If you haven't read it, this Media Bistro article described how a daughter's post on Facebook breached the family's $80,000 settlement of an age discrimination lawsuit. That was an expensive and relevant lesson for the teenage daughter. I can only imagine the feelings and comments said during dinner in that family.
After reading this article, it occurred to me that there are several skills parents can teach their children to safely use mobile devices and social networking sites. Otherwise, the children are likely to breach the family's privacy and their own, by disclosing sensitive personal and financial information.
Many parents allow their children to use mobile devices, despite warnings by pediatric doctors to limit or ban mobile-device usage for children 12 years and younger. The minimum age for social networking sites is 13, but children under the age of ten are online. My children are all grown. If they were younger, below is the list of skills I would teach them to safely use mobile devices and social networking sites:
If your child going to learn all of this at once? Of course, not. It takes time and years to master the above skills. That means several conversations with your children. To learn more, read about social media parenting.
The acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook has received a lot of attention in the news media. I recommend reading this LinkedIn article article by Bernard Marr about the combined power of Facebook.com and WhatsApp:
"WhatsApp doesn’t really fit into the Facebook business model because it has always promised its users that it won’t sell ads. So how will Facebook get a return on their $19 billion? I believe that the answer is: by mining the data within WhatsApp."
In my opinion, social networking sites that insist on being free for users have already made the decision to (heavily) mine their customers' data. It's their business model. (This also applies to Google.) Marr wrote this about the extensive amount of information Facebook has already collected about its users:
"... what we look like, who our friends are, what our views are on most things, when our birthday is, whether we are in a relationship or not, the location we are at, what we like and dislike, and much more. This is an awful lot of information (and power) in the hands of one commercial company. Facebook is only beginning to leverage all their data and I believe that even if we all stopped using Facebook today (which is very unlikely), the company would still have more information about people than any other private company on the planet..."
I would add more items to this list of data collected by Facebook:
"Personal information is any information that identifies a User personally, either alone or in combination with other information available to us... For certain Services, MapMyFitness requests a User furnish certain financial information, including but not limited to, a credit card or other payment account information that we maintain in encrypted form on secure servers..."
"MapMyFitness and our partners and licensees may collect, use and share a User’s precise location information, including the real-time geographic location of a User’s mobile device. For some third-party partners, such as Google, this location information will be shared automatically. For others, such as Facebook, this information will only be shared with a User’s explicit permission or if you choose to share it... Location information... may be collected from a User’s wireless carrier, certain third party service providers, or directly from the mobile device that the User previously registered for use with MapMyFitness. The collection and tracking of a User’s location information may occur even when the MapMyFitness mobile phone application is not actively open and running... MapMyFitness may receive certain personally non-identifiable information about the User’s use of the Services. Such information, which may be collected passively using various technologies, or via submission of data by fitness devices the User may have configured to work with the Services, cannot presently be used to specifically identify the User. MapMyFitness may store such information ourselves or it may be included in databases owned and maintained by our affiliates, agents or service providers."
I interpret the last paragraph to include cloud storage vendors and fitness devices in athletic clubs (and gyms) that interact with the mobile app. The policy advises users to use the "Private" privacy setting so data is not shared with friends and the general public. The wording implies that the data is shared ("Private" setting or not) with affiliates, partners, and licensees.
Marr also summarized Facebook's abilities to predict things about its users:
"... Facebook revealed that it can now safely predict when a user is about to change their relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in relationship’. The insights come from analyzing the way we exchange messages and post on our timeline just before we 'commit'. Read the details here... a recent study shows that it is possible to accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes simply by analyzing the ‘Likes’ we have clicked on Facebook. The work conducted by researchers at Cambridge University and Microsoft Research shows how the patterns of Facebook ‘Likes’ can very accurately predict your sexual orientation, satisfaction with life, intelligence, emotional stability, religion, alcohol use and drug use, relationship status, age, gender, race and political views among many others."
Marr's warning to consumers and to users of social networking sites:
"WhatsApp's data would reveal who we are sending messages to, how often we do that, what pictures we share and most importantly what we are talking about.Even though Facebook states that the two companies will run independently of each other, I think it is naïve to believe that this will continue for long..."
It is reasonable to assume that everything Facebook knows about your fitness, the NSA and GCHQ probably know, too. And, the HIPAA Privacy Rule exists for several reasons. Some really smart people put that law in place to ensure that health care providers keep patients' personal health information secure. Many consumers seem totally unaware of this, and share their personal health information with any and every social networking site. You can learn more about the HIPAA Privacy Rule here.
Your Internet service is more expensive and slower than necessary. You're probably thinking, "Really? That can't be. We Americans invented the Internet." Yes, we did. And now, we Americans enjoy second-class Internet service. How did that happen?
Bill Moyers discussed this issue recently during an interview with Susan Crawford, consumer advocate and author of, "Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age:"
"... many other countries offer their citizens faster and cheaper access than [in the USA]. The faster high-speed access comes through fiber optic lines that transmit data in bursts of laser light, but many of us are still hooked up to broadband connections that squeeze digital information through copper wire. We’re stuck with this old-fashioned technology because, as Susan Crawford explains, our government has allowed a few giant conglomerates to rig the rules, raise prices, and stifle competition..."
You're probably thinking,"This can't be. We are the USA. We are number one." Well, we aren't when it comes to Internet access (emphasis added):
"For 19 million Americans, many in rural areas, you can't get access to a high speed connection at any price, it's just not there. For a third of Americans, they don't subscribe often because it's too expensive... It's fair to say that the U.S. at the best is in the middle of the pack when it comes to both the speed and cost of high speed internet access connections. So in Hong Kong right now you can get a 500 megabit symmetric connection that's unimaginably fast from our standpoint for about 25 bucks a month. In Seoul, for $30 you get three choices of different providers of fiber in your apartment... In New York City there's only one choice, and it's 200 bucks a month for a similar service. And you can't get that kind of fiber connection outside of New York City in many parts of the country. Verizon's only serving about 10 percent of Americans..."
And, your wireless phone service should be cheaper, too:
"In Europe you can get unlimited texting and voice calls and data for about $30 a month, similar service from Verizon costs $90 a month..."
Meanwhile, back in the United States:
"... according to numbers released by the Department of Commerce, only four out of ten households with annual household incomes below $25,000 reported having wired internet access at home compared with 93 percent of households with incomes exceeding $100,000..."
So how did things get like this? How did service in the United States become second rate? Moyers and Crawford discussed four reasons:
Crawford explained why the promises of competition and benefits to consumers never happened:
"... because it's so much cheaper to upgrade the cable line than it is to dig up the copper and replace it with fiber. The competition evaporated because Wall Street said to the phone companies, "Don't do this, don't be in this business." So you may think of Verizon and AT&T as wired phone companies, they're not. They've gone into an entirely separate market which is wireless. They're the monsters on the wireless side that control two thirds of that market. So there's been a division. Cable takes wired, Verizon/AT&T take wireless. They're actually cooperating. There's a federally blessed non-compete in the form of a joint marketing agreement between Comcast and Verizon..."
