A View on Consumers

March 26, 2011

I’m sure many of you have heard the term “digital divide.” It refers to the growing divide between Americans with access to the internet and its vast resources and those without. For several years now, researchers and analysts have been concerned that this divide is leaving behind Americans, especially the younger Americans attending schools and living in communities with limited (if any) Internet connectedness. This is a huge problem, and something that as a serious nerd (I love technology, sorry I’m not sorry), I’m very VERY concerned about.

But an interesting new spin on the digital divide is the social networking divide. Think of how many times you missed something because it was an event or a page on Facebook either you somehow were not aware of, or even worse (it’s happened to us all), you were deliberately uninvited to. This can be a seriously dramatic trauma for some- imagine finding out about a public event your boyfriend is hosting that he neglected to invite you to.

But on a less selfish, and more worldly note, think about all that Facebook has organized and coordinated. I talked earlier about Egypt and how the revolution there depending on social networking to organize protestors more effectively. Some people are even planning whole weddings on Facebook these days. I know in my personal experience, before Google Docs started rocking my world Facebook was a very easy means of organizing and communicating group projects. It was always so simple- everyone has a Facebook right?


A recent survey suggests that the new divide is between avid users who are beginning to be less and less concerned about privacy, and those who continue to grow more and more concerned about privacy. Researchers continue to search for the elusive explanation to the consumer’s demand for privacy, when it seems as though the consumer does not regularly shun products or services which are clear invasions. Take loyalty consumer cards, for instance. It’s not a coincidence that  my mother’s Kroger card never gives her dog food coupons, only cat food coupons.

If you have followed my advice, sought out your own recommendations, learned about all the features you can use on Facebook to hide yourself from unwanted viewers and spamming, then you are capable of having the ideal privacy situation while still enjoying the perks of staying in the social loop.

So why the worry, consumers? It seems like maybe what makes the social media divide more important is its ever-growing, ever-expanding importance in our lives. Maybe it’s just a reactionary response to a pivotal change in the way we as a people communicate.  Maybe it’s just a bunch of worry warts wondering just how much Mark Zuckerberg makes off their private information. It just seems to me that if you’re willing to throw down that Kroger card and earn 10 cents for your gas, it’s stupid to turn around and wield your weapons at Facebook’s privacy policy.

You can read more about the studies at this site, but for now think about this:

Facebook knows I am a 21-year old female, born on December 6, 1989, and my email. So does Kroger,Ulta, Walmart, GAP and it’s affiliates, Forever 21, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, WordPress, iTunes, Pandora, and countless other online services. And also almost anyone who meets me.

So what’s the big deal?


Federal Trade Commission: Do Not Track

March 23, 2011

I spoke very briefly about the Do Not Track legislation in Congress in my last post, but I did happen upon a really good article from the Washington Post this morning that discusses the concepts and proposed ideas very clearly.

Find the article here.

Essentially, online companies like Facebook and Apple are quickly gaining more users, but the federal laws have not kept up with the applications to protect the personal information from being improperly used.  FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz has publicly backed the opt-out Do Not Track mechanisms that seem to be the most viable option for web browsers today. These mechanisms work by blocking cookies and sites from collecting information about what a web user does on the website. For instance, every time I click an ad on Facebook, Facebook logs my activity and figures out a way to cater my personal experience through the use of this behavioral information. The Do Not Track tool would keep Facebook from having the ability to follow my clicks and views on the site. Microsoft and Mozilla have already put tools on browsers.

Leibowitz said  “An effective Do Not Track system would go beyond simply opting consumers out of receiving targeted advertisements. It would opt them out of having their behavior tracked online.”
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) is about to introduce a privacy bill soon, and the  Obama administration, while not specific, has given vague support for the legislature.

Personally, I think the ability to opt out is very important for users. This is a very understated form of privacy invasion: the internet is created to specifically for us to click and view and browse. I suppose the business person in me completely understands that marketers have found a way to make tracking the simple use of the internet a tool for additional productivity. The sad thing is that until opt-out tools are widely spread and proven effective, marketers are combing through every move I make online and pushing it all back on me. Like I said before, sometimes this is effective, and other times, it’s plain creepy.
Either way you look at it, it’s an invasion of privacy.

Do Not Track

March 21, 2011

One thing that Facebook is very good at: OBA: Online behavioral advertising. This is what most current privacy conversations are about- the ability of web sites to track users’ behaviors in an effort to better aim advertisements at these users. Facebook is VERY good at this- sponsored stories are one way, and even just the advertisements Facebook puts on your page use OBA to better target certain users.

This video explains the new tools web browsers are developing using HTTPS and cookies to make OBA impossible when a user chooses to opt-out. This would make OBA an opt-out feature- unless the user selects to use the do not track tools, OBA will affect them.

The US Congress is looking to standardize web browsers with the Do-Not-Track idea, hoping to secure internet privacy for Americans through making OBA obsolete. So I’m going to ask you all another question, poll style:

Personally, I think that the Do Not Track option should be available to all web browsers, but I’m not sure if it should be mandatory. A lot of times my online experience is enhanced by these types of advertisements- but sometimes I do feel weird when I see an ad for an item I removed from my latest Forever 21 cart online. And then other times, I see deals and specials, as well as non-commercial advertisements, that lead me to a new site or provide me a huge benefit.

Japanese Earthquake and Worldwide Impact

March 14, 2011

If you direct your attention to the following link:

Awesome video showing map of statuses.

