No, this isn’t a Google+ story. First a little history…
Unless you were in an Ivy league school in early 2004 into 2005 or in high school for the 2006 school year, you probably hadn’t even heard of facebook before 2007. Opening to the masses in late 2006 (much to the disappointment of those select and happy few groups mentioned above), facebook hoped to take on social media giant MySpace which had been the leader (and arguably the creator if you ignore friendster) of the space since 2004. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp bet on Myspace in 2005 to the tune of 580 million dollars and poured more money into it, opening UK and China based sites under the same brand. It wasn’t until April of 2008 that Facebook finally overtook Myspace in popularity (according to Alexa ratings) and Myspace began its long, slow decline until Murdoch had to unload it recently for a “mere” 35 million.
The decline of Myspace wasn’t surprising to me. My first Myspace related post was penned in November of 2006 (facebook had been open to the public for only a couple months prior but all my friends were using Myspace to share photos, etc. so I felt compelled to sign up) and that piece pretty well set the tone for all my Myspace posts to follow. I thought that Myspace, as a social platform truly and utterly sucked. I made it my mission to present the case for why Myspace wasn’t worth the effort and I took a lot of flak from friends who were vested in it and saw value there. However, since most of the replies were made on Myspace, and I have long since deleted my account, the comments of those nay sayers are now lost to history.
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While I no longer have a personal facebook account, I do still help maintain a facebook page for the company I work for. To do this we originally set up a “company account” (facebook originally offered such business accounts and then banned them without warning or notice) so eventually the company account got co-opted by the sales person in charge of the page and the account was tailored for his use. I occasionally will log in with that account (masquerading as our sales guy) just to edit the company page.
Today I got an email from a dealer of ours with a link to their own facebook page in the signature. I was not logged into Facebook at the time. Clicking the link, I was greeted with a facebook login page instead of their page. This isn’t the way facebook pages were designed to work originally – they were supposed to be viewable even without logging in – that was the whole point of them – Pages was offered by facebook as a way for facebook users to offer a real web page to the world while keeping their personal stuff personal). I checked our own company page (without logging in) and the same thing happened even though I know this wasn’t true as recently as last week. Digging into this deeper it appears that facebook has started adding Country Restrictions (in our case United States had been selected) so that only folks in the US could see the page. Since any restriction like Country or Age requires a user to be logged in so that facebook can know if they are qualified to view the page, this has the result that all facebook pages are effectively no longer viewable on the web except to logged in Facebook users. This is essentially a 180 on what their Pages offering was supposed to be – yet they didn’t bother to inform anyone about it? Facebook calls the change a “security measure”, but while it may be an attempt to reduce the possibility of DoS attacks from China – it also changes their offerings drastically with the added benefit (to them) of nudging non facebook users to sign up. Companies all over the world who have links to facebook on their own websites (and don’t know about this change) are suddenly pointing non-facebook users to a page which states they need to register with facebook to view it.
I removed the restriction because we sell internationally and restricting the page to only those in the US isn’t what we want, but also because I want anyone (yes, even non-facebook users) who might be interested in reading our latest “facebook news” to be able to do so. This is just another example of why I stopped using facebook – its a free service so they can do what they want, but I’m also free to not use it.
Hardly surprising, but I thought this article summarized one researcher’s findings about Facebook’s tracking methods and explained the methodology so well that it was worth posting a link to it. By now everyone and their Grandmother knows that Facebook is building a huge database on its users which will eventually be used to market to them more effectively, but its hardly common knowledge that the Facebook Connect system now embedded in nearly every high traffic web site on the internet provides the means whereby Facebook can keep tabs on what you’re surfing even if you never sign up for an account. This history can even be paired up with an account if you choose to set one up in the future. You might wonder how this is different, if at all from what Yahoo or Google or Microsoft have been doing for years as you visit their web search portals or for that matter the logs that are kept by the ISP(s) that provide your connection to the internet. Content creators (e-zines, media and news outlets, etc.) that choose to add the facebook connect APIs to their sites are providing a means for Facebook to build a database even on people that don’t even use their service, storing it in the hope they will one day identify that person, and for users of Facebook, adding to that flat statistical data layers of information about a user’s social connections and their self-professed likes and dislikes on any and all topics (as well as providing a way to get statistics on how popular those opinions are in their social groups).
Just a short note to my military friends. Doubtless you’ll be hearing about this soon enough anyway, but just in case you do not: Tom Ryan is due to present a talk at the upcoming Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas about the dangers of revealing too much information on social networking sites. According to reports on computerworld, FOXNews, and Armed with Science [dod.mil], Ryan ran an experiment to see how much sensitive information he could glean through social networking. He created the ficticious persona of “Robin Sage”, a good-looking twenty-something, hacker grad from MIT who claimed to be an intern at Naval Network Command. In the month Ryan ran the experiment he was able to build a considerable number of social networking connections on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn with active duty military personnel and officials and through these connections was able to glean military intelligence. The simplest and most obviously dangerous example of leaked information should be of immediate concern to military folks:
For example, one of Robin’s soldier friends posted a photo of his unit on surveillance duties at a mountain outpost in Afghanistan. That inadvertently exposed their location, because the photo contained GeoIP data from the camera.
The other night I was having a fantastic time with some friends after a barbeque and the subject of family history came up. I had pulled some old photographs off the walls and we were talking about this and that character in the photo and when someone asked the question, I realized I had no idea what year my grandfather had been born. “No problem”, I said, “I’ll just fire up the Mac and call up my website – I have this awesome software running that I share with the family with lists and graphs and everything, we’ll just look it up!” Seconds later I was staring at the screen wondering what had happened to my data. I couldn’t log into my own site and all my family data was inaccessible.
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