Should he or shouldn’t he?

February 18, 2010 at 2:00 am 1 comment

What do you think about Pete Warden releasing profile data of 215 million Facebook users? Well, he hasn’t released the data yet as far as I know: the question for me is should he?  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a quick run-down.

Warden apparently found a back-door into Facebook and has been able to access public profiles. He’s now amassed a database stuffed full of names, fan pages and lists of friends for 215 million public Facebook accounts. Because he by-passed Facebook’s login procedure, he is not bound by Facebook’s Terms of Service. Now, I’m sympathetic to researchers and academics wanting to know how people use Facebook, demographics, connections, patterns and so on but I don’t think he should release the data. He’s already published some data and released visualisations but here’s why I don’t think he should be going any further.

  • just because people have made their profiles available on Facebook doesn’t mean they expect or want to be part of some research project. I certainly wouldn’t want all my connections to be visualised or analysed or plonked on some database. I have not given my consent for this extension of my public profile. And Michael Zimmer adds a further dimension – what makes Facebook compelling (not for me mind you) is that it’s about people and their connections. If someone wants to friend you or find you, it’s you they want to find. Zimmer says: “Rather than trying to find me, Warden has systematically sought everyone, letting a script do the work of seeking and harvesting my data”.
  • if you have a look at one of the visualisations for New Zealand, for example, people are readily identifiable. How do we know who will use this data and for what purposes?
  • one would hope people don’t take his research results and apply it to the population as a whole and try to come up with some brilliant insights into society. His research is on Facebook only and not everyone on this planet uses FB and not everyone on this planet is even involved with social networks. And as Danah Boyd has pointed out, different types of people use Facebook and MySpace.
  • I would suspect there’s a difference between what people say on FB and reality. I’m not clear yet whether his research will be applicable only to the online world or whether Warden will extrapolate to the offline world.

I’m sure that Warden’s research will be very useful in moving towards Web 3.0 but I also hope he’ll produce fabulous visualisations backed up with solid data like Hans Rosling does. Check out one of his passionate (and humorous) talks complete with visualisations:

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Entry filed under: Facebook. Tags: .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Baoman  |  February 18, 2010 at 6:37 am

    http://tinyurl.com/ykl9c9t

    He published these results for the USA. The data is from public Facebook profiles. There are no names or identifying elements so what could be the issue?

    This sort of demographic data matched with geographic dispersal analysis is fairly common in population and history research.

    http://tinyurl.com/ykd3fls

    Here he describes the hole that let anyone harvest Facebook emails from public profiles and then match it to another list of emails. I know this sort of ‘list matching’ is illegal in Hong Kong and the EU. I think that It isn’t illegal in the USA. He did this so FB would close this hole which they have now done.

    Reply

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