Tag Archives: Privacy

Zuckerberg Unbound

Philip Roth wrote a series of books in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The middle one is called Zuckerman Unbound and deals with the relationship between an author (Roth’s alter-ego Zuckerman) and his creations. It’s not a great relationship although it is a pretty good book. Roth’s character seems to express regret for the books his younger self brought into the world, and at one point he finds out that a book he wrote has caused his mother a great deal of pain and suffering.

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Fac...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought about Zuckerman as I watched (and am watching as I write this) another Zuck – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook – testify before Congress about how his creation, designed to bring people together, has morphed into something that has blown many people and institutions apart. I doubt any of you reading today’s screed touch billions of people every day the way Facebook does, but I think there are some lessons to be learned here.

One thing that rings hollow for me is the apology offered to the committees. I and many others have been writing about Facebook’s lack of privacy and transparency for years. This isn’t something new nor is it something about which Facebook was unaware. One might suppose that they, like so many others in business, were of the mindset that it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Bad call, and they’ll be doing a lot of begging as the inevitable new regulations on the use of data are put into place. That’s lesson one.

My favorite moment of yesterday’s hearing came when one senator informed Mr. Zuckerberg that Facebook’s “user agreement sucks.” It does, but it’s far from alone. I’d also argue that any “simple” agreement that links out to a dozen other pages for further explanations of things not explained in the initial policy is far from simple. I doubt I could pass a quiz on what Facebook can and can’t do with my information and I’ve been on the platform since 2006. Anyone that generates data that you’ll use to benefit your business should understand what they’re giving you and why. Lesson two.

I do know that Facebook gives the user a lot of control over who sees what although it really doesn’t do so by default. I’m less clear as to what they gather although I’ve downloaded my data and gone through it. Some of what is in there comes from activities off of Facebook, probably either through my use of a Facebook ID to log in or via the Facebook Beacon. How many users understand that they might be tracked EVERYWHERE by Facebook and not just when they’re using the service? Facebook would argue that you’re using the service when you use your Facebook ID to log in elsewhere but I think that’s specious. Yet another lack of transparency, and lesson three.

I wonder where Facebook goes from here. As far back as 2010, it’s been under attack for its privacy failures. It’s a business founded by a man who called users “dumb f^&ks” for giving him their information. Maybe like Zuckerman, he’ll come to realize that he needs to be unbound, cut loose from everything that made him what he was and fix the problems in a way that fulfills the promise of connecting the world that he espouses. At the moment, it appears that others may step in and take steps that alter his world forever.

What’s your take?

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Today We Say I Told You So

I was at a startup event last evening and of course, the topic of Facebook‘s data problem came up. I’m sure you’ve heard something about it but what you’ve heard might not be accurate since many of the reports I’ve watched on TV are pretty off the mark. Since I’ve written a lot of not nice things

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about Facebook here on the screed, let me add my two cents here. I also want to taunt you, politely, by reminding you that not of this should be a surprise. I won’t retell the story of what’s been going on but you can read it here if you’re not familiar.

First, the inaccuracies. This wasn’t a data breach nor a data hack. It isn’t a bug – it’s a feature. The whole point of Facebook’s business is to collect a lot of data from and about its users and sell that data along with ads to marketers. They’re not alone in this. If you use Google, they pretty much know what Facebook knows and a lot more. Like Louis in Casablanca, you might profess to be shocked by this but you knew about it all along, didn’t you? After all, you agreed to let it happen when you clicked through the app install or joined the service some other way. You didn’t realize that using a Facebook or Google sign in on other sites meant they could track you? Hmm…

What’s inaccurate is that many reports say Facebook was collecting voice calls and texts from Android phones. First, it’s not the actual calls or texts, it’s the metadata – who you called or texted. Second, that was a feature of some versions of Android that allowed that to happen and Facebook just scarfed up was available and THEN, only because YOU said ok when you installed Messenger. Please don’t be mad at them for doing what they said they were going to do and don’t be shocked the data is in your file.

