Invisible Accounts

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016 11:25 pm
flwyd: (Trevor shadow self portrait)
I don't use Facebook at all, but I think I have at least three accounts.

The first is an account they created when my friends signed up for Facebook and let it run through their email accounts looking for contacts. They checked a box next to my name, which Facebook took as a signal to create an account for me and periodically send me a message letting me know that I've been invited to their service.

The second account is for my work address. Someone with the same first initial as me who isn't very good at using the Internet created a Facebook account and entered my email address. Facebook sent me a couple messages letting me know I had one more step I needed to complete to start using the service. After a while, they switched modes. That account is in an experiment wherein they email me every day. The subject has the names of three people I might know on Facebook and the body has three more names. The number of names in the subject that I recognize is remarkably high for a big company, so I think the Facebook app on Android uploads your phone's Contacts list (i.e. the people you email occasionally) to Facebook.

I just learned about a third Facebook account I have. I received two emails and a LinkedIn friend request from a Facebook recruiter this morning within the span of one minute. The first email was sent to my personal email account (not the one printed on my résumé) and the address That's pretty clearly a 64-bit integer, which is what a database like Facebook's would use as a user ID. I sent a test message to that address and it wasn't delivered to me, so I don't think it's meant as an alias for delivering mail to me. Maybe mail sent there gets appended to a communication log on my Facebook Job Prospect account. Update: Actually, that address goes to a different email account of mine (also not the one on my résumé) where Facebook contacted me last year or so. So at least they've figured out that there aren't several Trevors Stone working at Google.

Some people wonder what Facebook does with all the data about themselves that they give it.
I wonder what Facebook does with all the data about me that I never gave it.

Anyone want to guess how many accounts Facebook has about you?

Phone Verification

Saturday, July 16th, 2011 12:33 am
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
Geuh. I'm not a fan of phone verification.

Really I'm not a fan of phones. I'd much rather deal with email than with phone calls. Telephones are so 20th Century; in the 21st Century I want to do all my communication over IP.

For a short while I had an assumed identity on Facebook. I don't want to use the service with my own information because I dislike their decision making process. But as a spokesperson and main online presence for an organization, I figured I'd do Facebook's users a favor and use the existing Group and Page for the organization. I was made an admin of the group and started answering questions, pointing to the official website that's associated with the group. After a few rounds of that, Facebook threw a speedbump at me, demanding a phone number or a photocopy of my ID. Screw that, I won't provide your users a service. Facebook: if you're developing a communication system that's better than email, why would I need a telephone to use it?

Now I'm in my hammock, about to go to sleep, trying to post our yard sale announcement to Craigslist. The post button sends an email. The email has a link to activate the post. But then I get asked for a phone number they can call or text. So I enter my Google Voice number and open Google Voice in a new tab. I wait a while. I hit the check status. I get a vague message that "Your phone number could not be verified. Please start over with another number." with a troubleshooting claim of "Some Voice over IP (VOIP) phone numbers (including Cricket, MetroPCS)." A little Googling found other Craigslist users that have found that Craigslist won't use Google Voice numbers for verification. Grrrrrrr. Edit: amusingly, after verifying that I have a frickin' phone number, I then get a CAPTCHA.

I really don't like it when a tool requires the use of a completely unrelated tool. I kinda want to go back to the old days when the only thing the Internet needed your telephone number for was a modem.
flwyd: (bad decision dinosaur)
Facebook announced this week that when you visit Pandora for the first time, they'll hand over all of your friend information so Pandora can set up your station with music your friends like. This is the sort of "What were they thinking!?!" news I hear about Facebook every six months or so. The frequency of such moments is the main reason I don't have an account on Facebook. For the most part, Facebook's march toward making all your social information public wouldn't be a big deal if it had started that way. Nobody gets upset about Twitter followers or LiveJournal friends being public because they've always been that way. But when people provide information on the assumption it's private and then all of a sudden it's public, they tend to feel betrayed.

Tech Crunch included a screen shot of my Buzz post referencing that link in an article about Google engineers concerned about Facebook privacy. I don't know if they also write stories about Microsoft employees blogging about iPhones or Qwest employees tweeting about their Sprint service or Subway employees declaring the Double Down is gross.

On the other hand, Facebook made some positive announcements at f8 (is their conference really pronounced "fate?"). With Open Graph, you'll be able to build a social network out of pieces that aren't all housed in one place. So if you decide you don't like Facebook, you can move to a different site, but people can still "friend you." And you can add a little HTML to your blog and then someone can "like" it on Facebook or any other site supporting Open Graph.

The following is a Slashdot comment I posted in response to the assertion
once something hits the internet its out there, no privacy promise by a huge corporation is going to protect it.

BS. People send millions upon millions of email messages a day and have a reasonable expectation that their email providers and any SMTP hops along the way are going to keep them private. If a webmail provider suddenly decided that everyone's email address and all the addresses of all their contacts were to be public (unless you opt out), that would rightly be perceived as bad behavior and a violation of users' sensible assumptions. The path of least resistance opt-in flow for Google Buzz had the end result of publicly listing the names of some of folks frequent contacts (who'd also opted in). It created a big uproar and Google quickly changed the wording to make it clearer what would be public and how to keep it private.

