SXSW: Microsoft’s danah boyd on Chatroulette, Google Buzz and the Future of Privacy

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Microsoft researcher danah boyd (she prefers no caps) presented a pretty bleak picture of how privacy and publicity is managed online today in her SXSW Interactive keynote. Targeting Chatroulette, FacebookGoogle Buzz as examples, boyd says consumers have no idea what they are sharing online–and that the business that build social networks don’t either.

Keep reading…

Apple’s iPad Could Kill The Mac

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By Sascha Segan

The Mac’s greatest enemy may not be Microsoft Windows. It may be Apple itself. In a conversation at a Goldman Sachs technology conference, Apple COO Tim Cook said that Apple is a “mobile devices company,” and that more devices will get the iPhone OS. A bit later, AT&T’s CEO said the iPad would mostly be a Wi-Fi (read: home) product rather than something you tote around and use on the street. Keep reading…

The Media Dead Pool

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By John C. Dvorak

The world has been unable to stop the open sharing of intellectual property on computer networks. It simply does not want to face the fact that it is so easy to share content. All efforts to police such activities are futile. The only way to keep digital files from being freely shared around the world is to prevent them from being sold in the first place. Keep reading…

The 3 Facebook Settings Every User Should Check Now

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In December, Facebook made a series of bold and controversial changes regarding the nature of its users’ privacy on the social networking site. The company once known for protecting privacy to the point of exclusivity (it began its days as a network for college kids only – no one else even had access), now seemingly wants to compete with more open social networks like the microblogging media darling Twitter.

Those of you who edited your privacy settings prior to December’s change have nothing to worry about – that is, assuming you elected to keep your personalized settings when prompted by Facebook’s “transition tool.” The tool, a dialog box explaining the changes, appeared at the top of Facebook homepages this past month with its own selection of recommended settings. Unfortunately, most Facebook users likely opted for the recommended settings without really understanding what they were agreeing to. If you did so, you may now be surprised to find that you inadvertently gave Facebook the right to publicize your private information including status updates, photos, and shared links.

Want to change things back? Read on to find out how.

1. Who Can See The Things You Share (Status Updates, Photo, Videos, etc.)

Probably the most critical of the “privacy” changes (yes, we mean those quotes sarcastically) was the change made to status updates. Although there’s now a button beneath the status update field that lets you select who can view any particular update, the new Facebook default for this setting is “Everyone.” And by everyone, they mean everyone.

If you accepted the new recommended settings then you voluntarily gave Facebook the right to share the information about the items you post with any user or application on the site. Depending on your search settings, you may have also given Facebook the right to share that information with search engines, too.

To change this setting back to something of a more private nature, do the following:

  1. From your Profile page, hover your mouse over the Settings menu at the top right and click “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears.
  2. Click “Profile Information” from the list of choices on the next page.
  3. Scroll down to the setting “Posts by Me.” This encompasses anything you post, including status updates, links, notes, photos, and videos.
  4. Change this setting using the drop-down box on the right. We recommend the “Only Friends” setting to ensure that only those people you’ve specifically added as a friend on the network can see the things you post.

2. Who Can See Your Personal Info

Facebook has a section of your profile called “personal info,” but it only includes your interests, activities, and favorites. Other arguably more personal information is not encompassed by the “personal info” setting on Facebook’s Privacy Settings page. That other information includes things like your birthday, your religious and political views, and your relationship status.

After last month’s privacy changes, Facebook set the new defaults for this other information to viewable by either “Everyone” (for family and relationships, aka relationship status) or to “Friends of Friends” (birthday, religious and political views). Depending on your own preferences, you can update each of these fields as you see fit. However, we would bet that many will want to set these to “Only Friends” as well. To do so:

  1. From your Profile page, hover your mouse over the Settings menu at the top right and click “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears.
  2. Click “Profile Information” from the list of choices on the next page.
  3. The third, fourth, and fifth item listed on this page are as follows: “birthday,” “religious and political views,” and “family and relationship.” Locking down birthday to “Only Friends” is wise here, especially considering information such as this is often used in identity theft.
  4. Depending on your own personal preferences, you may or may not feel comfortable sharing your relationship status and religious and political views with complete strangers. And keep in mind, any setting besides “Only Friends” is just that – a stranger. While “Friends of Friends” sounds innocuous enough, it refers to everyone your friends have added as friends, a large group containing hundreds if not thousands of people you don’t know. All it takes is one less-than-selective friend in your network to give an unsavory person access to this information.

3. What Google Can See – Keep Your Data Off the Search Engines

When you visit Facebook’s Search Settings page, a warning message pops up. Apparently, Facebook wants to clear the air about what info is being indexed by Google. The message reads:

There have been misleading rumors recently about Facebook indexing all your information on Google. This is not true. Facebook created public search listings in 2007 to enable people to search for your name and see a link to your Facebook profile. They will still only see a basic set of information.

While that may be true to a point, the second setting listed on this Search Settings page refers to exactly what you’re allowing Google to index. If the box next to “Allow” is checked, you’re giving search engines the ability to access and index any information you’ve marked as visible by “Everyone.” As you can see from the settings discussed above, if you had not made some changes to certain fields, you would be sharing quite a bit with the search engines…probably more information than you were comfortable with. To keep your data private and out of the search engines, do the following:

  1. From your Profile page, hover your mouse over the Settings menu at the top right and click “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears.
  2. Click “Search” from the list of choices on the next page.
  3. Click “Close” on the pop-up message that appears.
  4. On this page, uncheck the box labeled “Allow” next to the second setting “Public Search Results.” That keeps all your publicly shared information (items set to viewable by “Everyone”) out of the search engines. If you want to see what the end result looks like, click the “see preview” link in blue underneath this setting.