… you will see a great video that shows a time frame and the concentration of posts on Facebook with the keywords “Japan”, “earthquake,” and “tsunami” in the post. It shows where in the world the most posts regarding Japan’s recent catastrophe were logged, which is an interesting way to illustrate one of the previous discussions about privacy.

Nowhere on this page does Facebook say I did it, but that little blob in the middle of the United States includes a couple posts from me. Because Facebook has my location and can access my activity, I was a part of that dark circle over the middle of my country. Did Facebook do anything to directly violate my privacy? I don’t see it that way. But some might see what Facebook did here to show status updates as a floodgate for more, meaning more privacy issues.

For now, I see this as a simple example of how Facebook, like most other social networking sites requiring certain information to join, uses the information provided. Facebook could similarly take locations and ages, make a graph, and use it as a way to attract advertisers or show the possibilities for marketing in general in certain areas or among particular demographics.

Facebook didn’t make a video showing our names, our ages, our personal quotes, or anything else sensitive- but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t constitute a breach of privacy. But maybe, for the sake of this article or research in disaster relief efforts, breaches in privacy aren’t always malicious. Maybe they CAN do good?

Facebook and Employers

March 9, 2011

The next big question: Should Facebook be able to have an exclusive access to a prospective employee’s Facebook account prior to or during employment?

In this article, a writer for the Atlantic brings up several great points while rehashing on previous times when this question has been mused upon due to employers’ actions in regards to accessing social media. The ACLU is now involved in the debate, and several states who require that prospective employees provide passwords to social media sites are suspending the practice until further notice.

It does seem to me like requiring employees to surrender access to their employers is a direct violation of privacy. There are certain contracts for employment that can require employees to do certain things that could be considered a violation of their privacy: drug tests, for instance. But requiring access to a Facebook account is on an entirely different level- it includes access to pictures, messages, wall posts, events, comments- essentially everything that you do on Facebook would be up to grabs by your employer. And not only would it be something up for grabs, but with screen shots and downloadable Facebook activity, it would be no wonder what an HR representative could pull out of context as grounds for dismissal or a reason not to land a job.

With the way some people use Facebook today, providing access to a personal Facebook account would be like allowing a camera crew to follow you around for a week, recording your every word and pooling all the possibly incriminating things together. Like I have said before, maybe I’m a paranoid, but I definitely wouldn’t go for a job that required a week long reality TV show to be shot as mu judgment- so why would I think it’s okay for a possible employer to have access to my Facebook, my personal life, in order to land a job?

On the other side, there is always the concept of background checks. Maybe it makes sense to human resources that they require Facebook logins to do their background checks- it would reduce costs by a third party and it would give a more accurate view of an employee’s entire life, not just criminal background. And if someone is so worried about giving away their Facebook login, what could they be hiding?

So time for you all to weigh in- what do you think?

The time tested and true solution- as I’ve said time and time again- be careful what you post. It might just catch up with you.

HTTPS: What does THAT mean?

March 8, 2011

Maybe while you’ve been surfing the web, you’ve noticed that some pages begin with the normal “http://” while others begin with “https://” Briefly, http refers to hypertext transfer protocol, which is the foundation for data communication on the World Wide Web. So essentially, it’s a big deal. It’s the backbone of how your information is communicated from client to server. This may not make much sense to you, but basically, your information is sent in messages between the server and you, the client. It is done through the hypertext transfer protocol.

So what is the s? The s refers to secure. The s is there to signal to the browser to add an extra layer of protection by means of a SSL/TSL layer (secure stuff, which if you’re interested you can Google and find lots of great resources, but isn’t necessarily essential for your understanding here).

Today, I rechecked my privacy settings (something I check periodically because I’m a paranoid) and noticed that I can now select Account Security and check the Secure Browsing selection under this header. After having checked this, now whenever possible, which I have yet to find it not, my connection to Facebook is via https rather than http. This makes me less susceptible to attacks and hacking, and that, my friends, is added piece of mind.

So go check that little box that says “Secure Browsing.” It won’t do anything but make sure you connect to Facebook with a secure hypertext transfer protocol. But believe me, from someone who does understand all the data communications mumbo jumbo, that one little lowercase “s” means a whole lot more than it looks.

This is real life.

March 2, 2011

So earlier I talked about how the revolts in Egypt were aided by the use of Facebook. And if you didn’t buy it then- ladies and gentlemen, I have witnessed, participated, and been a part of a similar phenomenon.

You see, George Clooney and Ryan Gosling are currently in Oxford, Ohio. Filming a movie. Twenty feet away from this very room in which I sit. It’s glorious and distracting all at the same time, but more importantly to my point- it’s totally blowing up my Facebook news feed.

Today I asked a girl (via her “OMG CLOONEY” status update) where she spotted Ryan and she responded in thirty seconds. The man probably can’t even run a hand through his gorgeous hair in the time it takes for her to respond, and he more than likely can’t get a decent cup of coffee in the short period of time it would have taken me to go from one building to the next to find him in the flesh.

So while George and Ryan don’t have four-square turned on (I looked to the far end of the social networking universe and couldn’t find either of them tweeting about Oxford), I still know where they are. Maybe they’re living what they think are private lives, but what are in fact quite the opposite according to Miami’s Facebook world.

So careful what  you post, again, because you just might start a riot. Or catch a glimpse of Hollywood royalty on your way to spinning…

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