Facebook monitors unposted comments

Matthew says: "Facebook says it is within its terms of service to see what users are typing even when the status or comment is never posted on the social network.

Facebook has confirmed it tracks users' unpublished posts after two Facebook researchers disclosed that they had tracked the activity of about 5 million random users."

Facebook now OK with beheading videos, but nudity stays verboten

It's easy to make a mountain out of Facebook's explicit OK to posting videos of people being beheaded. Tabloids see such lowest-common-denominator topical material as a threat to their own product, and their outrage seeks to impose their own limitations upon the competition. But it's also true that Facebook still bans nudity and other sexual content. As the matter is therefore one of editorial judgment, rather than protecting users' free speech, what does Facebook's editorial judgment say about its audience?

Facebook-fooling shirts to foil auto-tagging


Simone C. Niquille's REALFACE Glamoflage shirts are designed to confound Facebook's face-recognition software by covering you in famous faces when you venture into public. The project was sparked by a(nother) privacy-undermining Facebook terms-of-service change, this one allowing the company to auto-tag the people in the photos you upload. The shirts were part of FaceValue, a master's thesis in design at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, and Niquille's explanation of her work is fascinating:

Read the rest

Pro-tip for jurors: don't write on Facebook about your intent to convict defendant

Two jurors in England will spend August in jail after one asserted a defendant's guilt on Facebook—"I've always wanted to Fuck up a paedophile & now I'm within the law!"—and the other blabbed to co-jurors about researching their case online. [BBC]

What walled gardens do to the health of the Web, and what to do about it

David Weinberger took great notes from what sounds like a barn-burner of a talk by Anil Dash at Harvard's Berkman Center on what has happened to the net, and where it's headed:

“We have a lot of software that forbids journalism.” He refers to the IoS [iphone operating system] Terms of Service for app developers that includes text that says, literally: “If you want to criticize a religion, write a book.” You can distribute that book through the Apple bookstore, but Apple doesn’t want you writing apps that criticize religion. Apple enforces an anti-journalism rule, banning an app that shows where drone strikes have been.

Less visibly, the laws is being bent “to make our controlling our data illegal.” All the social networks operate as common carriers — neutral substrates — except when it comes to monetizing. The boundaries are unclear: I can sing “Happy Birthday” to a child at home, and I can do it over FaceTime, but I can’t put it up at YouTube [because of copyright]. It’s very open-ended and difficult to figure. “Now we have the industry that creates the social network implicitly interested in getting involved in how IP laws evolve.” When the Google home page encourages visitors to call their senators against SOPA/PIPA, we have what those of us against Citizens United oppose: now we’re asking a big company to encourage people to act politically in a particular way. At the same time, we’re letting these companies capture our words and works and put them under IP law.

A decade ago, metadata was all the rage among the geeks. You could tag, geo-tag, or machine-tag Flickr photos. Flickr is from the old community. That’s why you can still do Creative Commons searches at Flickr. But you can’t on Instagram. They don’t care about metadata. From an end-user point of view, RSS is out of favor. The new companies are not investing in creating metadata to make their work discoverable and shareable.

[berkman] Anil Dash on “The Web We Lost” (via Beyond the Beyond)

Positive externalities thrive online

My latest Guardian column is about positive externalities, the value that bystanders get from the stuff you're already doing:

That's the crux of this irrational fear of positive externalities: "If something I do has value, I deserve a cut." It's one thing to say that someone who hires you to do a job, or purchases your product, should pay you money. But positive externalities are the waste-product of something we were already going to do. They're things that you have thrown away, that you have thrown off, that you have generated in the process of enjoying yourself and living your life.

The mania to internalise your positive externalities is the essence of cutting off your nose to spite your face. I walk down the street whistling a jaunty tune because I'm in a good mood — but stop as soon as I see someone smiling and enjoying the music. I keep my porchlight on to read by on a warm night, but if I catch you using the light to read your map, I switch it off, because those are my photons — I paid for 'em!

Worse still: the infectious idea of internalising externalities turns its victims into grasping, would-be rentiers. You translate a document because you need it in two languages. I come along and use those translations to teach a computer something about context. You tell me I owe you a slice of all the revenue my software generates. That's just crazy. It's like saying that someone who figures out how to recycle the rubbish you set out at the kerb should give you a piece of their earnings. Harvesting positive externalities involves collecting billions of minute shreds of residual value – snippets of discarded string –and balling them up into something big and useful.

If every shred needs to be accounted for and paid for, then the harvest won't happen. Paying for every link you make, or every link you count, or every document you analyse is a losing game. Forget payment: the process of figuring out who to pay and how much is owed would totally swamp the expected return from whatever it is you're planning on making out of all those unloved scraps.

Why trying to charge for everything will kill online creativity

Social media turns into boring old media

Warren Ellis, always a shrewd observer of online media, supposes that we've reached peak social media, the point at which exciting new communications forms ossify into dull media titans:

Twitter alters its terms of access to its information, thereby harming the services that built themselves on that information. Which was stupid, because Twitter gets fewer and fewer material benefits from allowing people to use its water. And why would you build a service that relies on a private company’s assets anyway? Facebook changes its terms of access regularly. It’s broken its own Pages system and steadily grows more invasive and desperate. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, just went through its first major change in terms of service. Which went as badly as anyone who’s interacted with Facebook would expect. As Twitter disconnected itself from sharing services like IFTTT, so Instagram disconnected itself from Twitter. Flickr’s experiencing what will probably be a brief renaissance due to having finally built a decent iOS app, but its owners, Yahoo!, are expert in stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Tumblr seems to me to be spiking in popularity, which coincides neatly with their hiring an advertising sales director away from Groupon, a company described by Techcrunch last year as basically loansharking by any other name.

