Wednesday, April 04, 2012

We Need a Social Network Declaration of Independence

No.  Really.  We do.

In 'Part I' of this series (We Need a Social Network Constitution: we looked at the concept how our technology has outpaced our laws & ethics.  In this blog I will give some recent examples of this concept and offer a few, humble suggestions for participating in the Social Media arena.  You don’t have to swing a dead external hard drive too far to find stories concerning personal information in Social Media these days and such stories will only become more intense in the future.  That being said, I only pass this along for your edification and awareness.  You may already know this information, Gentle Reader and, if so, feel free to sit this one out.  Now, if you are concerned over things such as personal information, how that information can be used, and what your rights are here now in the United States of the 21st century please read on. 

Now please don’t get me wrong.  I love Facebook.  It has become integral.  Social networking is how things are and will continue to be done.  Believe it.  The data and information that is mined is priceless.  It is not just people who want to sell you something who are taking notice of your likes and dislikes these days.  “Social Network Forensics” is a burgeoning field and the federal government is paying very close attention in the name of security.  Here is an article by Todd Piett on “How Law Enforcement Uses Social Media for Forensic Investigation”:  Piett writes, “Of course, as with every technology employed by law enforcement, concerns about “Big Brother” inevitably arise. What is the expectation of privacy around social media? If I tweet “Jack deserves to get a beating for that one,” is that an admission of guilt? What if I only direct message someone as a joke but they retweet it to a broader audience and it incites action? What if I only post it on Facebook for my friends?”  The simple truth of the matter is if you put it out there ~ it’s out there.

Then there are employers who fire employees who refuse to give them their Facebook password:  There are also cases where potential employees were asked to give over their Facebook passwords before being hired (  To it’s credit, Facebook has not been taking such threats to it’s very existence lightly and is considering suing employers who demand job applicants passwords:  From Jon Brodkin’s ars technica’s article, “As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job," Facebook said. "And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job. That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.”

John Brownlee from Cult of Mac wrote an interesting piece about privacy, “This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s a Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy”.  It can be found right here:  In the article, Mr. Brownlee very clearly illustrates the importance of privacy settings by showing an app that scrapes Facebook & Foursquare for information.  The following is from his article…

“Okay, so here’s Zoe. Most of her information is visible, so I now know her full name. I can see at a glance that she’s single, that she is 24, that she went to Stoneham High School and Bunker Hill Community College, that she likes to travel, that her favorite book is Gone With The Wind and her favorite musician is Tori Amos, and that she’s a liberal. I can see the names of her family and friends. I can see her birthday.”

“All of that is visible on Facebook?” one of the other girls in our group asked.

“More, depending on how your privacy settings are configured! For example, I can also look at Zoe’s pictures.”

I tapped on the photo album, and a collection of hundreds of publicly visible photos loaded up. I quickly browsed them.

“Okay, so it looks like Zoe is my kind of girl. From her photo albums, I can see that she likes to party, and given the number of guys she takes photos with at bars and clubs at night, I can deduce that she’s frisky when she’s drunk, and her favorite drink is a frosty margarita. She appears to have recently been in Rome. Also, since her photo album contains pictures she took at the beach, I now know what Zoe looks like in a bikini… which, as it happens, is pretty damn good.”

My girlfriend scowled at me. I assured her Zoe in a bikini was no comparison, and moved on.

“So now I know everything to know about Zoe. I know where she is. I know what she looks like, both clothed and mostly disrobed. I know her full name, her parents’ full names, her brother’s full name. I know what she likes to drink. I know where she went to school. I know what she likes and dislikes. All I need to do now is go down to the Independent, ask her if she remembers me from Stoneham High, ask her how her brother Mike is doing, buy her a frosty margarita, and start waxing eloquently about that beautiful summer I spent in Roma.”

The App has been effectively killed by Foursquare.  However, Mr. Brownlee also points out, “…Girls Around Me wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. Sure, on the surface, it looks like a hook-up app like Grindr for potential stalkers and date rapists, but all that Girls Around Me is really doing is using public APIs from Google Maps, Facebook and Foursquare and mashing them all up together, so you could see who had checked-in at locations in your area, and learn more about them. Moreover, the girls (and men!) shown in Girls Around Me all had the power to opt out of this information being visible to strangers, but whether out of ignorance, apathy or laziness, they had all neglected to do so. This was all public information. Nothing Girls Around Me does violates any of Apple’s policies.”  Mr. Brownlee makes the point that he works in the technology field and that he always assumed that people knew that the information that they put out into the wild, so to speak, was public information.  And that is frat boy stuff.  What happens when the government takes note of who you are, what you do and whom you follow?  

In an op-ed from Amy Gagran that ran on CNN entitled, “ACLU: Most Police Track Phones’ Locations Without Warrants” (, Ms. Gagran makes the case that such behavior is not so much the exception to the rule but is fast becoming the norm.  That’s not only cell phone calls but all the texts and emails too.  Ms. Gagran writes, “But don't the police need a warrant for that? It varies by state, but carriers generally say they require a court order to release this data. Regardless of these requirements, however, "Only a tiny minority reported consistently obtaining a warrant and demonstrating probable cause to do so," said the ACLU.

Not surprisingly, the ACLU disapproves of this practice.

"The government should have to obtain a warrant based upon probable cause before tracking cell phones. That is what is necessary to protect Americans' privacy, and it is also what is required under the Constitution," states the ACLU on its site.

