014 Pew poll paints a different landscape: 91 percent of Americans either "agree" or "strongly agree" that we've lost control over our personal information to social media companies. Eighty percent of users worry how governments and businesses will use those data.

A 2017 Pew poll complemented that poll perfectly: only 9 percent of Americans feel "very confident" that said companies protect their data. That's the same percentage of people that believe they have "a lot of control" over their information. Chalk up 9 percent to the clueless.

Yet we stay logged in. While a 2018 Pew poll on social media discovered that 59 percent of Americans claim it would "not be difficult" to abandon these platforms, many do not. In 2017, the same agency found that even as public trust in social media companies lessens, more people are plugging into this "new normal." We know it's happening; we just refuse to give up our apps. The question remains: Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Recent news revealed that Amazon employees are listening in to private conversations via Alexa.

Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Wozniak deleted his Facebook account in 2018; he is still very active on Twitter. As with many tech companies, Facebook advertises its product as "free." Obviously, that's not the case.

Wozniak floats the notion of paying for privacy, though as a 2019 study, published in Nature Human Behavior, states, we might well be beyond that point already. The early promise of the internet of an "interconnected world" has truly arrived, for better and mostly worse. The research team behind the study analyzed over 30 million posts by nearly 14,000 Twitter users.

"With this data, they showed that information within the Twitter messages from 8 or 9 of a person's contacts make it possible to predict that person's later tweets as accurately as if they were looking directly at that person's own Twitter feed."

Blockchain solutions are touting better privacy controls on data, but we have not reached that point — nor are we sure these companies will be as benevolent as claimed once their tech scales, a persistent problem with these platforms. Hopes of a truly decentralized infrastructure are turning out to be more philosophical than realistic, though that doesn't mean advances in privacy protection won't arrive. It will likely just not be a romantic as promised.

Even if we're connected to others online, there are levels of control we can initiate. The simplest would be deleting Facebook (or another other platform you're concerned about). It seems to be working out for the Apple co-founder. Where this conversation leads, however, is anyone's guess.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

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Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in the gut of sleep-deprived fruit flies, one (left), seven (center) and ten (right) days without sleep.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
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  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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