Monday, January 30, 2012

Facebook The Evil Empire Part 3: “Timeline” Is Not Your Friend

In early January, I wrote a follow up editorial titled Facebook: The Evil Empire Part 2” which spoke to some problems I was having with Facebook locking me out of my account plus their poor customer support in getting the issue resolved.

Facebook earns my scorn again for its impending “Timeline” which will outline and catalog every little single thing that a person does using Facebook. Many don’t realize that Timeline will also reflect everything that a person said they “liked”, every place checked into with Facebook, every photo in which a user has been tagged, and any activity done using a Facebook app. It will be very easy for anyone to track everything you’ve said, everything you’ve done, and every place you’ve been.

That is – if you let them.

I loathe Facebook,  but maintain a Facebook fan page for one of my blogs (as a convenience and courtesy to my readers who use Facebook), and my main Facebook page is reserved for immediate family connections only (none of which post very much anyway). I rarely post anything on my family page, and never post any personal information on my fan page. If I need to communicate anything of real importance to family or close friends, it’s done in person, by phone, or by email. I guess I am just one of those people that doesn’t think that the minutia of my life has to be chronicled for posterity by Facebook. After all, Facebook could care less about the actual people using Facebook – Facebook simply wants all the data it can get on you so it can advertise to you and make money off your personal activities.

Before Facebook Timeline switches on for everyone – which I believe will begin in the next week or so  – I suggest everyone review what they have on their Timeline and delete what they don’t want others to see. Also, check all your Facebook privacy settings to make sure you’re sharing with only those people you really want to see all your activities. Review all the Facebook apps you’re using and revisit whether you really need to use them at all. Facebook users may not see the harm in having all that data out there about themselves, but it’s for the things that Facebook hasn’t told you about OR dreamed up yet for using your personal data that should be of concern. Because after all, Facebook  is really NOT YOUR FRIEND

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA – Bad for Everyone

The “Stop Online Piracy Act” – or SOPA for short – may sound like a good thing in concept, but looks can be deceiving. The act, which moves to prevent copyright infringement and intellectual property theft, is actually a bill that would make it very easy for the government to shut down any web site.

Current legislation in the form of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which protects copyrighted material, make perfect sense as it gives copyright owners the ability to have the specific infringing content removed from a web site. But SOPA goes even farther by targeting the entire web site. This is a chilling thought.

Wikipedia, along with other web sites, have gone dark today in protest. It is an interesting move as it highlights to the world what can happen if someone deems that the web site is showing any content that is copyrighted. Other web sites, such as Google, have their logo blacked out and it some cases, the content will also show black bars (but can still be accessed). Imagine if someone – ANYONE – posted content or a video where they did not own the copyright, knowingly or unknowingly, that was fed into the Google search engine. SOPA, as written, could mean Google could be shut down it its entirety. Or, imagine if someone did the same on Twitter, Facebook, etc. You get the idea. All those web sites could be shut down, and you could find yourself silenced and cut off from information.

A recent experience I had with YouTube highlights what can happen with SOPA. I had uploaded videos that were given to me with complete approval from a television network. But, YouTube’s “bots” that look for copyrighted content not only sent me an email to tell me that I uploaded copyright content, but they threatened LEGAL ACTION if I disputed the claim and the network disagreed. This was horrifying to me that my YouTube channel would be shut down, and as it is connected to my web site, my web site would go with it. This is also what could happen to anyone else, with any web site, and happen in the blink of an eye. (By the way, I removed the videos and complained to the network’s PR organization, and videos I uploaded afterwards went through with no problem.)

I understand why content owners such as movie and music creators and publishers don’t want their content stolen and/or given away for free on a mass scale. But it makes more sense to me that the content owners work the issue out with the web site and get the facts FIRST before shutting a web site down or even threatening to shut down a web site. In my case, YouTube didn’t say they would shut me down right away, but with SOPA, they would likely not only have done so, but they would have risked being shut down themselves. (By the way, I believe that if a person legally purchases music, movies, books, etc. that they should have the right to share them with whomever they want.)

We live in a digital age where content is easy to share and easy to spread. But the answer to protecting copyrighted material is not to silence everyone. A simple process to allow the content owners to file a grievance against the hosting site with a designated authority, and allowing the site to appeal the ruling or confirm that they do have the approval to use the content is all that is needed.

The entire content of the SOPA can be found here:
Library of Congress: H.R.3261 -- Stop Online Piracy Act (Introduced in House - IH)

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Facebook: The Evil Empire (Part 2)

In April 2010, I wrote an editorial titled “Is Facebook the New “Evil Empire”? Answer: Yes” which focused on Facebook’s game playing with privacy policies and controls. My most recent nightmare experience with Facebook deals with Facebook being too quick on the trigger for locking my account and their awful customer service.

Last week, I went to my Facebook page that I use for my collective web sites and got a pop up message saying that my account was “unavailable”. I could not log into my account but I – as well as others – could access my individual page to view it (but not post or make changes to it). The pop up message also said it was sending a code to my phone number (which was already on file from a previous verification process) so I could unlock my account. The code never came. Never.  The same message gave me the option to request the code being resent, and when I did so, I got a message saying I was asking for too many codes!

After trying a few times to log in over the following few hours, I tried navigating Facebook’s help system to get an answer. Not finding an answer that addressed my specific issue, I used the option Facebook gave to send them an email to request help. I received an email within minutes – likely automated - that explained that I had to send in a scan of a government issued ID (like a driver’s license) to verify my identity. (It apparently didn’t matter that I already gave them my cell phone number under my own name months ago when they first requested it but I suppose they still didn’t think I was real.) I had my driver’s license already scanned so I was able to quickly attach it to the email and return the information to them within a few minutes.

Their response was less than immediate. I had to follow up 24 hours later pleading for a response. Meanwhile, I get the automated emails from Facebook saying “Here's some activity you may have missed on Facebook” and asking that I go to Facebook. I would have loved logging in to my page, but sadly I was still locked out. After another 24 hours, I finally get an answer from Facebook, saying that they changed my Facebook name from my web site address to my real name. Now really, why didn’t they simply ask me to do that first, rather than locking me out of my account and then making me jump through hoops? The page I had been using had been established for YEARS and frankly I have no idea why, after all that time, they could not have sent me an email in advance asking me to correct my name and/or giving me the chance to confirm my identify BEFORE they locked me out of account.

This experience is another reason why I only post links to my web sites – and not any actual content – on my Facebook page. With a Facebook lockout, users can lose all access to their own content. This is another reason why I will never store anything of any real significance in “The Cloud.”  If any service that you use, such as Facebook or photo web sites like Flickr or Photobucket or Picasa, decides that you have somehow violated their lengthy and often complicated terms of service, you too can be shut out from all access to your personal content. While I do use blogger for all my web sites, I have all my content backed up so I could literally take it anywhere if the need arises. I should state that I am extremely careful with ANY service that I use not to violate their rules. And this is why Facebook’s behavior – assuming that I was somehow being dishonest and then locking me out of my account before simply asking me to clarify the situation – is what continues to make Facebook “The Evil Empire” in my eyes.

(A side note – of you are posting personal photos and videos on your Facebook page, just remember that Facebook is making money off YOUR content and you get no share of that huge revenue. Consider setting up an account with Google’s (the blog web sites are FREE) and also set up an account with Google’s AdSense which places ads on your blog web site. This allows YOU to make money off your own content. You won’t be able to retire on it anytime soon (unless you get a high volume of traffic) but at least it gives you a share of the bundles of money the web hosts are making on your content!)

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The Frequent Critic, here.