Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shiny, happy advertisers. Really!

I finally logged into Facebook this morning to do a bit more than just make sure I remembered my password. Poking around the "My Account" section for the first time since the Great Privacy Update, I received the following popup when I hit the "Facebook Ads" tab:

Advertisers using my photos? Misleading rumors? Get the whole story? I'll give 'em this: they know how to hook a person.

The Facebook blog entry is an interesting read in and of itself, but more interesting to me is the reference to "two entire advertising networks" being unfriended by the big FB itself (actually the number now stands at four). Turns out there's also a list of ad networks that are still considered friendly, for the time being anyway.

Presumably Facebook is aware of the members on this list, even if the "providers are not approved by nor affiliated with Facebook", since the content on the Facebook Developer Wiki "is created by the Facebook team with help from our developers". You still might want to weigh just how evenly matched your social standards are with Facebooks, seeing as how RockYou! isn't very careful with its users passwords, Offerpal recently ditched a foul-mouthed CEO, and Zedo-induced spyware/adware has long been a gift that keeps on giving. Neither of these latter two are getting great reviews from my trusty Firefox plugin, either. I could spend the rest of the day playing in this sandbox with my little bucket and shovel, but I think you get my drift.

Granted it's possible to dig up dirt on just about anyone or anything, and everybody's got a skeleton or two rattling around (I've never kicked a puppy, but I've stuck a few mirrors in front of Siamese Fighting Fish). Facebook taking a shot across the bows of lowend malvertising is a step in the right direction. The Facebook community trying to set some standards with a list of who is nice (or at least not blatantly naughty) is another step in the right direction. That doesn't mean it should be taken at face value, or that the shiny, happy advertisers who made the Nice List are there because they met a bar, rather than just slid underneath it.

It is a place to start, at least for the conscientious crowd who have their eyes set on a long term, sustainable business model as opposed to a short term, rake-it-in-and-run racket. If consumers back them up by voting with their wallets, there may even be a light at the end of the "Scamville" tunnel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Facebook updates gone wrong

Evidently there are people out there who really, truly don't care about their online privacy OR the new Facebook privacy controls. I admit I'm wondering if this guy, in addition to keeping his fugitive status updates current, is also updating his photo album...? And does he prefer Farmville or Mafia Wars? My play money is on the latter.

Anyone else think the cops should check to see if he's reporting in on Foursquare as well?

Update: as of 12/27/09, "Lazie" is still keeping in touch, so at least he's not slacking there. Apparently he has a little help, as he's given public kudos to his "admin staff".

Um...admin staff? Now there would be some interesting profiles on LinkedIn.

The guy needs to give his admin staff a poke and have them get serious about an advertising campaign. They might start by studying the "relevant" ads that are showing up on his Facebook page. Car insurance? Not so much (although an agency whose ad shows up on Lnych's page is probably not too picky). Drop blood pressure by as much as 60 points? Now that's relevant.

There's plenty of affiliates I'm sure who would fall all over themselves, and if he pimps the right products*, he could make a tidy sum. That might come in handy for bail one of these cold, rainy days.

*no, I'm not going going there. Well, not yet anyway.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Facebook's new path to privacy - a call to common sense

A friend of mine asked me recently if I planned to write any fiction. I gave her my standard response: "No, because I couldn't make this stuff up". Seriously, I can't, and I have a pretty active imagination. They say sometimes life just hands you material. I say life always hands you material; you just have to be able to gather it all up. Right now, my basket is overflowing.

First there was the gathering storm of Facebook revamping its privacy controls, which some viewed as a tempest in a teapot. Then came the rollout. Then came the fallout, with cries of outrage ranging far and wide. To prevent this post from becoming nothing more than a collection of linkbait (and it's already hovering dangerously close), if you want a sampling of these cries, just plug "Facebook privacy fiasco" into your favorite search engine and knock yourself out.

The fun, however, was really just beginning. The highlight for many people - I know it was for me - was the revelation that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's own BMOC, apparently didn't understand the new privacy controls himself, and inadvertently left a bunch of less than flattering photos available to friends of friends of friends of casual acquaintances of total strangers, or something like that. This was followed by stout claims that he really meant to do that, although the hypocrisy of these claims is hard to overlook in view of the fact that Zuckerberg's transparency clouded over shortly after it went massively public. I personally also have to question some of the justifications put forth, certainly in the piece I just referenced:
Bottom line: People don't care about the concept (really an illusion) of privacy nearly as much as other people think they do.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think they do. Based on the thousands of comments I've seen over the past week, I think I'm right.

I think people do indeed care about their privacy, and more than other people think they do (or at least more than the executives at large internet companies think they do *cough*). What a lot of people don't understand is the difference between the illusion and the reality. In the world of the intarwebs, there is a wide gulf between the two, and for many people "using various Web sites to post personal stuff in a very public way", it is an invisible divide. Out of sight, out of mind. Until something happens which brings the invisible divide into sharp relief.

Among the various opinions being voiced at varying volumes regarding this latest spotlight on the illusion versus the reality of online privacy are calls for action ranging from lynchings to lawsuits. Even the FTC may be getting involved (whether they want to be or not).