This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media, with Big Media problems like cable-style carriage disputes. Frame the Twitter-Instagram spat in terms of Virginmedia not being able to carry Sky Atlantic in the UK, say (I know there are many more US examples).

His closing remark is "I wonder if anyone’s been thinking twice about giving up their personal websites." Good question.

The Social Web: End Of The First Cycle

Facebook claimant charged with fraud

Paul Ceglia, the New York businessman who claimed to own half of Facebook, was charged with fraud Friday over evidence presented in the case. [BBC] Previously.

If Twitter was like Facebook

People give Twitter plenty of guff, but at least its promoted tweets program is straight-up advertising--unlike the awful "pay to reach your own followers" stunt that Facebook is pulling.

Facebook fan-pages broken, but FB will unbreak them for a price


Writing in the New York Observer, Trust Me, I'm Lying author Ryan Holiday says that Facebook has deliberately broken its fan-page service so that only a small number of registered fans see status-updates. If "brands, agencies and artists" want to reach all the people who've signed up for status-updates, they have to pay for "sponsored posts." As Holiday notes, this is a large conflict of interest for the service: the worse it works, the more they can charge to fix it.

It’s no conspiracy. Facebook acknowledged it as recently as last week: messages now reach, on average, just 15 percent of an account’s fans. In a wonderful coincidence, Facebook has rolled out a solution for this problem: Pay them for better access.

As their advertising head, Gokul Rajaram, explained, if you want to speak to the other 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important.”

In other words, through “Sponsored Stories,” brands, agencies and artists are now charged to reach their own fans—the whole reason for having a page—because those pages have suddenly stopped working.

This is a clear conflict of interest. The worse the platform performs, the more advertisers need to use Sponsored Stories. In a way, it means that Facebook is broken, on purpose, in order to extract more money from users. In the case of Sponsored Stories, it has meant raking in nearly $1M a day.

Holiday goes on to point out problems with other services, including Twitter and Craisglist. His focus is on the cost to advertisers, but there's also the cost to users, who believe that they are getting the news they signed up for, and instead are getting the news that a deep-pocketed firm can afford to put before them. For further reading, see Eli Pariser's Filter Bubble.

Broken on Purpose: Why Getting It Wrong Pays More Than Getting It Right (via MeFi)

(Image: C&T Program Fan Club Insert, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dcmatt's photostream)

Facebook to New Yorker: no nipples in your cartoons!


Facebook forced The New Yorker to remove a cartoon depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden because the cartoonist drew in two dots representing Eve's nipples, which is a Facebook no-no.

Nipplegate (via JWZ)

How Facebook design tricks people into trading away privacy


On TechCrunch, Avi Charkham provides an excellent side-by-side comparison of an older Facebook design and the latest one, showing how the service has moved to minimize the extent to which its users are notified of the privacy "choices" they make when they interact with the service. The Facebook rubric is that people don't value their privacy ("privacy is dead, get over it,") and we can tell that because they demonstrate it by using Facebook. But really, Facebook is designed to minimize your understanding of the privacy trades you're making and your ability to make those trades intelligently.

All privacy offers on FB are take-it-or-leave-it: you give up all your privacy to play Angry Birds, or you don't play Angry Birds. There's no "give up some of your privacy to play Angry Birds" offer, or "here's a game that's 95% as fun as Angry Birds but requires that you only yield up the most trivial facts of your life to play it" that we can test the market against.

Charkham's five examples from the visual interface design are very good evidence that FB isn't a harbinger of the death of privacy; rather, it's a tribute to the power of deceptive hard-sell tactics to get people to make privacy trade-offs they wouldn't make in a fair deal.

#3: The Tiny Hidden Info Symbol Trick

In the old Design Facebook presented a detailed explanation about the “basic” information you’re about to expose to the apps you’re adding. In the new design they decided to hide that info. If you pay careful attention you’ll see a tiny little “?” symbol and if you hover over it you’ll discover that this app is about to gain access to your name, profile pic, Facebook user ID, gender, networks, list of friends and any piece of info you’ve made public on Facebook. Quite a lot of info for a 20×10 pixel tiny hidden info symbol don’t you think?!

Of course, the interface is only a small part of the tactics used to manipulate privacy decisions on FB. More insidious and likely more effective is the use of the proprietary algorithms to apply intermittent social reward for disclosure, driving users to greater and greater disclosures -- something well documented in The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser's 2011 book on the subject.

5 Design Tricks Facebook Uses To Affect Your Privacy Decisions (via Hacker News)

In The Boy Kings, Zuck's personal ghostwriter reveals little

Katherine Losse was present at the creation. Employee 51 at Facebook, the English major became first a major player in the company's customer service team and then rose to prominence in i18n, Facebook's internationalization initiative. She ended her seven year career there as Mark Zuckerberg's blogger. She mimicked his voice in posts and emails, starting with "Hey Everybody" and ending in world domination.

Now, Losse offers a book about her experience there. Covering the period between 2005 and 2012, she sunk into the soft comfort of corporate life just as early Facebook's miasmic jelly hardened into serious business. Losse, because she's not a wonk, is the kind of person that you want writing about this kind of rise: she writes like she's working out a Lorrie Moore story set at Xerox/PARC and, as a result, she leaves out the nerdiness and attempts to replace it with humanity.

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Facebook shares slump

Somini Sengupta at The New York Times: "The challenge for Facebook, which is worth just over half of what it was three months ago, is to convince Wall Street that it has a real plan for making money."

Tasmanian cops to world: it's not our job to censor the Internet

The cops in Tasmania, Australia have informed the general public that it's not illegal to call people nasty names on Facebook, and that they don't want any more complaints on those lines: "If this behavior occurred in a public place it would not be a reportable offence. It is not the role of Tasmania Police to censor internet content." Cory