The city where I live, Boston, is a good example. We have a new Mayor, and a lot of city pride (e.g., "Boston Strong"). We want to remain a world-class city, but you can't get fiber Internet access (e.g., Verizon FiOS) in Boston. Comcast is the cable provider for high-speed Internet access. You may have seen television commercials with a well-known actor standing in Boston promoting fiber Internet access. You simply can't be a world-class city without fiber Internet. Period.
Boston is not alone in this situation. According to Crawford, Manhattan (New York City) is serviced by Time Warner Cable. Crawford summarized the mess, which I call collusion:
"[High-speed Internet Service Providers] clustered their operations. It makes sense from their standpoint. “You take San Francisco, I'll take Sacramento. You take Chicago, I'll take Boston.” And so Comcast and Time Warner are these giants that never enter each other's territories."
Wouldn't it be great to have cheap, affordable fiber Internet access everywhere in your town or city? Everyone needs it.
Students need it to learn, do homework, and prepare for jobs in a digital age. Entrepreneurs need it to start up and grown their businesses. Consumers need it to shop, bank, do business, work from home or tele-commute, stay current with news, and enjoy entertainment (e.g., online gaming, television, music, etc.).
It's fair to ask: how many more jobs and new businesses would have been created in your state (or city) if it had fiber Internet access everywhere? Some local towns tried and got squashed:
"In North Carolina a couple of years ago lobbyists for Time Warner persuaded the state legislature to make it almost impossible, virtually impossible for municipalities to get their own utility... And so now North Carolina, after being beaten up by the incumbents is at the near the bottom of broadband rankings for the United States... All those students in North Carolina, all those businesses that otherwise would be forming, they don't have adequate connections in their towns to allow this to happen..."
The result: higher cable and Internet prices. That's great for the service providers; bad for consumers. There is no sugar-coating this, folks. You are seeing monopoly power at work, and it must be stopped.
What's the solution? First, Internet access should be treated like a utility, as water and electricity are. Second:
"... we have to separate out content from conduit. It should not be possible for a local cable actor or any distributor to withhold programming based on volume. That's what's going on... That should not be legal. Everybody should get access to the same stuff at the same price and they should be announced prices."
Third, break up the buddy-buddy closeness between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and industry. This problem is intertwined with net neutrality; without which you can expect higher prices and even worse Internet access service.
Fourth, the FCC must operate with broader oversight:
"Just yesterday the former chief of staff of the F.C.C. left to be the general counsel of a regulated company. It happens all the time. And so in order to change this you'd have to make regulation of this area not be carried out by such a focused agency. Right now, the F.C.C.'s asymmetry of information is striking. They only talk to the industry. The community is all so close. In order to break that up you'd have to make sure you had a broad based agency seeing lots of different industries."
Fifth, change will happen only when citizens demand it. Contact your elected officials today and demand faster, cheaper Internet access. Demand that they stop the Comcast's acquisition of Time Warner Cable, too. Tell them that industry consolidation will make the situation worse for consumers, not better. Tell them the U.S. Postal Service should be part of the Internet access solution, too -- especially for rural residents.
Therer are some online petitions. Sign them if you want, but I believe it is always best to directly contact your elected officials.
I hope that you will join me in today's protest to demand that the USA government reform the National Security Agency (NSA) programs that spy on everyone. Why take action? The Center For Internet And Society (CIS) at Stanford law School explained the situation well:
"With unfettered information about everyone, we can be singled out, targeted, marginalized, investigated, discredited, or jailed for pushing for peaceful change... So we join The Day We Fight Back to help end mass surveillance, and we hope you will join us, too... Last summer, the world learned that the United States’ intelligence agencies are conducting mass surveillance of millions of innocent people--Americans and citizens of other nations. We don’t know the whole story. Surveillance practices are secret, targets are secret, and even some of the laws under which the agencies operate are secret. The government has many techniques for masking the full scope of its information collection. Nevertheless, newspapers report that the National Security Agency obtained 70 million French telephone calls and 60 million Spanish ones in a single 30-day period. In a single day, the agency sucked in 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers. The NSA also collects daily contacts from an estimated 500,000 buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from the inbox displays of Web-based e-mail accounts. It collects approximately 250 million communications and “communications transactions” a year from inside the United States, a collection that includes Americans’ messages and calls with people overseas, as well as improperly collected purely domestic communications the NSA nevertheless keeps. The agency also obtains hundreds of thousands of peoples’ calling records under a law whose primary sponsor says was never conceived of for bulk collection purposes. Perhaps worse, the United States government actively undermines Internet security by subverting the process for adopting encryption standards and forcing companies to install surveillance back doors."
Action by Congress is long overdue. Unfamiliar with the issues? Read the Surveillance section of this blog, and follow any of the above links. Then, take action. You can contact your elected officials using the banner that overlays all posts on this blog, here, or here.
Last month, Google applied for two U.S. patents containing technologies to automatically identify, catalog, and track videos you upload about any trending event. The first patent application, "Inferring Events Based Upon Mob Sourced Video," included the following description:
"Methods and systems are disclosed for inferring that an event of interest (e.g., a public gathering, a performance, an accident, etc.) has likely occurred. In particular, when there are at least a given number of video clips with similar timestamps and geolocation stamps uploaded to a repository, it is inferred that an event of interest has likely occurred, and a notification signal is transmitted (e.g., to a law enforcement agency, to a news organization, to a publisher of a periodical, to a public blog, etc.)."
Note that "a law enforcement agency" is specifically mentioned. That could include local police for your city, or one of the federal agencies (e.g., FBI, NSA, DEA, ATF, etc.). The "mob" reference does not mean organized crime, but instead means videos uploaded by several consumers... regular, innocent people like you and I that probably aren't doing anything illegal except attending a public event. The "repository" could be any single or multiple social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.).
The patent collects and monitors videos based upon metadata in the videos that meet the search criteria set by the organization doing the tracking:
"In one embodiment, a computer system pre-processes existing video clips in a video clip repository by defining groups of "related" video clips, based on the timestamps and geolocation stamps of the video clips. When there is a group whose size (i.e., the number of video clips in the group) meets or exceeds a size threshold, the computer system transmits a notification to one or more recipients (e.g., a news organization, etc.) that an event of interest likely occurred at the indicated time and geolocation. In one such embodiment, the computer system also determines the particular recipient(s) of the notification based on the geolocation of the event (e.g., an event in Manhattan might be transmitted to NYC Police and Channel 7 New York, etc.), the time of the event (e.g., an event at 3:00 am might go to the police but not a television station)... In one embodiment, after the repository has been processed, the computer system monitors video clips that are newly-uploaded to the repository and, based on their timestamps and geolocation stamps, adds the newly-uploaded video clips to existing groups, or creates new groups. When a video clip is added to a group and the size of the group has reached, for the first time, the size threshold, the computer system transmits one or more notifications, as described above."
