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Nominate books for the 2011 UMBC New Student Book Experience

September 20th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Google, UMBC

Read a good book lately? Why not nominate it for the 2011 UMBC New Student Book Experience, which invites new UMBC students to read the selected book and engage in formal and informal discussions about it as the new year starts.

We are looking for books that (1) are compelling, intellectually stimulating, engaging on multiple levels and capable of generating interesting discussions; (2) address issues meaningful to students of diverse backgrounds; (3) are not widely required in Maryland high schools or made into a recent film; and (4) are available in paperback and not overly long.

You can nominate one or more using this handy Facebook app. The app uses the Google Books API to help identify books given a partial title, so it’s easy to use. After recoding your nomination, you’ll have an opportunity to make an optional post to your Facebook page like the one below, so your friends can see what you suggested. Nominations will close on October 31, 2010 and the selection will be announced in the Spring.


Nominate a book for the 2011 UMBC New Student Book Experience

Facebook Browser gets a low F1-score in my book

September 12th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in Semantic Web, Social media, Web

Facebook has rolled out Facebook Browser as what sounds like a simple and effective idea — recommend pages based on on a user’s country and social network. My impression is mixed, however. While I like it’s top recommendation for me, I am already a fan. It’s suggestions for the celebrities category are a bust — Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Mark Levin, Red Green and Bill O’Reilly. And Movies? Don’t even go there! Maybe it’s trying to tell me I need a new set of friends? Inside Facebook summarizes Facebook Browser this way:

“Facebook has launched a new way to “Discover Facebook’s Popular Pages” called Browser. It shows icons of Pages that are popular in a user’s country, but factors in which Pages which are popular amongst their unique friend network. When the Page icons are hovered over they display a Like button. Browser could cause popular Pages to get more popular, widening the gap between them and smaller Pages, similar to the frequently criticized and since abandoned Twitter Suggested User List.”

I think the idea is sound, though, and I like my Facebook friends. So, my conclusion is that Facebook needs to tweak the algorithm.

Gaydar, Facebook and privacy

October 6th, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Machine Learning, Privacy, Semantic Web, Social media

In the Fall of 2007, two MIT students carried out a class project exploring how presumably private data could be inferred from an online social networking system. Their experiment was to predict the sexual orientation of Facebook users who make their basic information public by analyzing friendship associations. As reported in the Boston Globe last month, the students’ had not yet published their results.

Well, now they have — in the October issue of the First Monday, “one of the first openly accessible, peer–reviewed journals on the Internet”.

The paper has a lot of detail on the methodology for collecting the data and how it was analyzed. Here’s the abstract.

“Public information about one’s coworkers, friends, family, and acquaintances, as well as one’s associations with them, implicitly reveals private information. Social networking Web sites, e–mail, instant messaging, telephone, and VoIP are all technologies steeped in network data — data relating one person to another. Network data shifts the locus of information control away from individuals, as the individual’s traditional and absolute discretion is replaced by that of his social network. Our research demonstrates a method for accurately predicting the sexual orientation of Facebook users by analyzing friendship associations. After analyzing 4,080 Facebook profiles from the MIT network, we determined that the percentage of a given user’s friends who self–identify as gay male is strongly correlated with the sexual orientation of that user, and we developed a logistic regression classifier with strong predictive power. Although we studied Facebook friendship ties, network data is pervasive in the broader context of computer–mediated communication, raising significant privacy issues for communication technologies to which there are no neat solutions.”

As we had previously noted, this datamining exercise only accesses information that Facebook users explicitly choose to make public. The authors note that their analysis “relies on public self–identification of same–gender interest in Facebook profiles as a sentinel value for LGB identity”. The privacy vulnerability is that the default setting for a Facebook account is that friendship relations are public and you can not control the privacy settings of your friends. So if your leave your friend list public and many of your Facebook friends open up their profiles, it may be possible to draw reasonable inferences about your age, gender, political leanings, sexual preferences and other attributes.

Canada: facebook violates privacy law

July 17th, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Privacy, Social media

APF and others report that Canada considers facebook’s practices to violate its privacy law.

“Canadian officials on Thursday said Facebook was breaking national privacy law by holding on to personal information from closed accounts at the social-networking service. A Canada privacy commission report expressed “an overarching concern” that privacy information Facebook provides its more than 250 million users is “often confusing or incomplete.” Facebook said it is working with the commission to resolve its concerns in ways that safeguard privacy without disrupting user-experiences at the world’s most popular online social-networking community.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada conducted an investigation into a wide-ranging complaint about facebook’s privacy practices filed by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).

