Tag Archives: facebook

State surveillance is not comparable to online privacy issues

Often, when opposing state surveillance such as that revealed by Ed Snowden, activists are questioned why they use online services that actively collect data about them. There is one core reason why this comparison is unhelpful and irrelevant.

“You are the product” goes the saying, which is true. Companies like Google and Facebook collect streams of data about who we are and what we do. Some have called this “self-surveillance”.

When we “self-surveil” and grant companies the ability to use – and sell – our data, we expect – and get – something back. We get a service. We pay a small privacy price (largely inconsequential, I’d argue) in exchange for a service.

On the other hand, the state demands we let them take our data. They chose warrant-less mass-collection over targeting, leaving us in the dark about what they’re collecting. We get nothing in return – there is yet to be a convincing case, backed up with evidence, that the mass surveillance of the citizenry in any way makes us safer.

There is one, undeniably crucial difference however.

The state has the power to use that data against us in a devastating way.

We can be detained, without charge, for fourteen days – the longest pre-charge detention period of any comparable democracy. Previously this limit was 28 days, and there was an attempt to raise it to 90 – that’s 3 whole months of being locked up for being a suspect.

Outside of detention, the state has the power to severely limit our activities with only “suspicion” as a reason, destroying the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

I don’t see any social networks able to limit my civil liberties…

Image: CC-BY-SA George Rex

Stop breaking the internet!

That’s what I’m getting at the moment whilst trying to read an article from a feed I subscribe too.

I use Feedly, as you may have guessed, which insists on hijacking the URLs from the feeds with it’s own redirects. I get no benefit from this, just the longer wait when, as has happened a few times, Feedly’s redirect service decides to be a dick.

It’s frustrating, and unnecessary. Worse, Feedly isn’t the only one. Twitter has to be the worst. Every bloody link goes through t.co now. Facebook does. Google does it on search results even.

How is this good for the internet? How is this good usability?

It’s not. Please stop it.

Stop whining about privacy: YOU are the one GIVING it away

Following Facebook’s announcement of their “Home” app, many people seem to have read Om Malik’s melodramatic cry over spilt milk:

Om says, “But there is a bigger worry. The phone’s GPS can send constant information back to the Facebook servers, telling it your whereabouts at any time.”

Yes, it can Om, you’re right. And how does it do that, exactly? I’ll tell you shall I… Here’s a step-by-step;

  1. You download the app
  2. You agree to the app using  your GPS
  3. You open the app
  4. You allow the app to take over the home screen

OH MY GOD! I’ve suddenly realised how awful Facebook is – taking all that information from you without your consent(!)

Justifying his lying on the floor kicking and screaming, Om continues, “Facebook, a company that is known to have played loose-and-easy with consumer privacy and data since its very inception..”

Again, he’s spot on. But rather than make his point this shows how pathetic his argument is. If anything, that should have prepared him for the inevitability that Facebook will use his data. He appears to be saying,

“I can’t believe Facebook is using the huge amount of data about my life that I handed over!”

My response to Om, and anyone else whinging about their privacy within the Facebook wall, is;

If you willingly hand over any data about your life to any company whose terms, which you agreed to, state they can use that data then they will bloody well use it. If you don’t like it, don’t fucking hand over your data, you moron!

My next rant will be about why I LOVE handing over my data! 😉

Update: Instead of of that second rant, just read this which I agree with completely. In fact, I’m already allowing Google to track my every move and loving the benefits I’m getting.

Why I backed App.net

Given the choice I’d prefer to pay for a product than be the product.

I want ownership of my own data, my own mutterings, musing, incoherent rants and drivvle.

My own words and creations should be available to me in the format I want them in, not subject to someone else’s corporate branding guidelines and platform stifling despotism.

Being in a walled garden feels anathema to the world wide web that was envisaged by TBL and that I fell in love with so many years ago.

So many people whinge about being delivered ads on Facebook, in their Gmail, or promoted tweets on Twitter. Yet often (not always!) those same people don’t seem to get that they are the product.

App.net lays the foundation (important: Alpha does not equal App.net) for that relationship to fundamentally change, in their favour.

Staffs Police reach 5,000 followers, expect pat on the back for not engaging.

This morning, Staffordshire Police tweeted the following;

“Nearly 5,000 followers on force social media sites http://bit.ly/foyiNn

Brilliant. Good for them. It’d help if they actually engaged though on those social media sites. Or maybe the force is socially inept as an organisation.