The second patent application, "Mob Source Video Collaboration," includes this description:
"In an embodiment of the present invention, a computer system determines that a set of two or more video clips are of the same event (e.g., a wedding, a sports event, an everyday scene, etc.) when the timestamps and geolocation stamps match, within suitable thresholds. For example, if two video clips have respective timestamps of 2:03-3:05 pm and 2:01-2:56 pm and their geo-location stamps are within 20 meters of each other, then the computer system might identify the two video clips as being of the same event... In one embodiment, a computer system pre-processes the existing video clips in a video clip repository by identifying, based on timestamps and geolocation stamps, video clips that are "related" to one another (i.e., that are of the same event). The computer system then sends a message to each author of a video clip in the repository, inquiring whether the author grants permission to: notify the authors of related video clips of the existence of the video clip, and notify followers of these authors of the existence of the video clip. For example, if Mary Jones has uploaded a video clip of his brother John's wedding to a video clip repository, Mary will receive a message that inquires whether she gives permission to notify the authors of other video clips of John Jones' wedding (e.g., Mary's cousin Betty, etc.) of the existence of her video clip, as well as whether she gives permission for followers of these other authors to also be notified of the existence of the video clip."
So, the technologies in the patents would allow organization to follow videos about breaking events as they happen, as you follow people today within social networking sites. The technologies would also notify you of others who recorded video of the same event, and facilitate connecting with them. Phandroid reported:
"The exact details of this system – if put into practice – would likely be buried deep in a Terms of Service document. We’re guessing the most effective solution (for Google) would be collect aggregate and anonymous data to which you opted-in (time and location data of multimedia), extrapolating that data to identify “mob source” events, and then sharing related, publicly available multimedia to 3rd parties. This could be used in any of the typical “nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd” scenario, from bar fights and car accidents to flash mobs..."
If you aren't aware, your mobile devices automatically attach geolocation data (e.g., GPS coordinates) to every photo and video you take; unless you turn off the GPS feature. Most people don't turn off the GPS feature with their smartphone's camera because other apps (e.g., maps, travel directions, shopping, etc.) use the GPS feature. The geolocation and timestamps data are part of the metadata attached to your photos and videos; data that social networking sites are eager to use.
The technologies in these patent could be helpful to collect videos about a specific event. Many people create event pages on social networking sites. The patents could make it easier for event organizers to collect video about their event. That's the positive. The negative: the technologies could also be used to invade consumers' privacy.
After reading these patent applications, several things came to mind. First, while the patents mentioned harmless applications (e.g., weddings, performances, auto accidents, etc.), this is anything but. It is all about law enforcement. During and after the Marathon bombings in April 2013, law enforcement had difficulty collecting, and then sorting through, the mountain of consumer-produced videos and photographs. The technologies in these two patents would solve those problems. Plus, Google operating system software already contains NSA code. Google seems quite content to pursue technologies to facilitate surveillance.
Second, I found the "mob" description troubling. It implies something negative, when the terms "group-sourced" or "crowd-sourced" could have been easily used instead. I guess that in the surveillance state, everyone is a potential threat whether you have done something illegal or not.
Third, the patents don't really solve a consumer problem. Unless you are new to the Internet and social networking sites, you are already connected to the people you want to follow; and the content your connections produce. For a wedding, the couple has already invited the people they want to attend via registrations at gift or event sites.
Fourth, the technologies in these patents probably represent the next step of the tracking technology. We consumers have already experienced facial recognition in social networking websites. The goal has been to identify people and locations in photographs. Now, the goal is to identify people and places in videos. Fifth, neither patent mentions minors and how the video targeting and cataloging technologies won't run afoul of FTC rules about the collection of data about minor children.
Think about this the next time you record videos at a public event: concert, sports game, group activity (e.g., bicycling, swim or track meet, etc.), vacation, school outing to a museum, dinner in a restaurant with friends or classmates, and/or a public demonstration or protest. You are at the event enjoying it and minding your own business. yet, the videos you upload are potentially considered part of some "mob" action.
Does that sound right to you? Not to me.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Nobody wants a new technology to intimidate or hinder the rights of citizens to assemble peaceably.
Want some privacy online? It's getting more and more difficult. Turn off the GPS feature for the camera in your mobile device when taking photographs and videos. Be careful about what video you upload to social networking Web sites. Make your privacy settings "friends only" for videos you post on social networking sites.
What are your opinions of the two patents?
If you use Facebook, then you probably use the apps the social networking service offers. If you don't use Facebook apps, then your friends probably do. Those apps collect your sensitive personal information, and track your online usage across the Internet. Yes, both at the Facebook site and elsewhere. So, it's important to know which apps... the companies that are tracking you.
You can control how much of your sensitive personal information is shared with Facebook apps, and disable the Facebook software that allows apps to work with your profile and personal data.
Visit the Facebook page about Web site and mobile ad cookies that track your online usage. There is a button on this page to opt out of the tracking. However, Facebook made the opt-out needlessly difficult. Why? First, it is not a global opt-out. You have to opt-out in every different Web browser you use Facebook with. Second, you can undo this opt-out if you regularly delete your Web browser cookies. Facebook's approach is Facebook being Facebook: doing whatever it can to keep its users sharing as much personal information as possible. That's in Facebook's best interests, and not necessarily yours.
There are several software products and browser add-ons to help consumer delete Web browser and other types of files (often called Locally Shared Objects, Super Cookies, Flash Cookies, or "Zombie Cookies") web sites will store on your computer, smart phone, or tablet. Many people delete these files daily to maintain as much privacy as possible on the Internet.
Read this article and this blog post to learn about how Facebook tracks your online usage across the Internet and away from the Facebook site. This extensive tracking is one reason why I didn't enable the Facebook Comments Plugin for comments on this blog.
You probably love your smart phones. Spy agencies do, too. Yesterday, the Guardian UK reported about surveillance programs targeting mobile video games, including "Angry Birds." Both the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) spy agencies operate such programs. The New York Times reported the two spy agencies:
"... were working together on how to collect and store data from dozens of smartphone apps by 2007, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. Since then, the agencies have traded recipes for grabbing location and planning data when a target uses Google Maps, and for vacuuming up address books, buddy lists, phone logs and the geographic data embedded in photos when someone sends a post to the mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services... The efforts were part of an initiative called “the mobile surge,” according to a 2011 British document, an analogy to the troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan..."
