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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Facebook – Veni, Vidi, Vici!

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, and inwardly are ravening wolves.
Are you on Facebook? The question has become as ubiquitous as has Facebook.

I am not on Facebook and have never been drawn into the idea of sharing with friends and total strangers my daily habits (except to those cursed/blessed friends of mine who I bombard by emails – you know who you are...). Am I missing out or have I escaped from a duplicitous scam to control the internet (or even more sinister - to control our thoughts and actions)?

Facebook is an undeniable phenomenon.  In the past year alone the social-web site added One Hundred Fifty Million users. And the story of the founding of Facebook is the sort of made for America success story that reads more like fiction than real life, so much so that David Fincher has directed "The Social Network".  A movie about the phenomena of Facebook - is this a case of Truth Stranger Than Fiction?

In an adapted excerpt  for his new book The Facebook Effect: the Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, David Kirkpatrick discusses Mark Zuckerberg and his creation of Facebook:
Zuckerberg's financing needs were far from his mind when he launched the site on Feb. 4, 2004, from his dorm suite at Harvard. Zuckerberg, a code writer since middle school, had arrived at Harvard equipped with his own computer and a giant whiteboard, the geek's consummate brainstorming tool. He built the site using free, open-source software like the MySQL database and fueled his late-night coding sessions with plenty of Beck's and Red Bull. A month before the site launched, Zuckerberg paid $35 to register the web address thefacebook.com (the name was later shortened) and started paying $85 a month to a web-hosting company. But the infectious appeal of the service went beyond what anyone expected. At the end of the semester, when the user base had reached 100,000 students at 30 schools, a well-connected classmate took Zuckerberg around Manhattan to meet with potential investors. At one of those meetings a financier offered Zuckerberg $10 million on the spot for the company. Mark had just turned 20. His company was four months old. He didn't for a minute think seriously about accepting.
Veni, Vidi, Vici!

Wow, pretty compelling.  But what is it about this company that has created such fervor?

Is it simply the natural evolution of social networking; i.e., Friendster, My Space, Facebook and will something soon out shadow facebook?  What will the next brand be?  Or is it as suggested by Zuckerberg the dawn of a new paradigm in social networking?  Or is it, as some suggest, something much more sinister? Have hundreds of millions of people been duped into the greatest con in history and given away their most personal information?

The answer lies, in part, in understanding why a 20 year old was offered $10,000,000 for a company that was a mere 4 months old.

What is it about Facebook that made the Titans of industry, the ruling Oligarchs of the World, to take note and to pay homage to a 20 year old - offering to pay any price and meet any demand for a piece of the "facebook" game? Do you think they really wanted to just be part of a social network for merely profit or do they see something much greater; something much more precious? Perhaps they see access to the very heart and soul of what you and I are thinking? Perhaps they seek control over what we will think and will do - something altogether deeper and much more ominous than a social network?

Suspicious (or is it the ultimate in suspicious packaging)?  If you are suspicious of any greater plot, then first look at the words and actions of Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Only a few months ago Mark was offered over $10,000,000,000.00 for Facebook.  Despite being offered over $10 Billion for Facebook, Zuckenberg doesn’t want to sell. "Unless I feel like I'm working on the most important problem I can help with, then I'm not going to feel good about how I'm spending my time," he says. "And that's what this company is."The ultimate payday is not a priority. Changing the world is.”   Is he beginning to feel god like?  Maybe we all would.
 
Changing the world!  But will that change be for the better?  And how much power and control over our daily lives are we willing to give up?  Have we witnessed the realization of Antonio Gramsci's fear, the creation of a bourgeois hegemony by the people who control Facebook. Is Facebook the means by which the (hegemon) leader-class exercises its domination and the maintenance of power over us all and thereby "persuades" the subordinated social classes to accept and adopt the ruling-class values of bourgeois hegemony?
 
In this article I am going to explore Facebook and try and discern the good, the bad and the ugly.  It is about the quest by Mark Zuckerberg and others like him to "change the world" - to seek out the illusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - but at what cost?  The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
 
THE GOOD

It seems that everyone is on Facebook these days. Social networking has exploded in the last several years.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced earlier this summer that the site hit a half-billion active users.  According to the International Telecommunication Union, there are about 1.7 billion people in the world with internet access, which means that Facebook can count about 40 percent of the digitally enabled population as its users.

That's nearly five times as many people as watched this year's Super Bowl -- the most popular television broadcast ever -- and about four times as many people as voted in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

People spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the site and, according to Facebook, over 400 million of them have logged in during the past month. Keep in mind there are only 309 million people in the United States -- total.

According to Justin Smith, founder of Inside Facebook, which offers news and market research on the social networking giant, the brilliance of Facebook is that it is for people who do rely on technology, Facebook has just really become a common way to function and get a lot of normal things done."  "In certain countries, particularly the United States and Western Europe, Facebook has actually reached a point where it appears they've saturated the market," he said.
 
According to Wikipedia, since social web applications are built to encourage communication between people, they typically emphasize some combination of the following social attributes:

  • Identity: who are you?
  • Reputation: what do people think you stand for?
  • Presence: where are you?
  • Relationships: whom are you connected with? who do you trust?
  • Groups: how do you organize your connections?
  • Conversations: what do you discuss with others?
  • Sharing: what content do you make available for others to interact with?
Examples of social applications include Twitter, Facebook, and Jaiku, with Facebook now becoming the predominate social-web site in much of the world.

