Facebook: Information Governance?

July 9, 2018

Anyone else annoyed by the large amount of privacy disclosures filling your index and slowing down your favorite Web site? User data privacy and how companies are collecting and/or selling that information is a big issue.

Facebook is one of the more notorious data management case studies. Despite the hand waving, it may be easy for Facebook data to be appropriated.

Josip Franjkovi? writes how user data can be stolen in the post, “Getting Any Facebook User’s Friend List And Partial Payment Card Details.”

There are black hat and white hat hackers, the latter being the “good guys.” It is important for social media Web sites to hack themselves, so they can discover any weaknesses in their structures. Franjkovi? points out that Facebook uses a GraphQL endpoint that is only accessible their first part applications. He kept trying to break into the endpoint, even sending persisted queries on a loop. The same error message kept returning, but it did return information already available to the public and the privately held friends list.

The scarier hack was about credit card information:

“A bug existed in Facebook’s Graph API that allowed querying for any user’s payment cards details using a field named payment_modules_options. I found out about this field by intercepting all the requests made by Facebook’s Android application during registration and login flow.”

Thankfully Franjkovi? discovered this error and within four hours and thirteen minutes the issue was resolved. Credit card information was stolen this time around, but how much longer until it is again? We await Franjkovi?’s analysis of Google email being available to certain third parties.

Whitney Grace, July 9, 2018

Online Memory: What Is Out There?

July 6, 2018

Facebook is an excellent company for most people. However, there are a handful of people who struggle to accept Facebook’s approach to reality. What happens when a chunk of digital memory becomes almost permanent?

The aftermath of the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” law that allows people to petition search engines and other data aggregators to delete search results on them permanently removed. While some believe this infringes on various forms of free speech, others believe this is a way for crime victims to reclaim their lives. Quartz shares how Google and Facebook are not the only Web companies being petitioned in the article, “Meet Profile Engine, The ‘Spammy’ Facebook Crawler Hated By People Who Want To Be Forgotten.”

According to the article, Google had the most Facebook results removed from its search engine, while the second most Web site to be requested to delete results is Profile Engine. Profile Engine started in 2007 and allows users to track down people on social network. It used to be a Facebook search engine, but the Profile Engine declared that Facebook was “spammy” and did not make truthful statements. Interesting assertion.

Profile Engine and Facebook had an argument, which resulted in a court battle. The two companies split, but Facebook is contractually obligated to keep feeding Profile Engine results. Facebook does not do this. In the meantime, Profile Engine stopped updated content around 2011. Facebook is not the only one that finds the Profile Engine interesting. There are many posts online about how to remove yourself from Profile Engine.

“Profile Engine is perhaps the worst of its kind, but not the only one that people across Europe are trying to expunge themselves from. Badoo, a London-based social network for meeting new people, had 2,206 results removed. Yasni—”News, pictures & links for any person. Find anyone on the internet with the world’s largest free people search”—had almost 3,000 results suppressed through its French and German subsidiaries. In other words, this battle of ownership of personal data is not going away anytime soon.”

Profile Engine was donated to the Internet Archive, so now all the results are located there. Effort may be needed to get information removed from the Internet Archive. It takes  time and patience for Google to forget. Facebook type content may be almost permanent as well.

Whitney Grace, July 6, 2018

Search History? No Big Deal Maybe

June 29, 2018

What you search for leaves a digital footprint, or more accurately, a fingerprint. So much identifying data is left behind in your search history. However, there are some angles to this predicament many people are overlooking. We realized just how much bad information people are getting after reading a recent Pagal Parrot article, “Searching These Five Things Can Make Trouble For You.”

This odd little story seems to really give some elementary advice on what not to search for, like:

“#2 Your Name- It’s not a big secret that in this era of the internet our privacy questioned. If you try to Google most probably you will get stumble upon some unpleasant results, bad photos of you, outdated information, irrelevant content. we take such things way too seriously. If you find something like this, you want to delete it.”

This is a little obscure, considering there are such worse implications of your search history. For one, it informs all the bots what is sent through your social media feed. So, for example, a simple search about fake news might just land you with a glut of bogus stories. Thankfully, there is better advice out there than not searching your name, like how to wipe your Facebook and Google search history so that you aren’t fed to the algorithm monsters. Much more practical, in our book!

Patrick Roland, June 29, 2018

Cheerleading for VPNs: Gimme a V, Gimmie an S, Gimmie an N!

June 20, 2018

VPNs Protect Your Data Away From Home

The received wisdom is that a VPN or virtual private network can be used to protect your Internet data from hackers and other bad actors.  ZDNet wrote up a piece about VPNs in “Take Home Along: Six Ways A VPN Can Help Travelers Connect Wherever They Go.”  Typically remote access from a different country or area than your normal IP area will be flagged as a bad actor, but it can also protect you.