I actually went through all of @StaffsPolice‘s 1,463 tweets. I found 21 replies (though I may have missed some). After running the account through TweetStats I was given the figure of 1.3% of total tweets were replies. That’s 19 if I’ve done my maths right.

The real telling stat though, was this one;

Over 90% of their tweets are completed automated, generated from an RSS feed with no input from an actual Police officer or employee.

There is some good news though – they have a few manned Twitter accounts which are working on a more community level which you can see in action on the Twitter list.


This is a funny one! Or at least, it made me chuckle before I got annoyed by it… The force’s Facebook page has 1,027 “fans” (or whatever Facebook is calling them this week).

Despite some good signs of engagement back in October it seems to have tailed off. The few examples there are focus on the Staffs Police asking us how they’re doing at social Media. Here’s a great example;

Across all of our social media sites we have 5,000 followers! Are you likely to engage more with Staffordshire Police because of Facebook and Twitter than you would if these weren’t available? Please post your comments below.

Andy Bennetts: Are you going to engage with the public through social media? It doesn’t look like it so far. Your various social networking accounts are a one way conveyor of ideas and information. There’s no conversation going on. You post links etc. people comment and that’s that. Doesn’t look like engagement to me.

Staffordshire Police Thanks for your comments, these will be useful as we look to increase the number of social media sites, especially at a local level, and also improve the way we use the sites to engage with youselves. Keep updated at www.staffordshire.police.uk/about_us/social_media/

Andy Bennetts: Just like that.

Andrew Fox: MegaLolz.. Thankyou for you engagement.

And then there’s the forum discussion they started asking how they’re doing. No replies; maybe they should take that as a hint. Once again the Facebook page is mostly made up of automated postings from an RSS feed using an app called RSS Graffiti – no human involvement.


Honestly, I’ve got better things to do.

I’d like to make this a sort of open request to Staffordshire Police: please get better. Go and ask Nick Keane and other forces for lessons in doing this right.

How to protect your data: don’t give it away! And how Facebook isn’t to blame… much.

This won’t be popular, I know, but the election did show me very well how we can all have very differing opinions and get along like a house on fire at the same time. So here goes…

I won’t regurgitate the details, if you’re reading this you probably know what it’s about. Let’s look at this sensibly;

  1. Facebook is a web site – it’s on the World Wide Web, a globally-accessible, publicly-available open network.
  2. Your Facebook is protected by a password- that’s all. No secure server, nothing. So it’s not that secure anyway.
  3. You accepted the terms & conditions and everything that goes with them.
  4. You choose what information you put onto Facebook. Anything that can be seen publicly is as a result of your actions.

Bearing this in mind I find it hard to see why so many people are so up in arms that their ‘data’ is out there.

I will concede that Terms & Conditions are often pretty damn cheeky with lines like “we reserve the right to change these T&Cs without actually telling you” which is, in my opinion, unethical and yes, significant changes should be subject to acceptance of new terms and conditions, just like you have to accept new friend requests.

That shows that the problem is not in what Facebook is doing so much as what it asks you it can do. You give it permission to do what it’s done, then later when it actually happens and you actually realise what the unintended consequences were, you attack Facebook.

Facebook is only to blame for it’s lazy Terms and Conditions. They’re certainly not the first though and won’t be the last.

Thing is, we all know none (or very few) of us actually bother to read the T&Cs and that is no-one’s fault but our own. It’s kinda hard to expect anyone to do that when their privacy policy is reportedly longer than the U.S. constitution. I don’t honestly expect anyone to actually read that.

What I would like to see however is people taking ownership of their actions. Realising that the data is out there because they made the decision to put it out there, rather than being horrified when Facebook changes the way it publishes that data.

Facebook can only do that because you gave it your data in the first place. I only put information on the web that I’m comfortable telling any random stranger on the street. Therefore, I’m not bothered how Facebook uses that information (including making it available to third party apps & web sites) because it’s nothing sensitive.

The bottom line is, take ownership of your data. Don’t give it away if you wouldn’t be willing to tell a stranger, ’cause that’s all Facebook is – a stranger – despite the close relationships you may maintain on the site.

Spotify are digging their own grave by not going social

There’s a phrase I picked up from somewhere a while ago and now use it quite a lot. It’s;

No involvement, no commitment.