So, why join?  From Technology Gear comes the top ten reasons to join:
1. The lady next to your home is on facebook and is bitching about you with her friends on their walls. She might even have created a hate community using your name. Won’t you like to leave an answer for her?
2. If you start using facebook then you will be able to remain in touch with 16 year old niece and 58 year your uncle because literally everybody these days is using facebook. Even your maid and the cleaning guy who picks your garbage everyday might have checked facebook at least once. Facebook is an awesome way to remain in touch with almost everyone around you.
3. If you join facebook then you will be surprised to know that all your school friends whom you haven’t met since past 10 years are present in facebook. Even your favorite teacher is also present on facebook. Lastly, the guy on whom you had crush during your school days is there on facebook too and has been talking about you with his friends on their walls. Won’t that be an awesome surprise?
4. If you join facebook then you are aware about what is happening around you. You know what people think about Mr. Obama’s next move and how much they hate this current recession.
5. Your birthday becomes an international event if you are on facebook. Every friend in your list comes to know about your birthday and who knows if you end up grabbing some awesome present.
6. It is a lot cheaper when compared to most of the other counterparts.
7. If you hate the think tank behind the latest T.V. soap and you want to tell everyone about the same then you can join the hate community of that person and leave your comments. Similarly, facebook has communities about literally everything that is happening on this planet and we can assure you that you will end up finding something that will interest you.
8. Feeds have become the talk of town and almost everybody is reading various updates via feeds itself. Facebook helps you quickly check everything that is happening around without getting into the details.
9. You can expand your business. Connect with more facebook users and tell them about what you do. You might end up with an awesome deal after which you won’t have to work for the next 6 months. It is all about connecting with the best possible client.
10. Lastly, if you aren’t using facebook then you don’t exist on this planet!
Well it is good to know that I don't exist, at least on this planet.  And maybe I am alone.  There are Grandmas commenting on their teen grandkids' angst-ridden status updates. You have one of your grade-school teachers asking you to join their "mafia" (lol. I am not even sure what the heck that is).

Two of the fastest growing demographics are women over 50 and parents.  They're using the social networking site to communicate with colleagues, look up old friends and yes, stay in touch with their teens and college kids too. They can share photos, send instant messages and post status reports that announce where they are and what they're doing.

Is one billion users possible? With revenue approaching $1 billion and extensive efforts underway in mobile that can help Facebook extend its reach in the developing world, it certainly can't be ruled out," wrote Adam Ostrow, editor-in-chief of social media blog Mashable.

And, increasingly businesses are using Facebook as a business platform.  How any celebrities have Facebook pages, used only for advertisement and promotion?  Politicians have increasingly discovered its allure.  But in most of these cases they are not sharing any information other than what is carefully orchestrated to promote the business or person.  They are controlling their information, but even they run a risk of being linked to people or organizations to which they would otherwise object.  But this article is really more about the everyday user, who uses it as a social media outlet.

And last but not least, it is free.

So understanding the "Good" is pretty easy.  But ...

THE BAD

"The only free cheese is in the mouse trap."

Facebook's growth as an Internet social networking site has met criticism on a range of issues, especially the privacy of their users, child safety, the use of advertising scripts, data mining, and the inability to terminate accounts without first manually deleting all the content.

Many companies removed their adverts from the site in 2008 because they were being displayed on the pages of controversial individuals and groups. The actual content of user's pages, groups and forums has been criticised for promoting controversial topics such as pro-anorexia and holocaust denial.

How did things go so wrong?  According to an article in Wired:
Facebook used to be a place to share photos and thoughts with friends and family and maybe play a few stupid games that let you pretend you were a mafia don or a homesteader. It became a very useful way to connect with your friends, long-lost friends and family members. Even if you didn’t really want to keep up with them.
Soon everybody — including your uncle Louie and that guy you hated from your last job — had a profile.
And Facebook realized it owned the network.
The End of Secrets?

One of the first things you notice about Facebook is how much information people share online.  It is a little (actually, a lot) startling.  This trend had alarmed many people.

Dr. Larry Ponemon of the Ponemon Institute writes:
No normal adult shares the same level of intimacy with their spouse, their friends, their colleagues, and strangers on the bus. It’s unhealthy – or just plain strange – to act otherwise, as anyone who’s ever uttered the words “too much information” can attest.
Meanwhile, the ability to keep secrets is a natural part of maturation. Children tell each other secrets to establish friendships. Adults keep secrets to gain advantage in business dealings. Journalists only gain the trust of sources by proving they can be trusted with secrets. Corporations often count secrets – intellectual property – as their most valuable asset.
And yet, the message implicit in avid use of Facebook is the credo of the 30 percent of adults who are privacy complacent by Ponemon’s scale – “I’ve got nothing to hide, so who cares?”
So are we guilty of all sharing "too much information" or have we been duped?  Dr. Ponemon believes that we are at least being naive:
Facebook has hypnotized even the most private people, an elite group he calls "privacy-centric." They make up only 8 percent of the population. These folks won't even sign up for supermarket loyalty cards, but they will post pictures and tell stories on Facebook. In fact, they are so mesmerized that, untrue to their nature, they don't even spend more time tweaking their Facebook privacy settings than regular users.
"People want to believe they are safe," Ponemon said. There’s really no way to participate in Facebook without self-revelation – it’s baked right into the product, he points out. Without stepping forward, posting pictures, making your identity searchable, and so on, there is no payoff on Facebook. Because of that, Facebook even trumps personal Web pages – people put pictures and stories on Facebook that they’d never post on their own blogs, he said. "(People) like the tool, so they convince themselves there really isn't much risk.”  
Facebook's Mark Zuckenberg dismisses this concern saying that there is a new social norm and that "people" dont worry about sharing information any more.

