Posts tagged: Privacy

Aug 07 2010

Who Will You Be Online When You Die? BlogHer Day Two

I’m in the Geek Lab this afternoon, in a session on “Taking an inventory of your digital life” by Rosemary Jean-Louis and Kristen Kuhns. Sort of similar to my own panel yesterday, but different – more about understanding the impact one thing can have on your digital presence.

They make a very good point, that you’re not going to end up in the history books unless you’re Steve Jobs or something. You are making your own history with your online presence across social networks, blogs, email – it’s not JUST your blog. You’re leaving footprints everywhere you are online.

In fact, it’s entirely possible the worst stuff about you online is not on your blog. For example, that damn Quake box picture that I will never live down is on GameSpy.com, not here.

A recommended list of places to check to determine your “digital inventory”:

  • Ping sites
  • Location sharing sites
  • Your websites
  • Websites that have quoted you
  • Websites/blogs you have commented on
  • Websites you’ve joined

They recommend using Google Alerts for your own name to catch new mentions of your name. I do this, but it’s become pretty funny for me, since there is a reporter with my name. Every time she writes a new article (which is a couple of times a week), I get alerts. But hey, at least I’m up to date on the news in Boston?

Interesting point about how your digital presence is more than just the now, but about your legacy. I admit, I pretty much never think about that, and it’s a fantastic point. Your children, your great-grandchildren will read about you online someday. Imagine if you could read your grandmother’s blog? How cool would that be.

And some recommendations on how to leave a digital legacy to be proud of:

  • Centralize your identity – consider using Open ID or Facebook Connect (or other) to be the same you everywhere.
  • Be familiar with privacy settings on sites you belong to and their policies on what happens when you die.
  • Consider adding your username and password info to your will so your family has access to your blogs, email, social media sites.
  • Consider an online vault site, or digital will (Entrustet is one company – never even knew this existed).

Ok, I admit, I NEVER EVER think about that. I’ve dealt with it from a work perspective, mostly back when I was with the LiveJournal Abuse Team, but it is worth thinking about. If I die, do I want this blog to stay here, with the last entry as whatever it was?

Facebook apparently allows family members to access a deceased user’s profile, but Twitter has no such policy. Most companies don’t, apparently.

Hotmail allows a family to order a CD copy of their loved one’s emails. Now that’s creepy to me. I really don’t want anyone getting my email history after I’m dead, I wonder if I can opt out?

Online retailers are in a whole other category for digital legacies. What happens if orders keep coming in and you’re dead? How does anyone contact customers, etc.

It’s also important to remember that technology changes. This is the first generation who will be online from birth ’till death – I’ve definitely seen that with my niece, where my brother bought the domain name for her website before she was born (even before he’d tell ME what her name was!). You’ll note- now that Alice is two, that website isn’t being updated anymore. Pics are private on Flickr. But what if Flickr goes away? Caption your pictures, make sure you know who’s in them, because you won’t know forever. That’s a great point for someone to make to me, the lazy girl who just uploaded pictures to Flickr that I took over New Year’s in Ireland! I’m terrible about archiving and recording things for posterity.

Check out Rosemary’s site at The Geek Treatment or @thesexygeek, and Kristen at Story of My Life.

Fabulous session, ladies, very very glad I attended.

Jul 14 2009

Followers Are Not Your Friends

A couple of weeks ago, I started ranting a little over Twitter about followers and how people see them as friends. The rant began because someone I followed had posted a few messages about only wanting “quality followers” and asking everyone else to please stop following her. So I stopped following her.

To me, that’s a crazy obnoxious egotistical statement. I mean, come on, who do you think you are? Do you really think Matt Lauer tells the Today Show audience that he only wants “quality viewers?”

Either this person didn’t understand what followers really were, or was being a snot. Either way, I didn’t care to see a whole slew of messages about it. I follow enough people that I have a fairly low tolerance before I unfollow people. It doesn’t keep my follow count down like I wish it would, since I keep finding new people to follow, but I do try.

Anyway! Back to followers.

If someone has a public Twitter page, their data is available – to anyone – a number of ways. You can visit the website, you can subscribe to their RSS feed, or you can follow them. Their tweets also appear in the public feed (although there’s a setting to turn that off), and are available through search.

What all of this means, is that you really don’t know who’s reading what you say. The only way to control this is by making your twitter feed private. Once you’re private, you have approval over every person who can read.

I think most of the whining about “don’t follow me” is over spammers more than real people, but that really makes no sense to me. Spammers rarely talk to you. I’ve gotten a number of @ messages from spammers, but they’re not from people following me. In fact, I think the spammers unsubscribe once I don’t follow back. It also seems like the same people who complain about spammers are those who try to get tons of followers. Spammers artificially inflate follower numbers – shouldn’t they like that? If some person hawking viagra really wants to subscribe to my feed…have at it, I’m not interested anyway.

Most of the follow/unfollow behavior is automated. Mention one thing and suddenly a flood of people are following you. It’s not like an actual dude who sells viagra is sitting at his computer staring at your tweets. But really, if you’re uncomfortable with that idea, you should not have a public twitter feed.

I used the TV comparison above, but Twitter – to me – is best comparable to a blog. Some people read a blog by going to the webpage, others subscribe through RSS readers. Some blogs even end up syndicated to other places, on other blogs, to Facebook, all across the Internet. I don’t know everyone who reads what I write, and there’s no way I ever could. And that’s ok.

I’ve talked before about how the tone of my blog changed when I went public, there’s no denying that it did, significantly. It had to, for exactly the reasons stated here. I don’t know who’s reading what I’m writing. I’m the same with Twitter. No question that there are things I will not say on there.

