Posts filed under ‘Facebook’

Achtung Google!

I’m watching with interest a simmering cat fight that could boil over soon. Germany is looking at Google, closely, very closely and the German Federal Commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, Peter Schaar, is not happy with the search giant, saying that Google may been in breach of German privacy law.

Regular ThinkingShift readers know of my distaste for Google’s Street View service. After being pressed by the German Government to cough up information on the Wi-Fi data contained on the hard drives of Google’s Street View cars, Google posts (what sounds like) a transparent, open post.

The story goes like this: Google has allegedly been collecting private data on individuals by scanning for private wireless networks and recording the details whilst cruising streets with those ugly Google Street View vans. European officials were concerned about Google’s activities and demanded they reveal the type of data collected. Cornered, Google admitted that private data had been collected but oops, it was a programming error, and we didn’t mean to do it, sorry. But it seems that what Google was busy collecting was not just the names and addresses of private citizens but also information sent over the network such as emails and what websites were visited by those citizens.

Illegally tapping into private networks is against German law so Google is in hot water. Peter Schaar isn’t taking any of Google’s excuses lying down, saying:

‘‘So everything was a simple oversight, a software error! The data was collected and stored against the will of the project’s managers and other managers at Google. If we follow this logic further, this means: The software was installed and used without being properly tested beforehand. Billions of bits of data were mistakenly collected, without anyone in Google noticing it, including Google’s own internal data protection managers, who two weeks ago were defending to us the company’s internal data protection practices.’

If German data protection authorities had not demanded Google reveal what exactly was on the hard drives of Street View cars, then I wonder if Google would ever have admitted to “the software error”. Ah, I doubt it.

And German citizens are none too happy about Street View either, with many private home owners signing up to have their properties excluded from the spying Google eyes. I can assure Google that should they ever try to come down the driveway of our rural property in New Zealand, a huge cat fight will erupt. One poor woman in the UK has been captured by the cruising vans not once, not twice, but 43 times as she innocently strolls down a Suffolk street, walking the dog.

Google: your credibility is evaporating dudes.

UPDATE: 18/05/2010 Google’s woes are going from bad to worse – the Australian Privacy Commissioner is also asking questions of Google since the internet behemoth admitted it had “inadvertently” been recording Wi-Fi data from unsecured wireless networks in over 30 countries. Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Australian Privacy Foundation have sent Google a “please explain” joint letter and are pressing Google to reveal what data its Street View cars and vans actually collect. Can’t wait to hear Google’s latest response: “oh, we’ve been collecting heaps of data about private citizens in over 30 countries for four years?  Really? We had no idea: must be a programming error. We’ll get back to you”.

All this sounds like Facebook’s latest debacle over privacy issues – and what’s happening now with Facebook? People are leaving it in droves. I have a Facebook “presence”, basically a cartoon cat avatar and minimal information. I think I will now even de-activate this. Note: there is a difference between deleting stuff off Facebook and de-activating your account. It seems Facebook retain the data (eg photos, your connections blah blah) and can data mine it to death.

Mark May 31 in your diaries as “Quitting Facebook Day” – there’s a whole website devoted to quitting Facebook on that day. I plan to join the exodus.

UPDATE: May 26 2010 – Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), Joe Barton (R-TX) and Ed Marley (D-MA) have sent a letter to Google and asking for a reply by June 7. There are 12 juicy questions that Google is being grilled on. Read it here.

UPDATE: May 27 2010 Google is resisting all demands to hand over private internet data to Regulators (and snubs Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner whilst it’s at it). Mmmmmm…..if Google “accidentally, inadvertently, oops, we didn’t mean to” collect data, then why are they fighting so hard to deflect any attempts at getting them to handover the collected data?

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May 17, 2010 at 8:57 am 2 comments

Should he or shouldn’t he?

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:

February 18, 2010 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Social media revolution

Here’s a really interesting video on social media. I have to admit I haven’t heard of Hulu have you? Hang on….let me see….okay found it. Hulu offers commercially supported streaming video of TV shows and movies from NBC, Fox, ABC and other networks. I found one of my fav TV shows on it: Glee. But bummer: Hulu can only stream videos within the United States.

Some really powerful stats in this video, which suggests that social media is the biggest social shift since the Industrial Revolution. Here are a few tidbits:

  • social media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the internet (frankly, I reckon porn is dated stuff associated with Hugh Hefner and the 1980s);
  • it took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users; TV 13 years; and Facebook – less than 9 months to reach 100 million users (scary);
  • if Facebook was a country, it would be the 4th largest;
  • the fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year old females.

Fascinating stuff. Watch the video and tell me what you think.

October 20, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Every move you make

I know that many of my readers are on Facebook.  Heck, most of the planet is on Facebook – announcing personal news to the world and friends, sharing photos (often embarrassing ones), updating their status blah blah. Despite misgivings, I joined Facebook for one nano-second. A part of me thinks “okay, don’t be a dinosaur. Check it out. Give it a go. Be objective”.