Privacy and behavioral economics expert Alessandro Acquisti, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, agrees that Facebook seems to be eroding even skeptics’ concerns about being overly exposed. But he disagrees with Zuckerberg. There's no new social norm, Acquisti said. There's just a grand illusion.

Facebook has managed to convince users of something economists call an "illusion of control," Acquisti claims. Consumers who think they have power over the outcome of a transaction will naturally be overly self-confident. The effect is most obvious in gambling, where a craps player might believe he or she can roll snake eyes just by tossing the dice a little softer, and thus bet a little more. Human beings are easy to sucker into an "illusion of control."

Here's how it works in the privacy realm: When consumers believe they can control what happens to their personal information, they don't fret about divulging it. Facebook and other so-called Web 2.0 sites, Acquisti says, has given people a false sense of security about the availability of their personal information to others. 

So exactly how does that work?  How have we been duped?  According to Acquisti:
By standing by while consumers confuse two different privacy issues – divulging information, and controlling the information after it’s divulged. Facebook users indeed have great control over what information they submit to the service - they have complete controls over what they post in their profile, for example (ignoring, for now, the imposter threat). But they have little control over how the data will be used after it's posted to the site. In a recent yet-to-be published paper on the subject, the distinction is described as control over publication vs. control over access.
"People seem to conflate he two issues, so on a psychological level they feel better because they feel they are in control," Acquisti said. "They underestimate the risks of how the data will actually be used." In an experiment, students who had few qualms offering up very personal information -- such as how many sexual partners they had -- for a Facebook-like service showed far more reticence when told random researchers would be creating a profile for them. While the end result would be the same, the idea of a human handling the information - gave the students pause.
Some argue that most everyone on Facebook overshares.  One test that a college technology professor uses it to ask students on the first day of class to stand in front and show their Facebook page on a large screen to the rest of the class. No one ever does. Students share things online they don’t want to share in person. Even sharing seemingly harmless details could have some future consequence.

The Grand Illuison - Oversharing & The Loss of Privacy

Facebook's mission is to get you to share as much information as it can so it can share it with advertisers. As it looks now, the more info you share the more they are going to with advertisers and make more money.  For instance, you may not realize that, when you are playing the popular games on Facebook, such as Farmville, or take those popular quizzes, every time you do that, you authorize an application to be downloaded to your profile that you may not realize gives information to third parties.

Acquisti argues that a fundamental usability problem skews the service – and all social networking tools - toward privacy-risky behavior. Two years ago, he did research which showed that only 1 percent of Facebook users had even touched their privacy settings. Facebook says that number has now grown to 20 percent, but stillility problem skews the service – and all social networking tools - toward privacy-risky behavior. Two years ago, he did research which showed that only 1 percent of Facebook users had even touched their privacy settings. Facebook says that number has now grown to 20 percent, but still, there is an obvious flaw. It’s far easier to share than conceal. It is an order of magnitude easier to upload photos, for example, than it is to hide them from sets of potential viewers using privacy settings. As a result, site users will always overshare.

Much has been made over Facebook and privacy over the years, but the social network's most recent privacy changes seem to be generating a particularly loud uproar. It's no surprise, really: Facebook's recent adjustments make it incredibly difficult to control your information in any reasonable way.  How are you at risk?  Joan Goodchild, senior editor of CSO (Chief Security Officer) Online recently spotlighted five dangers she says Facebook users expose themselves to, probably without aware of it:

  • Your information is being shared with third parties
  • Privacy settings revert to a less safe default mode after each redesign
  • Facebook ads may contain malware
  • Your real friends unknowingly make you vulnerable
  • Scammers are creating fake profiles
Want some examples:
  • A publication called "TechCrunch" discovered a security hole that made it possible for users to read their friends' private chats. Facebook has since patched it, but who knows how long that flaw existed? Some speculate it may have been that way for years.
  • Researchers at VeriSign's iDefense group discovered a hacker was selling Facebook user names and passwords in an underground hacker forum. It was estimated he had about 1.5 million accounts - and was selling them for between $25 and $45
  • The site is constantly under attack from hackers trying to spam these 500 million users, or harvest their data, or run other scams. Certainly, there is a lot of criticism in the security community of Facebook's handling of security.
So how do you maintain privacy on Facebook?  It is not as easy as you might think.

Achieving maximum privacy on Facebook now requires you to click through 50 settings and more than 170 options. And even that won't completely safeguard your info.  To fully understand Facebook's updated stance on privacy and your personal data, you'd have to wade through the company's 5,830-word privacy policy. That, as the astute crew from The New York Times noticed, is 1,287 words longer than the United States Constitution.

Those figures are attention-grabbing enough. But seeing what Facebook's privacy changes actually mean in practice is even more eye-opening.  You know people with a lot of friends, 500, 1000 friends on Facebook? What is the likelihood they are all real? There was study last year that concluded that 40 percent of all Facebook profiles are fake. They have been set up by bots or impostors. If you have 500 friends, it is likely there is a percentage of people you don't really know and you are sharing a lot of information with them, such as when you are on vacation, your children's pictures, their names. Is this information you really want to put out there to people you don't even know?

So what happens to all that information you knowingly (or unknowingly) share?

Tell Me Your Secrets And I'll Tell You My Lies


So what happens when we share so much of our personal information?   Dr. Ponemon suggests:
“The minute someone knows something about you, they gain a measure of control over you,” he says. This is obvious in the case of an affair: If someone learns about your secret lover, they can hold a wide measure of control over your future. In a less obvious way, a future employer who knows that embarrassing Facebook photos from the past are hurting your job prospects can easily gain an upper hand in salary negotiations.
 
