Archive for December 2009

Beware of Facebook “Privacy” Settings

10 December 2009

I have more than a passing interest in on-line privacy and on-line ID protection.  Sure, I have lots of different accounts on the Internet and a few Blogs.  It is not that I am terribly private or keeping to myself.  I am a member of several social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.  But I am also a participant at (see my earlier posting on “Claim your on-line identity“).  I am also a volunteer with organizations that promote electronic encryption and authentication.  The point is, I care about these topics.  And I have read Facebook’s Privacy Policy.

I am one of those people who reads those privacy agreements. It is not because I enjoy legalize or boring documents.  It is because these documents tell one more about what privacy you give up when you agree with them, than they tell about how your privacy is protected.  I am particularly troubled by the changes at Facebook this week.  This morning, they initiated new changes to their privacy settings. They warned us this was coming.  But what I have seen so far has not been very clear about how these changes affect your privacy.  And I believe we all need to look carefully at this.  To be fair, they did put up a decent page to explain the new choices, but it is only a good start.

Hopefully you have visited the Facebook privacy settings area, where you can adjust how much of your information is visible and who can see it.  If you have never changed those settings from their defaults, you were probably sharing more information that you thought you were.  And if you have agreed to allow various applications to have access to your information, then your information is almost certainly more public than you thought.

What data are we talking about sharing

I expect most of us have a profile picture up and maybe your birthday, the name of your significant other, your home town and/or one or more phone numbers. That’s not a bad thing as long as it is only shared with those you choose to share then with.  I have all that information and more, but I am careful to make sure that only my acknowledged Facebook friends see this.  I had to adjust the default settings for this limited privacy.  Now even if I go in today and select “old settings” for my new Facebook privacy policy, there are things shared now that were not shared before.

Facebook’s new “privacy policy” now defines the set of publicly available information to include: Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages.  These are bits of information that you can not restrict access to by any means short of not sharing it with Facebook.

There are other things which you do get to decide who does and does not get to see it.  These include your birthdate, your family and relationships,  your education and work information and any phone numbers you have listed.  And from my perspective, the biggy is that Facebook wants to make all your status updates public. I don’t mind my friends seeing all this, but I don’t want it all publicly searchable.

I know that all my postings on twitter are public and searchable.  But since I know that, I am careful what I post there.  Up until today, I was fairly certain which things I post on Facebook are public and searchable and which are not.

The most important thing to consider is that under the new default basically everything that Facebook knows about you will be publicly available and searchable by places like Google and Yahoo.  The old policy let you choose which information was available only to your friends, or even friends of friends or to friends and a network you may belong to.  If you have set these privacy settings so that your information is only shared with your friends, that will still be true, if you select “Old Settings” when prompted about today’s privacy policy changes.  With some noteworthy exceptions, please read on.

Applications and Websites

I have adjusted privacy settings so that most of my information on Facebook is only shared with those I approve as friends.  The Applications and Websites area (let’s just call this Apps, to keep things readable) allows a Facebook friend to share information through Apps that they have joined. I am unhappy that even though I have said the info should only be shared with my friends, Facebook will by default allow those friends to share the information via Apps that I have not joined myself.  That’s right, by default my friends can share information that I want restricted.  I had to go into the Apps area under privacy settings to change this and restrict that data, that I already thought was restricted.

Consider carefully when you do join applications on Facebook.  Most of them ask if they can access your information so “they can better serve you” or to improve your experience.  I understand that having my information makes them better able to customize my experience.  But when I choose to play chess with a Facebook, friend, I do not think they need access to my birthday or my e-mail address.  Most applications do not let me control or restrict what information I share with them.

Know what you are sharing

So why this big long article?  I want to make you aware of the importance of knowing who has access to what information.  I’m sure most people don’t read those privacy statements.  I think it is important that you make an effort to review your privacy settings.  And as Facebook makes broad changes in their privacy settings, I want to strongly urge everyone to take the time to go through the Privacy Settings section of your Facebook account.  I think you will be surprised at what you find.

