Posts filed under ‘Social networks’

Oops! Facebook

Rosco at 8 weeksWhat a surprise, NOT! Canada and Facebook are having a bit of a cat fight. Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, is clearly a wise woman. She has accused Facebook of breaching Canadian privacy law by keeping users’ personal information indefinitely after members close their accounts. The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) lodged a 35-page complaint in May 2008 over the privacy practices and policies of Facebook and The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has been busy investigating. The investigation was conducted under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which is the Canadian federal private-sector privacy law. The results of this investigation are the first I’m aware of that really raise significant concerns about a social networking site and if it heads to court, well, that will be VERY interesting.

Basically, there were a number of categories to the complaint: its failure to inform Facebook members of how their personal information is disclosed to third parties; Facebook advertising; deception and misrepresentation. And there were 22 violations of PIPEDA. An aspect of the complaint that was upheld related to Facebook’s disclosure of personal information to third-party developers who create applications, such as games, quizzes and classified ads, that run on the Facebook platform. There are more than 950,000 application developers in some 180 countries. If you use a third-party application, you consent to giving the application’s developer access to some of your personal information, as well as that of your “friends.” In my view, there’s a real concern about personal information being handed over to third-party developers without Facebook policing or disclosing to members the extent of personal information being shared.  I think this aspect of the complaint will cause a cat fight: the Privacy Commissioner has recommended that Facebook implement technological measures to restrict application developers’ access only to the user information essential to run a specific application but Facebook does not agree with this recommendation and has been given 30 days to comply – so watch this space because it could  mean that it will end up in Federal Court.  You can read the detailed findings here.

So there are a number of issues that interest me:

  • Facebook is a privately owned US-registered company – so does Canada have jurisdiction over a foreign company?  The Privacy Commissioner maintains: “Our law says that if you’re operating this service in Canada, you’re subject to Canadian laws. So I think our jurisdiction is fairly clear”. Facebook has a Toronto, Canada “sales office” so are they subject to the commerce law of Canada? The Abika case demonstrated that the Canadian Federal Court has the power to order the Privacy Commissioner to investigate a complaint against a foreign company (Abika being a US registered online data broker, which allegedly collected and used private, personal information in violation of law) and that the Privacy Commissioner has jurisdiction under PIPEDA to investigate transborder data flows.
  • if Facebook refuses to tighten up its privacy controls and gives the finger to Canada, what exactly can be done in the way of enforcement? Facebook has approximately 12 million users in Canada and this is said to be the highest per capita in the world, so I suppose that when Facebook figures out how to make money, any profit made from Canadian users could be confiscated by Canada; or Canadian companies involved as third-party developers could be ordered to cease dealings with Facebook. I think this will be real test of the jurisdiction and reach of countries over a private company that controls a vast global social network. Facebook is also tussling it out with the European Union, which has similar concerns over breaches in privacy.
  • Facebook has grand plans to dominate the internet. What Facebook has that Google doesn’t is the private data of millions of people; their connections and friends; what they do; what they like; and tagged photos of people. Google just has an algorithm. Wired had a great piece recently in which Facebook’s grand vision was articulated: “Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.”

Considering 200 millions users (or one fifth of all Internet users) have Facebook accounts, I am pleased to see Canada asking some serious questions of Facebook. It will be interesting to see just how far the might and power of Facebook can be tested.

July 18, 2009 at 2:17 am 2 comments

GFHF CoPs

I was thinking the other day about how communities of practice could help us navigate the global financial hissy fit (GFHF). There are so many stories coming out of the US about people losing their homes and now news of increasing job losses in Australia. In uncertain times like we’re experiencing, people need to band together, share ideas about how to budget, talk about their hopes and fears, learn how to live with less. I think it’s important not to think you’re going through stuff alone. I met someone the other day who just got the chop from a senior management role. He’d been with the company 20 years. I’d never met him before but as he talked about what happened, he looked…well, the word “shattered” went through my mind.

So why not have GFHF CoPs in your neighbourhood?  Not called this of course, but the notion of community groups or clubs – people coming together regularly to talk, share and learn about our current economic crisis. If people are struggling against alcohol dependency, there’s Alcoholics Anonymous. If you’re struggling against weight issues, there’s Weight Watchers. There are Bible study groups and student groups. So what could there be for people struggling against the rising tide of the GFHF?

