Category Archives: Discussion

Apple co-Founder Threatens To Leave Facebook Over Data Ownership Concerns

A lengthy article about the Facebook Terms of Service – and how it more or less gives the social network carte blanche to do what it likes with all of your data – has caught the eye of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who is not best pleased that he doesn’t appear to own his own profile picture.

The article in question is from the US edition of the Huffington Post, and breaks down a lot of the salient points of Facebook’s Data Use Policy and Terms of Service, which the overwhelming majority of us will have accepted without reading. It also goes on to elaborate on how our Facebook information is combined with some of our general internet browsing data to come up with ‘inferred’ information about you from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements.

But it’s more the question of data ownership that was ruffling Wozniak’s feathers, to the point where the Apple co-founder is considering leaving Facebook. Sharing the Huffington Post article on Facebook, he included the following message:

“Not right. My profile picture is owned by Facebook, not by myself, etc. I may not be here much longer.”

steve wozniack huffington post facebook pictures

Data ownership and the issues of privacy when our personal information is posted online is becoming an increasingly sensitive subject for individuals and privacy groups alike. Here at SocialSafe we firmly believe that the individual should be the single biggest owner of their personal data, which is why we have been helping users of social networks take control of their data.

The SocialSafe application allows users to download their own copy of the information they post to social networks (updates, tweets, photos, messages, posts and more) to their own machines. Once this information is stored in the users own private, local library they can they do more with it, such as search across multiple networks, create collections, export to PDF and see their most popular content.

Looking forward, we are working on expanding SocialSafe to support personal data from all sorts of sources. To start taking back control of your personal data now, download SocialSafe for free and back up the content from your social networks.

Which Social Media Records Did The #WorldCup Final Break?

Given the amount of people who actively use social media, and the amount of people to whom football is more or less a religion, it should be of little surprise to hear that Sunday’s World Cup Final broke Facebook and Twitter records.

Germany’s extra time victory over Argentina managed to elicit 280m interactions on Facebook (posts, comments or likes) from fans and observers across the globe. That figure eclipsed the record for the most Facebook interactions for an event, which had been set at 245m by the 2013 Super Bowl.

A new record was also set for the most tweets-per-minute, which peaked on Sunday at 618,725 and comfortably broke the record set earlier in the week when the hosts Brazil were annihilated 7-1 by eventual world champions Germany (580,106 tweets-per-minute). However the Germany vs. Brazil game still retains the record for the most tweets in a game, (36.6m), with only 32.1m tweets being posted during the World Cup final.

They were two very different games, with the record-setting Germany vs. Brazil game descending into the viral sharing of memes before half an hour had even been played, while the Germany vs. Argentina final was a much more tense affair during which people may have been less inclined to aver their gaze from the match to a second screen.

Another interesting fact came from Facebook, with the social network revealing that the top five countries participating in the global interactions were the USA, Brazil, ArgentinaGermany and Indonesia. It’s a little surprising that the two countries battling it out in the World Cup final were not the top two countries in terms of Facebook activity, although as stated, it’s reasonable to assume that both the Argentinians and the Germans would be glued to the match itself, rather than posting to social networks.

Were you active on social media during the football World Cup? What were your favourite moments from Brazil 2014? There many memorable tweets, posts and viral memes doing the rounds, and it must be said that social media really did provide a supplementary layer and subplot to what was already a fantastic global occasion.

If you have a particular favourite social media moment from Brazil 2014 then please link to it in the comments section below.

John Hurt Asks You To #TakeBackControl With Respect Network

Regular readers of this blog should be aware that SocialSafe recently became one of the founding partners of the Respect Network, whose core principle is to empower and encourage individuals to #TakeBackControl of their privacy and data.

To remind us that we as individuals need to take steps to protect our privacy, the Respect Network has created this simple but emotionally provoking video:  “Who’s Watching You—John Hurt Asks You to #TakeBackControl”

Hopefully this video should remind you all that what you put online seldom stays private. Despite our best intentions, whenever we post things online or submit information to a third-party, our personal information is often available to a much larger number of people than we’d originally intended.

Here at SocialSafe we are proud to be a Respect Network founding partner, and believe that being able to #TakeBackControl is just the start. Once you have your personal data under your own control, then you can begin to do more with it.

We have started to make this possible for our users in terms of their social network data with the SocialSafe application. By backing up your own local copy of the content from your social networks, you can then search across all of your networks at once, create collections of content export raw data, PDFs and so on.

For more information about how the Respect Network operates, and to claim your own personal cloud name, please visit the main Respect Network site, and #TakeBackControl.

Instagram Moved 20 Billion Photos To Facebook – Did Any Fall Through The Cracks?

