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How Facebook Failed Privacy 101

December 11th, 2009
Facebook and Privacy, or Lack Thereof

Facebook and Privacy, or Lack Thereof

The biggest piece of news to hit 350 million Internet users this week was the introduction of new “privacy” controls in Facebook. I use the term “privacy” loosely because if you bothered to dig into your Facebook privacy settings, you would have been somewhat shocked to see that many of the default privacy settings magically reverted to an open-free-for-everyone state. It happened to me and a few others. And, apparently, it happened to many millions of others. The bottom line? Very few of us were happy.

Here are the reasons why Facebook has it all wrong. Actually, there’s only one big reason. And, if Facebook is paying attention, this critique can eventually lead to Facebook privacy a model that’ll be a standard for the Internet.  Ready?

It’s Way Too Complicated
Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Have you ever bothered to count how many screens and how many tabs on each screen you have to visit before you’ve fully examined all your Facebook privacy settings?  Rather than looking, I’m trying to figure it out in my head and I’ve concluded that I’d much rather attempt mental long division.  Or cube roots.

Facebook could argue that they would like to give users a high degree of granularity when it comes to exactly who can seen what.  That’s understandable.  After all, who would want their mom to catch a photo of them passed out on the toilet after a night out with the old gang?  Because you know your buddies are going to post the photo.  Then tag you.  And before you know it, you’re paying own way through college.

My response?  You have several options.  First, don’t invite your mom.  Or second, get new buddies.  Or third, don’t invite anybody you don’t trust.  Personally, I favor both the second and third options.  And I’d think most others would as well.

Ultimately, what Facebook fails to realize is that these extreme levels of granularity are completely and entirely unnecessary.  Because if you “friend” a bunch of jerks who plaster your wall with vulgarities, is Facebook really to blame? Obviously not. And, what Facebook doesn’t realize is that the only reason why people feel okay with posting status updates and pictures is not because there’s a sense of trust within the underlying computer code.

Instead, it’s much more simple.  People post because they trust those they’ve “friended.”

Once a user has made a commitment to “friend” someone, they inherit all the risks and rewards that go along with that decision.  I honestly doubt that a significant percentage of Facebook users have used any of the privacy options that prevent one group of friends from seeing things that another group can’t.  And why should they?  Because they’re your friends.

So, Facebook, cut it out with privacy controls to the extreme. Come 2010 all I want to see is this:

Facebook Privacy Settings

Please select one of the options below which will dictate how all of the content generated and provided by you will be seen by others.  Show what I create to:

  • Just me.
  • All my friends.
  • All friends of friends.
  • Everybody.

Please select who can search for you:

  • Just me.
  • All my friends.
  • All friends of friends.
  • Everybody.

Yes, it’s that easy.  I’m willing to wager that about 99.5% of all Facebook users would be thrilled with the above.  But for reasons that go beyond the scope of this article, I don’t believe Facebook shares the sentiment.  Why?  In a nutshell: Ads.

Getting back, Facebook, ok, I realize I may be wrong.  But I doubt it.  If you think I’m wrong, I challenge you to share with the public what percentage of your users actually take advantage of the granular per-friend privacy settings. My guess is something around 0.01%.  If that.

In the end, does any of this matter?  Because if history is an indicator, Facebook may be the “it” thing now, but won’t be forever.  Who knows what will eventually surpass Facebook as the “it” social networking phenomenon?  Whatever it is, my money’s on the one that’s more user-friendly, more transparent, easier to use, and customizable.

For now, Facebook ol’ buddy, you’ll just have to do.  And consequently, I’ll have to be on my guard and make do.

Author’s aside: You can try but for very obvious reasons you won’t find me on Facebook.  Instead, try my twitter account: @daveoei.

Business and Politics

Better than the seedless watermelon: Room temperature ice cream

September 3rd, 2009
Ben and Jerrys...warm?

Ben and Jerrys...warm?

Many Gen-Y’ers have no memory of seeded watermelons.  In fact, you would have to look long and hard to relive the glory days of spitting out those small black slippery suckers on hot summer afternoons.  I suppose we all owe a debt to those scientists who relieved us from the need to eat nimbly while devouring a watermelon, scientists who, per Jerry Seinfeld, somehow decided to give up careers looking for the cure to cancer to instead fight the war on pt-tooing out seeds.

But I digress.

Unilever, owner of Ben and Jerry’s (Surprised? It happened 9 years ago) is looking to sell you warm ice cream.  It has a team of scientists looking into the prospect.  Why?  To help reduce or eliminate the need for keeping their very expensive ice cream frozen before you buy it.  Why? Because keeping things frozen for long periods of time not only costs energy, but ultimately yields a high carbon footprint.  Unilever figures, if they can sell you warm ice cream that you freeze when you get home, the environment wins.  Big.

Though the scientific work required to make this happen won’t likely earn anybody a Nobel, it may, someday, earn some gratitude from a polar bear or two.

Source: TimesOnline

Business and Politics

Record Arctic Temps Despite Decreasing Sunlight

September 3rd, 2009
Arctic Ice Flow (courtesty of NOAA)

Arctic Ice Flow (courtesty of NOAA)

Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research will publish in tomorrow’s edition of the journal Science that the last 10 years have been the warmest 10-year period in the arctic compared to any withing the last 2000 years.  The main culprit?  Greenhouse gases.  All this comes on top of  a 21,000 year old cycle caused to a wobble in the earth’s rotation that has, for the last 8,000 years, put less sunlight onto the arctic than otherwise (think of a top that spins and wobbles).  Eventually, within a few thousand years, the cycle will reverse, leading to an increase in sunlight in the arctic region, potentially exasperating the problem of already warmer temperatures.