If you have questions about what you find, please feel free to post comments here.  If you find something that is now made more widely visible than you expected, please post that in a comment as well.  Perhaps you will find something that I missed.  Or maybe someone else will read this and find something they had not thought to look at.

Thanks for taking the time to read this far.  I try to keep my Blog posts shorter than this.  But our privacy (mine and yours) is worth a little extra effort.


FollowFriday: SysAdvent Calendar

4 December 2009

One of the Twitter practices that I have found helpful is FollowFriday.  I thought that this being Friday, it might be good to go a step further and post a blog entry with a slight twist.  The intent of a #followfriday post on twitter is to recommend other twitter users that you might consider following yourself.  I’d like to suggest (via This FollowFriday blog post) a blog that you might consider reading and possibly subscribing to.

For those who may not be familiar with the whole FollowFriday concept, I’ll recommend you read an article by Sharon Hayes-Tucci entitled “FollowFriday on Twitter“.  I’ll also offer this brief example (posted via my @n9kju twitter account today).

#followfriday @jordansissel and the SysAdvent Blog (

The #followfriday hashtag marks this as suggestions for others that you might consider following on Twitter.  If you visit the profile of the username(s) suggested (ie. @jordansissel) you can check to see if this is a twitter user that you might want to follow.

I’ve not seen anyone else tweet to suggest a blog for following. I want to suggest a blog that you should consider following.  Tweets are limited to 140 characters and that’s hardly enough to properly suggest the SysAdvent Calendar Blog.  But by posting this FollowFriday blog suggestion in my own blog, I overcome that limitation.

So what is this SysAdvent Calendar Blog.  Jordan Sissel created the Blog last year (2008). There have been perl advent calendars in years past. The idea was to put out one blog post each day starting Dec 1rst and then for the next 25 days.  This is just like an Advent calendar that you may have had in your house when you were growing up.  At my house, my siblings and I  took turns opening one door on the Advent caledar each day.  Last year, Jordan offered to take postings from other SysAdmins, but he ended up doing almost all the writing himself.  This year, Matt Simmons has been helping contact other SysAdmins to seek submissions for this years calendar.

Each article is written to focus on a single, somewhat-specific idea related to systems administration.  The target audience is the intermediate or senior level SysAdmin.  Having said that, I know that they hope to have at least one posting by a junior SysAdmin this year.

When you do visit the SysAdvent Blog, you will find the most recent posting listed first and older entries are sequenced below that most recent entry.  In fact, if you keep going down the list (back in time) you will find the 25 articles that made up last years inaugural version of the SysAdvent Calendar.

I think this is a really great idea.  I’ve enjoyed browsing through many of the posts from last year.  And I look forward to reading new posts as they come on-line this year.

Please let me know if you find this sort of Blog following article helpful.  I follow a quite a few and I expect several of them would be worthy of a FollowFriday Blog article.

Google’s Place on Your Top Ten

3 December 2009

I do appreciate the usefulness of Twitter.  I noticed that @ChrisBrogan was posting some tweets about GoogleWave today.  I am experimenting with Wave to try and understand its potential.  I have accounts on the public beta as well as the developers sandbox.  I’ve built up quite a list of contacts who also have Wave accounts.  That’s the first thing one needs in order for Wave to be of any real use.

One of Chris’ tweets was to a neat blog post by @deepakdas.  The author shared his thoughts on Google’s “product proliferation strategy”.  It reminded me of the old days when people talked about how Apple computers were in all the schools in hopes that student’s would graduate having experience with Apple and buy those over PCs.  It also reminded of another strategy I had discussed several months ago.  That one was focused on Starbucks Coffee.