The basic premise is that if you don’t feel involved in something then you’re less likely to be committed to it. Take work, for example. If you don’t feel as if you’re an integral part of the place you’re less likely to give two hoots about getting in on time, meeting deadlines etc.

This basic idea seems to be behind so many things, including social media.

For me, Facebook works because it makes it so easy for friends to involve each other in what they’re doing. Earlier this year, Neilsen released some stats showing the amount of time people spend on top sites. Facebook, the 4th most popular site and most popular social network, pushed passed the 7 hour mark. That’s over 7 hours a month that the average user spends on the site.

Spotify. I love it. I have a premium subscription allowing me to listen at a higher bit rate than most users and, with the app on my 32GB Nokia N97 I have an incredible MP3 player at my fingertips.

But Spotify is in trouble. It’s not reaching enough subscribers in the UK – it’s biggest market – putting the whole business model in doubt.

I’ve been saying for ages that Spotify needs to get social. It needs to add that element of involvement that keeps people so glued to Facebook. I ‘scrobble‘ what I’m listening too so that my habits are recorded by Last.fm, but I never use the service because it involves the effort of opening up another service, but if those features were built into Spotify… wow. Then I could interact with my friends, just like I do on Facebook, but focused around our shared music tastes.

Nothing provides that in one place. It takes two apps and some manual copy/paste to share stuff.

So as exciting as mflow looks, it’s a bit too much like Last.fm but on the desktop. Sure it’s great that I can share songs I’m listening to and like, but I have to switch from Spotify to mflow and search for the track that’s already right in front of me in Spotify. Again, ball-ache and I can’t see myself using mflow long term because of the extra effort involved.

What Spotify needs to do is add mflow-like features. Let me “favourite/like/love” a track/album/artist. Show this on my friend’s start pages, as part of a timeline of activity including what I’m listening too. Show me a chart of my compatibility with my friends.

Give me a profile which shows what I’m listening to, charts of what I listen to most. Let me share tracks, albums and playlists with friends easily from within the application.

Let me involve my friends in my Spotify experience and let them do likewise. We’ll all be more committed to using Spotify – and with the added benefits, far more likely to pay that £10 per month for the privilege.

Update: What I’m proposing is nothing new, it’s human nature. Check out Dan Slee’s post on mix tapes as the pre-internet social media.

Update #2: Spotify made a u-turn; they’re going social! This article on Music Ally describes the Facebook integration features which will allow easy sharing of playlists and tracks between friends. Not only that but they’re sorting out my second bug-bear: existing music libraries. No longer will I have to suffer the embarrassment of using Windows Media Player as Spotify will now incorporate music already stored on your PC. Fantastic! Well done, Spotify.

The internet will make you accountable for your actions

I wouldn’t normally advocate reading The Sun, but as much as it pains me to do so I need to make a point.

A woman has apparently initiated divorce proceedings against her husband after spotting his car outside another woman’s house, on Google Street View.

“Top media laywer Mark Stephens” was quoted saying, “I suspect the husband’s lawyers will claim it was an invasion of privacy that will cost him his marriage and Range Rover.”

He may well lose his marriage and precious shagg wagon but it’s not Street View that’s brought that cost upon him, he’s done that all on his own.

And here, my patient readers, is where my point comes in.

The internet is an open and democratic medium. Get filmed, photographed or otherwise captured doing something you shouldn’t and you could well face the consequences.

It’s not the fault of the internet, of Google, of ISPs or of web site owners. It’s your fault.

Moaning about having your ‘privacy invaded’ because you got caught humping your cleaner thanks to the internet is akin to complaining that you got caught speeding because you happened to have been followed by an un-marked Police car.

The solution is quite simple: don’t do anything you wouldn’t want anyone knowing about. Especially cheating on your wife!

And guess what, the same applies (even more so, in fact) to companies.

On an almost daily basis my twitterstream contains tweets pertaining to bad customer service. I always worry for those companies. I wish, for their sake, that they’re monitoring Twitter, and the rest of the web.

If not, they are potentially letting their reputation sink lower and lower. As tools like Twitter, Facebook and Get Satisfaction gain traction, more and more people are making themselves heard. Word of mouth as a communication medium has rocketed to new heights.

So, if you’re a business do two things right now.

  1. Smarten up. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t mind the world knowing about.
  2. Keep an eye on what’s happening to your brand online. Failure to do so could result in a seriously damaged reputation.