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.)

Political Blog Entry Alert

January 31, 2009

Not to fear, this is not turning into a blog about politics, but there are a number of interesting websites out there that explore this fascinating topic in a non-partisan way.

One of the most interesting item I’ve come across recently is the Obamameter. This website is tracking the ability of President Barack Obama to keep his campaign promises. The site is tracking over 500 of them and they range across almost every political issue. At the time of this writing, President Obama has, by their count, kept six of his promises, broken one and had to compromise on other.

The thing I like best about the site is the descriptions of the promises and links to news stories and the text of executive orders to update the status of his promises. I appreciate any website that tries to keep our leaders to account for the things that they say.

Another site that has the same goal is Run by the University of Pennsylvania, they are a nonpartisan group that posts entries with quality analysis of particular issues. While sadly, they haven’t been updating the site as frequently as they had prior to the election. The analysis of the race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman for the Minnesota Senate seat was very insightful.

The last site I’ll mention is Public Agenda. There’s a lot of different content on the site, but I think its best element is the issue guides. For more than 15 different controversial issues, you can get an overview of the issue, multiple possible solutions to that issue and relevant political polling to see what attitudes on those issues are. The polling is sometimes a bit outdated, but it can sometimes serve as a barometer of general sentiments. They also have a very interesting article about questions to ask when consuming poll data. They say it is for journalists, but I think anyone can have a greater appreciation for the difficulty of polling by looking in this information. This is also a non-profit, nonpartisan site and you can see who funds this website here.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilence.” So I hope these website help make your vigilence a little easier.