Thursday 10 December 2009

Facebook's New Privacy Settings: 5 Things You Should Know

 MaTiCa    10 Dec : 19:16
 None    Internet

Facebook has begun rolling out its new privacy settings to all of its 350 million users.

Facebook has begun rolling out its new privacy settings to all of its 350 million users. If you haven't seen it already, you will soon have to go through a wizard that will guide you through the process of confirming your privacy settings.

The new settings are supposed to make it easier and simpler to control your information, but the changes are drawing a mix of criticism and praise from privacy watchdogs such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU), and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

The new privacy controls include some great changes, and some not-so-great changes, but here are five privacy issues you should know about as these settings roll out across Facebook.

Search Settings
When I checked my search settings this morning, the option to index my profile by public search engines had been turned on. This is despite the fact that I had explicitly turned off this setting when Facebook launched public search listings two years ago. If you don't want search engines like Google and Bing to index your profile, do yourself a favor and make sure those settings are still set the way you want them to be. To adjust your search privacy settings click on Settings>Privacy Settings>Search. If the "Allow indexing" box is checked then search engines will be able to index your information.

Password Protection Layer: Not So Good
Facebook has added a new layer of protection for changing your privacy settings. Under the new policy you will have to enter your password whenever you want to change your privacy settings. This is a smart move, and quite a common policy with other Web services.

But in my tests, this extra protection did not work very well at all. Once I had chosen to exclude my Facebook profile from public search engines, I left my privacy settings page and returned to my profile (your settings are saved automatically). But when I went back to my privacy settings, the pages were wide open with no password requirement. I tested this out on several browsers and operating systems, I also signed out and back in several times to see if that would change anything. But each time I checked my security settings were wide open. The password protection eventually came back after half an hour or so, but that was far too long. The password requirement should come back automatically or Facebook should be telling you that this setting is set to time out.

PAI Changes
Facebook is also changing what it deems to be publicly available information (PAI), with almost no recourse for the user to control this--a change that does not sit well with the EFF. Information under the PAI umbrella includes your profile picture, friends list (Facebook says the view friends link has been removed from search results), fan pages, gender, geographic region, and networks (school, work, etc.). There is almost no recourse to protect any of this information. To illustrate how important this setting could be, the EFF points out that you may belong to a fan page that supports or condemns gay marriage. Since this is such a controversial issue, that may be a position you are not willing to share with co-workers, fellow church members, or other Facebook friends.

Friends List
Although your friends list is technically under the PAI umbrella, you can still control who sees it. But controls for this information are found on your Facebook profile page -- not your privacy settings. If you want to restrict who sees your friends list within Facebook, click on the pencil icon next to your Friends widget below your profile picture, and uncheck the box that says "Show my friends on my profile."

Other information you can remove from your profile page includes your gender and current city.

Hyper Control
While Facebook is taking away some control over publicly available information, you are getting extreme control over other parts of your Facebook profile. Now you can restrict who sees your shared content on a per-post basis. Don't want certain friends to see your latest update? No problem. Need to keep those photos of you at the bar away from your co-workers? You can do that too.

Facebook's new privacy settings are a mixed bag of better and simpler controls over some information, while loosening the restrictions on others. Of course, if you don't want some of that information to appear, you can always delete it from Facebook (you cannot delete your gender, but you can make it invisible). Facebook's privacy controls may not be perfect, but they will urge users to think even harder about what they're sharing on Facebook, and ultimately that may be a good thing.


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Tuesday 08 December 2009

Google search goes real-time

 MaTiCa    08 Dec : 13:03
 None    Internet

Google has moved to head off some of the threat from young rivals such as Twitter and Facebook by announcing plans to prominently display results from social networking sites in its search pages.

Google has moved to head off some of the threat from young rivals such as Twitter and Facebook by announcing plans to prominently display results from social networking sites in its search pages.

The new development, which the Californian technology giant dubs "real-time search", aims to bring users more up-to-date information as they scour the web for information. Over the next few days, anybody searching online using Google will see their traditional search results augmented by a string of constantly updating messages drawn from social networks, news sites and blogs.

The move is part of a wider push to make Google's search index even faster and more up to date, as people increasingly use services like Twitter to transmit information about events as they happen.

Google executive Amit Singhal said that with more information being put on the web every day, it was vital that the company learned how to give users the most relevant results - and as quickly as possible.

"Information is being posted at a pace I have never seen before," he said. "In this information environment, seconds matter."

As well as watching for developments on news sites, Google is working closely with Twitter, Facebook and MySpace to include updates from their users - and Singhal said he would not rule out any potential source of up-to-the-second information in the future.

Though executives were keen to use the launch event - which was held near the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California - as a display of power, it was also intended to quieten growing speculation that an inability to conduct real time searches could become Google's achilles heel.

Some critics have posited that websites like Facebook and Twitter could eventually rival Google, thanks to their ability to tap into millions of public messages being sent constantly between individuals. That threat comes in addition to more traditional search engines like Microsoft's have threatened to forge exclusive deals with some content providers as a way to claw back market share.