Read this blog post to learn about the metadata with your photographs. So, it's not just people who play Angry Birds. In this extensive government spying, we are all targets.
You are probably thinking to yourself, "That's no big deal. I'm only playing a video game on my smart phone (or tablet). No way would mobile game playing interest a spy agency." Well, they are interested. Big time.
The Guardian UK explained why spy agencies have targeted mobile device usage for data collection:
"Exploiting phone information and location is a high-priority effort for the intelligence agencies, as terrorists and other intelligence targets make substantial use of phones in planning and carrying out their activities, for example by using phones as triggering devices in conflict zones. The NSA has cumulatively spent more than $1bn in its phone targeting efforts."
The two spy agencies have targeted "leaky apps" that collect plenty of your personal information. Why? It's an efficient way to collect a lot of information about a lot of people, without having to target specific individuals' mobile devices. Plus, most consumers are blissfully unaware that their mobile devices collect and report back to the app developers sensitive data about them. And, some apps are more leaky than others. The spy agencies collect users' sensitve personal data as the mobile game apps transmit the information via the wireless telecommunications networks.
The sensitive data your mobile game collects and reports can cover your geolocation (e.g., where you are physically), the time, and descriptive information about your mobile device (e.g., brand, model, screen size, operating system, etc.). If the mobile game accesses your address book, then it collects and transmits information about your contacts (e.g., the people you communicate with regularly) and friends you play the game with. Think of this as metadata about your mobile game playing.
Your mobile device is a goldmine of information which spy agencies are happy to collect from leaky mobile apps:
"The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. Some apps, the documents state, can share users' most sensitive information such as sexual orientation –and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be& a swinger.
The spy agencies have targeted mobile devices because the data consumers have entered into phone and app profiles is very valuable:
"Depending on what profile information a user had supplied, the documents suggested, the agency would be able to collect almost every key detail of a user's life: including home country, current location (through geolocation), age, gender, zip code, martial status – options included "single", "married", "divorced", "swinger" and more – income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children."
One government document emphasized the success of such data collection:
"... i]t effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system."
Should spy agencies collect data from mobile game apps and developers? Is this where you want your government spending your hard-earned taxes?
It is a debate that needs to happen, as it threatens mobile gaming business revenues by US firms. Experts have already estimated that the massive NSA government spying program could cost U.S.-based cloud-services vendors $35 billion in lost revenues. In simpler terms:
Lost revenues by U.S. high-tech companies = lost American jobs = lost tax revenues to U.S. federal, state, and local governments
Would you use mobile games knowing that spy agencies secretly collect this information? Can you trust these agencies to keep such sensitive personal information private, and not share it with other government agencies? Can you trust these agencies when they've been secretive so far? Other agencies (e.g., CIA, DHS, FBI, IRS) already want access to the data collected, and some have gotten it. The potential for abuse is massive.
Freedom includes the choice about what personal information to share, with whom, and when. It is a huge loss of freedoms for consumers to not have control over what personal information is shared, with whom, and when.
Many people would say no to mobile game data collection. If you are not a suspected in a crime and the agency doesn't have a search warrant, then it's a privacy violation. What do you think. If this troubles you, contact your elected officials.
In an attempt to predict the changing popularity of existing social networking websites, researchers from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University predicted that Facebook will undergo a massive decline during the next few years. The researchers, John Cannarella and Joshua Spochler, analyzed the popularity of specific "online social networks" (OSNs) by using mathematical models of the spread of infectious diseases:
"The application of disease-like dynamics to OSN adoption follows intuitively, since users typically join OSNs because their friends have already joined. The precedent for applying epidemiological models to non-disease applications has previously been set by research focused on modeling the spread of less-tangible applications such as ideas..."
With about 1.19 billion users worldwide, Facebook definitely qualifies as a large social networking website. Anyone active on Internet knows that social networking websites (Who remembers Friendster?) come and go:
"Despite the recent success of Facebook and Twitter, the last decade also provides numerous examples of OSNs that have risen and fallen in popularity, most notably MySpace. MySpace, founded in 2003, reached its peak in 2008 with 75.9 million unique monthly visits in the US before subsequently decaying to obscurity by 2011."
Accurately predictions of changes in the popularity of specific social networking websites can help investors with financial decisions. the researchers used Google search data to specific social networking websites:
"The epidemiological models presented in this study are used to analyze publicly available Google search query data for different OSNs, which can be obtained from Google’s "Google Trends” service. Google search query data has been used in a range of studies, including the monitoring of disease outbreak, economic forecasting, and the prediction of financial trading behavior..."
The researchers adapted and validated their mathematical model using the adoption and decline data from the Myspace OSN. The researchers concluded:
"Extrapolating the best fit model into the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017."
"... Myspace is not the best social network with which to compare Facebook. At its peak, Myspace had 75.9 million monthly active users. Facebook, meanwhile, said it had 1.19 billion active members in September. Facebook has reached levels Myspace never hit... Although search queries -- not active users -- for Facebook did decline in 2013, the company has only seen its monthly active user base grow since it launched in 2004. Seeing a drop as big as the one the researchers predict would be more than surprising -- it'd be the first time Facebook sees a decline in users."
The Motley Fool reported that teens are leaving Facebook in substantial numbers, but it may not matter:
"... Facebook's teen base had fallen 25% in the past three years. Facebook CFO David Ebersman confirmed that the issue is real during a recent earnings call... the iStrategy Labs study draws from Facebook's Social Advertising platform... Facebook has 4,292,080 fewer high-school aged users and 6,948,848 college-aged users than it did in 2011... it definitely shows that Facebook is not as hot with teens as it once was... According to the same iStrategy Labs Study, the number of users 55+ has exploded with 80.4% growth in the past three years. These older users may not be as desirable as teenagers, but they are more stable and less likely to leave..."
While the researchers analyzed search data, there are more metrics that describe social networking website popularity. Some metrics that come to mind include:
Then, you would want to see which of those metrics most accurately precede subscription terminations.
The OSN study has not been peer reviewed. Download the Princeton study: "Epidemiological Modeling of Online Social Network Dynamic" report (Adobe PDF). It is also available here (Adobe PDF, 436.3K bytes).
Just before the holidays, ID Experts Corporation introduced Medical Identity Alert System (MIDAS), a new service to help health care plan providers, employers, and consumers prevent and reduce medical identity theft and fraud. The F.B.I. estimated health care fraud at $80 billion each year. The 2013 Survey on Medical Identity Theft by Ponemon found:
"... most cases of identity theft result not from a data breach but from the sharing of personal identification credentials with family and friends. Or, family members take the victim’s credentials without permission."