But Facebook scares the hell out of me.  I get the idea of it: if you’re living in Australia and your family is in the UK, you can use Facebook to connect – through photos, updates and so on. But a few months ago, when Facebook, out of the blue, changed their Terms of  Service, I became very worried. I deleted my Facebook profile in a hissy fit and have only a mere presence there now. I share nothing on Facebook – no photos, no status updates. Zippo.

I have long suspected that Facebook would want to take on Google. Why not?  Once upon a time, Google was a young upstart company – so why can’t another company come along and attempt to dominate the internet? That’s what Google is doing – Google search, Google Docs, gmail, Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Health. Yeegads!

There have been two articles recently that have escalated my alarm and confirmed for me why Facebook scares the hell out of me. I blogged before about this article from Wired, which brings us Facebook’s vision for internet domination.

Before I go on, let’s remember that Facebook has the private data of millions of people; their connections and friends; what they do; what they like; and tagged photos of people. Acknowledging this, now let’s ask – what would happen if Facebook and FriendFeed linked up?

Here’s what could happen:

  • FriendFeed is real-time feed aggregator that allows you to aggregate all your updates from social networks, blogs, social bookmarking services, Twitter etc into one place and share this stream with friends and family. You can also subscribe to the streams of other people.
  • And then there’s  FaceBook Connect that allows Facebook members to connect their profile data and authentication credentials to external Web sites. So this means all your personal data, photos, friends, groups etc could appear on other websites. In other words, you take your online identity with you all over the Web. You would not need to create separate accounts for every website – just use your Facebook login wherever Connect is available. 15,000+ sites currently support Facebook Connect. To name a few of the big ones – YouTube, CNN, Digg, Flickr, Plaxo. Through Connect, Facebook will become the very centre of our digital identities.
  • Excellent news I hear you say!! Data portability – how fabulous I hear you think.  But put the two together. At the moment, inside the walls of Facebook you share stuff only within those walls. But with FriendFeed partnering with Facebook, you then have content fed into Facebook via FriendFeed streams. So you’d have a social aggregator that is basically the portal to everything.

This is no figment of my imagination – Facebook has just bought FriendFeed for US$47.5 million (cash and stock offer). So FriendFeed has accepted Facebook’s friend request and this means that two companies really will be the portal to everything we do on the Internet: Facebook and Google.  And according to this article, this is the scary scenario:

“Two companies, one market….. that’s why Facebook bought FriendFeed. So it could own you.”

Because all Google has really is its precious algorithm. Facebook has you – your photos (probably tagged for easy identification); your personal information; all your friends and their networks; your likes and dislikes; the groups you belong to. Think about it. Should Facebook become the portal to everything on the Internet….they will own you.

UPDATE: seems Facebook want to take on PayPal too.

August 18, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

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

Watch what you say

I came across two articles over the last week that remind me why I have decided not to return to Facebook (regular readers would know I joined Facebook a few months ago after much hesitation, only to find Facebook changed its Terms of Service – so I deleted everything). I remember a relative of mine (Russian) told me that during the Communist era, you were very careful who you spoke to and what you said. Might just be that we’re in this situation again.

A piece in the Sydney Morning Herald caught my eye. A Sydney company is being hired by large corporations to (frankly) spy on Facebook users. Corporates are of course always concerned about their reputation and brand risk. I get that. But now that our conversations and connections are increasingly public, it seems we are vulnerable to employers knowing more about us than we might wish. Some people are just plain stupid IMHO. Take the case of Domino pizza employees in the US doing disgusting things to customers’ food and posting a video of themselves to YouTube. They were sacked and arrested. Really, just how dumb can people be!

But there are also times you might update your Facebook page and say “I hate my  job” or “I don’t like working for the Government”. You don’t name the employer. Think you’re safe? Think again. An Australian woman was doing a spot of casual work for a Queensland Government agency. After a long day, she updated her Facebook status and said that she would be “saying no to working for shitty Government departments”.  She did not name the specific agency or any individual. But a colleague and a friend (better watch your friends on Facebook) both saw her update and helpful people that they are – told the boss. When she turned up for work the next day, she was escorted out the door. Personally, I’d be going the employer for unfair dismissal but as a casual she probably can’t.

The second news item demonstrates just how your own personal feelings can be made public and land you and your family into trouble. A US college student, who clearly didn’t like her hometown, ranted about it on her MySpace page. I’m not going to get into what the issues are with the hometown – the point is I think anyone has a right to say what they think (how you say it though needs to be thought about). But this college girl was vilified from pillar to post for her opinion. The local high school principal found her MySpace page (seems her sister was still at the high school) and forwarded the student’s rant to the editor of the local newspaper, who promptly published it as a Letter to the Editor. The student contacted the editor and asked for the rant not to be published but it was copied from her MySpace page and published (hello? isn’t this copyright infringement?!).

Aside from copyright infringement, I would be asking at this point – isn’t this also an invasion of privacy? The girl ranted on her personal MySpace page (I would be interested to know what her privacy settings were) – then the editor publishes it without permission. The backlash was so severe, including death threats and gunshots, that the family had to pack up and flee town. Now, I didn’t read the MySpace rant as it was taken down pretty fast. Perhaps she was silly enough to name individuals and defame them. But the issue to me is why this isn’t an invasion of privacy case. It ended up going to a California State appellate court, which ruled that the publication of the letter did not violate privacy rights.