In theory, you can use a VPN to prevent your debit or credit card from being blocked, do home online shopping, watch your streaming services, and use VOIP services.  While these are apparent application for a VPN, the article also shares some other that are “naughtier.”

If you are visiting a country, like China, that has restricted access to social media then a VPN in theory will allow you to circumnavigate it.  Even more helpful is that it can hide your online tracks from spies:

“Some companies provide VPN access to their employees while traveling. Employees are given software or configurations that allow them to create encrypted tunnels between their laptops and home servers. These enterprise VPN clients do a great job of hiding the content, but they fail in one critical way: They often let a spying nation state know the IP address of those VPN end-points.

The hope is that by using a VPN service provider, you can obfuscate the path back to work, as well as the data you’re transmitting. This is a very good idea to make it just a little harder for nation-state spies and the organized crime hackers that often work with them to find your company’s servers.”

The problem is that not every VPN is fully secure. Why? In some countries, those who use and operate VPNs are either expected to cooperate with the authorities or just want to stay in business and maybe out of jail.

Whitney Grace, June 20, 2018

Finally Some Good News About Parental Oversight

May 12, 2018

We do not like being the bearer of bad news and anxiety about the internet and our life on the internet, but that is normally where the action is. So, it feels quite rewarding to report on a story that has a real happy ending, especially for children. YouTube recently beefed up its oversight of kids’ videos, according to a recent How-To Geek post, “New YouTube Kids Setting Allows Only Videos Viewed by Actual Humans.”

According to the story:

“Parents: you can now set YouTube Kids to only show videos verified to be kid-friendly by an actual human being.

“The setting is opt-in: you have toggle the “Approved content only” option for each of your children under “My Kids.” Once you do the YouTube Kids app will be limited only to videos confirmed as kid friendly by a human reviewer.”

Don’t get us wrong, this is a great step toward protecting our kids from videos that look as if they are geared toward younger viewers, only to find they are violent, sexualized, or worse. However, putting humans in charge of what is and is not appropriate for kids is sort of like Facebook putting humans in charge of what is and is not considered hate speech. It’s a move toward a real solution, but it is not yet all the way there. Let’s hope YouTube keeps developing this idea.

Patrick Roland, May 12, 2018

Big Data and Net Freedom in China Make a Complicated Relationship

February 21, 2018

One of China’s hottest new app uses a big data engine, unlike anything most of us can imagine, however, that horsepower is getting the company in trouble. We learned more in a recent Slashdot piece, “Toutiao, One of China’s Most Popular News Apps, is Discovering the Risks Involved in Giving People Exactly What They Want Online.”

It actually pulls from a New York Times article and says:

Now the company is discovering the risks involved, under China’s censorship regime, in giving the people exactly what they want. The makers of the popular news app Jinri Toutiao unveiled moves this week to allay rising concerns from the authorities.

Last week, the Beijing bureau of China’s top internet regulator accused Toutiao of “spreading pornographic and vulgar information” and “causing a negative impact on public opinion online,” and ordered that updates to several popular sections of the app be halted for 24 hours. In response, the app’s parent company, Beijing Bytedance Technology, took down or temporarily suspended the accounts of more than 1,100 bloggers that it said had been publishing “low-quality content” on the app. It also replaced Toutiao’s “Society” section with a new section called “New Era,” which is heavy on state media coverage of government decisions.

Toutiao is the vanguard of a growing movement in China. For years, citizens knew they were being tracked by the government, but now are beginning to demand privacy. We certainly hope they can get there but are mighty skeptical. Good luck!

Patrick Roland, February 21, 2018

Facebook Experiment Harming Democracy

January 16, 2018

Facebook seems to be the last place on the Web to negatively affect democratic governments, but according to The Guardian it will in, “‘Downright Orwellian’: Journalists Decry Facebook Experiment’s Impact On Democracy.”  Facebook is being compared to Big Brother in a news feed experiment that removed professional media stories from six countries.  Let the article break it down for you:

The experiment, which began 19 October and is still ongoing, involves limiting the core element of Facebook’s social network to only personal posts and paid adverts.

So-called public posts, such as those from media organisation Facebook pages, are being moved to a separate “explore” feed timeline. As a result, media organisations in the six countries containing 1% of the world’s population – Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia – have had one of their most important publishing platforms removed overnight.

In other weeks, “Eek!”  These countries have very volatile governments and any threat to their news outlets is very bad if free speech is going to live.  Also the news outlets in these countries do not have the budgets to pay for Facebook’s post boosting fees.  Facebook was used as a free service to spread the news, but it fell more than 50% in many of the countries where this experiment was tested.