I access my banking records through the Internet on a regular basis. I use this convenient system instead of paper and phone calls precisely because I trust the privacy promise provided by my bank. A bank that suddenly decided to make everyone's financial information available to the world on the web by default would quickly lose a lot of customers and get a big fine from the regulators. I don't think we need a Federal Department of Regulating Facebook, but I do think we have a right to expect companies to stick to their privacy promises and suffer customer-based consequences if they fail to live up to them.

One thing The Cloud can do better is give users control of their data. Google's Data Liberation Front is a good model: If a user decides they don't want to use a cloud provider's services for whatever reason, it should be easy to get all their data out of that company's control and import it in to a different cloud provider (if desired). Take it a step further: As a user of service A, I should be able to select certain information to share privately with my friend who uses service B. Like telephone companies and the post office, the service providers should transmit and present that information, but they should have no option to change the parties who can see it.

Caveat: Court orders and other legal actions can force a provider to reveal private information without the approval of that information's owner. This is true of banks, cloud providers, and internal IT departments. So yes, if you're planning an elaborate murder scheme on the Internet, don't assume it will only be seen by your co-conspirators. But if you're closeted at work and out to your friends, you have a right to expect your social network won't suddenly decide to make "Orientation: Gay" the first thing people see when they Google your name.


Monday, December 15th, 2008 10:44 pm
flwyd: (dogcow moof!)
Even though I've been on the Internet for more than half my life and on the web for three quarters of its, I have some significant new tech and Web 2.0 luddite streaks. I don't have a cell phone, for instance, though that's as much because I don't want to pay lots of money to deal with the phone company's shenanigans as it is because I don't want to use the phone when I'm taking a hike.

I'm not on MySpace for pretty simple reasons: The site looks like all the amateur web designers from 1996 threw a huge party, got smashing drunk, and threw up all over my web browser. It's like Geocities got a whole bunch of money for a class reunion but still held it in the school gym. I may not be gung ho for every new netfad, but I have no nostalgia for mid-90s web design.

Facebook is another Web 2.0 phenomenon I haven't participated in, much to [ profile] mollybzz's distance scrabble dismay. The site has struck me as a lot more professional than MySpace and it's probably got more of my friends from the past as users. But a few things bug me about Facebook:
  • People's profiles are mostly private by default. I've occasionally googled a name and found a completely uninformative Facebook page. At least a visit to MySpace can tell you if you've got the right person. As a non-impulsive consumer, I like to have a sense of a product or service before I sign up. For instance, I get the sense that a lot of Facebook posts aren't very insightful, but it's possible people I know put more thought into their content. But the site doesn't make it easy for me to figure that out.
  • As a result, most of what I know about Facebook is by reputation. And it hasn't done a very good job of maintaining that.
  • Nine months ago or so, all I knew about Facebook was that you could play Scrabble and you got lots of random undesired bits of marketing thrown in your face. I think that was when they were trying their "Broadcast to everyone what you just bought on Amazon even if it's How To Deal With A Venereal Disease or a present you were going to surprise your girlfriend with. Signing up for in-your-face advertising didn't sound fun.
  • I hear they realized the error of their ways on that one and made it opt-in. I also heard Facebook played an important role in getting people excited about and involved with the Obama campaign. So that's good and sociologically interesting, at least.
  • But even with in-your-face ads and automatic broadcasting of private activities gone, I'm not particularly excited about their approach to privacy. When they sign up, they ask for your passwords to web mail and instant messenger services. They then proceed to spam the people in your address book. (I hear you get to select who gets spammed, but it's still very impersonal spam.) Even if Facebook's address book combing is implemented perfectly and hasn't ever had a security breach, telling random Internet users that it's okay to give your password to third parties is bad virtual citizenship. If, when you joined a gym, somebody said "Can I have the keys to your house so I can look through your rolodex and phone all your friends," most people would say "Are you crazy?" But the majority intuition about cybersafety isn't very acute yet, so major players on the web have a duty to foster (or at least not undermine) good habits of online behavior.
  • This evening, I received an automatic Facebook invite (subject: "Check out my Facebook profile") from someone I know a little. I'm not a very popular person, so this is like my third ever. No biggie. Then within the course of three hours I got four messages from Facebook with the subject "XYZ has added you as a friend on Facebook..." Huh? Did Facebook broadcast who had found me in their address book? These messages give a very odd sense of privacy invasion and I haven't even given them any yet. Is Facebook going to be this annoying when I'm an actual user? Why would I sign up for that?
In Facebook's defense, I've gotten more annoying messages from other Web 2.0 sites. Somebody I'd had a brief argument with on a Dragonfest mailing list added me to her combination-blog-and-mass-mail site so I got a bunch of essays written by someone I didn't find interesting on topics I didn't care about. And some kid in Utah signed up for MySpace with my GMail address (which had not yet appeared in spiderable locations), so I got a bunch of unsolicited friend requests from sketchy groups. Something similar happened with some high school sports website, so I periodically got mail inviting me to vote in polls about Friday night football and stuff.

Am I wrong about Facebook? Is it totally awesome and it's just got a misleading representation? Would it provide significant value to someone like me? I've already got a blog and a website. I'm the first hit on Google for "Trevor Stone" and I'm on the first page for "trevor new vista boulder," so anyone who really wants to find me can do so easily. I don't feel the need to share the minutia of my life (do you really care that I ate leftover curry bratwurst tonight?), and when I have something substantial to say I tend to spend half an hour writing a post. So other than distance Scrabble, why is Facebook popular?
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