About 1.84 million people in the USA are currently affected by medical identity theft and fraud. This can lead to misdiagnoses, mistreatments, delayed treatments, and wrong prescription medications. Only 54 percent of patients review the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statements from their health care providers.
MIDAS uses real-time text messages and emails to alert users when a healthcare transaction is submitted to their health plan. The alert links to a secure wesite where the member can validate the transaction, or flag it as “suspicious.” Then, MIDAS resolution experts follow up on the flagged transactions.
The MIDAS website lists several benefits:
Bob Gregg, CEO of ID Experts said:
“Consumers have easy access to their personal financial data yet their medical care transactions are a closed door... MIDAS will change this by bringing transparency to healthcare transactions, engaging members as the first line of defense in protecting their identities and uniting health plans with their members to combat fraud.”
PHIprivacy investigated the service, and reported that ID Experts does not share MIDAS users' information with other companies.
This service appeals for a three reasons:
Note: this is not an endorsement. It is simply a news article to inform readers of a new service. I do not have any arrangements or relationship with ID Experts. If you subscribe to MIDAS, please share you opinions and experience below.
I found this study very troubling and extremely slimy corporate behavior. There is a good article at Slate about how Facebook wants to know your thoughts by collecting your unpublished posts or status messages.
Yes, your unpublished status messages.
Think about all of the content you started to type in the compose box on Facebook, but then stopped and either erased or changed it. After all, we all have been taught to think carefully about what we share online. Unfortunately, Facebook captures this unpublished content: stuff that you typed and didn't post by actually selecting the "Post" button in the facebook compose box:
"... the code that powers Facebook still knows what you typed—even if you decide not to publish it. It turns out that the things you explicitly choose not to share aren't entirely private. Facebook calls these unposted thoughts "self-censorship," and... The study examined aborted status updates, posts on other people's timelines, and comments on others' posts. To collect the text you type, Facebook sends code to your browser. That code automatically analyzes what you type into any text box and reports metadata back to Facebook."
If you don't know (or forgot), read this primer about what metadata is and why it is valuable. (It will help you understand what data is attached to your posts, images, and video.) Remember, this is about content you typed in the Facebook compose box and never published. One might expect Facebook to collect versions of content you typed, posted, and later edited, because you selected the "Post" button, shared that content before editing it. I doubt uses would expect Facebook to save content you didn't share = content you may have type but never posted or published. Sadly, the social networking site does save (and analyze) your unpublished content.
"In Facebook’s Data Use Policy, under a section called "Information we receive and how it is used," it’s made clear that the company collects information you choose to share or when you "view or otherwise interact with things.” But nothing suggests that it collects content you explicitly don’t share. Typing and deleting text in a box could be considered a type of interaction, but I suspect very few of us would expect that data to be saved..."
I find this data collection of unpublished posts extremely slimy corporate behavior and a privacy intrusion:
"This may be closer to the recent revelation that the FBI can turn on a computer's webcam without activating the indicator light to monitor criminals. People surveilled through their computers’ cameras aren’t choosing to share video of themselves, just as people who self-censor on Facebook aren’t choosing to share their thoughts. The difference is that the FBI needs a warrant but Facebook can proceed without permission from anyone."
Researchers Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist, and Sauvik Das, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon and summer software engineer intern at Facebook, analyzed 17 days of usage from 3.9 million Facebook users. You can download the researchers' study (Adobe PDF). Some key findings from the study:
"... 71% of the 3.9 million users in our sample self-censored at least one post or comment over the course of 17 days, confirming that self-censorship is common. Posts are censored more than comments (33% vs. 13%)... decisions to self-censor content strongly affected by a user’s perception of audience: Users who target specific audiences self-censor more than users who do not... males censor more posts, but, surprisingly, also that males censor more than females when more of their friends are male... people with more boundaries to regulate censor more posts; older users censor fewer posts but more comments; and, people with more politically and age diverse friends censor fewer posts."
After reading this, I wonder if self-censor rates would have been higher if the study duration was longer than 17 days. The researchers seem to think so (emphasis added in bold:
"Over the 17-days, 71% of all users censored content at least once, with 51% of users censoring at least one post and 44% of users censoring at least one comment. The 51% of users who censored posts censored 4.52 posts on average, while the 44% of users who censored comments censored 3.20 comments on average... While 71% of our users did last-minute self-censor at least once, we suspect, in fact, that all users employ last-minute self-censorship on Facebook at some point. The remaining 29% of users in our sample likely didn’t have a chance to self-censor over the short duration of the study. Surprisingly, however, we found that relative rates of self-censorship were quite high: 33% of all potential posts written by our sample users were censored, and 13% of all comments. These numbers were higher than anticipated..."
The researchers (and probably Facebook managers, too) seemed worried that Facebook's user interface and website features may be inadequate and encourage more self-censorship by users than otherwise. They concluded:
"... we now know that current solutions on Facebook do not effectively prevent self-censorship caused by boundary regulation problems. Users with more boundaries to regulate self-censor more, even controlling for their use of audience selection and privacy tools. One reason for this finding is that users might distrust the available tools to truly restrict the audience of a post; another possibility is that present audience selection tools are too static and content agnostic, rendering them ineffective in allowing users to selectively target groups on the fly..."
The researchers also concluded:
"... the frequency of self-censorship seems to vary by the nature of the content (e.g., post or a comment?) and the context surrounding it (e.g., status update or event post?). The decision to self-censor also seems to be driven by two simple principles: People censor more when their audience is hard to define, and people censor more when the relevance or topicality of a CMC “space” is narrower. For example, posts are unsurprisingly censored more than comments..."
What I make of this:
So, a word to the wise until online privacy laws catch up: be careful about what you type before posting, and be careful about what you post on Facebook. If this is too complicated for you, then don't post on Facebook or simply stop using Facebook altogether. I know people who only read Facebook.
Next, several related questions immediately come to mind:
Frequent readers probably noticed a change during the past week with this blog. I updated the design for this blog. My goals were to provide a simpler design that's easier to read for everyone and more supportive of readers using mobile devices (e.g., smart phones, tablets). There is now a single right column with fewer widgets = reduced page clutter.
I'd love to hear from readers about the new design. Please leave comments below.
The New York State Attorney General and the San Francisco District Attorney, as part of the Secure Our Smartphones program, issued a set of safety tips and advice for consumers while shopping during the holiday season. While nobody wants to be a victim of identity theft and fraud, the fact is 113 smart phones are stolen every minute in the United States.
During 2012, more than 1.6 million Americans had their smart phones stolen. Smart phone robberies have increased so much that there is a term for it: "Apple picking." The ten worst cities for smart phone robberies are Philadelphia (PA), Seattle, Oakland (CA), Long Beach (CA), Newark (NJ), Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, New York, and Boston.
