Privacy Quest

December 12, 2009

There have been a couple of big announcements in the realm of privacy in the past couple of weeks, and I wanted to take this post to talk about the developments.

The first announced this week is that Facebook has updated its privacy functionality ostensibly in order to give you more control over the information that you give out through the service. However, as many people are commenting, a lot of the privacy protection that was previously available now is not.

Facebook is a business that is designed to have as much information available as possible as this makes it a much more interesting site for users, however, if people are not comfortable with how much information is available this sort of plan could backfire.

As you can see here, if you aren’t my friend, I have my privacy setting set at a very high level. You can’t even find me in a search if you don’t know me. (The profile with no data isn’t actually me. I’m not on there at all.) While that might seem a bit extreme for some, I’m perfectly happy with that level of privacy. This is a setting that is still available with the new Facebook privacy changes.

Now a company that is getting some praise for its latest move is Google. Google has created a new privacy dashboard, which, when signed in, allows you to look at all the data Google has compiled on you. More importantly, it has many setting that allow you to delete that information. So, if Google has your search history and there’s something on there that you don’t want, you can finally do something about it.

Ultimately, privacy needs to be something that users have control over and don’t feel that they are giving away to use the Internet. This is certainly a challenge for content providers as this is a key way to deliver relevant advertising. I do believe there is a happy medium between these two positions, and I hope the future has more and more powerful privacy controls.

Don’t forget if you have thoughts, throw them in the comments.

(Bonus points if you can identify the obscure mid-90’s TV show I referenced in the title.)


Keep Your Friends Close and Your Facebook Friends Closer

November 29, 2008

During this holiday season when (hopefully) we are in the company of our friends and family, it might be a good time to double-check that your friends on your social networking sites really are the friends you think they are.

ComputerWorld columnist Mike Elgan has an eye-opening piece on how the people who claim to be your friend could very easily just be pretending to be someone that you know.

In principle, it is a very simple scam, for those people who are on multiple social networking sites. Basically, a person puts out some arbitrary friend requests just to start gaining access to information. This is actually the weakest part of this chain of lies. If you never accept requests from people you don’t know, and encourage your friends to do likewise, a lot less of this data will get out. However, there are people who will be friends with anyone who asks them, so you have to assume that some of your friends could have shady friends.

Next, the scammer will grab data from one site and create an identical profile on the other using the information they have already gathered. Since there is no way to differentiate between your real friend on Myspace and the scammer on Facebook who has all the Myspace data, you accept them as a friend.

This is where the real danger comes in, because the scammer now has access to you. You think they are your friend, but really they are waiting in Nigeria for you to send them some money to “bail them out of prison” or any number of very scary scenarios.

The real defense for these types of scams are the most fundamental things to keep in mind wherever you go on the internet.

1. Be very careful about what data you are putting out for other people to get.

2. Verify everything before you send money to anybody, anywhere, especially Nigeria. 🙂

3. It might be a good idea to call your friend up before meeting them alone at a bar somewhere.

As always, be safe and be smart online.


Getting Your Scabble Fix

July 31, 2008

If you are a Facebook user, you may have already heard and been heartbroken by the fact the the application Scrabulous has been taken down. However, you can take heart because I will guide you through the world of free alternatives to get your Scrabble on.

It is worth nothing that Hasbro has the trademark on Scrabble in the US and Canada and must actively protect their trademark or lose it. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the methods they have used in this process, I must acknowledge that they have the right to do what they’d like with the trademark, and this will be reflected in some of the content I’ll tell you about.

The first thing you should be aware of, especially if you are serious about Scrabble, (And I’m talking tournament-level seriousness here) is a free program called Quackle available at www.quackle.org. This program is the same program they use to analyze the Scrabble tournaments you’ll occasionally see on ESPN, and is amazingly powerful. It knows words that are only relevant to Scrabble players and it uses them to deadly accuracy. Even on easy, you will very likely lose badly. Besides bordering on the somewhat technical side, you do have to tell the program where the bonus squares are on the Scrabble board, since depending on the interpretation of the law could be considered trademarked. I recommend the program even if just to see what the highest level of Scrabble players see.

Next, I have what could potentially be a short-term fix, since it is actually Scrabulous, just on the world wide web. Just go to http://www.scrabulous.com/ and you can play there in the same very basic interface that you got from the Facebook application. I fear it may only be a matter of time until that is taken down as well, but time will tell.

Now, some of you will point out, rightly, that this just isn’t the same as a Facebook application that you can jump in and out of when you feel like it.

Well, I have a solution for that too beyond Hasbro’s official Facebook application, which has garnered much criticism across Facebook. You can now try Wordscraper. (Thanks to http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-10003366-36.html for alerting me to this.) I haven’t been able to try this yet, but from what I understand it is basically the same game, but with a non-trademark infringing name and a different graphical scheme. While I’m not a legal expert, from what I’ve read on the topic, this implementation could very well put them in the clear.

So, hopefully these options will get you through this Scrabulous crisis.

May you draw the right number of vowels and avoid Qs without Us.