Control.  Don't be fooled.  This is about control.
 
This privacy paradox, however, is best understood through the simplest explanation. Privacy transactions are notoriously difficult to judge. The payoff from sharing a little information today is obvious; the punishment that may happen in the future is not. Giving a supermarket your phone number today might net you a 50-cent coupon on a gallon of ice cream; that’s an obvious benefit. But what is the cost? Reams of junk mail in the future? A health insurance premium surcharge because your grocery store reveals your bad eating habits? It’s nearly impossible to say. And so it is with Facebook – a picture that looks like fun at 22 could be a career-killer at 32. But people rarely make good choices about vague possibilities 10 years away. If we did, there would be no French fry industry.
 
Telling the world that your favorite rock band is the Killers or Madonna might seem innocuous enough, but what happens when an employment background firm shows that Madonna fans who also like 60s music tend to come late to work? No law prevents that. 
 
Well guess what.  People are already using all of that information now. 
  1. The following language now appearing on federal agency job applications:
    "As part of the agency's review of your application, the agency may view and/or access publicly available information about you, including information publicly available on the internet, that is job-related and consistent with the merit system principles and prohibited personnel practices set forth in the Civil Service Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. 2301, 2302."
  2. Employers (such as Virgin Atlantic Airways) have also used Facebook as a means to keep tabs on their employees and have even been known to fire them over posts they have made.
  3. One of the first things attorneys do with a new case is search online for information about plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses alike. In one Rhode Island case, a 20-year-old’s drunk driving accident, which severely injured another youth, could have resulted in a relatively light stint at county jail or the considerably more severe state prison. But, as the prosecutor in the case quickly discovered, two weeks after the accident, while his victim was still in the hospital, the youth posted photos on Facebook of himself at a Halloween party, prancing around in a prisoner costume. He was sentenced to two years in state prison.
  4. In a 2008 survey of 320 admissions officers from top colleges, the education experts at Kaplan learned that roughly 10% visit social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to learn more about applicants. Be sure to check out the Kaplan press release. The bottom line: an applicant's web information made a positive impression about 25% of the time and a negative impression 38% of the time.
  5. Trackur  is a social media monitoring tool used by corporations to keep track of what people are saying about their products across the Web and to gain information about customers. Companies can use it to monitor their brand, their competitors and even their own employees.  Andy Beal, owner of the company based in Raleigh, N.C., said in the past six to 12 months there has been a proliferation of companies using the service to match online profiles with real world identities.  "Lenders are looking for information on potential borrowers. Collection agencies and lawyers are looking to track down the whereabouts of individuals," Mr. Beal said, adding that he also is seeing hiring managers use social networks to conduct reference checks.
Are the photos from your buddy's third bachelor party in Vegas really "job-related?" Am I a bad credit risk because I like "drinking at the Pub on Saturday night?"  It really all depends.  Today it's a good bet that someone in HR or at your bank is going to be Googling applicants and checking out their Internet presence. So if you're looking for a job, do a common-sense Internet sweep. And once you land that coveted position, remember that anything you post can still be seen by your employer, and get you canned.

So you have been really careful about what you post and you have checked all the privacy settings, so you are safe?  Not so fast.

My Friends Are My Enemies

Do you take applications for your friends?  Do you screen them based on their good qualities and how "productive a member of society" they may be?  Unfortunately, who and what your friends and family are on Facebook may impact you greatly.

Your security is only as good as your friend's security. If someone in your network of friends has a weak password and his or her profile is hacked, he or she can now send you malware, for example. There is a common scam called a 419 scam, in which someone hacks your profile and send messages to your friends asking for money - claiming to be you - saying, "Hey, I was in London, I was mugged, please wire me money." People fall for it. People think their good friend needs help - and end up wiring money to Nigeria.

But it is not just security, you are now being "profiled" based upon your friends and their preferences.  Remember how lenders are checking you out on Facebook?  Well they are also checking out your friends.   What (financial institutions) have found is if your friends tend to be good credit risks, such as pay their bills on time, you are likely to be also," said Lorrie Cranor, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University specializing in privacy.

So do your friends talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll?  That may be part of your profile.  Has a friend ever been arrested?  Fallen down drink?  Made some racist joke?  Spouted off about the government?  Threatened anyone?  Teased anyone?  It is all part of YOUR profile.

Want to find out more about you?  One person used as an example "Brandon" who posted that he lost his virginity and "Martin" who cheated on a test.  How did he track "Brandon" and "Martin"?
I clicked over to Brandon's Facebook profile after seeing his status update on Openbook. Because of Facebook's privacy setup -- which now forces you to have things like your interests and "likes" linked to publicly accessible groups or community pages -- it took only a few seconds for me to ascertain exactly where Brandon goes to high school and what year he'll graduate.
Martin, our test-cheating youngster from earlier, left some of those details out of his profile. But Facebook still lets anyone see his friends, his siblings, and all of the things he and his social circle "like" -- and it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to create a fairly detailed docket from those combined tidbits of info. It's enough to give anyone a mild shudder.
And what happens when strangers post?  The Los Angeles Times reports that hospital administrators in California, as well as other places, are having trouble controlling what employees post about their work on FacebookFacebook and by mounting their own social media campaigns.

Don't want people to know about that nose job?  The nurse may post it and your "friends" tag it.  Now you are a celebrity!!
 