When you think about these sorts of clubs and groups, they have the following in common:

  • a passion, need or concern – to learn, to share, to talk, to support, to change
  • storytelling – people opening up and talking about their struggles with alcohol or weight, talking about their weekly successes or challenges, gaining support from each other
  • education – participants share resources and from regular attendance and conversation, people learn, start to ask questions – all of this can lead to change
  • innovative ideas can emerge

So why not have global financial crisis clubs where citizens come together and do any of the following:

  • simply talk about how the world has landed in this mess; what sorts of booms and busts have happened in history before? – it often helps to just simply talk and try to make sense of things
  • share ideas about how to survive the crisis, how to budget, how to approach your bank to talk about your mortgage, how to cut your electricity bills and so on
  • share resources – where to go to in the local community for support, what websites offer useful articles and tips, what books are good to read
  • take action – if someone in your neighbourhood has lost their job or home, the group could talk about how to help that person. Instead of sitting back and muttering “shame”, think about the power of a local group and how it could help.  A local club or group could talk about pooling money to collectively buy weekly groceries or pay electricity bills. Members of the group could offer car pooling to cut down on petrol costs.

No original ideas here. But it strikes me as interesting that we’re not doing this. Or are we? If you are running a GFHF community group, tell me about it.

March 31, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Digital trails

Coincidentally, I was reading the other day on collective intelligence and how GPS, your cell phone, credit card information and web surfing habits are just part of the many ways we leave digital trails of ourselves. Then Marc sent me a link to this article from The New York Times.

Some MIT students are swapping their privacy for a smartphone and allowing researchers to track their moves within a dorm of 100 students. So researchers will know all the music listened to, the emails and text messages sent and the location of the students. Clearly, this is a fabulous way to understand a social network and its collective actions. It’s the wisdom of crowds stuff that can ultimately help forecast social trends, financial behaviour and so on. And since we are increasingly choosing to interact with each other through social networks and digital devices, there is a wealth of information in the digital trails we leave behind. So it’s about making the invisible visible.

Citysense, for example, shows the overall activity level of a city, top activity hotspots and places with unexpectedly high activity, all in real-time. The data is derived from Yelp (an online site that provides user reviews and recommendations of restaurants, shopping, night life), Google and cell phone locations. Citysense “senses” the most popular places based on actual real-time activity and displays a live heat map. Pretty cool.

Pachube is another “network sensor” that I really like. I used this to check out Hong Kong (as I’ll be there soon) to see what the pollution is like. Pachube enables you to connect, tag and share real time sensor data from anywhere in the world. So you could connect your electricity meter to Pachube to track energy use over time; you can track pollution or climate data in a particular city; basically it patches the planet.

But (yep, there’s always a but with  me) the article points out (and I’ve said this before) that collective intelligence could be used against us. The big fear in my mind is how insurance companies could use data to identify people in a population suffering from certain diseases and deny them health cover.

Just last week too came news of the UK’s Government latest (and ridiculous) anti-terrorist measure – mass surveillance and tracking of people who use social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace and Bebo (mmm…glad I haven’t restored by Facebook presence after my hissy fit). Even Sir Tim Berners-Lee was recently warning about the dangers of deep packet inspection, which is the monitoring of traffic on the internet and communications networks.

The mind boggles when thinking about how collective intelligence could be used against us. Powerful new technologies make it possible to draw up your profile without you even knowing.  So the privacy challenges will be around protecting individual identity and security of data. And then of course data collected by network sensors could be subject to subpoena.

Collective intelligence is all about the network, the public, the collective. So the future of collective intelligence I think is going to be weighed up against what benefits the public good over individual privacy. Google FluTrends is another example of a sensing network and tracks flu trends across the US. Obviously of great benefit to the public to know that a flu outbreak is happening in say Chicago. But if data is disclosed and linked to a particular user can you imagine what the repercussions might be – the person could be banned from travelling, health insurance companies might deny insurance coverage and so on.

Privacy law has got to keep up with these technology trends otherwise we will be left with no safeguards against our individual data, behaviour and movements being vulnerable to exploitation.

