How Facebook stole your info

For people who are not aware of this yet, Facebook made a tiny change (like they keep doing) a little while ago.

It was in the privacy settings where, like everything else, they wanted you to open up your life to anyone with an internet connection. This one – called “Instant Personalization” – allows your data to be shared with Pandora, Microsoft Docs and Yelp. Which in simple english meant that when I logged onto any of these sites from the same computer I was logged onto FB on, they could automatically access my profile – yes, the one with the personal information about my school, workplace, status messages, all those photos and videos, friends’ lists and whatever else – and then create a “personalized” list of things to browse from.

Of course, they don’t tell you what any of those sites are going to use the data for. Or how long that data is going to be there.

Facebook’s Gone Rogue. (The title of an article on Wired.com – check it out.)

What was once this private little thing where I could share some instant communication with friends miles away, is now a free-for-all buffet for internet users. I applauded when FB came up with some settings to restrict who could see what exactly. That meant there were certain links and messages that my boss couldn’t see. Or those pictures could be hidden from those people who know of me professionally only.

Though most of these settings were set by default to “everyone” (which in FB speak means everyone in the world literally), you could still tweak it. Then FB realised that there were way too many people tweaking it. So now, if you want to tell the world what your interests are, you have to share it with a public link.

In advertising terms, this is a gold mine. With a few clicks, I can access the exact demographic for my product.

But the little idea with which Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook is as extinct as dinosaurs. It was about connection people, sharing information. Then Mr.Zuckerberg got famous.

Privacy is a thin line now. Strangers swap the most intimate conversations. Most communication occurs electronically and you have no idea who is reading your mail. You co-exist with the world with flimsy curtains between people. And now Facebook is even taking the choice away from people – the choice to pick what you want to share with the world.

Yes, you could easily say that don’t put it up there if you don’t want someone to see it. But the whole point of Facebook was to share. The photos you took on your vacation, the little stupid things you did, the venting space, the notes you write, the links you think are interesting… and you mean that to be shared with the people you know. Not with any guy who has an internet connection. If that were the case, I would sign up with… what’s that new video chat thing?

Facebook is apparently competing with Twitter. Seriously? Twitter is chaotic. Twitter was never meant to be personal. Twitter was 140 characters of a second. It wasn’t personal pictures, videos, memories and conversations. Nobody has a conversation on Twitter like they have on Facebook walls or messages. And Facebook still is the second most popular way of spreading news. People read the links their friends have posted.

But pushing them all into the slaughter house and expecting them to go along, particularly in a world where privacy is the last illusion left, is suicidal. True… from a business point of view, it does net them several millions in revenue. But long term? With such massive violations? And would the regulators just watch?

If a company can sue you for stealing their data – be it simple data, movies, music or whatever else as copyright infringement – why cannot I sue Facebook? Or anyone do that? Because no matter what clause they put in their terms of service, if they do not give you a choice to disagree or opt out of certain things, then perhaps it isn’t binding.

Unless the choice they give is – go all the way or get out. I wonder how long before we start getting out.

Song of the day: To love a woman – Enrique Iglasias

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My Birthday = public info

I got a mail a few days ago – the subject line said “Two days to your birthday. Let us help you plan the day”.

I have no idea where it was from or who got to know when it was my birthday. Good friends of mine do not remember – despite all those “enter your birthday in this calender so I can remember” stuff – but this little website remembers.

Which got me thinking – how much of our personal information is out there without us even realizing it?

Birthdays (obviously), email IDs, Phone number – which is a portal to a whole bank of other information like address, personal choices, in some cases credit cards (which opens another portal). So there is all kind of stuff about me floating around in cyber space, for anyone with a bit of skill to harness and actually get to know me. Maybe better than I know myself…

Some argue that in India we are safer because we tend to make more transactions in cash and offline. Does that hold true for our generation too? I remember in college, this friend of mine liked a girl. He went online and he even managed to find out what was her favorite drink – in a time when social networking was in its pre-orkut stages. It freaked me out a little bit… of course, that point nobody would be using terms like “cyber stalking” particularly about your own friends.

And then we grew up and things like hacking into email etc got a little more common. Even then, it was a girlfriend who managed to find the boyfriend’s ridiculous password or some moron who forgot to sign out at the cyber cafe. My friends would laugh when I’d clear the cookies as well when I logged out at a cyber cafe. And then they got wise… even to the fact that if the computer is blinking saying it has been compromised and there is probably a Trojan in it, you should not be using it. If only I had a buck for everytime the cyber cafe owner to shake his head and say “it is okay madam. you can use it. please go ahead, insert your USB stick into the computer which is swarming with viruses and nothing will happen”.

Sigh… how far we have come! We willingly, unconsciously give out so much information about ourselves. The hackers don’t even need to work so hard.

And then of course there are blogs like these where we pour our hearts out, deluding ourselves into thinking that it is all anonymous. Over the past couple of weeks I have realised how many people I know personally but rarely speak to read my blog. (And yes I know you are reading it now as well but as I first swore, this is where I speak the truth). When I shifted my blog here, it was to have more anonymity… but I realise I am back in the same place again, no clue how.

I didn’t mind so much when friends started reading my blog again… but it was a mystery how some others found it. Silent Stalkers… people who read, think but never comment and lemme know they are here… Which probably explains why I write some personal posts and delete them as soon as I write them or password them (thanks to wordpress!).

Anyway, it is midweek. I am at home when I know everyone else is at work and it feels weird but good. And I wonder where time flew that I’ve gotten nothing that I had planned to do, done. Damn!

Song of the day: Everyday I have the Blues: Memphis Slim

How Much Does Google Rule You?

