Facebook: No access if we can’t spy on you

Back in November, a Belgian court ruled that Facebook should stop tracking Belgians who are not signed up to the site or pay a daily penalty of €250,000. This is on the basis that, if you are not signed up to Facebook, and have not given them explicit permission to track you, then they are not allowed to just assume that it’s okay to start monitoring your online activities.

The company failed to reach an agreement with the authorities and announced last Tuesday (1st December) that that they would comply with the ruling. Their idea of complying is to deny access to any Facebook pages to anyone in Belgium who isn’t logged on. This applies to personal web pages, businesses, charities, and any other activity organised through the Zuckernet.

Privacy secretary Bart Tommelein is not happy:

They’re a major player, and the impact of their decision is major, but we are not giving in to blackmail. Everyone has to abide by the privacy laws. Without privacy, there can be no freedom.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. The first is that Facebook needs to understand that they are not above the law. If not being allowed to spy on random individuals harms Facebook’s business model, then it’s the business model that needs to change. On a related note, it’s worth remembering that data protection laws exist at the EU level, so similar privacy cases can be brought in any other EU country.

The other point to bear in mind applies to the businesses, charities and other organisations that depend on Facebook for their online presence. Proprietary networks may look like a quick and convenient way to get online, but you are entirely dependent on an organisation that has absolutely no interest in your business, your revenue or your activities. These organisations really should take control of their own online presence.

Sharing is Caring by Dan Bull

I heard about Dan Bull by way of Linux Outlaws episode 266 which played his Facebook Epic Rap at the end of the show. The song is superb, and embedded below.

I love the chorus.

Dan Bull is a geeky rap artist promoting logic, skepticism and political change through merciless teasing – which probably goes a long way towards explaining why I’m finding his output so entertaining.

Go take a look at the page for his Sharing is Caring single. Not only is there a Facebook version, but he also has versions for Twitter and Google+ and a whole bunch or remixes.

There is also an Album which I shall be downloading just as soon as I get home tonight.

Dear Facebook

You Suck.

I am aware that switching back to my real email address is an easy thing to do, but why should I sign in to an account that I haven’t used in over a year just to fix yet another of your screw-ups?

Your once clean homepage has become more and more cluttered, and increasingly unusable. Both your security and privacy models are so broken that you managed to simultaneously lock my data away and then leak it. Your site is insecure, unreliable, not trustworthy and not useful.

You won’t be surprised, therefore, to learn that I have finally gotten arount to deleting my account.


Facebook, the network effect and the value of open standards

Wired, along with every other tech site at the moment, has yet another article on Facebook and its upcoming IPO. I have the feeling that what I took away from the article, however, is not what writer, Fred Vogelstein intended. Specifically, this:

Zuckerberg obviously needed a lot of luck to get Facebook where it is today. But when I met him for the first time in 2007, it was clear he’d already become a student of what made entrepreneurs like Bill Gates at Microsoft, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google, so successful. They all created businesses with powerful network effects — businesses, as Zuckerberg explained it to me, that at a certain point attracted new users simply so they could interact with existing users. “I think that network effects shouldn’t be underestimated with what we do as well,” he said.

Zuckerberg understood that people began using Microsoft Office because they didn’t want to risk being unable to open documents, spreadsheets, and presentations passed along by colleagues. There were other word processing or spreadsheet programs that were often better, but Office was good enough to keep people from taking a risk on them.

This is why open standards matter.

As soon as we accept de facto proprietary standards, we allow inertia to benefit the biggest player in the market. This will allow the dominant company to keep out competitors and thus stifle innovation – at least until they become so awful that we become willing to accept the pain of shifting to some other locked in proprietary monopoly.

Open standards, by definition, ensure a level of commonality between applications and – significantly – ensures data can be freely passed from one to another. This ensures that our data continues to belong to us, rather than being owned by whoever happened to encode it.

Proprietary standards are inconvenient, offer little long term security for our data and are a barrier to sharing data with others. They should be avoided.

Social networking for the socially inept

Facebook apps have hit a new low with the news that yet another online service is being planned for the Billy no-mates on the Zuckerweb.

Cloud Girlfriend will be the ultimate opportunity for men to created the perfect partner who will post messages on their wall to make it look like they are in a long-distance relationship.

There is no puchline that can top that reality.

Goodbye Twitter, Farewell Facebook

Dilbert Social networks come. Social networks jump the shark. Social networks go.

I have signed up to several social networks over the years and, as they have died a death, quietly abandoned them. Usually this abandonment is not the result of any conscious decision – I simply find myself increasingly uninterested in checking in until I realise that I haven’t looked at the network for several months. At this point I simply delete the bookmark from my browser and the abandoned account becomes yet another piece of digital litter left behind.

There are, however, a couple of behemoths (or dinosaurs, depending on your perspective) in the social networking space which I am finding myself increasingly dissatisfied with. Since there are a number of people on both Twitter and Facebook that I do communicate with, I thought it would be worth mentioning why I will no longer be using these services and pointing to where I can currently be found.


Let’s be honest here. Facebook shot itself long ago and, quite frankly, the talk of the company’s impending public floatation strikes me as having more to do with cashing in before the collapse than anything else.

I’ll admit that when I first signed up to Facebook, many moons ago, it did look useful and I have successfully used it to get back in touch with several people from my past. But now the contacts have been re-established and hellos have been said and what’s left is looking both pointless and annoying.

What is most annoying about Facebook is the way in which it locks your data away and then leaks it. The constant changes to that site’s privacy policy leaves me untrusting enough to be careful about what I post to the Zuckerweb but also frustrated that I can’t share Facebook content with people who haven’t signed up to it.

I have a blog. I don’t need Facebook.

I have not deleted my Facebook account and there are two reasons for this. The first is that I do I want to still be able to manage the Pulpmovies page on Facebook and the second is that there are people on Facebook with whom I want to remain in touch. I have, however, switched off pretty much all of the sites notifications and unsubscribed from the Facebook feeds I was following.

If you send me a direct message on Facebook, I will see it. I will not see or respond to anything else that appears on that site.


Back in September I stopped using Twitter. I discussed the reason at some length here but the shorter version is; the PC I had (still have) was too old and slow to cope with Gwibber’s leakiness so I switched to Pino and, because Pino doesn’t merge timelines, I stopped using Twitter in favour of Identi.ca.

In December I treated myself to a new laptop which had enough memory in it to cope with Gwibber. So I started following both services again. However, I have been increasingly dissatisfied with Twitter which is becoming less of a communication platform and more of a tool for people to self-promote.

Yesterday’s news that Twitter is essentially telling third party developers that to stop building clients suggests to me that things are only going to get worse.

So I have unmerged my accounts in Mustard and replaced Gwibber with Pino on the laptop. I haven’t actually deleted the Twitter account (yet) but nor will I be either watching or posting to my Twitter stream from this point on.

You can, of course, still find me on Identi.ca which I have found to be a friendlier and much more conversational platform than Twitter. It also has the advantage of openness which means that I don’t have to worry about corporate silliness breaking the experience.

Viva the open microblog!