March 30, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Facebook loses face

You are probably going to be spared a major rant from me because Facebook seems to have restored its original privacy policy after protests from Facebook users. I had a major hissy fit this week and completely deleted my Facebook presence. I only joined recently and wasn’t totally convinced anyway of protection of privacy (yes, I know you can twig your Settings). I don’t like to say TOO much about myself. I only had a couple of photos on my Facebook page (of dogs and one blurry photo of me) and really didn’t use it too much.

If you totally missed what happened this week, here’s a rundown:

  • out of the blue, Facebook discretely changed its Terms of Service. The offending revision granted Facebook the complete ownership of any uploaded content on Facebook – so that means anything you post, personal data, your photos, your uploaded RSS streams from other blogs. Basically, everything. And if you had a hissy fit like me and deleted everything and gave Facebook the finger, they would still retain archived copies of your content.
  • the REALLY offending bit of the revised TOS is this – “You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense)….”. The right to sublicense means that Facebook could flog your content, personal information or your photos to other parties. So let’s say an airline was looking for a photo of a cute collie dog for their latest marketing campaign – they could take one of my dog photos and sell the subrights to the airline. Commercial purposes would rule and I would have no say or control over it.

No doubt a lot of sheep people said to themselves “who cares, they can take my photos and my post about getting so sloshed last Saturday, I didn’t show up for work on Monday”. But seems a lot of people did care (thank goodness).

Just as I was busy hitting the zap button and deleting all my content on my Facebook page (and firing off an angry email to them, liberally peppered with the words “betrayal” “loss of trust”, “privacy” and “arrogancy”) the Twittersphere was positively electric with concerned comments and a number of protest groups launched on Facebook. Of course, it’s the ultimate battle between users sharing information freely and willingly and control of information on the Internet.

With protests swirling around their ears, Facebook’s privacy officer was declaring that they didn’t get the fuss and had not done anything wrong (proving really that they just don’t get it!). Meanwhile, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) was gearing up to whack Facebook with a lawsuit but Zuckerberg and his crew backed down in the knick of time and restored its original policy. EPIC, of course, forced Microsoft to revise Passport, after an FTC investigation and also ensured privacy safeguards on the Google-Doubleclick merger.

The power of a social network was very clearly on show over the last week and I think it really highlights how big companies like Facebook and Google are helping us connect and store content BUT at any moment could change their Terms of Service and zippo, your content is no longer your own.

I for one will be seriously considering whether I’ll be bothered to reactivate my Facebook presence. I’ll join the group Facebook Bill of Rights & Responsibilities, which I hope will generate a useful conversation with Facebook around governing principles. Facebook is a valuable social network, sure,  but you might want to think about posting photos of yourself sloshed out of your mind at some party or saying too much about yourself personally. Especially, if the conspiracy rumours are right and the CIA started Facebook.

You might also want to check out this thoughtful blog post that compares the outrageous Facebook TOS with the TOS from other social networking sites. The audacity of Facebook IMHO in even thinking that users would accept their new TOS was quite amazing really. Can trust between Facebook and its users be re-established?

February 22, 2009 at 2:32 am 3 comments

Maps of the future

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) has produced some maps that look at signals of change, trends or disruptions in the future. The first map, 2008 Map of the Decade, looks at patterns and activity that help to make sense of our possible future within a ten-year forecast. You can download the map from the IFTF site.

There are five key foresights around:

  • diasporas: emerging new economies
  • civil society: the evolution of civic infrastructure
  • food: the flashpoint
  • ecosystems: management in the context of life
  • amplified individuals: the extended human reality

The diasporas cluster is interesting. With increasing global migration, diasporas will no longer be defined by geography. New disasporas will be defined by shared identities brought about by social networks, activities and events. And the future flashpoint (which I’ve said many times on this blog) will be the global food supply. As the climate changes and as our planet groans under the weight of a world population predicted to be 9.2 billion in 2050, global food supply will be disrupted and this will be accompanied by water woes. At the same, I certainly think that we’ll see the rise of localisation – a return to growing food in local communities and a call to return to the planet large areas of wilderness that were previously destroyed by humankind.