Is it worth it?  One commentator has devoted a site to why he got rid of Facebook.  He found that:
Mostly, I was just going through a phase and had decided that Facebook, after the initial euphoria of connecting with a long lost friend, actually made me feel more lonely. The amazing lives of some friends (who made sure to document every portion of it on Facebook) didn’t do much to help me on those darker days. And of course, there was the never-ending snarky comments and witty repertoire that competed for “humor” – of which I was equally guilty.
You may say, "certainly reasons to be careful", but ...

THE UGLY

Cybertheft

Mikko Hyppönen, who regularly works with Scotland Yard, the FBI, the US National Security Agency and Interpol, said popular networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin were now prime targets for criminals.

"It's happening all over the world," said Hyppönen, who refuses to use Facebook. "These guys steal an individual's profile, then email everyone in their contacts with a link and a subject heading like 'check this out'. You trust the email because it's from your friend. So you click on the link and before you know it all your security information has been stolen. I don't use Facebook because I know who's watching and I don't want these guys looking at pictures of me and my family. People think no one phishing will be able to make money from Facebook, but cyber-criminals can. This is only the beginning. You will see this happening more and more."

"These guys steal personal financial data and sell it to the highest bidder. It's like robbing a bank, but why rob a bank now when you can steal huge amounts of money from the comfort of your own home in another continent?"
 
A report published in 2009 called "The Digital Criminal" revealed that 38% of social network users post status updates with details of their holiday plans, which can be an "open invitation to burglars" as many users also posted their home address on their profile.
 
Cyberbullying, Stalking and Murder 
 
There have been a number of cases where a person has been murdered by someone they have met on Facebook.
 
In November 2009, Facebook was accused of promoting Gingerism after a 'Kick a Ginger' group, which aimed to establish a "National Kick a Ginger Day" on November 20, received almost 5,000 members. A 14-year-old boy from Vancouver who ran the Facebook group was subjected to an investigation from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for possible hate crimes.
 
Many critics, including Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, have criticised Facebook as a possible tool for cyberbullying, with the possibilities of anonymous profiles and the creation of groups allowing bullies to target individuals online. In 2009, an Oceanside teenager sued Facebook, as well as four of her former classmates for $3 million after the individuals created a password-protected Facebook group that was allegedly "calculated to hold the plaintiff up to public hatred, ridicule and disgrace". A Facebook spokesperson stated "we see no merit to this suit and we will fight it vigorously". On 21 August 2009, Keeley Houghton, 18, of Malvern, Worcestershire, was sentenced to three months in a young offenders' institution after being found guilty of bullying one of her classmates on Facebook, making her the first person in Britain to be jailed for bullying on a social networking site. It is also possible to falsely accuse someone of harassment and get their account swiftly terminated as a vengeance tactic.
 
Data Mining and The Creation of Profiles

Perhaps the biggest and least appreciated danger of Facebook, is the ability of Facebook or third parties to utilize the information on Facebook in order to create “Profiles” of everyone on Facebook and even their families and friends. The danger with profile creation is not limited solely to Facebook, but resides in a number of internet related activities. However, as I have outlined above, the unique aspect of Facebook’s users turning over very private information about themselves – who their friends are; who they have sex with; who and what they hate; who and what they like; if they drink or do drugs; where, when and how they work, live and play; pictures of themselves and their families and friends – makes Facebook (and other sites like Facebook) uniquely DANGEROUS.

Are you comfortable telling the world that you got drunk last night and did “some bad things.” If you (or anyone you know or who knows you) post that on Facebook, the “World” now knows. Post a picture (or anyone you know or who knows you) showing the same and even if don’t say you did something bad, the whole “World” can now see for themselves what you did or make inferences about the same.

According to an article in Wired:
Facebook decided to turn “your” profile page into your identity online — figuring, rightly, that there’s money and power in being the place where people define themselves. But to do that, the folks at Facebook had to make sure that the information you give it was public.
So in December, with the help of newly hired Beltway privacy experts, it reneged on its privacy promises and made much of your profile information public by default. That includes the city that you live in, your name, your photo, the names of your friends and the causes you’ve signed onto.
This spring Facebook took that even further. All the items you list as things you like must become public and linked to public profile pages. If you don’t want them linked and made public, then you don’t get them — though Facebook nicely hangs onto them in its database in order to let advertisers target you.
This includes your music preferences, employment information, reading preferences, schools, etc. All the things that make up your profile. They all must be public — and linked to public pages for each of those bits of info — or you don’t get them at all. That’s hardly a choice, and the whole system is maddeningly complex.
Simultaneously, the company began shipping your profile information off pre-emptively to Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft — so that if you show up there while already logged into Facebook, the sites can “personalize” your experience when you show up. You can try to opt out after the fact, but you’ll need a master’s in Facebook bureaucracy to stop it permanently.
So what is your "profile" based upon all of this data?  What does Yelp and Pandora and Microsoft know about you?

Until now, practicality has limited these kinds of scary possibilities, says Hugh Thompson, chief security strategist at People Security. Pulling together that much disparate information left all around the Web was a chore only government agencies would attempt. But that’s not true anymore. A host of new software programs aimed at small-time data mining are slowly becoming available. They scour the Web and create dossiers on target subjects in seconds. One, named Maltego, even provides visualizations of data points that connect people and things online.