Me – Absolutely!

I got my first email account when email was still catching up. During the time when email invites had to be sent. I actually started off with Yahoo, unlike many people whose primary account used to be Hotmail.

And then I shifted to Google and there I stayed till one day Google locked me out stating “Your account seems to be sending a lot of spam. We have locked your account temporarily while we sort this out” or some such thing. There was no definition about ‘temporary’ and I flipped. All my contacts, all my mails – my whole fricking life was in that mail account. Which is when I got wise, created another account and learnt things like backing up, auto-forwarding etc.

Of course, google still remains primary. It is a verb. And they are slowly taking over the world, as conspiracy theorists put it.

And then I discovered blogger… so they have all my pictures and thoughts. And then there was Google Reader – where you can pull in all the information you read on the web and read it in ‘one place’ (find it a little chaotic actually). So google now knows what you like to read. Google also knows what you read more and what you read less and what you just subscribe to but usually mark “read”.

Then there is Picassa – with all the possible pictures you shot, your aunt shot and you downloaded… searching out every single bit on your computer (and how many actually log into settings to say ‘do not scan this folder’)

And now, Chrome – which I think is a sleek browser. And then they’ve Google itself – the original search engine – which knows whatever you key in to search. I have absolutely lost the effort to research about anything. Actually research is wikipedia and reading all the results on google (well, some!). And googling addresses, areas, looking at streets on the google street viewer,  google earth – which can find people standing on any corner of any corner street (they are watching you right now!).

And yeah now do not forget the google phone. Including an app that will allow you to voluntarily tell the world where you are standing right now. I’m a little glad it isn’t available anywhere but in the US.

However, I am dying for google voice. Of course, they get your phone number and everything else then too… but for cheaper international calls and stuff like that, who cares. I mean they know everything about me already.

It should perhaps make me paranoid how much they own me. I cannot imagine life with google and I was wondering what would happen if tomorrow google said I would have to pay for all these services. I would perhaps pay. Like I would for the google operating system when it comes out.

As paranoid as I am, I am also super lazy. And the one touch integration makes it so simple. Bookmark, read, mail, dream, write.

It is a little freaky. What about you?

Song of the day: Made in India – Alisha

The iPad – iWant?

And the second big news in my world today… Apple iPad.

What is with the name? Snow Leopard, iPad… what next? Anyway… why is there so much hype about Apple? Ever since I’ve been following the stock, other than merely the products, I notice how much hype there is about their one little day when they unveil new products. And everytime, people seem to be disappointed.

Has Apple set such high standards for themselves that they end up not meeting them? Apple was started for the niche crowd. The ones who appreciated interfaces as much as what was inside. High performance was the mantra. And then they started branching out… they came out with iPod which to me revolutionized the world of music. Perhaps there were digital mp3 players and to be honest, those players ARE more convenient. You do not need a computer to charge and load them with songs and whatever else. Even Microsoft’s Zune has its own appeal. Yet iPod was the in thing. What attached the coolness factor? The whole thing about being a part of the niche crowd? Perhaps…

Then more innovations happened… and as Apple had already said they were special and different and put this whole aura of secrecy about what was happening in their labs, as opposed to Microsoft who had a lot of windows into development… there was enough hype for the new phone. I mean if APPLE was doing the phone, it was expected to be something straight out of a sci-fi movie. And despite a little bit of discontent – most of which people weren’t willing to voice out loud cuz hey! this was Apple after all – the fad caught on. Touch phones were in, despite the complaints about  non-removable batteries, bad cameras and all of that. There were phones out there which could do all of that but none of them were packaged so well.

And Apple fixed the mistakes in the next edition. And then fixed some more mistakes in the next one. And their iPods kept getting better… so better that the latest one included a pedometer. So people could listen to music and count the steps they took listening to music. And considering a lot of people listened to music while they jogged, that was a good idea. And if something interesting caught their attention while jogging, they could even take a short video of it. and then there was the wi-fi so you could read your news and listen to music. Okay, it is quite groovy… particularly in that really sleek shell.

But they can’t keep pushing on the benefits of one products. They had to surprise people… so they watched yet another sci-fi movie and said “ooh wouldn’t it be cool if we came up with a much lighter, one-sided, touch screen laptop?” They already had the thinnest laptop – which didn’t have a CD drive cuz that was like a size 0 model… you can either have size 0 and or boobs and ass. So you either have a thin laptop without the frills or you have a nice, traditional one with all that you want and strong enough to beat up any mugger. (just kidding!)

And honestly, I was zipped. Though it sounds like i’m bitching here, I love Apple. I am waiting to save up enough money to buy a Mac and a new iPod (I put mine in the washing machine along my sweat shirt but that’s a story for another day… though I should mention it survived). And I was wondering if buying the tablet would be good? And then they showed what it was and honestly? It looks like a glorified iphone!!!!

Yeah perhaps I had too much of expectations. I expected something like a real laptop (minus the CD drive of course) with all the connections and frills. but 64 GB flash drive? Okay I honestly dont know the answer to that one… so some please help.

Why am I disappointed? I am not really sure… It is sexy… and I know despite all the complaints, Apple will sell enough and more to keep investors happy. But… what is missing? And what happened to the ebooks story? wasn’t this supposed to sort of kick Kindle’s ass? It does in a way… it looks like Kindle. Only sleeker. and I could even probably get used to typing on it…

But why does Apple initially disappoint and then gather strength? I wait for the day they will come up with a holo key pad. Or something like that. If anyone can do it, it is Steve Jobs and Apple. Whatever faults Jobs might have, the man is a creative genius.