Instead, Google has acted to bring those services into the fold, though it would neither confirm nor deny whether there was a financial relationship behinds its links with social networking sites. Not everybody thinks the move was make or break for Google, however, even if it gives users more timely information.

"There's no doubt that it's good to have," said Danny Sullivan, a prominent observer of Google's activities, writing on his SearchEngineLand website. "It's incredibly difficult to be a leading information source and yet when there's an earthquake, people are instead turning to Twitter for confirmation faster than traditional news sources on Google can provide."

The company also used the event to unveil a number of other advances it said were significant technological advances.

These included an experimental program called Google Goggles that allows users to take a photograph of an object or product and ask Google what it is, getting a selection of information back just as if they had conducted a web search on the item in question.

Vic Gundotra, the company's vice-president of engineering, said there were already more than a billion items stored in the company's systems and that there were fierce ambitions to make this technology - which has eluded experts for generations - as widely available as possible.

"Today marks the beginning of this journey," he said. "It's our goal to be able to visually identify any image."

Gundotra also showcased a forthcoming translation product which allows users to speak any phrase into a mobile phone and then translate it, almost instantly, into any one of a number of languages. The resulting phrase could then be spoken back by Google through the phone's speaker, potentially allowing travellers to use any high-end handset as a universal translation device. The first elements of the software should be available to the public in the first quarter of 2010.

The company said such technologies were possible thanks to improvements in speed and power, but added that there were more plans coming soon - and that the ultimate goal was to make searching for information as fast as physically possible.

"It takes one 10th of a second for light to travel around the world," said Singhal. "At Google we will only be satisfied until that is the only barrier between you and information."



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Monday 07 December 2009

Facebook now has 350m users - and there's no point in advertising to them

 MaTiCa    07 Dec : 12:10
 None    Internet

Apart fron Natural Born Clickers, this is a massive audience that cannot be tapped

It was announced last week that the population of Facebook now exceeds that of America. Since mid-September the social networking service has added 50 million users, which means it now finds itself with 350 million of them. I am sure that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, takes the same view of his subscribers as PG Wodehouse attributed to the male codfish – "which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all". But even Zuckerberg must be wondering how he can monetise the little darlings.

There they are, cavorting in the corner of cyberspace so thoughtfully (and expensively) provided by him, where they post photographs of themselves in embarrassing situations, write affectionate or silly messages on one another's "walls", become "fans" of obscure comedians, join witty "groups" to support the Tiger Woods driving school and do other cool things too numerous to list. And all without paying a cent!

It can't go on like this, can it? The software-engineering and server-farm infrastructure needed to support 350 million users burns money, and so does the bandwidth they use. Zuckerberg is not a philanthropist, well, not yet, anyway – though if Facebook does eventually go public, he might be rich enough to give money away. At the moment he runs a private company ostensibly valued by its most recent investors at $10bn (£6bn). And yet, to date, its revenues (which might just stretch to $500m this year) have not quite matched the expectations implicit in that colossal valuation.

Facebook is the most glaring example of an unsolved puzzle: how to convert social networking into a sustainable business. Twitter, the micro-blogging service that is now in a runaway growth phase, poses the same puzzle. In September it raised $100m in investment funding at a price that valued it at nearly $1bn. And yet, unlike Facebook, Twitter has not yet earned a cent. In 2008, Time Warner bought Bebo, another social networking site, for $850m, which was 42.5 times its revenues at the time. In 2005, Rupert Murdoch paid $580m for My Space, whose 2009 revenues have been "flat" according to a JP Morgan report, which adds that the site "continues to face challenges monetising its large audience. We see more headwinds ahead as remnant inventory pricing is declining and competition makes it more difficult to reach meaningful profitability."

The truth is that investing in social networking represents the triumph of hope over experience. The optimism comes from a feeling that it's impossible to gather, say, 350 million people in one place and not somehow make money. In the real world, one would charge them admission and sell them hot dogs and overpriced T-shirts. But that doesn't work in cyberspace. If Facebook started to charge for membership, its population would dwindle to the number of people who think that its services are worth paying for – probably not that many.

The conventional wisdom used to be that the key to online revenues was advertising. That, after all, is how Google got to where it is. But it turns out that Google is a special case because it specialises in search, the only area where online advertising really works. The explanation is obvious: people searching for something are likely to be deeply interested in the results, and are therefore more likely to click through to an advertiser. But in other situations – say when browsing web pages – advertising is peripheral and we have become very good at ignoring it. In 2007, the market research firm ComScore reported that 32% of internet users clicked on banner ads in a given month. By 2009, that number had fallen to 16%. ComScore also concluded that a hard core of 8% of all internet users – christened "Natural Born Clickers" – are responsible for 85% of all banner clicks on the web.

Everyone who uses the web has experience of the ineffectiveness of online advertising. If it's obtrusive, it's an irritant that gets between you and the content you're seeking and you hit the "Click here to skip this advertisement" button. If it's unobtrusive, you ignore it. Either way, it's ineffective. You can't build an industry on Natural Born Clickers. The inescapable conclusion is that anyone who thinks advertising is the key to sustainable online businesses in any field other than search should think again.


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