I was sitting with a friend who works for a distributor that delivers product to Starbucks stores.  My friend explained to me that Starbucks had a goal to (as she put it) “become your third place”.  I’ve heard this same idea elsewhere, so I’m sure it is no secret and it may be a topic for various case studies.  The basic premise is this:

We all spend time in various places.  The top two places for most people are their home and their work.  If you count the time spent sleeping, most people spend most of their time at home.  And it is easy to see that where you work would be the next most common place for you to spend your time.  There may be a third place which stands out as the place where you spend the next most significant portion of your time.  The idea is that Starbucks wants you to be so comfortable meeting people or just hanging out at a Starbucks store.

Personally, I believe my church is my third place.  But I must admit that Starbucks must be in my top ten.  And at the same time, I think Google (Gmail, GoogleWave, Google Reader, etc.) is very likely my forth place. OK, so it is not a physical place, but it is where I spend a bunch of time. On the whole, Google is obviously trying to move up everyone’s list of “places” where we spend our time.  They are adding services constantly and getting themselves inserted into as much of our on-line experience as possible. (Look at today’s announcement of Google’s Public DNS service)

So Twitter has once again led me to some valuable information on topics that I am already thinking about and trying to understand.  I suppose that TweetDeck is another of my top 10 “places” where I hang out.  I wonder how long it will be before Google tries to buy up Twitter.  Or might they just find a way to assimilate it into Google Wave.

Where do Google and/or Twitter fall on your list? Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Let’s Talk Following

1 December 2009

I have a question for my fellow Twitter users.  It seems I have new people following me every day.  Now that should not be a bad thing.  But lots of these people are folks I have never met or heard of.  It’s not like like text messages where I have to pay for messages posted to Twitter based on the number of people that the message is delivered to. And it is not like I post anything in an open tweet that I am worried about who does or does not read it.

How should I  decide who to block and who to report as SPAM?

I suppose in part, the answer to the question depends on how and why I use Twitter.  One has to ask who do I hope my tweets are getting too.  I have a network of friends, peers and community members.  I found Twitter quite valuable at events like the recent #LISA09 conference. And I have met some really great contacts through Twitter.

I read nearly every tweet that comes to my TweetDeck screen. It keeps me up on what’s going on with those I follow. And it keeps me up on news and hot topics. I’ve learned a lot since joining Twitter.  Mostly by following very interesting folks like @CaliLewis, @Pogue and @ChrisBrogan.  I keep up on #HEP (High Energy Physics) by following @CERN and @USLHC.

I’m sure that folks @ThinkGeek want followers as a way to promote their products to as many people as possible.  I understand that.  It is good marketing.  And I follow them back to watch for sales.

At present, I have no commercial interest in Twitter.  My blog generates no income and I have no affiliations that bring me any sort of compensation.  Still, I’d like to think that by tweeting each new Blog post I may pick up some new followers, or the Blog or my tweets.  I do appreciate when someone finds a Blog post interesting enough to mention in a tweet to their followers

I am careful about who I do and do not follow on Twitter.  I do not automatically follow anyone who follows me.  I do not even check the profile of everyone who follows me.  I do not see the numbers of how many I follow or how many follow me as at all significant.  Am I unique in my careful approach to followers?  It certainly seems that minority of the Twitter users  who follow me are in it for a numbers game.  I can’t believe they read every post by everyone they follow.

I have blocked people whose follower count is up in four digits while there posts are counted with one or two digits.  I have reported some people as SPAM when the majority of the posts I find on their profile are obviously sales hype. But I don’t have time to review everyone who starts following me.  Some who follow me are disabled by the time I go to check their profile after others reported them as SPAM.

I have used tools like @Foller.Me to help me prune my followers. I can’t get to TwitBlock any longer.  I just wonder if even that is worth my time. I expect to write a blog post on SPAM fighting tools some time soon.  I’d love to hear what your favorite such tool is.

How do you decide who to block and who to report as SPAM?  Please share your opinion via a comment.

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