“The critical barrier is it hasn’t been easy. It is now,” he said. “What was a ‘data wasteland’ is now the richest environment in human history for backgrounding people. “

I have done a number of reports about how your information is being used and profiled.
  1.  Sshhhhh - The Government is Watching A semi-secret government contractor that calls itself Project Vigilant surfaced at the Defcon security conference Sunday with a series of revelations: that it monitors the traffic of 12 regional Internet service providers, hands much of that information to federal agencies, and encouraged one of its "volunteers," researcher Adrian Lamo, to inform the federal government about the alleged source of a controversial video of civilian deaths in Iraq leaked to whistle-blower site Wikileaks in April.  Uber's Wikileaks revelation is one of the first public statements from the semi-secret Project Vigilant. He says the 600-person "volunteer" organization functions as a government contractor bridging public and private sector security efforts.  According to Uber, one of Project Vigilant's manifold methods for gathering intelligence includes collecting information from a dozen regional U.S. Internet service providers (ISPs). Uber declined to name those ISPs, but said that because the companies included a provision allowing them to share users' Internet activities with third parties in their end user license agreements (EULAs), Vigilant was able to legally gather data from those Internet carriers and use it to craft reports for federal agencies. A Vigilant press release says that the organization tracks more than 250 million IP addresses a day and can "develop portfolios on any name, screen name or IP address."
  2. Google is Watching You Too  Google knows what you watch, what you search, and even with whom you're friends. The availability of all this information raises an important question: Where does Google CEO Eric Schmidt stand on the issue of online privacy? Schmidt has previously said, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
  3. Government Knows What Medicines You Take Now come reports that the Government keeps a file of every prescription drug we take. Such “files” are maintained through a 2005 law which, the Government claims, authorizes it to monitor and record all prescription drug use by all citizens via so-called “Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.” And there is a slew of other under-discussed surveillance programs whereby the U.S. government stores vast data on our private activities: everything from every domestic telephone call we make to “risk assessment” records based on our travel activities.
Planning any trips lately?

It is all part of your profile.  And so are the activities of your friends.  But what about those things that Facebook has kindly decided to do for you?

There have been some concerns expressed regarding the use of Facebook as a means of surveillance and data mining. According to the Facebook policy, "We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile."

Read that again – “supplement your profile”.

Now, say you you write a public update, saying, “My boss had a crazy great idea for a new product!” Now, you might not know it, but there is a Facebook page for “My Crazy Boss” and because your post had all the right words, your post now shows up on that page. Include the words “FBI” or “CIA,” and you show up on the FBI or CIA page.

One women who decided to drop Facebook reports that:
I just discovered tonight that FB is sending ‘Friend Suggestions’ to people IN MY NAME that I did not send. I was on my daughter’s account and there were 3 of MY friends on her requests page that were “suggested by” ME.
Remember in In the "Terminator" series, Skynet is the main antagonist — an artificially intelligent system which became self-aware and revolted against its creators.  I am not suggesting that Facebook will become Skynet.  What I am suggesting is that "truth" is stranger than fiction.  By allowing so much of our personal information to be controlled by a few Oligarchs (or Governments), have we set the seed for a cultural hegemony controlled by a few?  From Wikipedia:
The use of language can serve as a means of creating and applying hegemony. Any source that disseminates information is, intentionally or not, part of hegemony in that the source can only contain a finite amount of information. Therefore, in the selection of the information it chooses to display, the source is limiting and framing the information that the recipient gets. In this way, the source is practicing its influence over the recipient. Examples of the societal aspect of hegemony are churches and media organizations that constantly distribute information to the public. These influential institutions can subtly use language and to frame their message and thereby valuate it, helping to further disseminate the adoption of their message. This phenomenon of language influencing thought within a society is an important tie to the idea of cultural hegemony.
"These influential institutions can subtly use language and to frame their message and thereby valuate it, helping to further disseminate the adoption of their message."  When someone knows everything about you, and then supplements your "profile" so as to gain an even greater "understanding" of you, aren't they then "controlling" the message.  Ever wonder why you get targeted for certain ads?  Why does Facebook say you should "friend" this person?  Do they suggest you "join this group?"

As more and more of our lives are incorporated on computers with information feed to us by the internet, controlling the internet and the information creates and informaiton bias.  If you don't have all of the information but only that presented to you, how do you even know that you are being controlled?

Why did so many corporations offer Mark Zuckerberg Billions of dollars?  For a web site that until recently hadn't even turned a profit?  Or for a commpany that has access to hundreds of millions of people who share, for free, the most personal information about themselves?  Information that they would never share in person with anyone else.  Details and pictures about themselves and their families and friends.

So What Can I Do?

If you can't live without Facebook, what can you do?

An article at College Apps has some suggestions which are universal.
• In short, delete these 12 photos now
• Remove or block any photos that show you drinking alcohol, even if you were in a situation where it was legal
• Remove or block any photos that show you with people who are obviously under the influence
• Remove or block photos with rude gestures (someone who doesn't know you won't find that middle finger shot funny)
• Remove or block photos that are sexually suggestive
• Remove or block any photos that portray illegal activity
• Remove or block any photos that would make an admissions officer question your character or judgment
• Unsubscribe from any groups that show bias or bigotry (those "I hate Jane Doe" and "Old People Shouldn't Drive" groups suggest you're NOT the type of person a college wants to admit)
• Unsubscribe from any groups that promote illegal activity (again, the "I Love Getting Stoned" and "Budweiser Rules" groups will give the admissions folks reservations about your application)
• Remove contact information such as your phone number and address--not only is this a safety issue, but inclusion of such information shows bad judgment on your part.
• Choose an attractive and professional-looking photo for your profile picture
• Visit your site frequently to untag any unflattering photos your friends may have posted
Remember though, that if your friends have any of those things included, YOUR profile will likely include them.