The Secure Our Smartphones program is an international coalition of prosecutors, police chiefs, state and city comptrollers, and public safety activists committed to presuring the industry to find more effective ways to fight smart phone robberies that often turn violent. Program co-chairs include New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
10 tips to protect yourself and the sensitive, personal information on your smart phone:
Smart phone usage for online banking is about 21 percent, and about 15 percent for mobile payment apps. Recently, Google launched a prepaid card with its mobile wallet app. If you are one of these mobile users, then not only are the above security tips critical, but it's wise to check the contract or agreement with the bank or payment service. If your smart phone is stolen, you may have additional notification responsibilities.
Recently, Google launched the Google Wallet Card, a new, physical prepaid card you can use in addition to using your smart phone to pay for purchases via the Google Wallet service. Readers of this blog know that I've discussed prepaid cards at length in this blog.
So, the appropriate question: is the Google Wallet Card a good deal?
To answer this, first I read the card announcement at the Google Commerce blog. The Google Wallet Card is structured like any other prepaid card. You add money to it, and then use the available balance on your card to make purchases in retail stores and/or to withdraw cash at ATM machines. You must have a Google Wallet account, first. The blog post announcement said that the Google Wallet Card can be used at "millions of MasterCard(R) locations." That seems partly true. Keep reading.
Google Wallet Card users also need the Google Wallet app running on their smart phone. The app provides notifications about purchases with the Card, and allows Card users to check their available card balances, add money to their Wallet/Card, and perform related tasks. Right now, Google Wallet users can order the Google Wallet Card for free.
Then, I visited the Google Wallet Card FAQ page, which is buried within the Google Wallet website. The page clearly stated that the Google Wallet Card can only be used within the United States. So, the announcement in the Google Commerce blog is a little misleading, and not quite accurate.
Also, there are transaction limits with the Google Wallet Card:
There seem to be fewer fees with the Google Wallet Card. Google does not charge the following fees to Google Wallet Card users:
There are fees if you add money from a debit/credit card, but no no fees if you add money from a checking account. So, how you use the Card matters. I found it extremely helpful to read the page listing fees for both the Google Wallet and the Google Wallet Card. The fee-listing page is a site page Card users will probably want to refer to frequently, since fees can change.
More importantly, this page provides the warnings that the bank or ATM network (e.g., NYCE, Cirrus, Plus, etc.) may charge fees for cash withdrawals and checking balances at ATM mchines. The fee-listing page doesn't list the specific fees banks or ATM networks might charge. It just gives the general warning.
I found this general warning a disappointment. It would be more helpful if the fee-listing page included these additional fees, so Google Wallet Card users would know in advance what fees they will likely encounter at ATM machines.
At the Google Wallet Card FAQ page, I looked for links to the fee schedule or Card agreement. I've learned that these documents specify all relevant details. I did not see links prominently in the Google Wallet Card FAQ page. This was a disappointment. Users should not have to hunt for these links, as I did.
The page footer at the Google Wallet site contains a link to the Google Wallet Terms of Service agreement. This agreement contains important information about the Google Wallet Card:
"If you use your [Google Wallet Card] at an automated fuel dispenser (“pay at the pump”), the merchant may preauthorize the transaction amount up to $100.00 or more. If your Card is declined, even though you have sufficient funds available, pay for your purchase inside with the cashier. If you use your Card at a restaurant, a hotel, for a car rental purchase, or for similar purchases, the merchant may preauthorize the transaction amount for the purchase amount plus up to 20% or more to ensure there are sufficient funds available to cover tips or incidental expenses incurred. Any preauthorization amount will place a “hold” on your available funds until the merchant sends us the final payment amount of your purchase. Once the final payment amount is received, the preauthorization amount on hold will be removed. It may take up to seven (7) days for the hold to be removed. During the hold period, you will not have access to the preauthorized amount."
For security reasons, I almost never use a debit/credit/prepaid card at gas station pumps becasue it is extremely easy for identity theives to tamper with gas station pumps. When gas stations are closed, the pumps are usually unattended and left out in the open where anyone can access them.
So, is the Google Wallet Card a good deal? Only you can decide for yourself as you know your financial situation best. The above transaction limits may or may not fit with your lifestyle and financial needs. Your current debit- or prepaid card may offer fewer or no fees for ATM machine usage. Hopefully, I have highlighted the issues and terms to consider to make an informed decision.
The Google Wallet Card is not for me because I avoid using any prepaid cards due to many fees and fewer consumer protections. My current mix of credit cards and a debit card with my bank fulfill my banking needs.
If you already use Google Wallet, then the Google Wallet card may be a useful option at retail stores that don't accept the smart phone payment method. CNN Money said this about why Google introduced a prepaid card:
"[Google Wallet] hasn't really taken off, however -- iPhones haven't adopted the technology necessary to use the in-store payment feature, and many retailers don't have the appropriate point-of-sale equipment to process the transactions."
What's your opinion of the Google Wallet prepaid card?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released the results of its survey about which companies encrypt transmissions of users' information. Encryption is important to protect consumers against extensive surveillance by the NSA and other agencies:
"By adopting these practices, described below, these service providers have taken a critical step towards protecting their users from warrantless seizure of their information off of fiber-optic cables. By enabling encryption across their networks, service providers can make backdoor surveillance more challenging, requiring the government to go to courts and use legal process."
This is important because of the warrant-less surveillance by the NSA:
"The National Security Agency’s MUSCULAR program, which tapped into the fiber-optic lines connecting the data centers of Internet giants like Google and Yahoo, exposed the tremendous vulnerabilities companies can face when up against as powerful an agency as the NSA. Bypassing the companies’ legal departments, the program grabbed extralegal access to your communications, without even the courtesy of an order from the secret rubber-stamp FISA court..."
The infographic below contains the results of the EFF survey:
Coin, a new credit-card like payment device, has received a fair amount of press coverage recently. If you haven't heard about Coin, which will debut in 2014, it is a new service that allows you to store payment information for up to eight credit-, debit-, and prepaid cards on a single card-like device. You can use the Coin service to lighten your wallet or purse by leaving at home all of your physical plastic cards. And, Coin has some nifty features that work with your smart phone. If you pre-order Coin now, it'll cost you either $50 or $100.
So, the next appropriate question: is Coin a good deal?
Many technophiles I know will pre-order Coin now and start using it when it becomes available next summer. They like to use the next new, shiny, mobile device or service. Nothing wrong with that. I prefer to look a little deeper first.
We've all experienced products, services, and social networking websites that promote convenience while the cost, or price we pay, has usually been our privacy and personal information. So, when a new financial payment device promotes convenience, I'm inclined to investigate first.