Unbeknownst to the hundreds of millions of Instagram users, the infrastructure that holds all of their photographic creations has quietly been dismantled, relocated and rebuilt. Impressive stuff, when you consider the quantities of data involved – the service now stores in excess of 20 billion digital photos.

Since 2010 Instagram had been using Amazon’s cloud computing service, but the number of virtual machines required to run Instagram on Amazon was getting in “the thousands”. Historically, when Facebook had acquired other, smaller properties, the process involved shutting down the service in order to incorporate it into the world of Facebook. However, according to Facebook engineer George Cabrera, in the case of Instagram “the service couldn’t take any disruption”.

So in what Facebook called ‘Instagration’, the team in essence had to carry out multiple organ transplants while both patients were still conscious. Or as Mike Kreiger, founder of Instagram, explained:

“The users are still in the same car they were in at the beginning of the journey, but we’ve swapped out every single part without them noticing.”

The project was complicated, but the team behind the data transfer have successfully transitioned Instagram to now run from its own dedicated machines inside one of Facebook’s facilities. If you’re particularly interested in what the team had to do to make sure the whole thing went off without a hitch, then check out this article by WIRED’s Cade Metz:

How Facebook Moved 20 Billion Instagram Photos Without You Noticing

While everything seemed to go smoothly, whenever your content or data is held by a network or third-party that may encounter scaling issues or could indeed be absorbed into another company’s infrastructure, there will also be a concern that data could be lost along the way. While the ‘Instagration’ is a great example of data migration done well, it’s also a reminder that there’s always the potential that the actions of others could cost you what’s yours.

We believe that the individual should be the one who owns and controls their personal data, and that is why we built the SocialSafe application to allow you to download your Instagrams, Facebook Messages, Tweets, Followers and so on, all to your very own personal data store. There’s no reason to think that the networks themselves won’t look after the originals properly, but accidents can and do happen, so why take the risk?

Start building you own personal data library today, by downloading SocialSafe for free, and backing up your memories from the social networks you use.

Facebook Controls Your News Feed In Attempt To Manipulate Your Mood

The much fabled Facebook News Feed algorithm sees to it that we are shown stories that Facebook thinks we will engage with, or that will be of significant interest to us. To add to the irritation of users, we are also shown Suggested Posts and adverts that take the place of posts from people who we’re actually friends with.

However, it’s one thing being second guessed for the sake of not being overwhelmed with potentially irrelevant or humdrum content, but it’s something else entirely to have the content of your News Feed manipulated to see if it can elicit certain emotional reactions from you. And that’s exactly what has been going on at Facebook.

It has recently come to light that Facebook had manipulated the emotions of hundreds of thousands of users by what was shown in their respective News Feeds. An experiment conducted in 2012 saw nearly 700,000 users’ News Feeds skewed to be happier or sadder than normal, in an attempt to see if an ‘emotional contagion’ could be affected.

The results showed that emotion can indeed spread across the network, evidenced by the fact that users who had been presented with a manipulated Facebook News Feed went on to post updates of their own that reflected the mood of the ones they had been shown.

Users were understandably annoyed to find out that Facebook had been using them as psychological guinea-pigs without their knowledge or consent. While not necessarily illegal, what Facebook has done could be considered immoral, and even those involved in conducting the research - such as Susan Fiske, Professor of Psychology at Princeton University – had their reservations:

“…the level of outrage that appears to be happening suggests that maybe it shouldn’t have been done… I’m still thinking about it and I’m a little creeped out too.”

However,  Adam Kramer – a member of Facebook’s Core Data Science Team and co-author of the study – has defended the experiment:

“The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product… We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn’t clearly state our motivations in the paper.”

How do you feel about Facebook’s experiment? While there is the obvious ethical issue surrounding the manipulation of people’s moods, there is a case to argue that Facebook had the interests of its wider audience at heart, and telling people that they were to be the subject of such an experiment could bias the outcome. If you have a view on this story, please feel free to let us know your opinion by leaving a comment below.

US Court Succeeds With ‘Largest Ever’ Facebook Data Request

Details have come to light this week of a US court order forcing Facebook to hand over the data of almost 400 people involved in a benefits fraud investigation. While the case dates back to last year, a judge only made the details public in the last few days.

Facebook initially appealed the decision, but ultimately had to provide the courts with photographs, private messages and other personal information from 381 accounts, as the courts had deemed that the content contained “evidence of criminality”.  The case was investigating fraudulent benefit claims, with the courts arguing that the information from the Facebook accounts would prove that the claimants were in fact healthy.

However, Facebook’s major concerns related to not only the size number of accounts from which data had been demanded (the site said the request was “by far the largest” it had ever received from a government body), but also the apparent lack of a restrictions when it came to the US government retaining the data. Seemingly the data surrendered by Facebook can be held indefinitely by the US government, as there was no deletion date included in the warrant.