Also remember that once it was posted, "someone" knows about it and likely made a permanent record.  So even if you delete it, it is still out "there".

Even as to things that you feel comfortable with telling a large group of people, you still have to be cautious.  When you tell someone something on Facebook, you tell the entire World. 

Day in and day out we filter out information which we share with other people.  But with Facebook and its "profiles" you may not be able to filter anything at all.

Do you really want someone who is interviewing you for a job to know everything about you?  What if you are a "born again christian" and you are interviewing with a Muslim (or vice-versa)?  The interviewer cannot ask about religion.  But if they have researched you profile, then "they" know.  Or what if they know who you voted for and it so happens they are of a different party?

Or what about picture of you when you are changing your hair color because you just couldn't decide?  An interviewer may decide you are indecisive.  And what if it is just pictures of your friends acting silly.  What if someone decides that you must be immature because of it?

When you give all of your personal information over to someone else, you loose control over that information.  Every decision you have ever made in your life is then subject to review and criticism by others.  Your whole life is now open for review.  Mistakes last forever.

It is said  - Education is a progressive discovering of our own ignorance.  So too with Facebook.

45 comments:

  1. This is fascinating. Great coverage. I could never get myself to join for some reason either. It always seemed so juvenile to me.

    Ann

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  2. It is impossible to live in society without it.

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  3. Scary shit! Well said.
    JKL

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  4. Clearly all this networking can not come with a price tag. Janet- UK

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  5. I hate that I use it! I do feel I was seduced by the need to have facebook in a world where everyone has it.

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  6. Remember Friendster? Or second life? Where did they go?

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  7. It does seem really stupid that people would post personal stuff. My husbands best friend was divorced because of facebook. His wife found a picture of him at a bar and she figured out he was having an affair all because of that picture posted.

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  8. I agree. It is one thing to use it as a business tool it is another pathetic thing to use it for social desperation.

    How a parent could allow their kids to be so exposed to predators is beyond me. It is like living in a glass house.

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  9. Thanks for such an excellent compilation and analysis of the pros and cons of Facebook. It's scary how this network grows and spreads almost like a virus. The way privacy gets compromised by "friends" and gets used by people and agencies who want to control us is especially ugly.We give up this information about ourselves when we use Google or Amazon or link to blogs, but the information on Facebook is more easily accessed and is often more personal.

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  10. I comment as anonymous because I don't want the thought police to get me.

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  11. " Thought Thieves"

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  12. "Education is a progressive discovering of our own ignorance. So too with Facebook." I like that!

    Josh

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  13. I think a time will come when people hardly leave their homes. It will be a virtual world where people use digitally enhanced versions of themselves to communicate with. An old lady can sit in her dark dump of an apartment. But she can "virtually" live with a moving image of herself that she operates from home. She can interact as this younger " ideal" version of herself. This is where we are headed....Ten years from now we laugh at facebook at its infancy.

    Beau Tebo

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  14. It really is like a movie plot but much scarier. I donlt like the idea that I am being profiled and that they are supplementing info. Thats was the scariest part, it sounds like they are investigating you.

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  15. I think Zuckerberg may believe that it his now his destiny to " Change the world" Translation-MEGALOMANIAC.

    People have used FACEBOOK for good causes like Haiti but have Zukerberg and his cronies done a whole lot of good with the power and money?

    Bill Gates on the other hand is entirely different. He gives it all back. What Gates has done for the world is Saint like.
    Gene -NYC

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  16. The masses like it because it gives them the delusion of feeling they have a public persona. It makes them feel important. To compete to get your list of friends to be really high is just tragic. Facebook preys on the human condition of people's need to be wanted. JKL

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  17. You summed it up best with your opening line.

    Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, and inwardly are ravening wolves.

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  18. Tina Brown addresses the "Facebook Persona" and her concerns about privacy in an interview on NPR.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127095788

    Facebook's appeal is a testament to the fundamental desire to share and make connections. There are some interviews with the Dalai Lama on this universal need in "The Art of Happiness".

    "The Dalai Lami's model of intimacy (not just in romantic terms) is based on a willingness to open ourselves to many others, to family, friends, and even strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on our common humanity."

    Almost sounds like ad copy for Facebook, however, it's sad that in our modern-day choice of what to reveal and what to conceal, many of innermost thoughts are reduced to market research.

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  19. Very insightful comment from Margaret. "Facebook's appeal is a testament to the fundamental desire to share and make connections." So true!
    In my opinion the members seem like exploited rats in an experiment. Sara G.

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  20. Sara G:
    Yes, I hope the kids at McKinsey + Co. are having fun going through all the data we generate.
    Once market researchers found out how easy it was to get Americans to spend thousands of dollars a year on bottled water that for the most part is not tested and is less pure than what comes out of the tap....well, it must have seemed easy to set up social experiments like Facebook - in which freely give away our identities, or as Tina Brown would say "personas".

    I have to admit, I am a Facebook test subject, though I don't use it much - mainly because I find it confusing.
    My thinking is along the lines of:
    ....as long as I'm swiping ATMS, and going to the Post Office - where I just found out that the picture they take as I make a transaction from the stamp machine is kept on file for no less than two years - I might as well be on Facebook, so a "friend" might contact me as easily as the FBI.

    Good topic Sean!

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  21. For me it's not really caring about my info being used. I just think Facebook is pedestrian child's play. I prefer going directly to XTUBE where the clothes are already off. FB has such limitations when it comes to nudity. I prefer clothing optional social networks.