To answer this question, I first read the Coin Master Terms of Service (CMTOS) dated October 1, 2013; which you should, too. It helps you understand more about the service, what you get, and what your responsibilities are. After reading this document, I quickly learned that the Coin card includes software embedded on it:
"1. USE OF THE SERVICE. You are solely responsible for the use of the Service. By using the service you acknowledge that your use of the Service is solely at your own risk... Subject to the Terms, Coin grants you a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable, revocable license to use any software that is provided by Coin that is pre-installed on, embedded in or incorporated into the Coin Card (“Embedded Software”)..."
Okay. That is good to know as a starting point. Section 9 of the CMTOS says that users aren't allowed to:
"... Access or use the Site for any comparative or competitive research purposes;"
Huh? Part of deciding whether or not to use any financial product or service is to research it and compare it against alternatives. This term struck me as most odd and curious. Maybe the lawyers at Coin rule.
With any new service or new product, i want to know exactly what I am getting for my money. That includes what happens when things go wrong. Nothing in life is is perfect. Good customer service includes help when things go wrong. Section 4 of the CMTOS:
"... If you have any reason to believe that your account information has been compromised or that your account has been accessed by a third party, you agree to immediately notify Coin by e-mail email@example.com. You are solely responsible for your own losses or losses incurred by Coin and others due to any unauthorized use of your account."
That seems pretty clear. And if your Coin card is lost or stolen:
"... you should immediately contact the customer service department of your credit card company and/or bank to suspend access to the financial accounts associated with your Coin Card. Additionally, you should use the App to disable your Coin Card until the Coin Card is recovered or replaced. If your Coin Card is lost, damaged or stolen you may purchase a replacement card..."
That seems pretty clear, too. I was hoping that the folks at Coin might help with notifying banks and card issuers of lost/stolen credit/debit/prepaid cards since they would already have all of my information for each debit/credit/prepaid card loaded on my Coin card. I guess not. If your account or Coin card are hacked and your money is stolen, then you are on your own to notify each card issuer, and to absorb any financial losses. Maybe your bank or financial institution will help and reimburse your for any stolen funds... or maybe they won't.
Perhaps most importantly, CNN Money reported that Coin doesn't have the approval of the credit card issuers and networks. That approval seems critical to me before ordering (or pre-ordering) Coin. It seems wise for consumers to check the terms of service or contract for any credit card to make sure a device like Coin isn't prohibited.
Sections 13 and 14 both seem to reinforce the you're-on-your-own theme:
"13. WARRANTY DISCLAIMER. THE SERVICE IS PROVIDED ON AN “AS IS” BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND."
If the Coin site, mobile app, or Coin card are hacked or contain malware, you still are on your own. In my opinion, any site that compiles financial payment information for users is a high-value target by hackers. Hackers go where the money and salable user information are.
So, not only are you on your own but you give up certain rights. See section 16 of the CMTOS:
"... In the interest of resolving disputes between you and Coin in the most expedient and cost effective manner, you and Coin agree that any and all disputes arising in connection with this Agreement shall be resolved by binding arbitration... Arbitration uses a neutral arbitrator instead of a judge or jury, may allow for more limited discovery than in court, and can be subject to very limited review by courts... You understand and agree that, by entering into these Terms, you and Coin are each waiving the right to a trial by jury or to participate in a class action... No Class Actions. YOU AND COIN AGREE THAT EACH MAY BRING CLAIMS AGAINST THE OTHER ONLY IN YOUR OR ITS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND NOT AS A PLAINTIFF OR CLASS MEMBER IN ANY PURPORTED CLASS OR REPRESENTATIVE PROCEEDING. Further, unless both you and Coin agree otherwise, the arbitrator may not consolidate more than one person’s claims..."
Maybe these rights (e.g., to sue, to join with other consumers) aren't important to you, or maybe they are important. I mention this so you know what rights you may give up. And, Coin uses are liable for certain fees should you pursue arbitration. In my opinion, companies have introduced this into their policies to limit their financial exposure. To me, it is the loss of important rights for consumers. Since technology moves forward far faster than federal, state, and local laws, differences of opinion are likely... and hence, disputes.
Keep reading. There's more.
"Examples of personal information include name, email address, mailing address, mobile phone number, and credit card or other billing information. Personal information also includes other information, such as date of birth, geographic area, or preferences, when any such information is linked to information that identifies a specific individual..."
Anytime I see the words "examples" and " such as" in this context, I assume that much more personal information will be collected. The Coin service collects personal information (PII) you directly provide and information you indirectly provide through your usage:
"... we may automatically record certain information from your device by using various types of technology, including “clear gifs” or “web beacons.” This "automatically collected" information may include your IP address or other device address or ID, web browser and/or device type, the web pages or sites that you visit just before or just after you use the Service, the pages or other content you view or otherwise interact with on the Service, and the dates and times that you visit, access, or use the Service. We also may use these technologies to collect information regarding your interaction with email messages, such as whether you opened, clicked on, or forwarded a message."
So, like most other social networking sites, you are the product and Coin will collect an extensive amount about both you and your activities through the Coin card, mobile app, and website.
When I read both policies I looked for language that stated whether or not Coin collects my purchase or transaction information (e.g., amount, store, location, items). That is where the value is. Banks know this and already collect consumers' purchase information. To me, it is reasonable to assume that Coin will collect this purchase information also.
"We cannot, however, ensure or warrant the security of any information you transmit to us or store on the Service, and you do so at your own risk. We also cannot guarantee that such information may not be accessed, disclosed, altered, or destroyed by breach of any of our physical, technical, or managerial safeguards."
Next, Coin has a security feature that CNN Money reported could also be problematic: it relies upon your smart phone being on and nearby. The security feature deactivates the Coin device if it is far from your smart phone (with the Coin app loaded). So, if your smart phone battery has died or your phone is broken, then your Coin card won't work. Nightmare scenario #1: you are at the phone store to buy a replacement battery for your dead smart phone, but you can't because the credit/debit credentials on your Coin card are locked. Only you know how often you fail to charge your smart phone and/or been stranded somewhere with a dead smart phone. Nightmare scenario #2: while you wait for your smart phone insurer to send a replacement smart phone for the one you lost/damaged/dropped, you can't use your Coin card.
last, Coin's convenience is limited. You can load an unlimited number of cards into your Coin account, but only up to eight (8) cards onto your coin device. So, a certain amount of shuffling is required for those who are heavy shoppers with lots of plastic in your wallet/purse.
So, is Coin a good deal? Only you can decide for yourself. Hopefully, I've highlighted some of the issues to consider. As a wise person once said: the devil is in the details.
Coin is not for me. I do not want to include yet another vendor in my purchases, as there are already many vendors involved in consumers' payment transactions -- all who want my purchase information for their own "big data" or data-mining purposes. Thanks to NSA surveillance, we've learned that metadata is extremely valuable, too. To me, convenience alone is not enough for a vendor to gain access to my purchase transactions.