The number of people who “unnecessarily” had their privacy breached also cause Facebook much ire, with Chris Sonderby, a legal adviser to Facebook, saying:

“Of the 381 people whose accounts were the subject of these warrants, 62 were later charged in a disability fraud case. This means that no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data was sought by the government without prior notice to the people affected.”

Defending the actions of the courts, a spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney said:

“The defendants in this case repeatedly lied to the government about their mental, physical, and social capabilities. Their Facebook accounts told a different story.”

The judge who lifted the lid on the investigation, and the nature in which evidence was collected, wrote in their findings:

“Facebook could best be described as a digital landlord, a virtual custodian or storage facility for millions of tenant users and their information. Hence, the search warrants authorise the search and seizure of digital information contained within the Facebook server.”

The problem when you entrust all of your personal data to other services or networks is that they often have to think on the practical business implications of taking a moral stand when it comes to privacy. It’s easier for individuals to dig their heels in against the authorities than it is for a publicly listed company with shareholders and millions of users to hold it accountable for its actions.

What is your view on the situation? Was the US government justified in capturing so much data? Should Facebook have put up more of a fight? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Facebook Ads Based On Google Searches? How ‘Little’ Data Could Win The Day

Today I witnessed firsthand circumstantial evidence that Facebook is somehow accessing my browsing history and using this information to show me targeted ads in my News Feed. Facebook ads based on Google searches is a topic that has been in the tech press a lot in recent weeks, but I hadn’t consciously encountered it myself until today.

This weekend I’m going to a wedding, and in my own typical style I have left it until the last minute to arrange overnight accommodation or a late night taxi to take me all the way home. So I fired up another tab in Chrome (within the same overall window in which I’m logged into Facebook on another tab), and set about finding prices for a pub/hotel I know near the groom’s house.

I left the booking site without making a reservation, and then a few minutes later when casting my eye across my News Feed, I noticed a very familiar building:

Facebook ads based on Google Searches

Yes, the very same place I had been pricing up as somewhere to rest my bones after inevitably dropping some questionable dance moves at the wedding reception on Saturday night. At first I thought, “well that makes sense, classic re-marketing there,” but then I thought “hang on a second, Facebook and Google are separate companies… are they sharing my data without my consent?”

It irked me for a short while to think that my information was being exchanged for another party’s gain (even if I might benefit from a favourable room rate in the long run), but then I started to think about how much further the breadcrumb trail could have been laid out before me.

For this particular wedding my friends used a Facebook Event as both a save the date, and as an easy way to communicate with the guests on mass about finer details nearer the time. Now… I’m sure it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for Facebook to work out that I’m searching for a hotel within 3 miles of the location of an event I’m going that is happening within the date period that I was checking room availability.

Many of the other people attending the wedding (as indicated by their response to the Facebook Event) are also my friends on Facebook. Would it be too much of stretch to then assume that Facebook knows that they’ll be needing accommodation based on my actions, and would they be shown similar posts in their News Feed?

Going a step further, and thinking largely outside the box, would it be possible to combine the Facebook Event information and the Google search information of people that Facebook knows are friends, in order to produce suggested posts and even deals, specific to tagged groups of people.

For example, two people who are friends on Facebook and both attending an event might have also both looked at the cost of a single room in the same hotel. Say single rooms cost £70 each, but a twin is only £100 a night. Could Facebook then issue some sort of alert to say that you and friend X could save £20 each if the two of you shared a twin room for the night?

Obviously we’ve crashed through a few (hopefully still very sturdy) privacy gates to flesh out this hypothetical example, but it’s not entirely inconceivable, is it? The only way it would really work is if there was absolute trust in the person holding the data, and if you were confident in those who you were allowing the data to be shared with. (Imagine the amount of domestic disputes that would arise if similar examples of people looking at hotel bookings led to the discovery of extra-marital affairs etc).

Many would argue that Facebook and Google are not the ones to entrust with this sort of information if it is to be used in a social matching scenario. Here at SocialSafe we have recently joined Respect Network, which has the goal of putting control of personal data back into the hands of individuals and not only gives them the choice of how their information is used, but compensates them for their value. This is definitely a step in right direction.

The future for data is definitely big, but is big data the future? We believe the economy surrounding the user sanctioned exchanges of lots of little data (always specific to, and owned by, the individual) could be even bigger than ‘big’ data.

Respect Network Launch – #TakeBackControl Of Your Data

Public registration is now open for the Respect Network, to coincide with launch events across the world, which started last night in London, and continues today in Canary Wharf The Respect Network seeks to empower users to #TakeBackControl of their data, as CEO Drummond Reed explains:

“Protection of our digital life is the civil rights issue of our time. Being able to choose what happens with our private information on the Internet is something we should all have the right to do – for our sakes, and for the sake of future generations. Now is the time to act.”