Evidently, Cash for Clunkers couldn’t have come at a better time.

Source: MSNBC

Global Science

Volcanos Shmalcanos: Don’t Worry Jindal, They Don’t Exist

March 2nd, 2009
July 22, 1980, Mount Saint Helens. © USGS, Photo by Jim Vallance.

July 22, 1980, Mount Saint Helens. © USGS, Photo by Jim Vallance.

Redoubt Volcano, Alaska, currently at code Orange.  Photo taken February 26, 2009, courtesy of AVO/USGS, photo by Jennifer Adleman.

Redoubt Volcano, Alaska, currently at code Orange. Photo taken February 26, 2009, courtesy of AVO/USGS, photo by Jennifer Adleman.

Dear Governor Bobby Jindal,

Last week, President Barack Obama’s proposed a multi-trillion dollar budget and in response you said, “And $140 million for something called volcano monitoring. Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington D.C.”

Nicely put.  After all, in my neck of the woods, there are no such things as…volcanoes.

Sheesh.

I mean, let’s set aside the fact that unlike what you said, in reality only 10% of the $140 million you mentioned will be used for monitoring volcanoes.  The rest would be allocated across the United States Geological Service which is tasked to help monitor and aid in the prevention of damage resulting from nearly all natural disasters (pdf).  Such as wildfires.  Floods.  Tsunamis.  Oh, and hurricanes.

Kilauea, December 19, 2008.  Photo courtesy of USGS.

Kilauea, lava entering the ocean on December 19, 2008. Photo courtesy of USGS.

Wait – and earthquakes.

Hey.  Where I live there are earthquakes, lots of them.  Where my cousins live there are wildfires.  And if I recall, my friends in your wonderful state of Louisiana and relatives in Florida often get bombarded by those nasty hurricanes.

On second thought, Mr. Jindal, I think I would like to have these potential natural disasters monitored.  I want these organizations to be well funded so ordinary citizens like myself have a chance of receiving a warning in advance of disaster and potentially surviving one.

But is $14 million too much for volcanic monitoring?  It is a lot of money.  But considering that a single Boening 747 can easily cost twenty times as much, and that a single plume of volcanic ash can bring down one of these planes, and that we have 169 active volcanoes in the U.S., I’d like to think we can spare the $14 million.

Business and Politics

Tigers, Whole Foods, Global Warming & Orangutans. What’s the Link?

March 1st, 2009
Whole Foods, Tigers, Global Warming & Orangutans. What’s the Link?  Photo by Dave Watts of Birdlife International.

Tigers, Whole Foods, Global Warming & Orangutans. What's the Link? Photo by Dave Watts.

Palm oil.

Palm what?

If you pay as little attention to your food as I do then you’re probably just as surprised as I am that: 1) Some palm trees make edible fruit; and 2) Some of this fruit is linked to endangered species destruction and deforestation.

It so happens that for the last 50 years or so, palm oil has been making head-ways into the foods we eat.  It’s also in bio-fuels we burn and cosmetics some of you may use.  Recently, there’s been a huge push for the introduction of palm oil in U.S. foods because of new trans-fat reporting requirements.  Because palm oil doesn’t have any, it’s been used as a choice to replace non-trans-fat-free shortening.

And while we are collectively healthier for eating less trans-fat, there are measurable global consequences that have resulted from this relatively tiny shift in our dietary habits.  Namely, deforestation on a vast scale and threatened species nearing extinction.

Read more…

Biology, Business and Politics, Featured Articles, Global Science

Turtles Shell Helmets Courtesy of Sinking Ships

February 23rd, 2009
USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992.  Photo courtesy of USSMullinnix.org.

USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992. Photo by USSMullinnix.org.

The path to science discovery and application does not always follow a straight line.  This is one such example.

For years the U.S. Navy has conducted tests of the explosive variety in an effort to make ships stronger and bombs more potent.  I can only assume they’re succeeding in doing a very good job at both.

But since these tests tend to take place over open water, there’s collateral damage of the marine variety.  In particular, dolphins and turtles.

Read more…

Biology, Business and Politics, Engineering and Tech

Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy: The Nobel Story

January 22nd, 2009
Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu

Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu. Source: Lawrence Berkeley Nat'l. Lab

If you were like me, you spent most of Tuesday working, only to return home and sit glued to your TV watching the inauguration  on your DVR.  Yes, Obama is president.  Which also means, yes, we again have people in government who put their faith in Science.

One of those people is Steven Chu, the just affirmed Secretary of Energy.  He’s got his work cut out for him.  Not only has Obama charged him with reducing our dependence on foreign oil, but he has to figure out how to curb greenhouse gasses while making our country more energy efficient.  And if he can turn every car into a plug-in, call it icing on the cake.

Of course, like everyone else on Obama’s cabinet, Chu has serious street cred.

Read more…

Business and Politics, Physics

Un-Product of the Day: SuperBogo Solar Sunlight

May 7th, 2008

No doubt this could help stem the tide of greenhouse gases and reduce emissions from coal power plants, but I don’t see myself hanging this off the sunny south side of my porch in the off chance that I need a flashlight…at night.

Let’s face it, you’re pretty screwed once the solar flashlight goes through it’s charge.

Oh, that is unless you happen to have access to the sun for a recharge. Which, if you do, bemoans the obvious question: Why are you carrying around a flashlight in the first place?

Legal stuff: I do not know anything about this product. I’m in no way endorsing or ripping apart this product in particular, and I would guess that it works exactly as it was designed to do (ha ha, see above). But hey, even that’s a guess.

Source: BogoLight

Global Science

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