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  22. Lately I have been getting a kick out of the Facebook invites I receive via email from those last straglers who you know held out as long as they could. You receive the invite from the most unexpected old friends and the match of Facebook and their persona just SO don't work. It just looks plain awkward. I got one the other day from some tweaked out looking dude who was sort of a San Fran CASTRO type. Someone who might wear leather caps often. It was like seeing some steroid muscle head trying to fit into a Boys Scout Outfit. I laughed and laughed.

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  23. See for me i i don't want to be found by people from my past. Who in the hell wants people you went to school with so many years ago popping up to say hello. It is hard enough to return calls , texts and emails of people i actually want in my life. It reminds me of one great big high school reunion. I never went to one of those and I'd never go on facebook.
    I loook forward to the next big thing to dwarf facebook.

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  24. I really think a 10 BILLION dollar buy out was about as good as an offer as Mark Zuckenberg was gonna get. facebook can not last forever. It has to be beat out by the new and improved brand. That is the nature of social networking. It already seems so tired to me. Not everyone in the world can be convinced to join and stay members of the Mickey Mouse club for the rest of time. Planet facebook. A legions of super powers united for the ultimate in social existence. I fucking HATE all that is facebook.

    Did you see their new TV launch? It had the chick from ugly betty as a guest. It was so bad. Jake

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  25. There is no doubt that Facebook is the dominant social networking site, but as parents and grandparents join Facebook, data suggests that the site might be losing its coolness amongst teens.

    According to a study from OTX nearly one in five teens with a Facebook profile had decreased or discontinued their use of the site as of April 2010.

    What’s more, the decreases seemed to speed up in recent months, with two-thirds of the lapsed users having turned away from the site in the past six months.

    Initially I thought that one of the reason that teens are leaving Facebook or abandoning their profiles are their concerns about privacy on Facebook. But that does not appear to be the case. Instead, the reason is much worse from Facebook’s standpoint. Teens are leaving the site because they simply find the site boring.

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  26. Don't people feel just a tad bit unoriginal to be part of such a large click? Don't people feel like followers being led in a large herd ? I'd be embarrassed to be on facebook. But hey it works for Sara Palin.

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  27. Teens get over Facebook as their parents get on to it.

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  28. I'm more partial to SPACEBOOK and MYFACE. Very few people know about them. They are a very private hybrid VIP club within these clubs. Sort of like the roped off VIP areas inside the already stupid night clubs. SPACEBOOK is for those individuals that really just live outside of this world. You have to be worth over 500 million to get in. The website is so guarded you can't even find it. MYFACE is more for the individuals who have problems with groups. They pretty much just trade pictures with their own self. Super exclusive!!

    Alice Codding of Sneech pond - Blue- NYC

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  29. I love FACEBOOK. I met my husband from it. He just saw my picture and contacted me. It was meant to be. God works in mysterious ways.

    My church uses FACEBOOK to organize social events as well. Bake sales have a whole new twist and coolness to them.

    Bethany Kelly

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  30. I agree with this article. If one must use facebook, use it only as a business tool. Using it to post pictures of your children and life seems like a choice to exploit you and your " friends" to be used.

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  31. Incredible information. I have never had any desire to join it and have always felt somewhat like a fish out of water for being so "unconnected". Your blog makes me feel so much better about sticking with my gut of not wanting to join. It is interesting how unconnected the world is becoming with all of these strange ways to "connect".

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  32. I did join and must say I hate that I did. I'm leaving facebook. It is such a waste of energy and i think it is a step backwards for mankind.

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  33. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnamMtQs1fI

    Social Network the film looks brilliant. It appears as though the director has captured the essence of what Zuckerberg has so cleverly accomplished. He coded a system that has without conscience exploited the human condition in all of its fragility. Genius concept on creating such a network no doubt but at what cost to people?

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  34. Great article. Teenagers really need to read this!

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  35. Excellent coverage of the issue, I once got a job because my phone was published on fb, but I ll take it from it for your advice. It has really gotten in to a large group of people, but we should be more aware of the good and bad of it

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  36. Hi, Some one from facebook refereed your link i have book marked it nice blogs you write see Free  how to grow twitter followers here

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  37. My sis is trying to get me to join Facebook and I have no interest. (But I know very little about it other than it seems HIGHLY time-consuming, addictive, and is frowned upon by employers.)
    Sis laughingly told me that her Facebook friend brought me up saying that the last time they saw me, I was WASTED. Now I'm pissed.
    1. It was not true. 2. If things like that get out, I could easily lose my job.

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  38. Facebook is the most juvenile thing to happen to the world since the bible.

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  40. For me, FB has a very juvenile quality. The FB generation has no idea how to communicate off of their phones. I sat with a group of 25-32 hipsters the other day and they literally did not communicate at the table. They only each texted to who ever on their phones. It really was odd. I don't think that is a change for the good.

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  41. Excellent read Sean :) so glad I don't have kids, feel sorry for them being in this world of cold technology. I had a great upbringing here in Australia mucking around on my bike with my brothers, building cubby houses in the scrub, and as a teenager, riding my horses, playing sport, reading, writing...facebook et el is no way to grow up.

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  43. I was chatting with someonen on facebook chat, until the real person phoned me to tell me that he never had an account with facebook, that someone was using a foto copied from a friends facebook, it later came out that this fake account was up and running for almost two years looking for private information on everyone and he had it investigated that it seems that a secret intelligence agent was behind it, also that the ip adress used for the account was situated in south africa ! fact is that over 40 % of all facebook accounts are false!!!

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