Category: Technology


Facebook, Spokeo and the End of (Online) Privacy

January 19th, 2011 — 12:00pm

So I received a chain email that’s been going around warning people about Spokeo, a website that aggregates public information on people. (If you search for yourself, you’ll probably find your name, address, maybe even your home value and a few relatives. Spokeo isn’t new, and there are others out there, so I’m unsure what prompted the alarmist chain email in the first place.)

But the email did prompt a discussion amongst me and some family members regarding how much information is available about people online. Basically, Spokeo left quite a few of my family members spooked.

Of course, all of the information that Spokeo finds about you is already public. Your phone number and address were in the phone book. Your home sale price is on record at your county clerk office. You get the idea. Spokeo just pulls it all together and puts it at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection.

The problem with blaming Facebook…

Inevitably, the conversation turned to Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla in the room of online privacy. As the conversation evolved, I found myself defending Facebook for two reasons: first, people join Facebook and divulge personal information freely, and, second, the trend I’m seeing toward sharing more information isn’t unique to Facebook and, therefore, I’d rather be on Facebook framing my own personal narrative rather than allowing other people to share information about me without my knowledge.

Then again, I live and breathe digital media for my day job, and long ceded any semblance of online privacy by joining every social network I could and starting a personal blog. So it was interesting to hear the perspective from people who can say, with all honesty, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

To use the Spokeo example again, that website specifically, as well as others, haven’t done anything illegal, unethical or in any way suspect by providing the information they aggregate. Rather, the Internet in general has completely redefined the concept of “public information.”

And the $64 million question is…

So are we comfortable with that? Is our society better off for it? Is that a price that we collectively pay to enjoy the numerous benefits such openness provides (easier access to information in education, better accountability in government, the ability to do my Christmas shopping a month in advance on Amazon in my pajamas)?

I don’t have the answers, but it did inspire me to check my Facebook privacy settings again.

Comment » | Facebook, Social Media, Technology

Northwestern’s News at Seven has avatars report the news

October 28th, 2007 — 3:28pm

Update: Chicago Public Radio piece on “News at Seven.”

Northwestern University’s Infolab, which is part of the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, runs an interesting project called “News at Seven.”

In the “News at Seven” broadcast, avatars, not people, report the news. (It’s already gotten considerable press, but will launch a new beta version tomorrow, Monday, October 29th.)

Here’s a preview. (And more old newscasts can be found here or you can read the project blog).

Given my disdain for the broadcast medium, you can imagine the implications I draw from a nifty computer program that can generate video of avatars spitting out news stories. (Note to my broadcast buddies, I didn’t say I disdained the people or the reporting, just the medium).

That said, the avatars, in their present inception, do seem a poor substitute for real people.

Broadcasters, do you feel your job security is threatened?

2 comments » | Broadcast, Journalism, Media, News, Technology, Television, Video Games

Facebook and “maintained social capital” – a study at Michigan State University

October 28th, 2007 — 1:18pm

Read about an interesting study on Facebook conducted at MSU (thanks to Alec Saunders).

Facebook logoThe group attempted to establish a correlation between different forms of social capital and heavy Facebook usage. To put it simply, social capital is the benefits we gain from being connected. (For an exhaustive study of social capital, read “Bowling Alone” by Putnam). In it Putnam establishes bridging social capital and bonding social capital. Bridging social capital represents the our relationships with acquaintances, whereas bonding social capital describes the close relationships we have with friends and family. The study, however, introduced a new form of social capital: “maintained social capital.”

Maintained Social Capital

Maintained social capital refers to those relationships, and the benefits we derive from them, that we maintain despite having shifted geography, interests or workplaces. In the case of Facebook, they may be the relationships we forged in high school with people who went off to different colleges. The authors of the study write:

Social networks change over time as relationships are formed or abandoned. Particularly significant changes in social networks may affect one’s social capital, as when a person moves from the geographic location in which their network was formed and thus loses access to those social resources.

What makes Facebook, other social networking sites, and the Internet in general so interesting when it comes to social capital, to put it plainly, is its uncanny ability to help people keep in touch. The authors of the study quantified those relationships using survey questions such as, “If I needed to, I could ask a high school acquaintance to do a small favor for me,” or “I’d be able to stay with a high school acquaintance if traveling to a different city.”

Social networking sites solidify our past relationships, and have huge benefits for personal and professional gain. Taken the above example, if you’re traveling to a city where you don’t know anyone, how easy it is to peruse your network of friends on Facebook or MySpace to see if an old friend or acquaintance got a new job there? Perhaps you wouldn’t feel comfortable crashing on their couch, but you might drop them a line to see if they are free for dinner one night.

On the one hand, the Internet is exciting because it’s fast; dynamic. On the other hand, however, it’s also much more stable; permanent.

Interesting stuff…

Comment » | Databases, Facebook, Media, Online Communities, Social Media, Social Networking, Technology

The virtue of sticking it out at old (established) media and marketing companies

October 18th, 2007 — 10:41pm

“Quit.”

That’s what Christie Hefner, CEO of Playboy Enterprises, Inc., told a convention of new marketers to do if their aging bosses didn’t “get” social media last week at the Forrester Consumer Forum on social media and branding in Chicago.

Get your resume out on the street, she advised.

If they haven’t seen the writing on the wall yet, you won’t be able to change their mind.

Her remark drew a laugh, and the lively room of new media advertisers and marketers (with titles such as “digital strategist” and “engagement officer”) smiled at each other in the confidence that they “get it.” But here’s why they were wrong.

If a CEO or aging marketing exec doesn’t “get it,” they’re probably on the way out

After Hefner finished her speech I spoke with a couple of account directors from Whittmanhart in Chicago. Hefner’s main point, they noted, makes sense given her position: don’t align yourselves with those who shun social media. But it doesn’t necessarily hold true for young hires.

Trusted brands don’t sprout overnight. From a media perspective, magazines are a perfect example. While plenty of them are struggling with their print editions, it may make sense to stick with them. After those aging marketing executives take their leave, it may prove easier to open up their brand and their platform than to establish brand equity in a startup from scratch..

My favorite example is Ebony, which has struggled to define itself online. But what brand has more equity than Ebony? For those wishing their companies would “embrace social media,” moving to a startup or latching onto something less-established might provide short term relief, but sticking it out could pay off in other ways.

 Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research Inc.

Comment » | Brands, Journalism, Marketing, Social Media, Technology

South Korean technology at its finest

October 18th, 2007 — 8:28pm

Soo-kyung Seo, a freelance journalist in South Korea and friend of mine from Medill, sent me two videos to explain how far South Korea has advanced in technology. Both come from CNN: one on video games, and the other on the digital divide on the Korean peninsula. Both worth a watch…

Comment » | Journalism, Technology, Video Games

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