Take 5 Minutes to Protect Your Privacy

While these three settings are, in our opinion, the most critical, they’re by no means the only privacy settings worth a look. In a previous article (written prior to December’s changes, so now out-of-date), we also looked at things like who can find you via Facebook’s own search, application security, and more.

While you may think these sorts of items aren’t worth your time now, the next time you lose out on a job because the HR manager viewed your questionable Facebook photos or saw something inappropriate a friend posted on your wall, you may have second thoughts. But why wait until something bad happens before you address the issue?

Considering that Facebook itself is no longer looking out for you, it’s time to be proactive about things and look out for yourself instead. Taking a few minutes to run through all the available privacy settings and educating yourself on what they mean could mean the world of difference to you at some later point…That is, unless you agree with Facebook in thinking that the world is becoming more open and therefore you should too.

Note: Other resources on Facebook’s latest changes worth reading include MakeUseOf’s 8 Steps Toward Regaining your Privacy, 17 steps to protect your privacy from Inside Facebook, the ACLU’s article examining the changes, and’s comprehensive analysis of the new settings. If you’re unhappy enough to protest Facebook’s privacy update, you can sign ACLU’s petition. The FTC is also looking into the matter thanks to a complaint filed by a coalition of privacy groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. You can add your voice to the list of complaints here.

Originally posted to The New York Times.

In Defense of the Grinch by John C. Dvorak

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Original post here.

I’m not interested in finding any trends to write about this week. Why bother? For the next month, all anyone will be concerned with is sales. How many laptops have been sold? How many netbooks have been sold? How many HDTVs have been sold? And then, after all is said and done, there will be a slew of post-Christmas sales where all the same crap will be 40 percent off.

Still, I have yet to successfully convince my family that we should celebrate Christmas on January 15. Think of the advantages. You can practically get wrapping paper for free. You can get a Christmas tree for nothing. And the gifts? Everything is on sale for next to nothing.

But no, they won’t delay the holiday.

The herd mentality is a lot more powerful than rational thought. You have to understand this if you want to understand how people buy computers and consumer electronics. Great marketers and promoters harness this mentality, and most people can’t resist it. Those who can are marginalized by the herd. If you don’t embrace the holiday shopping spree, you might be called a “Grinch” or a “Scrooge.” Resist any sort of trend with critical analysis, and you’re a curmudgeon. No one actually knows what a “curmudgeon” is, but it sure sounds bad!

So, who are the two greatest marketers in the history of high-tech? Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. In the late-70s, Jobs talked about selling the sizzle, not the steak. What he meant was, create a desire out of secondary attractants. Have you ever craved a hamburger because you passed a restaurant where burning fat, cooking onions, and other aromas triggered a response? This is the sizzle.

Go to the Apple store and watch the company do its thing. But prepare to be fleeced. And note that the term “getting fleeced” stems from the act of shearing sheep. Note: you are the sheep in this scenario.

What about Jeff Bezos? It’s no coincidence that he and Jobs are friends of sorts. Bezos launched an online bookstore in an era when real bookstores were struggling to make money, and the mail order book selling business was sketchy at best. Everyone thought that Bezos was doomed to fail. And the name? Who names an online bookstore “Amazon?” A decade later, Bezos and Amazon dominate a lot more than just online bookselling.

Another half-decade later, Bezos screws things up ever more by promoting an e-book reader. Heck, these things have been around forever in some mediocre form or another. Bezos was an idiot that time for sure. And again, the name. What the heck is a “Kindle?”

I have been skeptical about both Bezos and Jobs throughout much of their careers. An online bookstore? An e-reader? I mean, come on! And how does Jobs waltz into a moderately successful market for MP3 players, decimating the competition, and taking over the record business in one fell swoop? By all rights the entire MP3 game should be dominated by Sony.

Both of these blokes are selling the sizzle. That’s the key. But as a consumer, you never know exactly how they’re doing it. Having TV commercials with a bunch of spastic cretins dancing around with their iPod earbuds in is one thing. But where exactly is the sizzle in what Bezos sells? It it just the convenience? Is it Website design? It’s the closest thing to a magic act that I’ve seen. Yet somehow it communicates directly to the herd mentality.

That’s the thing about magic tricks, you know the magician is tricking you somehow. You watch the trick over and over, but you can’t figure out how it works. This is the key to great marketing. The sizzle that Jobs talked about disappears within the trick itself. Presto, change-o. Now you see it, now you don’t.

In this day and age, it’s your money that’s doing the disappearing. So my wife is giving e-pods to her friends and getting me something from Amazon. Sigh. Happy holidays. In the meantime, I’ll continue to push for a January 15 Christmas.

‘Unfriend’ Selected as Word of the Year

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Just when I thought I had seen it all… It’s all about being sexy, right? Sexy in its own context, then I guess this is lexi-sexy and it has lex-appeal? WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD? 😛

‘Unfriend’ Selected as Word of the Year.

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