Category Archives for Personal Data for Sale

Teenagers Pwned

Facebook is now allowing teenagers to post status updates, videos and photos visible to everyone instead of just friends. In face of a surge in cyber bullying and a fashion for emotional warfare between teenagers this is a sinister move. But other sites like or kik appear to be more hip with teens.

big money is at stake for the company and its advertisers. Marketers are keen to reach impressionable young consumers, and the more public information they have about those users, the better they are able to target their pitches.


Facebook App Hell

One user experience with a Facebook app (Schoolfeed):

It is precisely these kinds of garbage tactics that app makers should avoid. Not only does it make me despise your service, it sheds ill light on Facebook, as well.

A user comments:

I got an e-mail from a friend today asking me how I know about her school from Japan.

Schoolfeed sent her a message UNDER MY NAME, about her school.

I have since found out that they’ve spammed several of my Facebook friends with messages UNDER MY NAME. I deleted my Schoolfeed account and will NEVER go to their site again. NONE of the messages showed up in my Facebook history so I have to laboriously go to each friend’s home page to find out if they got any messages from me.

Facebook are happy to make a buck and will never answer an email with complaints about these stealth app tactics.

The Social Graph Knows No Secrets

A scientific study into the implications of the social graph. It’s not the information you “share”, it’s the graph that reveals everything about you. Key quotes:

The increasing amount of personal information that can be gleaned by computer programs that track how people use Facebook has been revealed by an extensive academic study.

Such programs can discern undisclosed private information such as Facebook users’ sexuality, drug-use habits and even whether their parents separated when they were young, according to the study by the University of Cambridge academics.

In one of the biggest studies of its kind, scientists from the university’s psychometrics team and a Microsoft-funded research centre analyzed data from 58,000 Facebook users to predict traits and other information that were not provided in their profiles.

The algorithms were 88 per cent accurate in predicting male sexual orientation, 95 per cent for race and 80 per cent for religion and political leanings. Personality types and emotional stability were also predicted with accuracy ranging from 62-75 per cent.

Facebook declined to comment.

The study highlights growing concerns about social networks and how data trails can be mined for sensitive information, even when people attempt to keep information about themselves private. Less than 5 per cent of users predicted to be gay, for example, were connected with explicitly gay groups.

Michal Kosinksi, one of the report’s authors, told the Financial Times that the university’s techniques could easily be replicated by companies to infer personal attributes a person did not wish to share, such as sexual orientation or political views: “We used very simple and generic methods. Marketing companies and internet companies could spend much more time and resources, and hence get much higher accuracy than we did.”

FB Makes Most Hated List Again

Facebook is the top non-utility company and number four on the “10 Most Hated Companies in America List for 2012”.

Facebook has had customer satisfaction issues for some time, but recently did a particularly good job of alienating a portion of its nearly one billion members. According to the ACSI, Facebook is one of the most strongly disliked American companies, beaten out only by three public utilities companies. This comes in part from the company’s continuing user privacy concerns. Mark Zuckerberg’s company did not help itself in this regard in 2012, after it announced that it had the right to republish any and all photos in the accounts of its Instagram users.

Surely most of the sheep won’t mind getting shorn and Zuckerberg will continue to find new ways to shear them. Congrats!

Facebook Now Tracks You Online and Off

FB has known everything you do online for some time now. Thanks to its sagging stock price they now take intrusion and user abuse to a new level: FB now matches online and offline data on a massive scale. Online ads will be targeted at you according to your offline purchases. Here’s how to opt out (until FB finds a workaround).


The Zuckerberg Intelligence Agency is saving the original a lot of time and money. This “The Onion” story is actually true and real, at least according to the Daily Mail. Oh well.

Leaving Facebookistan

A nice essay on the reasons for leaving FB after the complete corporate takeover (aka IPO):

Zuckerberg’s business model requires the trust and loyalty of his users so that he can make money from their participation, yet he must simultaneously stretch that trust by driving the site to maximize profits, including by selling users’ personal information. The I.P.O. last week will exacerbate this tension: Facebook’s huge valuation now puts pressure on the company’s strategists to increase its revenue-per-user. That means more ads, more data mining, and more creative thinking about new ways to commercialize the personal, cultural, political, and even revolutionary activity of users.

There is something vaguely dystopian about oppressed peoples in Syria or Iran seeking dignity and liberation inside a corporate sovereign that is, for its part, creating great wealth for its founders and asserting control over its users.


for now, at least, Facebook concedes to its users only when it judges that it is in the corporation’s interest to do so; what user votes and consultations there may be are purely advisory. As MacKinnon observes, this system suggests the political control strategies of the Chinese Communist Party: periodic campaigns of state-managed openness and managed local democracy.

Every three months “investors” now will want to hear about new plans to monetize users and their friends. This is just the beginning.

Remnants of Sense

Harsh words, but important insights, destined to be largely ignored by the herd:

“Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record,” Moglen said of the founder of Facebook. “He has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age.”

Why? Because, Moglen said, Mark Zuckerberg had harnessed the energy of our social desires to talk us into a swindle. “Everybody needs to get laid,” Moglen said. “He turned it into a structure for degenerating the integrity of human personality, and he has to a remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal. Namely, ‘I will give you free Web hosting and some PHP doodads, and you get spying for free all the time.’”


But as the business press and slavering investors look on eagerly at Zuckerberg’s coronation, many believe that the seeds of Facebook’s downfall have already been sown. The company might have brought people together like never before, but exploitation is woven inextricably into its DNA. Facebook makes its money by commercializing personal information, watching its users, analyzing their behavior, and selling what it learns.


What you share and what you click on affects what Facebook knows about your friends, too. And in the aggregate, all this personal information helps build a machine that can know the past and present and make good guesses about the future, a machine whose insights are incredibly valuable to everyone from corporations to state-intelligence services.


What makes Facebook so valuable isn’t the Web ads it serves up, but rather the unprecedented amount of information it has about its users, which it can then sell to third parties. Business intelligence—the data a company can scrape together about its customers—is the fastest-growing segment of enterprise computing. Major tech companies are snapping up companies that make business-intelligence software. But the software that does the data mining is only a tool—what really matters is how much data you have. And Facebook has a lot.


In Europe at least, Facebook’s users are becoming increasingly aware that Facebook is first and foremost a surveillance mechanism, and they don’t like it. If that realization spreads, Facebook’s most precious asset—its users—could stampede and flee to a safer network.

The societal vanguard will lead the way, out of Facebook and government control, into federated, more open, user-controlled systems that allow for anonymity and privacy.

Be Sure to Post Your Medical History

The new no-opt-out Big-Brother-friendly timeline feature is a boon for identity thieves, but also for Facebook and its advertisers:

EPIC’s letter also specifically mentions the Timeline “Health and Wellness” category, which suggests that users should update their profiles with life events related to medical changes.  Facebook has partnered with pharmaceutical companies to market drugs and medical treatment to consumers, and EPIC sees a clear—and worrisome– connection.

That IPO is gonna fly off the pharmacy shelves.

Also: Less than two months after settling with the FTC and agreeing to let users opt-in to privacy changes, FB forces massive changes on members.

The article is a must read in its entirety.

Anonymity is Human

“Without anonymity, the human race will not be human anymore.”

Ever morning I see people wearing dog collars, reporting their location every 90 seconds to Steven P. Jobs.”

Alas, it may already be too late.