The ACLU is right.  This is now constitutional law we are discussing.  It is widely accepted that we live in a Post 911 world and that security takes precedence over rights that we used to take completely and utterly for granted.  I, for one, believe this to be a frightening practice that pushes us a hair’s breadth away from utter tyranny.  A place where the common communication of citizens is monitored for any danger that you may be to the state and concepts like privacy and dignity are luxuries that we have lost along the way to our glorious future.  Who could pull off such a feat – the monitoring of not only a country but also the whole of the internet worldwide?  Where would one build such a complex?  Well, apparently the NSA could in the desert of Utah.

The cover story in April 2012’s WIRED magazine is by James Bamford, whom I’m pretty sure is currently on several people’s ‘watch lists’, entitled, “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)”.  You can read Mr. Bamford’s article here: and I encourage you to do so.  So how much memory would be needed that could monitor and save Google searches, cell phone calls, texts, tweets, and pictures from the family vacation that were put on Facebook?  Have you ever heard of a yottabyte?   Mr. Bamford writes, “…as a 2007 Department of Defense report puts it, the Pentagon is attempting to expand its worldwide communications network, known as the Global Information Grid, to handle yottabyte (1024 bytes) of data. (A yottabyte is a septillion bytes—so large that no one has yet coined a term for the next higher magnitude.)

It needs that capacity because, according to a recent report by Cisco, global Internet traffic will quadruple from 2010 to 2015, reaching 966 exabytes per year. (A million exabytes equal a yottabyte.) In terms of scale, Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, once estimated that the total of all human knowledge created from the dawn of man to 2003 totaled 5 exabytes. And the data flow shows no sign of slowing. In 2011 more than 2 billion of the world’s 6.9 billion people were connected to the Internet. By 2015, market research firm IDC estimates, there will be 2.7 billion users. Thus, the NSA’s need for a 1-million-square-foot data storehouse. Should the agency ever fill the Utah center with a yottabyte of information, it would be equal to about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.

The data stored in Bluffdale will naturally go far beyond the world’s billions of public web pages. The NSA is more interested in the so-called invisible web, also known as the deep web or deepnet—data beyond the reach of the public. This includes password-protected data, US and foreign government communications, and noncommercial file-sharing between trusted peers. “The deep web contains government reports, databases, and other sources of information of high value to DOD and the intelligence community,” according to a 2010 Defense Science Board report. “Alternative tools are needed to find and index data in the deep web … Stealing the classified secrets of a potential adversary is where the [intelligence] community is most comfortable.” With its new Utah Data Center, the NSA will at last have the technical capability to store, and rummage through, all those stolen secrets. The question, of course, is how the agency defines who is, and who is not, “a potential adversary.”
Pogo is quoted as saying, “Yes son, we have met the enemy and it is us.”  Mr. Bamford provides a link to my favorite second brain, Wikipedia, concerning totalitarianism, “Totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.  Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through an all-encompassing propaganda campaign, which is disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror.” 

Heavy stuff, n'est-ce pas?  Now please don’t get me wrong here.  I am proud and blessed to be a citizen of this country.  Further, I am thankful to those not only on the front-lines protecting my freedoms but also to those behind the scenes (perhaps even in Utah) who are doing the same.  One of those freedoms is the freedom of speech.  I would hope that writing a blog such as this would not put yours truly onto a ‘watch list’ or label me as, “a potential adversary”.  This being said, no one should be above the law.  We are not a totalitarian regime, we are a democracy and we should act like one.

No.  Really.  We should.

THIS section should really be ‘Part III’ but I am growing weary of my own slacktivist rantings; so now, as promised, a word about Facebook that I mentioned way back in the beginning of this particular blog entry.  I said I would offer some humble suggestions for participating in the Social Media arena.  Please take the following with a grain of salt.  Facebook is, at the end of the day, is driven by the individual user.  The way you run your Facebook is completely and utterly up to you.  My simple guidelines are as follows: 

Social Media is NOT my diary.

Words still mean things.  Actions do too.

Don’t be stupid… or at the very least, TRY not to be stupid.

Never feed the trolls.

Treat others, as I would want to be treated.

There you go.  That’s it.  These are my guidelines.  Yours may be completely different and that’s ok too.  That’s why they make different flavors of ice cream.  As we have already established, Facebook is user driven and that’s how I drive. 

I love Facebook.  Is it intrusive and do they sell my demographic information to data aggregators?  Sure they do but information is the new currency and if you want to participate in the Social Media arena then you must be aware of the consequences.  Before I post I try to remind myself that whatever I put out there, is out there.  We have already established this.  Facebook; however, can take on a life of its own if you don’t understand a few key things.  Bilbo Baggins was onto something when he said, “I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” 

Just for the sake of discussion, for instance, suppose I start to annoy you.  You don’t like what I am saying, the silly way that I say it, or you are sick of seeing my pictures fill up your Facebook experience.  If such is the case you have a few options open to you, (don’t feel bad, I know how annoying I can be).  First, I would recommend that you familiarize yourself with this:  It will show you how to exclude me from your feed.  If that doesn’t shut me up to your liking you can simply un-friend me.  It’s ok; we’ll always have Paris.  I know this flies in the face of any perceptions of narcissism on the branch of Social Media known as Facebook but why would I wish to torture you any longer?  Go now; know that I will carry your memory with me wherever I go & that you have carved out a special place in my heart.  You see, on Facebook, I am not there to entertain you ~ I’m there to entertain me and to communicate with those I wish to communicate with on my own terms.  If all that is too much or too little, too bad. 

Just look at how empowered we all are now!

Who da thunk?

...Now where do I go to get a yottabyte of memory?

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