Facebook Feature Request: Privacy and Tags

This is essentially the issue of the Friends of Friends post. In this case, I am not really interested in expanding the audience.

Say I publish a friends only post. Victor, my friend, makes a comment tagging Roberta, not my friend, and asks a question directed at her. She is not notified about the tag. Nor can she see the comment or post.

Therefore, in my mind, allowing the tag to be done is counterproductive. Facebook should warn Victor that Roberta cannot see it. Ideally it would be ahead of time and prevent it. Less acceptable, but I would be happier is after the fact having a “Roberta cannot see this” notice. (The “Who can see this?” thing is vague and not generally very helpful clarifying exactly who can see it.)

Trust in Info-Infrastructure

James Fallows has an interesting piece in the Atlantic called Why NSA Surveillance Will Be More Damaging Than You Think discussing trust in the US for the info-infrastructure of the Internet is part of why we have Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. As that trust gets eroded by the behavior of the US government, users may elect not to continue leaving their data with US companies.

The real threat from terrorism has never been the damage it does directly, even though attacks as horrific as those on 9/11. The more serious threat comes from the over-reaction, the collective insanity or the simple loss of perspective, that an attack evokes. Our government’s ambition to do everything possible to keep us “safe” has put us at jeopardy in other ways.

It will be interesting to see whether the fall of the US information giants could be due to a balkanization from a Asia, Europe, and South America backlash. Some regions already have giant amounts of participation in non-US alternatives. This was from long before the NSA scandal.

 

Check Your Google Web History

The EFF posted an article with screenshots on how to remove your Google web/search history. This is because their new privacy policy exposes what you have searched for in the past to your connections. They say to use the Remove all Web History button. Instead, I am using this as an opportunity to learn about myself. Not only does it have my searches, but it also has the sites on which I clicked.

    • My web /search history goes back to Nov 20, 3007.
    • Wikipedia is a common click.
    • I suck at spelling.
    • I search about myself.
    • Pretty sure this history is missing quite a bit.
    • Expanded search has no entries; Limited has too much to review everything.
    • If at first I do not find something, new variants pop up over several days.
    • About a tenth of my listed searches were in support of an active conversation.
    • Surprised my phone searches were not included in this history.

Responses to my Facebook post about this earlier today were a couple friends who found it already turned off. I found a number of 2007 and 2009 articles advocating turning it off. Even Google’s help on Basics: Web History says:

When you create a Google Account, Web History is automatically turned on.

I’m thinking more and more I need separate Google accounts for work and personal lives.

If Google is going to publicize what I search for to my friends, then it would be nice for me to have filters. Maybe I want any clicks I make to urbandictionary.com to be private? My vulgar vocabulary is weak, so it is a good source for understanding what a few friends mean. But I would be mortified for Google to tell my Mom to go there because I did.

Privacy and Technology

Isaac Asimov has an interesting pre-World-Wide Web quote, “The advance of civilization is nothing but an exercise in the limiting of privacy.” Janov Pelorat in Foundation’s Edge (1982). Think about the word “civilization”. The root, civil, means to treat others well. In one ideal world, everyone would treat everyone else well for no reason. In hunter-gather societies, groups were small because groups were split when the group grew too large. At these small sizes, human abilities to track trustworthiness worked. Farming attached people to the land, making laws and people to enforce the laws necessary.

Privacy is good for the individual. Eliminating privacy is good for the state. Both claim their point of view is good for society. Both are right. A state with too much ability to see into the lives of  individuals will eventually abuse that power to mistreat its citizens. A state with too little ability to see into the lives of individuals will be too blind to protect citizens from mistreatment by criminals. During times of war, people want the state to protect them and the refrain, “Innocent people have nothing to hide,” gets resurrected. During times of peace, people want the state to leave them alone. It has everything to do with trust. When people no longer trust each other, they turn to the state. When people can trust each other, they stop trusting the state.

Ah. Oversimplification

As technology improves, we gain access to tools which allow us to do more with less effort. With information technology, this means we can gather more and accurate information. At the same time, it means less privacy for us.

Part of my work is to provide evidence to deans, department heads, and instructors about student online behavior. Students would be surprised at how much I can find about what they did in our system. Of course, the campus administrations would like us to be able to know everything about what the students and instructors are doing. To get the same in the bricks-and-mortar parts of campus, cameras and microphone would record and store all the audio and video for every classroom and office.

Trusting Social Networks

Sunday at brunch we had an interesting conversation about Facebook.

Establishing the appropriate privacy levels to the various constituents see appropriate material is hard. So hard it takes a long pages of text and screenshots to just paint a picture of what to review for the top 10 Facebook privacy settings.

We were discussing how to make the Facebook world we touched more private. How to keep those we supervise or those who supervise us at bay once accepted into our social circle. Few of us only post things our grandmothers would find acceptable, so how do we ensure grandma will never see that picture? This meant banning grandma from seeing the Wall or photo albums or tagged photos.

I had heard we would soon be able to change the privacy levels of individual posts.  This privacy granularity comes at a price according to the New York Times:

By default, all your messages on Facebook will soon be naked visible to the world. The company is starting by rolling out the feature to people who had already set their profiles as public, but it will come to everyone soon.

People like walled gardens. Taking a term from Seth Godin, interacting with just the handpicked few forms a tribe.

If sunlight is the best disinfectant, then social networking on Facebook will die should it be exposed to the world (or too hard to remain private). The most common criticism of blogging is the whole world is in your business. People like the faux-protection of participating online where Google cannot archive it for posterity. This is why Facebook experienced such explosive growth.