When I found the judgment (Moreno v Hanford Sentinel), I soon found out why this isn’t an invasion of privacy because the Justice based the decision on this logic:

“Here, (name) publicized her opinions about (hometown) by posting the Ode on myspace.com, a hugely popular internet site. (Her) affirmative act made her article available to any person with a computer and thus opened it to the public eye. Under these circumstances, no reasonable person would have had an expectation of privacy regarding the published material.

In other words, it’s public, it’s fair game. I haven’t seen the brief – possibly the student argued too narrowly (making the case turn on whether or not her rant was a private fact. If her page was only limited to access by a private network of friends and not the whole world, then her case might have been stronger – hence my comment about wondering what her privacy settings were).

Digging further, I found that the student never published her surname on her MySpace page but by some miracle, her surname appeared in the Letter to the Editor. Obviously, this is a small enough town that the editor knew the college student and decided to add the surname. Is her surname not a private fact?  Her MySpace page from what I’ve read only carried her first name and her photo. Clearly, she chose not to publish her surname yet the editor saw fit to do so.

I’d be asking further questions too: was the editor sacked? were the people who made death threats prosecuted? was emotional distress inflicted?

Okay, so I’m not fully conversant with US law but seems to me this particular case has a glaring lesson for all of us: whatever you say on a social network can be found and used by employers (who are increasingly snooping) and possibly waives your right to privacy. This is why I have no MySpace presence and a half-baked Facebook page that says zilch.  If you want to know how to use Facebook safely, go here.

April 27, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 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

Take that, Google!

Kim Photo-- Ladies in redI’ve become accustomed to my Uni students handing in assignments liberally peppered with references to Google and/or Wikipedia, as though they’ve lost the ability to undertake research in journals or primary resources. I rant and rave at them regularly about how to conduct research and their eyes glaze over.

So we were discussing social media. I have a Facebook presence but I’m a bit cold on the whole thing. I decided I should get into it more as my Uni students (a whole class of Gen Y) were carrying on about how great Facebook is and talking like major authorities on the pros and cons of Facebook over MySpace. And one of the international students mentioned LibGuides on Facebook. So I checked it out (can’t have Gen Y knowing more than me!!)

And I found LibGuides. I was momentarily stunned – libraries on Facebook? This is what the Facebook page says:

LibGuides enables you to access the content from your library inside of facebook. Read your course-related library Guides, get research help, chat with reference librarians, or search the library catalog using LibGuides”.

It seems that the LibGuide application was developed by Springshare – so I found them to suss out more information and this is what they say:

“LibGuides is the first library application available within Facebook. Your users simply need to select LibGuides from the list of applications in Facebook in order to access your LibGuides content. LibGuides will recognize the user’s school affiliation and present them with their “home” LibGuides system.

Distributing library content across the web, and “meeting” the customers wherever they are (a lot of them are on Facebook these days) is one of the hallmarks of library 2.0. Now your customers can access LibGuides content, chat online with reference librarians, and even search your library catalog from Facebook.”

And:

LibGuides enables libraries to share information with users in a web 2.0 world. Using LibGuides, librarians can effortlessly create content-rich guides, share knowledge and information, and promote library resources to the community. The system is integrated with Facebook, and LibGuides widgets distribute library content to other websites, blogs, and courseware systems. LibGuides connects you with patrons, wherever they are.

Any type of content (including web 2.0 media) can be put into LibGuides. Your LibGuides can be subject guides, information portals, class handouts, community guides, research tips, or any type of useful information you wish to share with users. The possibilities are endless. Really!

Stunning!! Who knows better how to conduct effective research – a librarian or Google? I’m betting on the librarian. And so LibGuides can help the librarian to deliver modules or pathfinders that will lead patrons off to reliable resources. Users can even “ask a librarian”. And how smart to integrate with Facebook since most of the world these days seems to be on Facebook!

I’ll be checking this out more but seems that every library can have a profile page listing all the guides available. All of this is available via Facebook. So far 160+ libraries worldwide and 3000+ librarians are sharing content and ideas. I haven’t ferreted around enough to know if Australian libraries are part of this.

June 3, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Social networking at work

Kim photoAfter reading this Business Week article, I was super tempted to apply for a job at Serena Software (bummer for me that it’s located in San Mateo, California – a bit far to travel to a new job). Seems they’re quite enlightened employers because they’ve started up an initiative called Social Networking Fridays. The company has 900 staff with the average age of employees being 41. They’ve just launched Facebook Fridays – employees will be allowed to spend one hour a week on Facebook, updating their profiles, collaborating with colleagues and clients, and recruiting for the company.

Serena is also setting up a Facebook group for employees only to serve as (gasp!) an alternative to a corporate intranet. Smart dudes. The employee Facebook group will exchange documents, share marketing videos and corporate information.

I work in a Government agency where access to Facebook (and a lot of other sites) is blocked. I can only dream of a company like Serena!

Thx to Eric for the link.

December 26, 2007 at 1:00 am 2 comments


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