Why I’m finished with Facebook

In changing its rules so that we can no longer exlude our private data from searches, Facebook has now gone too far down the lines of exploiting our apathy and/or good will, and I will very soon be deactivating my Facebook account. This has been a long road, and Facebook has gradually encroached further and further on the unacceptable in its quest to squeeze every possible drop of commercial value out of the personal data of its users.

It’s always difficult to leave a system that feels as if it has become central to your social life, but this is exactly the feeling that Facebook relies on for its users not to leave, however much they exploit them. As Kirstie Ball and I wrote in our piece ‘Brandscapes of Control’ earlier this year:

“It should be recognised… that brandscapes remain both an emerging apparatus and an attractive apparent solution to risk and complexity in a world where data underpins everything from purchase to social relations, and where those data are too numerous and complex for any individual to parse. Thus it is not so much a ‘logic prison’ (Mitchell, 2003) but, if it is analogous to confinement at all, it is an affective prison, not because one openly emotionally identifies with it, but because it begins to mark the boundaries of emotional range and becomes simply too inconvenient or uncomfortable to be without. Outside the brandscape, the world might seem not just dangerous but also painful, dull, limited and lacking in content: the dead, heavy ‘meatspace’ of William Gibson’s retired cyberspace jockeys in the Sprawl Trilogy, or the reality without compulsory drugs in Huxley’ Brave New World” (Murakami Wood and Ball, Marketing Theory, 2013 – but you can find a pre-proof verison on academia.edu).

Maybe I should pay more attention to my own work! However, it’s undeniable that social networking adds something positive to life. The questions are what you are prepared to give up for that or, if that is a question you refuse to accept is necessary, whether there is a better socio-economic model for social networking than relying on basically sociopathic corporations to provide it for us. I have tried to persuade people to join Diaspora but it’s too badly designed and unattractive to use easily. Linked In is dull, but for professional notifications etc., it works just fine and that’s all I use it for. I do have a Twitter account, though I’ve hardly used it and in general they’ve shown themselves to be a little more concerned with users’ rights and feelings. Maybe I’ll have to look at Google+ again, but Google isn’t fundamentally better than Facebook just not quite as bad.

And, in the end, all of these corporate systems are entirely infliltrated by National Security Agency surveillance systems and so Brazil’s suggestion of a non-US internet is interesting here as are murmerings about a DiY version, mesh-nets that would link together on a more ad-hoc basis. I’ll be writing about some of these suggestions soon. But in the meantime, it will soon be ‘So long, Facebook…’

David Cameron doesn’t get it

David Cameron’s speech in the House of Commons today and associated comments, show that he has a really superficial grasp of what has been going on in British cities, mostly whilst he was on holiday and unwilling to return to demonstrate any kind of leadership.

First of all, he’s done the usual knee-jerk authoritarian and technophobic thing of blaming Blackberry and other messaging services. He has indicated that “Ministers would work with the police and MI5 to assess whether it would be right to stop people communicating via social network sites ‘when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality’, and had “asked the police if they needed new powers in this area”. When the Egyptian government cut off access to social networking sites recently, western governments were quick to condemn this as evidence that this regime was exactly the kind of authoritarian government that should be brought down. However, in Britain, apparently not. And closing down communications systems just because some people are using them to send messages you don’t like is several steps beyond things like wiretapping. It is a massive and idiotic overreaction. Let’s hope the ‘assessment’ is, in the end, more considered…

Another face-palming moment was provided by the appeal to US experts in gang culture. Now, no-one is going to deny that there were gangs involved in this, nor that gang culture is an issue in British cities. But, first of all, the US is no place to look if you want lessons on controlling gangs, or more importantly, how to create a society in which gangs seem like a less attractive option in the first place. And secondly, there is an assumption that UK gang culture is just like US gang culture, just because they are both gang cultures. Why not look instead to other European countries without significant gang problems and ask what it is about those societies that work? Unfortunately that is the kind of question that would lead to fundamental challenges to UK socio-economic policy, and that’s exactly why the questions and responses will remain superficial.

These kinds of things will annoy the libertarian right and the left respectively, however at the same time, the UK Prime Minister is taking some strange stances that threaten to alienate his own centre-right supporters, in particular in refusing to halt cuts to policing budgets already proposed as part of his austerity measures (never mind massive cuts to social services to inner city youth, which will also be pushed ahead regardless).

It’s hard to see who remains that he is appealing to here…

The Tools of Personal Surveillance

There’s always something interesting on BoingBoing, and it was via that site that I came across this story in Salon magazine about one woman’s decision to track down the man who had robbed her. Now, most of the commentary about this has focussed on her commitment and determination and the usual stuff about how the police let criminals prospers etc. However, what interested me was the techniques and technologies that she was able to employ to find this guy: basically not only did she use a whole lot of techniques and technologies that not so long ago would have been the preserve of the intelligence services, police or private investigators, but also the thief in question was also an inveterate social networker and was about as careless with his online personae as most of us are. Of course, what it also shows is that it takes an awful lot of effort to do this, and this kind of obsessive hunt takes over lives, so it would not be a practical option: individual surveillance is not a substitute for the power of the state. It’s a fascinating read…

Facebook Places: opt-out now or everyone knows where you are?

Facebook Places… what to say? Most of the criticism writes itself because we have been here before with just about every new ‘feature’ that Facebook introduces, and they seem to have learned absolutely nothing from any of the previous criticisms of the way in which they introduce their new apps and the control users have over them. Basically, Facebook Places is just like Google Latitude, but:

1. instead of having to opt-in to it, you are automatically included unless you opt out; and (here’s the really creepy part),
2. instead of just you being able to tell your ‘friends’ where you are, unless you do turn it off, anyone who is your friend can tell anyone else (regardless of their relationship to you) where you are, automatically.

Luckily we know how to turn it off, thanks to Bill Cammack (via Boingboing).

When, if ever, will Facebook realise than ‘opt-out’ is an entirely unethical way of dealing with users? It lacks the key element of active consent. You cannot be assumed to want to give up your privacy because you fail to turn off whatever new app that Facebook has suddenly decided to introduce without your prior knowledge. Facebook is basically a giant scam for collecting as much networked personal data as it can, which eventually it will, whatever it says now, work out how to ‘add value’ to (i.e.: exploit or sell), whether its users like it or not. And surely this is now the ideal time for an open source, genuinely consensual social networking system that isn’t beholden to some group of immature, ethically-challenged rich kids like Zuckerberg et al.?

CIA buys into Web 2.0 monitoring firm

Wired online has a report that the US Central Intelligence Agency has bought a significant stake in a market research firm called Visible Technologies that specializes in monitoring new social media such as blogs, mirco-blogs, forums, customer feedback sites and social networking sites (although not closed sites like Facebook – or at least that’s what they claim).  This is interesting but it isn’t surprising – most of what intelligence agencies has always been sifting through the masses of openly available information out there – what is now called open-source intelligence – but the fact is that people are putting more of themselves out their than ever before, and material that you would never have expected to be of interest to either commercial or state organisations is now there to be mined for useful data.

(thanks, once again to Aaron Martin for this).