Hopefully users will be able to deal with keeping everything as private as they like. Otherwise, we’ll be looking for another walled garden. Maybe I’ll even end up back on my private Twitter account?

Stalking Students

On the BLKBRD-L email list is a discussion about proving students are cheating. Any time the topic comes up, someone says a human in a room is the only way to be sure. Naturally, someone else responds with the latest and greatest technology to detect cheating.

In this case, Acxiom offers identity verification:

By matching a student’s directory information (name, address, phone) to our database, we match the student to our database. The student then must answer questions to verify their identity, which may include name, address and date of birth.


The institution never releases directory information so there are no Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) violations.

However, to complete the course work the student is forced to hand over the information to Acxiom, an unknown and potentially untrusted party. Why should students trust Acxiom when institutions cannot be trusted?

Due to the decentralized nature of IT departments, higher education leads all industries in numbers data breach events. Acxiom’s verification capabilities were designed so that student and instructor privacy is a critical feature of our solution. Institutions never receive the data Acxiom uses in this process. They are simply made aware of the pass/fail rates.

In other words, high education institutions cannot be trusted to handle this information. No reason was provided as to why Acxiom can be better trusted. Guess the people reading this would never check to see whether Acxiom has also had data breaches.

This Electronic Freedom Foundation response to Acxiom’s claims their method is more secure was interesting:

True facts about your life are, by definition, pre-compromised. If the bio question is about something already in the consumer file, arguably the best kind of question is about something that is highly unlikely to be in one’s consumer file and even useless commercially–like my pet’s name.

Answering these kinds of questions feels like more of violation of than a preservation of privacy.

The Twitter Timesink

Glenn asked: “What is it about Twitter that makes it more of a time sink than Facebook?”

I consider a time sink something where I invest a high value of time for boring and poor value.

My contacts mostly duplicate in Twitter what they provide in Facebook. The time I spend reading Twitter posts I’ve already read in Facebook is a waste of my time. My Twitter contacts respond about a 1/5th as much as Facebook users (it used to be higher in Twitter). So I get more out of Facebook.

Twitter Replies suck. The Replies system makes it look like my contacts reply much more to me than others which I find highly unlikely. More likely the Replies implementation stifles conversation by requiring either everyone to be public or to allow all the participants to follow each other for there to be one conversation. Instead its many different (sometimes hidden) duplicate conversations. Facebook comments are attached to the status update so following a conversation is significantly easier.

Twitter Apps suck. Last Friday, I looked at Facebook Connect for AIR. My complaint about it was my interactions with Facebook would be as limited as Twitter. The promise of Twitter apps is to do more than the Twitter.com web UI provides. Many just provide easier ways to do the same thing: see your Twitter timeline. Others let you see quantification of your usage. Facebook apps by contrast provide access to content not within Facebook, so more of the web because part of my Facebook access so I can actually do more.

Except Socialthing and Tweetdeck. They are exemplary implementations of Twitter Apps. They extend the functionality of just Twitter by itself and are primary reasons I kept at it for so long. Socialthing unofficially died a while ago and official stoppage of support was announced last week while I wasn’t using it. Tweetdeck probably will stick around for a while.

Twitter lacks granular privacy. In Twitter, either you are private or public or ban specific users. I’m torn between public and not. So I opted for private with sneezypb where I mostly subscribe to friends. My other account, ezrasf, was where I subscribed to Blackboard community members, educational technologists, etc. Facebook could improve some in privacy as well. Compared to Twitter, Facebook makes a great attempt at granular privacy. Plurk, another microblogging / status update site, represents the privacy  Holy Grail for me. It allows for making specific posts public, private, available to groups, or individuals.

Athensdating.org

Writing a Blog Post About This Scam I noticed a little black and white sign: “Single? athensdating.org” a while ago. A couple weeks ago it came up in conversation. Today I saw it again. So I visited the site.

First impression: A local site should have images to represent something about the locality. Generic stock photography doesn’t cut it for me. The signup for wanted my home and cell phone numbers.

That sounded phishy to me.

Domaintools.com is a great site for looking up who runs a site. If the owner has selected privacy options with their registrar, then that would be a snag. Fortunately for us, the owner of athensdating.org isn’t hiding.

Owner: NuStar Solutions

The note “Email address is associated with about 4,690 domains” caught my eye. So I looked up NuStar and found this article about these popping up everywhere. (At least DomainTools gave me the info in one shot without having to do the same extensive research.) Lots of stuff online about these signs, who is placing them, and whether or not this is a scam.

I’m just going to assume it is a scam.

Picture info: Writing a Blog Post About This Scam on Flickr from sneezypb

Naked on the Net

The typical response to a “OMG Users Don’t Have the Privacy They Think They Do” article is to never post anything online or just never visit web sites where you would post something.

These seem…. Paranoid. People have an expectation of privacy. People also inherently trust web sites unless they have been burned enough in the past. I know a few people who have lost their trust. However, its less than a dozen out of a few 300 people.

My mother in particular, read an article about bad web browser cookies years ago, so she set Netscape 4.5 to tell her about every attempt to set a cookie and was appalled at how many web sites tried to set them. Eventually, she realized not every cookie is malicious. Similarly, not every web site or company is out to screw their users. By contrast, a friend of hers installed Zone Alarm at home and discovered a ton of blocked connections which made him paranoid about the dangers online.

The place to be online is, I think, somewhere between paranoid privacy and complete openness. We should be open enough to generate conversations. However, we should not be giving away the kitchen sink.

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