The way we use the internet is changing, and we find ourselves using more and more of our personal data as currency when going about our daily online lives. However this is often to the unnecessary detriment of our privacy. The Respect Network seeks to help users retain this privacy by enabling individuals to share private data over peer-to-peer connections between members, also allowing individuals and businesses to share with each other privately, but with ease with which we currently share public data on Facebook and Google.

By registering with the Respect Network, every individual member receives a lifetime “cloud name” that begins with an equals sign, e.g. =your.name. This is a fully portable, private digital address for life, and as a result of the First Million Member Campaign, funding will allow for the development of new applications and service for the network.

Reed continues:

“Respect Network takes a fundamentally different approach to ownership and use of information than existing social networks and cloud providers. It puts control back into the hands of individuals and not only gives them the choice of how their information is used, but compensates them for their value.  No longer are people unwittingly the product.  For £17 GBP / $25 USD consumers can purchase a lifetime membership and receive their own lifetime cloud, safe in the knowledge that their digital rights are back in their control.” [SocialSafe does not make any money from Respect Network purchases]

We at SocialSafe identify incredibly strongly with the Respect Network’s principles of Privacy by Design and encouraging individuals to take back control over their personal data. As a development partner, we are pleased to offer anyone who joins the Respect Network a free 12 month SocialSafe licence.

The future of personal data is a very exciting, yet important time. While the possibilities of what personal data can do for the individual are vast, it is crucial that privacy should not suffer along the way. That is why we are proud to be part of the Respect Network, and are championing the cause for individuals to #TakeBackControl of their data.

As We Experience Another #FacebookDown Outage, Is Your Data Safe?

This morning we woke up to discover that we were in the middle of another Facebook outage, with anyone trying to access the site seeing the following error message for half an hour or so:

facebook down

I had actually logged on to Facebook before the outage hit, but it was when I came to sending a message – or indeed looking back through my old Facebook Messages – that I found that there was a problem:

facebook down

As you’d expect, the satire army were deployed on alternative networks with immediate effect, pointing out the monotony of certain themed posts that have been doing the rounds from seemingly everyone recently, or offering a tongue-in-cheek explanation as to how the problem was fixed:

Facebook employee Tom Logan said: “Somehow a dead bird had gotten wedged between the nuclear-powered servers, triggering a meltdown.

“Mark [Zuckerberg] knew doing the reboot was a one way journey. He refused a protective suit, as he was fully aware that it could not stop his organs liquefying.

“As the door slid shut behind him, he turned and gave a thumbs up through the hatch. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.”

- The Daily Mash

Obviously this is not quite how things turned out at Facebook HQ, but things are thankfully now back to normal. Speaking to CNET, a Facebook spokesperson said:

“Earlier this morning, we experienced an issue that prevented people from posting to Facebook for a brief period of time. We resolved the issue quickly, and we are now back to 100 per cent. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

While things are working again properly now, at the time the outage may have caused considerable inconvenience for many people. We often forget how much information is stored on the social networks we use on a daily basis, and many of us give little thought to what might happen if this information were to become unavailable – temporarily or otherwise.

With SocialSafe you can protect yourself against the risk of periodic separation from, or complete loss of, your social network information by downloading your own copy of your Facebook content to your own personal data store. To take control of your data now and to avoid the risk of someone else losing it, download SocialSafe for free!

SocialSafe v6.6.7 Released – Facebook Message Download Improvements & More

We’ve just released SocialSafe v6.6.7 in order to address a few issues that have cropped up since the last release that were affecting some users, and while we were at it we also included some improvements to the app that were slated to be part of the next major release.

Those of you on OSX may have noticed the odd issue with the Scheduler recently. We’ve now made some changes in v6.6.7 that will improve the reliability of the Scheduler meaning that your SocialSafe will back up any new content to your library from you social networks at the times you specify.

Another big performance improvement we’ve made is to downloading Facebook Messages. We’ve managed to speed up the process of downloading Facebook Messages and the message counter issue (the numbers you see by the status bar while syncing) has been resolved.

Other fixes and improvements in SocialSafe v6.6.7 include:

- Fixed Missing Journal View Backup Stats Issue
- Fixed Missing Facebook Page Avatar Issue
- Fixed Sync Stall on Facebook Events
- Fixed broken PDF Export button in Collections
- Suppressed Black Screen Issue some Users Experienced

We weren’t able to replicate all of these issues ourselves, so if you still experience problems with any of the above then please get in touch to let us know, and we’ll do our best to resolve matters.

- the SocialSafe team