Even if Facebook were to stop the experiment some of the media outlets would not recover.  It is curious why Facebook did not test the news feed experiment in another country.  Oh wait, we know why.  It did not want to deal with the backlash from western countries and the countless people who whine on the Internet.  In the smaller countries, there is less culpability, but more home front damage. Nice job Facebook!

Whitney Grace, January 16, 2018

Blurring the Line Between Employees and AI

January 4, 2018

Using artificial intelligence to monitor employees is a complicated business. While some employers aim to improve productivity and making work easier, others may have other intents. That’s the thesis of the recent Harvard Business Review story, “The Legal Risks of Monitoring Employees Online.”

According to the story:

Companies are increasingly adopting sophisticated technologies that can help prevent the intentional or inadvertent export of corporate IP and other sensitive and proprietary data.


Enter data loss prevention, or “DLP” solutions, that help companies detect anomalous patterns or behavior through keystroke logging, network traffic monitoring, natural language processing, and other methods, all while enforcing relevant workplace policies. And while there is a legitimate business case for deploying this technology, DLP tools may implicate a panoply of federal and state privacy laws, ranging from laws around employee monitoring, computer crime, wiretapping, and potentially data breach statutes. Given all of this, companies must consider the legal risks associated with DLP tools before they are implemented and plan accordingly.

While it’s undeniable some companies will use technology monitor employees, this same machine learning and AI can help better employees. Like this story about how AI is forcing human intelligence to evolve and strengthen itself, not get worse. This is a story we’re watching closely because these two camps will likely only create a deeper divide.

Patrick Roland, January 4, 2018

Law Enforcement Do Not Like Smartphones

December 26, 2017

Smartphones and privacy concerns are always hot topics after mass shootings and terroristic acts.  The killers and terrorists always use their smartphones to communicate with allies, buy supplies, and even publicize their actions.  Thanks to these criminals, law enforcement officials want tech companies to build backdoors into phones so they can always can the information.  The remainder of the public does not like this.  One apple spoils the entire batch.  KPTV explains why smartphones are a problem in “Why Smartphones Are Giving Police Fits.”

After the recent mass shooting in Texas, police were unable to hack into the killer’s phone because of all the privacy software in place.  Law enforcement do not like this because they are unable to retrieve data from suspects’ phones.  Software developers insist that the encryption software is necessary for digital privacy, but police do not like that.  It holds up their investigations.

…it could take specialists weeks to unlock the phone and access material that may reveal the killer’s motive and other information.


The FBI’s first option is likely to pressure the device-maker to help access the phone, but if that won’t work they could try breaking into it. Sometimes “brute force” attacks aimed at methodically guessing a user’s passcode can open a device, though that won’t work with all phones.

Arora said the difficulty of breaking into the phone would depend on numerous factors, including the strength of the gunman’s passcode and the make and model of the phone. Police may have more options if it’s an Android phone, since security practices can vary across different manufacturers.

The tech companies, though, are out to protect the average person, especially after the Edward Snowden incident.  The worry is that if all smartphones have a backdoor, then it will be used for more harm than good.  It establishes a dangerous precedent.

Law enforcement, however, needs to do their jobs.  This is similar to how the Internet is viewed.  It is a revolutionary tool, but a few bad apples using it for sex trafficking, selling illegal goods, and child porn ruins it for the rest of us.

Whitney Grace, December 26, 2017

Google Search: More Digital Gutenberg Action

December 24, 2017

Years ago I wrote “Google: The Digital Gutenberg.” The point of the monograph was to call attention to the sheer volume of content which Google generates. Few people outside of my circle of clients who paid for the analysis took much notice.

I spotted this article in my stream of online content. “Google Search Updates Take a Personalized Turn” explains that a Google search for oneself – what some folks call an egosearch – returns a list of results with a bubblegum card about the person. (A bubblegum card is intel jargon for a short snapshot of a person of interest.)

The publishing angle – hence the connection to Gutenberg – is that the write up reports the person who does an egosearch can update the information about oneself.

A number of interesting angles sparkle from this gem of converting search into someone more “personal.” What’s interesting is that the functionality reaches back to the illustration of a bubblegum card about Michael Jackson which appears in US20070198481. Here’s an annotated patent document snippet from one of my for-fee Google lectures which I was giving in the 2006 to 2009 time period:


Some information professionals will recognize this as an automated bubble-gum card complete with aliases, personal details, last known location, etc. If you have money to spend, there are a number of observations my research team formulated  about this “personalization” capability.

I liked this phrase in the Scalzi write up: “pretty deep into the Google ecosystem.” Nope, there is much more within the Google content parsing and fusion system. Lots, lots more for “Automatic Object Reference Identification and Linking in a Browseable Fact Repository.”

Keep in mind that this is just one output from the digital Gutenberg which sells ads, delivers free to you and me online search, and tries to solve death and other interesting genetic issues.

Stephen E Arnold, December 24, 2017

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