In a July 16 press release describes the highlights of the Report of Findings into the Complaint Filed by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) against Facebook Inc.. These include the following:

“An overarching concern was that, although Facebook provides information about its privacy practices, it is often confusing or incomplete. For example, the “account settings” page describes how to deactivate accounts, but not how to delete them, which actually removes personal data from Facebook’s servers.

The investigation also raised significant concerns around the sharing of users’ personal information with third-party developers creating Facebook applications such as games and quizzes. (There are more than 950,000 developers in some 180 countries.) Facebook lacks adequate safeguards to effectively restrict these outside developers from accessing profile information, the investigation found.

The investigation also found that Facebook has a policy of indefinitely keeping the personal information of people who have deactivated their accounts – a violation of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), Canada’s private-sector privacy law. The law is clear that organizations must retain personal information only for as long as is necessary to meet appropriate purposes.”

facebook demographics: biggest growth in older users

July 9th, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Social media, Web

SFGate.com reports that Most Facebook users are older, study finds.

“Long a hangout for college students, the social-networking giant has morphed into a virtual parlor for the middle-aged, according to a new study. People 35 to 54 are now the biggest age group on the Web site, accounting for 28.2 percent of all U.S. users as of July, according to iStrategyLabs, an online marketing firm. Following close behind are 24- to 34-year-olds, who represent 25.2 percent of users.”

The demographic data was extracted from facebook’s ad generation platform, which offers an estimate of the number of people matching your target audience description. For example, targeting your ad for people aged 55-60 living in Maryland shows that there are about 56,000 of them.


facebook users are old and in the way

Of course, there may be a downside to broadening the facebook community.

“Corbett said the influx of middle-age users raises the question of whether Facebook can retain its younger audience. How cool can a Web site be after Mom and Dad join? “Does this younger audience now leave Facebook and try to find their own place where they can be themselves?” Corbett asked.

And there are advantages to some in the change.

“If anything, the influx of older users makes Facebook a more attractive place for advertisers, said Corbett, the study’s author. There’s a lot of hype about the attractive 18-to-24 demographic, he said, but its people who are older who have more money to spend. “Do you want a massive population of wealthy Baby Boomers who have disposable income or a bunch of poor college kids?” Corbett said. “The audience that is growing now on Facebook is a really valuable one to have.”

This demographic data also shows dramatic declines in the number if facebook users in high school (-16.5%) and in college (-21.7%), but this if probably due to the fact that the school year just ended and the groups will shrink due to graduation before regaining their numbers in the fall.

Changes in FaceBook default privacy policy

July 1st, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Privacy, Security, Social, Social media, Web

FaceBook is changing how it manages privacy starting today. After reading last week’s post on the FaceBook blog, More Ways to Share in the Publisher, and a followup note on ReadWriteWeb, A Closer Look at Facebook’s New Privacy Options, I thought I understood: Facebook was sharing more but only for people who have made their profiles public. From the official FaceBook post:

“We’ve received some questions in the comments about default privacy settings for this beta. Nothing has changed with your default privacy settings. The beta is only open to people who already chose to set their profile and status privacy to “Everyone.” For those people, the default for sharing from the Publisher will be the same. If you have your default privacy set to anything else—such as “Friends and Networks” or “Friends Only”—you are not part of this beta.”

But the New York Times has an article, The Day Facebook Changed: Messages to Become Public by Default that clearly says more is coming (emphasis added):

“By default, all your messages on Facebook will soon be naked visible to the world. The company is starting by rolling out the feature to people who had already set their profiles as public, but it will come to everyone soon. You’ll be able each time you publish a message to change that message’s privacy setting and from that drop down there’s a link to change your default setting.

But most people will not change the setting. Facebook messages are about to be publicly visible. A whole lot of people are going to hate it. When ex-lovers, bosses, moms, stalkers, cops, creeps and others find out what people have been posting on Facebook – the reprimand that “well, you could have changed your default setting” is not going to sit well with people.”

But it will come to everyone soon! That’s a big change if true. There will be blood.

I hope that there is come clarification soon from FaceBook. I, for one, am left confused.

Google is from Mars, Facebook is from Venus

June 23rd, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Google, Social media

Wired has an interesting article on Facebook vs. Google, Great Wall of Facebook: The Social Network’s Plan to Dominate the Internet — and Keep Google Out.

