I am fairly late to this story, which I guess broke late yesterday, but once again Facebook is in a privacy mess, this time along with MySpace and other social networking sites.
Emily Steel and Jessica Vascellos, Facebook, MySpace Confront Privacy Loophole
Facebook, MySpace and several other social-networking sites have been sending data to advertising companies that could be used to find consumers’ names and other personal details, despite promises they don’t share such information without consent.
The practice, which most of the companies defended, sends user names or ID numbers tied to personal profiles being viewed when users click on ads. After questions were raised by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook and MySpace moved to make changes. By Thursday morning Facebook had rewritten some of the offending computer code.
Advertising companies are receiving information that could be used to look up individual profiles, which, depending on the site and the information a user has made public, include such things as a person’s real name, age, hometown and occupation.
Several large advertising companies identified by the Journal as receiving the data, including Google Inc.’s DoubleClick and Yahoo Inc.’s Right Media, said they were unaware of the data being sent to them from the social-networking sites, and said they haven’t made use of it.
Across the Web, it’s common for advertisers to receive the address of the page from which a user clicked on an ad. Usually, they receive nothing more about the user than an unintelligible string of letters and numbers that can’t be traced back to an individual. With social networking sites, however, those addresses typically include user names that could direct advertisers back to a profile page full of personal information. In some cases, user names are people’s real names.
Most social networks haven’t bothered to obscure user names or ID numbers from their Web addresses, said Craig Wills, a professor of computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who has studied the issue.
The sites may have been breaching their own privacy policies as well as industry standards, which say sites shouldn’t share and advertisers shouldn’t collect personally identifiable information without users’ permission. Those policies have been put forward by advertising and Internet companies in arguments against the need for government regulation.
If there was any doubt that privacy needs to be regulated, these last weeks have certainly proven the case.
[There is a bizarre back story to this. Apparently Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb attacked the authors of the story for technical naivete, a point he lated retracted or at least ammended. As Alan Patrick comments on Broadstuff, “Sorry RWW, but the situation was pretty clear just from the WSJ article. Its just that the automatic position of the Silicon Valley A-List blogs seems to be to leap to Facebook’s defence these days. Quite why this is we can’t imagine.”
Yes, I agree. See Facebook Apologists Miss The Point: Facebook Isn’t The Future.]
Marshall Kirkpatrick recently griped about Ask.com’s blog search service closing down.
Marshall Kirkpatrick, R.I.P. World’s Greatest Blogsearch
Searching the blogs, scanning the posts, feed-powered search: there used to be more startups offering blogsearch than there are characters in a Twitter message today. But no more. Today blogsearch engines fade away all the time and almost no one notices.
But when Ask.com shuttered its blogsearch engine this month, I noticed. It made me sad, because it was the best blogsearch engine in the whole world. And now it’s gone. You, dear reader, probably didn’t even notice. But let me explain what we’re missing out on now that it’s gone.
That’s a real shame.
Sometimes you’re looking to see what experts in a field are writing in long-form on their blogs. Not spitting out on Twitter. Not posting on a static website. Blog posts. There is an incredible body of knowledge in that medium, and search by popularity was a really useful way to sort it. Surely someone offers a similar service. Who?
Bruce Sterling, who noticed Kirkpatrick’s howling when I hadn’t, suggests that it’s not just the difficulty of competing with Google blog search, but that blogs are dying as a medium:
Bruce Sterling, Dead Media Beat: blog search
Why does ‘almost no one notice’ that blogsearch enterprises are fading away? Because nobody notices that blogs are fading away. The technical ecosystem around blogs is disintegrating, being folded into other structures. Three years ago, I said at SXSW that there wouldn’t be many blogs around in ten years. That leaves ‘em seven years to continue to dwindle in interest and relevance. There will still be SOME blogs in seven years, no matter how firmly disintermediated they are by social media, and the many things that follow social media. There are still some personal computer bulletin board systems around today, too. But look at the trend. Compare today’s reality to the hectic illusions surrounding blogs three years ago.
There is certainly something to what Bruce has to say. Interest in long-format blogging is dropping, even while it is being incorporated into traditional media.
The rise of streaming tools, though, is leading to a new state, where long-format blogging is being imploded, turned into content for the short-format stream, like radio was cannibalized for TV.
We’ll see a new logical layering. At the bottom will be the web of pages, a vast archive of HTML connected by links: a giant hypertext.
At the top will be the web of flow, as typified now by Twitter microstreaming. Users will consider themsleves as ‘logged into’ Twitter (or other microstreams) where microsyntactic references, via URLs, hashtags, or other techniques will allow users to pull in larger format or richer content, like text, audio, video, or images. This is where people will operate, share, comment, question, and argue converationally.
In between will be a swirling nexus of ‘engines of meaning’ — algorithms and filters, assemblages and indexes, and the social networks where we connect — tools that people use to mark, retain, annotate, and find snippets of meaning.
This inherently devalues the materials accumulating at the bottom, like last week’s newspapers, old issues of magazines, and yesterday’s blog posts.
A few years ago we seemed to live in our RSS readers, and the metronome of our media diet was timed to author’s posting cycles, or our feeding cycles which was more like the daily newspaper than a stock ticker.
We’ve shifted to stream time, and the tempo is much, much faster.
Techmeme seems slow, when it formerly seemed like the breakingest place to be for tech.
And the great majority of chatter about the breaking news stories is in the stream, not in the comments on blogs, and not in the blogs themselves. While a great deal of thoughtful and expository writing still goes on, the average joe is dropping out of long format writing, even as an aspiration. It’s easier to just talk, and tweeting (or Facebook) seems more like talking or texting, and less hard work.