I downloaded my Facebook data, Other than seeing a few photos I don’t ever recall uploading to the service (which makes me wonder if they’re just grabbing stuff off my camera roll), I wasn’t surprised. No metadata from my phone because I never granted the permission for them to have it. No weird ad stuff because I go through my Facebook settings fairly regularly to clean out things I don’t want them to store. You should too. In fact, you should do that with ALL your digital stuff – check your Google activity, your ad profile, etc. Go through every app on your phone and check the permissions you’ve granted. Why would a game need access to your camera? Why does a barcode scanner need your location? You can probably revoke the permissions individually and if it breaks something in the app, turn it back on. Better safe than sorry. You want Facebook to know less? Delete the app and only use it from a desktop.

Now the “nyah nyah” part. I wrote a post in 2010 about Facebook and their privacy practices (or lack thereof). I wrote another one in 2012 about how Facebook might go the path of AOL or MySpace. I wrote then:

Like AOL long ago, there are some other underlying factors that might portend bad things.

  • Just 13 percent say they trust Facebook completely or a lot to keep their personal information private.

  • A large majority (59 percent) say they have little or no faith in the company to protect their privacy.

I think what’s happened over the last 10 days has me convinced that I was right then. Facebook are no angels but you shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. Unless and until each of us takes control over our privacy, which means understanding that data is currency and you wouldn’t just throw your currency around, this will happen over and over again. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Watching You Watch

Welcome back, and I hope everyone had a restful and joyous holiday season.  I spent some of it watching TV and you probably did as well.  Of course, depending on what brand of TV you have or what apps you use, other people may have been watching you watch TV.  OK, maybe not exactly watching you, but they’re well aware of what you were watching as well as who you are.  The point today isn’t to make you more paranoid than you might already be.  It’s to  make you aware of where things are and are heading and to take a step back and ask you (and myself) if this is really where we ought to be taking our business activities. 

Let’ start with the TV.  If you own a number of brands of internet-connected TV (a smart TV), the TV is logging and reporting what you watch as well as your IP address.  That information can then have demography and purchasing information integrated from third-party databases because it isn’t hard to figure out who someone is from their IP address.  Once you connect your phone to that IP address (you do so when you attach to the home wi-fi), it’s possible to connect where you are as well as all of the other information a mobile device contains.  In other words, your purchase of, say, a Vizio TV makes you an extremely visible and valuable commodity: a consumer with known habits and an addressable means through which to access them.  I’m not hypothesizing.  If you own a Vizio and haven’t opted out, you’re being tracked.

It’s not just the TV’s themselves.  There is a lawsuit going on.  It was brought by Samba TV against its rival Alphonso. The two companies provide TV analytics and second-screen targeting capabilities.  What’s interesting to me is what it reveals about their methodologies, which involve targeting users on their mobile devices with relevant content based on their TV viewing.  How would they know what you’re watching?  One uses the set top box but the other uses the mic on your phone (who doesn’t have it with them these days) to listen to the TV.  That capability is in more than 5,000 apps, including some big ones.  You give the app permission to use your mic for some purpose (maybe to record a video) but once it has that permission, it can listen.

My question is this.  Do we really think consumers are aware of this?  If they’re not, aren’t we as an industry responsible for letting them know what’s going on?  After all, the two examples above are not part of the content value exchange we discuss sometimes (you give me your attention and I give you free content).  A consumer PAID for that TV and yet the manufacturer is continuing to monetize that customer without their knowledge.  The consumer might have an awareness that a free app is monetizing them but they presume it’s through advertising.  Do you think they know the app is listening to their TV watching and passing on a record of what’s being watched to a third party?

Here is the first of my 2016 predictions: this stuff will stop or some laws will be passed to make it stop.  Transparency of data gathering and usage will expand a lot as consumer backlash heats up.  What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?