But even I’ve said some things on there I shouldn’t have. For example, I discovered a guy I follow (and who follows me) on twitter lives above me in my building. He seems to be cool and I’m not concerned, but it is spooky. I should never have said enough so he could figure out where I lived.

Facebook, on the other hand, grew as large as it did specifically because it was locked down to your friends. You did only have “quality” readers (if you’re really going to be as obnoxious as to describe people as “quality”), since nobody could see what you wrote unless they were your friend. That, of course, is changing now, with Facebook making status messages more open. More and more people will now see what you say on Facebook, and you’re going to have less control over that.

So the Internet’s trending…again. We were all open, then we went all private, now we’re all opening up again. It’s easier to go from open to closed than from closed to open. People will be much more likely to make mistakes. Hell, I did, and I thought I was smarter than that.

I’m not sure how this is going to play out, but it will be fun to watch.

Feb 20 2009

Facebook Changed Their TOS. So What.

Two weeks ago, Facebook updated their terms of service. This past weekend someone wrote a blog entry pointing out the changes, and that people should maybe worry.

And people flipped the frack out….about something they didn’t understand. At all.

Sheesh. Before freaking out, let’s talk about a bit of the basic information behind this first. This issue involves user data and a site’s Terms of Service.

1) Terms of Use/Service and Privacy Policies

Every single site out there could benefit from a Terms of Service/Use & Privacy Policy, and any commercial site launching without one is asking for trouble. The documents generally cover what a user can and cannot do with the site, what the site is responsible for in the event of illegal activity or police involvement, what the site will or won’t do with a user’s information, and the typical indemnification “it’s not our fault if your computer breaks.” ToS aren’t unique to websites or tech, but sites are bringing these things to the attention of mainstream folks a bit more.

These docs are important for the legal protection of the company, but also to make as clear as possible to a user what will be done with any information they may provide. I don’t have one for this blog, because, well, I don’t much care, this isn’t a business, it’s my blabbering and your comments here are your own. But folks who take their blogs a bit more seriously will include something.

The moment you hit a website you’ve agreed to their Terms of Service, whether there’s a registration process or not (“your use of this site is governed by this agreement between you and whatevercompany, inc”). Ignoring a site’s terms is the same as signing up for a credit card without reading the fine print.  One month later, you get your bill:

“I didn’t see anything about 35% interest!?”
“Sure you did, you signed on the bottom of the form that you agreed to the fee.”
“I didn’t notice, so take the money back.”
*hysterical laughter* “Is this a crank call?”

Yeah, that doesn’t go over so well. There isn’t much difference between that and a site’s TOS. You agreed to it, you’re stuck with it.  And just like credit card agreements, it can be changed at anytime, with all changes taking place retroactively.

Personally? I read ‘em all, have found some fun doozies buried in various agreements, and have refused to sign up for sites or services because of them. Most recently, a line in a beta user agreement required that I “never say anything negative about the site or service.” Add to that the “this agreement exists in perpetuity,” and suddenly I’ve agreed to a gag order. I don’t think so! I was truly amazed people did sign up, but then again, I’m sure they didn’t read that.

2) User Data = You Online. Forever.

I talked about this a lot in one of my entries from she’s geeky, since it’s a big issue I don’t think people understand (and this Facebook mess just proves that).

ONCE YOU PUT SOMETHING ONLINE IT NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER GOES AWAY.

Ok? One more time.

ONCE YOU PUT SOMETHING ONLINE IT NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER GOES AWAY.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve locked your Facebook, if you’ve deleted it, whatever. It’s there. If not somewhere you can find it, then it’s in Google cache, or on the wayback machine, in your friend’s inbox, on flickr, somewhere. Don’t think that if you can’t find it it’s not online – the Wayback Machine, for example, only keeps a small fraction of their archive available online.

Now – this latest Facebook blowup.

The freak out was over the fact that Facebook added some language to their Terms saying they would keep a user’s content and licenses even after the person deleted the profile, and removed some other language about users being able to remove content to invalidate the license.

Hey, guess what people? This is nothing new – Facebook just put it in clear text. With the massively complicated architecture of today’s websites, there are caches and archives all over the place of things you’ve put online. If you delete something, it may no longer be delinked, but don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s gone. It’s probably not.

Should facebook have updated it’s TOS like that? Eh. They should have probably been a bit more subtle in their language, but the fact is, had a blog not pointed out what the changes meant, nobody would have noticed.

Want to read some spooky legalese? Check out Google’s Privacy Policy:

When you access Google services, our servers automatically record information that your browser sends whenever you visit a website. These server logs may include information such as your web request, Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and one or more cookies that may uniquely identify your browser. Also, in order to protect you from fraud, phishing, and other misconduct, we may collect information about your interaction with our services. Any such information we collect will only be used to detect and prevent fraud or other misconduct.

Know what that means? They track you online, and save that data. The wording is nice and light, but that’s what it means.  That’s scarier to me than thinking that Facebook may keep a record of “25 things about me..” even after I delete my account.

The lesson here is twofold. Just as in real life, don’t sign anything you haven’t read. If you don’t like what you’re reading, don’t use the service. And don’t think your information can ever be taken offline once you’ve put it there. It’s there forever, and even if one website says they’ll protect your information, they can always change their terms of service to say otherwise.

Be smart, be careful, and stuff like this really won’t matter.

Update: Just wanted to add a link to this article, “What Facebook’s Stumble Can Teach Your Company.” I think the opinion expressed in the article is highly idealistic and probably extremely unrealistic, but it’s still a good read.

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