“Today, the Google-Facebook rivalry isn’t just going strong, it has evolved into a full-blown battle over the future of the Internet—its structure, design, and utility. For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.”

This is definitely a David and Goliath match, what with Facebook not having turned a profit yet. The article does a good job of pointing out how their services are different and complement one another.

At the risk of evoking discredited stereotypes, maybe Google is from Mars and Facebook is from Venus.

Facebook blinks, reverts to old Terms of Service agreement

February 18th, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Blogging, Privacy, Social media

Late last night Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a blog post, Update on Terms, that they have rolled back the recent changes to their Terms of Service agreement and restored the previous one.

“Many of us at Facebook spent most of today discussing how best to move forward. One approach would have been to quickly amend the new terms with new language to clarify our positions further. Another approach was simply to revert to our old terms while we begin working on our next version. As we thought through this, we reached out to respected organizations to get their input.

Going forward, we’ve decided to take a new approach towards developing our terms. We concluded that returning to our previous terms was the right thing for now. As I said yesterday, we think that a lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective so we don’t plan to leave it there for long.”

The NYT reported the change in a story today, Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use.

In his post, Zuckerberg continued by observing that with 175 million members, if it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated one in the world. Of course, sometimes a population revolts and lays claim to certain unalienable rights, among theme being life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and ownership of one’s online content.

So, the missing clause is back in the FB TOS:

“You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.”

This revision is dated 23 September 2008. Curiously, I checked the Internet Archive to review the history of FB’s TOS but found that there are no archived copies after 12 October 2007. I can only imagine that FB asked the Internet Archive to stop saving copies of this public page. I note that the last archived copies of many of their public pages (e.g., privacy policy, developers page, etc.) are also from 2007. These pages are not blocked by the FB robots.txt and are normally accessible to anyone, so it must be by a specific request that they not be archived.

That’s too bad. Having an easy way to see how the policies of important social sites like FB evolve would be a great resource to those who study online social media as well as to many curious users.

Facebook owns your content. All of it. Forever.

February 15th, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Privacy, Social media

2/18 Update: FB reverted its TOS to the previous version early on 18 Feb 2009.

Consumerist has a post on a change in Facebook’s Terms of Service agreement that became effective on 4 February: Facebook’s New Terms Of Service: “We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.”

Both the new Facebook TOS and the previous TOS made these aggressive claims on your content.

“You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.”

That was bad enough, but at least Facebook relinquished those rights on your content if you dropped out. But no longer. The following clause from the old TOS has been dropped.

“You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.”

Just to make it absolutely clear how screwed you are, the new TOS also adds the following.

“The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other.”

By the way, if you’ve used Facebook in any way since 4 February, you have already accepted the new TOS.

“We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change or delete portions of these Terms at any time without further notice. Your continued use of the Facebook Service after any such changes constitutes your acceptance of the new Terms.”

And if you want to take them to court, Fugetaboutit.

“Except as set forth in the paragraph below, you agree that all claims and disputes between you and Facebook that arise out of or relate in any way to the Terms or your use of the Facebook Service will be resolved either by (a) binding arbitration by a single arbitrator in Santa Clara County, California or (b) binding non-appearance based arbitration conducted by telephone, online or based solely on written submission.”

All your base are belong to Facebook.

25 random things about me bubble

February 5th, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in Social media

I thought the informal statistics from mentioned in this short USA Today story, Facebook friends share ’25 Things’ with the world, were interesting. (Emphasis added)

“If you are a member of the 150-million-strong Facebook nation, you have probably learned some fascinating — or, let’s face it, some not-so-fascinating — facts about your friends as part of the latest fad, the pass-it-forward viral game “25 Random Things About Me.”

The phenomenon continues to snowball. Facebook can’t quantify activity specific to 25 Things as it does applications such as Flixster. But spokeswoman Brandee Barker says that over the past week the number of daily “notes” has more than doubled and the number of daily tags of a Facebook member in a note has grown by five times. “I would say that anecdotally I’ve never seen a note spread as quickly as this has on Facebook,” Barker says. “What is really unique about this is it’s a really meaningful piece of content. Some of the these notes are touching and frankly very insightful.”

Yesterday’s NYT also had a story on the fad, Ah, Yes, More About Me? Here Are ‘25 Random Things’.

As internet fads go, it probably has not yet peaked. Possible evidence is that there isn’t a Wikipedia article on the phenomenon yet, or even a mention of it on the its List of Internet Phenomena. So there is still time to get in and be cool.