What really needs to be happening is a wake up call to common sense. Maybe, with a little luck, that is what's happening, and maybe Facebook is the trumpet sounding (whether they want to be or not). They probably don't want to be the blast that opens a lot of eyes - especially when those eyes are mostly glaring at them with anger - but what's not so good for Facebook could, ultimately, be good for a whole lot of other folks. It certainly will be if it gets a whole lot of folks to finally grok that the "concept" of "privacy" is "really an illusion".

Online privacy is an oxymoron to begin with. I'd like to have that on a bumper sticker. Or a t-shirt. Or both. Anything to help raise awareness that out in cyberspace, the only one who can really safeguard your privacy is YOU.

Might even help a few people avoid getting their insurance canceled.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some things are better left unsaid

For better or worse (I lean towards the former, frankly) there's been a huge flap over Google CEO Eric Schmidt's recent interview comment (er, gaffe):
"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place,"
with reactions ranging from slightly paranoid to more calmly practical. Now, predictably, the Google PR Parade is attempting damage control with the tried and true It-Was-Taken-Out-Of-Context defense. So I decided to take a brief break from picking on Facebook (but don't worry, I'll get back to it) to offer Mr. Schmidt a piece of advice he seems to rather desperately need:

If you have something to say that could come across as atrocious if taken out of context, maybe you shouldn't say it in the first place.

Especially not in an interview with CNBC. Yes, Mr. Schmidt, judgment matters. A complete lack thereof can matter even more. Mmmm'kay?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facebook's new path to privacy (or not)

Facebook today pushed out its new and improved privacy settings, under the guise of giving users "more control" over their information. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a pretty good rundown of the "good, the bad, and the ugly" here. Another useful commentary can be found at ReadWriteWeb, and as it appears to be a running one it's probably worth watching. For the snarky side of the story, El Reg has a nice sarcastic spin. There's plenty more coverage of this Big Event; these are just a few that topped my own reading list.

At a surface scratching, the good does indeed appear fairly good, but the bad has the potential to be very bad if you don't pay close attention to what you're doing (c'mon, social networking is about getting everyone else to pay close attention to what you're doing), and the ugly, examined closely, looks to give Freddy Krueger a comparative cuteness score of 9.5 on a scale of 10.

First things first though, and since I have a Facebook account myself (against my better judgment), time to get hands on with this Brave New Facebook World.

Okay, so I start by seeing a "Privacy Announcement":
"We're making some changes to give you more control of your information and help you stay connected. We've simplified the Privacy page and added the ability to set privacy on everything you share, from status updates to photos."
Liar, liar, pants on fire!!

With that knee jerk reaction out of the way, I am amused by how they throw giving me more control of my information into the same sentence as helping me stay connected. Facebook is going to make money via the latter, not the former. Ergo, it's the latter I'm going to pay close attention to - that's where their attention is focused, I'm sure.
"At the same time, we're helping everyone find and connect with each other by keeping some information—like your name and profile picture—publicly available."
Ah HA. Now we're talking, or at least they are. Thank you SO much for "helping" everyone, including me, by deciding for me to "keep" some of my information publicly available.

Unfortunately I don't use Facebook often enough to remember exactly what information I had previously decided to NOT keep publicly available, only that I had my settings cranked to paranoid. But that's okay. Facebook knows what's best for me.
"The next step will guide you through choosing your privacy settings. You can learn more about how privacy works here."
Riiiight. Let's see how this "guide" works.

Looks like my Old Settings pretty much run counter to Facebooks recommendations, other than Email Addresses and IM, and Address, which we seem to agree should be shared with Friends. Evidently in Old Settings I had not specified Only Friends, but I'm sure Facebook and I also agree on the difference between the two, and hopefully at some point they'll explain it to me. I trust them, really I do. Not enough, however, to take any of their other recommendations.

I do award them a point for putting an obvious truth in writing, although they fudged the wording ever so slightly. It's still close enough for government work, and a nice bit of CYA.

I changed the email/IM setting anyway, just to see what happened.

Cool, now my email and IM are set to Only friends. I do still have to wonder what separates the new privacy setting of "Friends" from the old privacy setting of "Only Friends". It seems there is a difference, or else why would there even be an option to change it? Facebook doesn't seem inclined to clarify that. Meh, whatever.
DISCLAIMER: The Privacy Settings Screen did NOT say "email and IM screen name" for Only friends can see, nor "EVERYTHING ELSE" for custom settings. That's my own screenshot tweak. If I want my email and IM screen name limited to only friends, I'm not gonna turn around and post 'em here in a screenshot (besides, you can find what info I'm willing to share via this blog in my profile :)). And the finer details of what all I choose to keep private really isn't anybodys business (except mine and Facebooks). If you're that curious, go check your own Facebook Privacy settings. In view of what's going down, you really should do that anyway.
Having made that recommendation, I am both out of time and Facebooked-out, so my own under the hood digging regarding the new and improved privacy settings will have to wait. I've little doubt it will prove...educational.

Oh, that bit of obvious truth that Facebook fudged ever so slightly?

Facebook version:
"Information you choose to share with Everyone is available to everyone on the internet"
Well, like I said, they're close.

Here's the real version:
"Information you choose to share with Everyone is available to everyone on the internet"
Folks, out there on the intarwebs, that is as private as it gets.