Also from Institute for the Future is a Map of Future Forces Affecting Sustainability that provides foresight for navigating “the complex business sustainability landscape from 2007 – 2017, with a focus on environmental health and safety strategies”. The Institute describes this map as a “sensemaking and provocation tool” to help businesses shape their strategies in a future world driven by sustainability concerns.

You can download and enlarge the map here.

As this map points out, we are moving from a world of problems to a world of dilemmas in which sensemaking capabilities will be important along with an ability to deal with uncertainty (yeah, well the GFHF is certainly helping us get this skill!). The map helps to identify dilemmas within the driving forces of People, Regions, Built Environments, Nature, Markets, Business and Energy and I think if you look at it carefully, you’ll see it can help businesses and individuals to elevate the conversation around sustainability.

Finally, from KnowledgeWorks Foundation and The Institute for the Future is the Map of Future Forces Affecting Education, which you can download.  The trends this map highlights confirm what I’ve been saying – a revival of localism but also of interest is Gen Y’s smart networking capabilities:

“Their experiences with shared presence through instant messaging and video chat, gaming as a structure for thinking and interacting, and multiple digital and physical worlds will create new modes of work, socializing, and community learning that stress cooperative strategies, experimentation, and parallel development.” 

You can view all the trends for this map here.

January 15, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Network citizens

Demos has recently published a very interesting paper entitled Network Citizens: Power & Responsibility at Work. You can download it here. It focuses on social networks and takes the interesting slant that networks can use organisations for their own ends.

Six organisations are showcased and the paper looks at the key fault-lines that people and organisations will have to address in the future world of work. I was particularly intrigued by this statement:

“Networks have a darker side that can make power, influence and dynamics less visible. They lead to difficult questions of influence, innovation, meritocracy and, fundamentally, loyalty, and the relationship between individuals and organisations.”

November 22, 2008 at 10:36 pm 1 comment

Are you a Qwitter?

REALLY bad title once you realise what I’m blogging about today! I have to confess that I am still thinking about Twitter. I am way behind a lot of my professional KM colleagues on this. In fact, I’m in danger of turning into one of those crusty old dinosaurs who eschew “new fangled technologies’. I have actually registered on Twitter (I think under my real name :-)

I have read some really great blog entries on Twitter 101.  I did log-on when I first registered and tried to search for a colleague but that person remained lost in Twitterspace. So I went to “the source”, the long-suffering person I turn to when I need to know about “new fangled technologies” and who has worked with me before – James Dellow of ChiefTech. In fact, James and I are working together again on a particular project I’m doing, so hopefully I’ll pick up some Twitter tips.

James put together for me “Twitter for Idiots” but of course he didn’t call it that. I’m not sure if James has posted to his blog. I am working my way through his guide. The one thing I’ve been worried about (which will reveal I really don’t understand this twittering stuff) is – who the hell cares about what I’m doing or thinking? I use this blog to talk about the stuff that interests me. I can’t even do this in a few short paragraphs (as you know, I write mini-theses for posts), so how in the heck can I stick to 140 characters?  James has patiently tried to explain it to me from many different angles.  I even read recently that someone who twitters away – as a result of his Twitter presence – has been invited to conferences and offered a book deal. So whoa, where’s that Twitter thing!!

But then…as I was plucking up the desire to become involved in yet ANOTHER social network – I came across Qwitter. I think I should “resign” from Twitter and get onto Qwitter. Now, from a privacy perspective, Qwitter really interests me. Qwitter (wait for it):

… e-mails you when someone stops following you on Twitter with a message like this:

John Gruber (gruber) stopped following you on Twitter after you posted this tweet:  What’s the difference between Arial and Helvetica?

Since I have no followers on Twitter, I should be a great success on Qwitter. But is there a potential privacy or personal humiliation thing going on here?  Could people find out who was following you and who is not now following you? Let’s face it: we all look at our Technorati rating (mine is in the toilet); we look at our blog stats; those of you who know how to Twitter, I presume you know who follows you; we love our 15mins of fame. So when Qwitter promptly emails you to say tough, you just lost a loyal following – well, that’s a big whack to your ego.

But I guess on the bright side, it will tell you when you’ve transgressed boundaries or offended someone because Qwitter will tell you the Tweet that did you in.

November 2, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

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