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First annual Facebook Hackers Cup

December 9th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Facebook, Social media

First Annual Facebook Hackers CupIf you are good at solving hard problems and like to program here is something you might do over your winter break: compete in Facebook’s first annual Hackers Cup.

The Hacker Cup will start in Janaury and aims to “bring engineers from around the world together to compete in a multi-round programming competition.” Contestants will work to solve algorithmic-based problem statements to advance and be ranked based on their accuracy and speed in solving them. Winners will get cash prizes and those who do well will probably get invitations to interview for jobs or internships.

Registration begins on Monday December 20 and the first three online rounds will be held in January (7-10, 15-16, and 22). The top 25 contestants after the third round will be flown out to the Facebook campus in Palo Alto for the final competition, which will take place on March 11.

For practice, Facebook suggests you work on some of the problems from their Puzzle Master Page. See http://www.facebook.com/hackercup for more information.

WSJ: many Facebook apps transmit user IDs to advertising and tracking companies

October 17th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Facebook, Privacy, Social media, Web

This Wall Street Journal article says that many of the most popular of the 550,000 Facebook apps (!) have been transmitting identifying information about users and their friends to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies.

“The apps reviewed by the Journal were sending Facebook ID numbers to at least 25 advertising and data firms, several of which build profiles of Internet users by tracking their online activities.

Defenders of online tracking argue that this kind of surveillance is benign because it is conducted anonymously. In this case, however, the Journal found that one data-gathering firm, RapLeaf Inc., had linked Facebook user ID information obtained from apps to its own database of Internet users, which it sells. RapLeaf also transmitted the Facebook IDs it obtained to a dozen other firms, the Journal found.

RapLeaf said that transmission was unintentional. “We didn’t do it on purpose,” said Joel Jewitt, vice president of business development for RapLeaf.”

Update: Facebook responds.

New Facebook Groups Considered Somewhat Harmful

October 7th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Facebook, Privacy, Security, Social media

I always think of things I should have added in the hour after making a post. Sigh. Here goes…

The situation is perhaps not so different from mailing lists, Google groups or any number of similar systems. I can set up one of those and add people to them without their consent — even people who are are not my friends. Even people whom I don’t know and who don’t know me. Such email-oriented lists can also have public membership lists. The only check on this is that most mailing lists frameworks send a notice to people being added informing them of the action. But many frameworks allow the list owner to suppress such notifications.

But still, Facebook seems different, based on the how the rest of it is configured and on how people use it. I believe that a common expectation would be that if you are listed as a member of an open or private group, that you are a willing member.

When you get a notification that you are now a member of the Facebook group Crazy people who smell bad, you can leave the group immediately. llBut we have Facebook friends, many of them in fact, who only check in once a month or even less frequently. Notifications of their being added to a group will probably be missed.

Facebook should fix this by requiring that anyone added to a group confirm that they want to be in the group before they become members. After fixing it, there’s lots more that can be done to make Facebook groups a powerful way for assured information sharing.

New Facebook Groups Considered Harmful

October 7th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Facebook, Privacy, Security, Social, Social media

Facebook has rolled out a new version of groups announced on the Facebook blog.

“Until now, Facebook has made it easy to share with all of your friends or with everyone, but there hasn’t been a simple way to create and maintain a space for sharing with the small communities of people in your life, like your roommates, classmates, co-workers and family.

Today we’re announcing a completely overhauled, brand new version of Groups. It’s a simple way to stay up to date with small groups of your friends and to share things with only them in a private space. The default setting is Closed, which means only members see what’s going on in a group.”

There are three kinds of groups: open, closed and secret. Open groups have public membership listings and public content. Private ones have public membership but public but private content. For secret groups, both the membership and content are private.

A key part of the idea is that the group members collectively define who is in the group, spreading the work of setting up and maintaining the group over many people.

But a serious issue with the new Facebook group framework is that a member can unilaterally add any of their friends to a group. No confirmation is required by the person being added. This was raised as an issue by Jason Calacanis.

The constraint that one can only add Facebook friend to a group he belongs to does offer some protection against ending up in unwanted groups (e.g., by spammers). But it could still lead to problems. I could, for example, create a closed group named Crazy people who smell bad and add all of my friends without their consent. Since the group is not secret like this one, anyone can see who is in the group. Worse yet, I could then leave the group. (By the way, let me know if you want to join any of these groups).

While this might just be an annoying prank, it could spin out of control — what might happen if one of your so called friends adds you to the new, closed “Al-Queda lovers” group?

The good news is that this should be easy to fix. After all, Facebook does require confirmation for the friend relation and has a mechanism for recommending that friends like pages or try apps. Either mechanism would work for inviting others to join groups.

We have started working with a new group-centric secure information sharing model being developed by Ravi Sandhu and others as a foundation for better access and privacy contols in social media systems. It seems like a great match.

See update.

Zuck opens up

September 13th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Facebook, Social media

Jose Antonio Vargas profiles Mark Zuckerberg in this week’s New Yorker in The Face of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg opens up. It’s a short piece, but I learned a few facts. One in fourteen people in the world has a Facebook account. All of Zuckerberg’s acquaintances call him Zuck. Zuck has eight hundred and seventy-nine Facebook friends. Zuck likes Ender’s Game and roasting goats. He considers himself an “awkward person”. Not mentioned in the article, but of possible interest, is that The Social Network opens on October 1.

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