Plus, the executives at Coin seem to have done, what appears to me to be, a masterful job at crafting online policies that effectively limit their liabilities, limit rights, and place a burden on Coin users that I find unacceptable.
If you have and use eight credit cards, one could argue you have bigger issues to address with credit. Me? My wallet is already light enough -- intentionally. I use only one credit card when shopping, avoid using prepaid cards (due to many fees and fewer consumer protections), and use my debit card only at my bank's ATM machines once weekly. Some membership cards have optional prepaid features, which I don't use for purchases because of the many fees on prepaid cards. Plus, the supermarket chain I shop at discontinued its loyalty-card program. So that card has already been destroyed. Plus, more retailers will replace their loyalty-card programs with newer, more comprehensive tracking technologies (e.g., smart shopping carts, video-camera-enabled mannequins, wristbands, WiFi hotspots, smart trash bins, etc.) in physical stores.
What's your view of the Coin service?
If you have used Facebook for several years, then you have a lot of posts in your timeline. A lot. With the new Facebook Search feature, those old posts are searchable. And many of those old posts probably have weak privacy settings: the "Public" or anyone can search and view them. You probably don't want those old posts and photos of you high or drinking (to excess) to be searchable. It could cost you a job, result in a rejected college application, or affect your credit-worthiness.
What to do? You could spend the next week 24/7 non-stop deleting all of your old posts and/or changing the privacy setting on each old post to "Friends Only." A faster method to protect your privacy is to use Facebook's "Limit Past Posts" privacy setting. I'll bt you didn't know that this security setting exists, since Facebook makes its interface difficult to find and use for security settings.
Here is how to find and use the "Limit Past Posts" security setting:
If these instructions aren't clear, see the Gizmodo article with screen images.
Your online activity is tracked by a wide variety of technologies, not just web sites. For example, all of the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo) track your search history. If you use one of the major search engines, then you will need to opt-out of the search engine history tracking at each search engine. This Mashable article contains instructions plus links to the opt-out mechanisms for each search engine.
Me? I use the DuckDuckGo search engine instead. There is nothing to opt-out of because DuckDuckGo doesn't collect anything.
Simiilarly, the social networking websites you use track your online activity and will use your name and photo in their online advertisements if you let them. To avoid this, you'll need to opt-out of the advertisement features at each social networking website you use. For example: sign in to Twitter and navigate to Settings, and then Security and Privacy. On that page, uncheck the boxes next to Promoted Content and Tweet Location. For Facebook, navigate to General Account Settings, and then to Ads. Clcik Edit and select "No one" for Third Party Sites. Click Edit and select "No one" for "Ads and Friends."
This Masahable article contains instructions for how to opt out of advertisements on Google services.
The web browser you use also tracks your online activity. So, the steps you must take to deactivate HTTP cookie tracking depends upon which web browser you use. According to Masahable, to opt out of cookie tracking Mozilla Firefox users must:
"In Firefox's Privacy panel, click on the area next to Firefox will: and select Use custom settings for history. Once selected, remove the checkmark in the Accept Cookies box."
Also, there may be settings on your mobile device to turn off any sharing with your mobile device manaufacturer, mobile operating system manufacturer, and/or telecommunications provider. None of the above methods will stop sharing of your purchases with your bank, credit-card, debit-card, and/or prepaid card provider.
Remember, all of these services and technologies, including your mobile device (e.g., tablet, smart phone), that collect data also collect metadata. All of this online data collection can make the Internet a pretty frustrating tool at times. In response to the perceived (and real) lack of online privacy, more and more users in Australia provide fake information while online to blunt companies' data collection and tracking. And, if infected with the appropriate computer virus, your smart phone may continue to track you even when turned off.
Is planned obsolescence a good idea with smart phones? Is it a good idea at all? Does this really benefit consumers? Starting with the Apple iPhone, Author Catherine Rampell explores answers to these questions in a New York Times article:
"Economists have theories about market conditions that encourage planned obsolescence. A company has strong incentives to degrade product durability when it has a lot of market power and when consumers don’t have good substitute products to choose from... A company could still be encouraged to engage in planned obsolescence if consumers perceive large “switching costs” associated with going to a new brand."
Questions about the durability of Apple smart phone arose from battery-life observations, although apps that perform a lot of background processing (or tracking and reporting) may also be the cause. In her article, Rampell likens the Apple smart phone to fashion.
Recently, researchers at Harvard Business School published a report about a study about fake online reviews. Typically, a company or hired vendors write the fake online reviews. The researchers studied fake reviews at the Yelp.com site about restaurants in Boston, and found:
"First, roughly 16 percent of restaurant reviews on Yelp are identified as fraudulent, and tend to be more extreme (favorable or unfavorable) than other reviews. Second, a restaurant is more likely to commit review fraud when its reputation is weak, i.e., when it has few reviews, or it has recently received bad reviews. Third, chain restaurants - which benefit less from Yelp - are also less likely to commit review fraud. Fourth, when restaurants face increased competition, they become more likely to leave unfavorable reviews...
The researchers labeled certain business behaviors: "positive review fraud" when a business engaged in creating fake, positive reviews about itself, and "negative review fraud" when a business engaged in creating fake, bad reviews about a competitor. The study methodology used Yelp's formulas for identifying bogus reviews. At the time of the study, Yelp had about 30 million online reviews and 100 million unique visitors per month.
The researchers cited results from other studies that focused on other industries:
"... Mayzlin et al. (2012) exploit an organizational difference between Expedia and TripAdvisor (which are spin-os of the same parent company with different features) to study review fraud by hotels: while anyone can post a review on TripAdvisor, Expedia requires that a guest has "paid and stayed" before submitting a review. The authors observe that Expedia's verification mechanism increases the cost of posting a fake review. The study finds that independent hotels tend to have a higher proportion of five-star reviews on TripAdvisor relative to Expedia and competitors of independent hotels tend to have a higher proportion of one-star reviews on TripAdvisor relative to Expedia..."
The findings in this study probably explain the motives by 19 companies exposed last week and fined for astroturfing by the New York State Attorney General. Desperate companies and executives do desperate things. It isn't right, but they do it. And, they will continue committing online review fraud as long as:
The probability of getting caught X the probability of getting sued X the probability of paying a fine (or going to jail) < the amount of revenues generated by fake online reviews
What are consumers to do? Right now, learn how to spot fake reviews. Some of the links below can help. I hope that the attorney generals in more states investigate and prosecute online review fraud. These fraudsters need to be exposed publicly.
Download the Harvard Business School report, "Fake It To You Make It: Reputation, Competition, And Yelp Review Fraud" (Adobe PDF). Learn more about online reviews: