Posts Tagged‘privacy’

Memento LifeLogging Device

The Social Implications of Google Glass.

My group of friends is undeniably tech-oriented but that doesn’t mean all of us share the same views on how technology should be used, especially in social situations. If you were to see us out at a restaurant it’s pretty much guaranteed that at least one of us is on our phone, probably Googling an answer to something or sifting through our social networking platform of choice. For most of us this is par for the course being with all of us being members of Gen Y however some of my friends absolutely abhor the intrusion that smartphones have made on normal social situations and if the direction of technology is anything to go by that intrusion is only going to get worse, not better.

Memento LifeLogging Device

Late last year I came across the Memento Kickstarter project, a novel device that takes 1 picture every 30 seconds and even tags it with your GPS location. It’s designed to be worn all the time so that you end up with a visual log of your life, something that’s obviously of interest to a lot of people as they ended up getting funded 11 times over. Indeed just as a device it’s pretty intriguing and I had caught them early enough that I could have got one at a hefty discount. However something that I didn’t expect to happen changed my mind on it completely: my technically inclined friends’ reactions to this device.

Upon linking my friends to the Kickstarter page I wasn’t met with the usual reactions. Now we’re not rabid privacy advocates, indeed many of us engage in multiple social networks and many of us lead relatively open online lives, but the Memento was met with a great deal of concern over it’s present in everyone’s private lives. It wasn’t a universal reaction but it was enough to give me pause about the idea and in the end I didn’t back it because of it. With Google Glass gearing up to increase its presence in the world these same privacy questions are starting to crop up again and the social implications of Google’s flagship augmented reality device are starting to become apparent.

Google Glass is a next step up from Memento as whilst it has the same capability to take photos (without the express knowledge or consent from people in it) its ability to run applications and communicate directly with the Internet poses even more privacy issues. Sure the capability isn’t too much different than what’s available now with your garden variety smartphone however it is ever-present, attached the side of someone’s head and can be commanded at will of the user. That small step of taking your phone out of your pocket is enough of a social cue to let people know what your intentions are and make their concerns known well before hand.

What I feel is really happening here is that the notion of societal norms are being challenged by technology. Realistically such devices are simply better versions of things we have natively as humans (I.E. imaging devices with attached storage) but their potential for disseminating their contents is much greater. Just like social norms developed around ubiquitous smartphones so too they must develop around the use of augmented reality devices like Google Glass. What these norms will end up being however is something that we can’t really predict until they reach critical mass which, from what I can tell, is at least a couple years off in the future, possibly even longer.

For my close knit circle of tech friends however I can predict a few things. Most of them wouldn’t have any issues with me wearing and using it whilst we were doing things together but I can see them wanting me to take them off if we were sitting down to dinner or at someone’s private residence. It could conceivably be seen as somewhat rude to wear it if you’re deep in conversation although I feel that might change over time as people realise it’s not something that’s being used 100% of the time. Things will start to get murky as Glass like devices start to become smaller and less obtrusive although the current generations of battery technology put Glass on the slimmest end of the spectrum possible so I doubt they’ll be getting smaller any time soon.

Essentially I see these kinds of augment reality devices being an organic progression of smartphones, extending our innate human abilities with that of the Internet. The groundwork has already been laid for a future that is ever-increasingly intertwined with technology and whilst this next transition poses its own set of challenges I have no doubt that we’ll rapidly adapt, just like we have done in the past. What these adaptations are and how they function in the real world will be an incredibly interesting thing to bear witness to and I, for one, can’t wait to see it.

 

Australian Data Retention

The Importance of Clarity: Australia’s Potential Data Retention Reforms.

It’s no secret that I’m something of a freedom/privacy advocate with this blog’s origins being traced directly to the No Clean Feed movement that started back in 2008. Thankfully I haven’t had to rattle that cage for a long time thanks to the policy being so unbelievably toxic that, whilst it hasn’t been officially killed, has been buried so deep that it should only rear its head again during a future zombie apocalypse. However that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been other transgressions against our privacy or freedom in recent times however and one such incident is the data retention plan that was mentioned in the “EQUIPPING AUSTRALIA AGAINST EMERGING AND EVOLVING THREATS” discussion paper that was released a few months ago.

I’ve been asked a couple times why I’ve been silent on this particular issue given that it’s on a pretty similar level to the Clean Feed was back in the day and the honest answer was I thought the current media coverage was doing a pretty good job of tearing it apart and I wouldn’t be adding anything meaningful to the discussion. However since the coverage ramped up over the past few weeks I’d been hearing conflicting reports over what the paper actually said, what the clarifications where and what policy based off it would probably look like. After not being able to find much actual analysis on it (mostly just reactions to the paper) I decided that it was high time for me to read through the whole thing and make up my mind for myself.

All 60, enthralling pages of it.

For the most part the discussion paper is pretty mundane sort of stuff, setting up the case for why changes in legislation and increases in governmental powers are required due to technology changing the landscape which ASIO, ASIS and the Australian police forces operate in. Many of the provisions discussed in the paper are expansions of their powers and protections which would make it easier for them to gather evidence and are not straight up translations of old legislation into the technological age. However there’s also some suggested increases in privacy protections as well as the removal of interception powers from some agencies which kind of counter-acts the various increases. Most analyses I’ve read don’t seem to mention this and seem to focus on a particular line that appears twice in the report with very little else around it.

The line in question appears on pages 10 and 13 in the report (in reference to Modernising the Industry Assistance Framework) and reads:

…tailored data retention periods for up to 2 years for parts of a data set, with specific timeframes taking into account agency priorities and privacy and cost impacts.

Taken at face value this suggest that the government is seeking comments on how a data retention policy like this could be implemented in order to help facilitate investigations undertaken by interception agencies. Now there’s literally nothing more on it other than that so the claims that the government wants to mandate that all ISPs retain all your data for 2 years are largely unfounded but such an idea would fit into the description they’ve laid out. Indeed since there’s no other information in the discussion paper about a retention policy any conclusions we draw are purely speculative but there have been some clarifications since its publication which provide a bit more insight into what a data retention policy might end up looking like.

In her clarification video Nicola Roxon states that they’re simply seeking an extension of the current policy which allows law enforcement to acquire the metadata, but not the content, of Internet communications of a person they’re investigating. The issue that most people take here (and so do I after researching this) is that there’s no clear definition of what constitutes metadata, either in the discussion paper itself or anywhere else in Australian law. Clarifying that definition (which has been happening behind the scenes recently) would go a long way to alleviating the concerns that many have raised. I’m still not entirely ok with the idea of storing it for 2 years but if the definition is clarified and the scope limited in a similar fashion to the way it already is for phone calls then I won’t have as much of an issue with it as I do currently.

There was also some talk of law enforcement requiring you to hand over your social networking passwords which I couldn’t find any evidence for. There was a paragraph or two talking about the exemptions for social networks and cloud providers which was seen as a potential weak spot in the proposed reforms however there was no mention of establishing laws to compel people to reveal passwords should they come under investigation. Indeed I believe the current law already covers this off succinctly and all major social networks have been compliant in the past. The line “establish an offence for failure to assist in the decryption of communications” could be construed as requiring you to hand over passwords in order to decrypt volumes which does feel like a violation of self incrimination rights however but I believe there’s no precedent set on that yet. I certainly don’t agree with it, however.

Whilst the ideas that are mentioned in the paper have potentially devastating consequences the reaction to them has been largely overblown. Sure there are interpretations that fall under that definition but there are also others which would make such policies largely benign, especially if you’re ok with the current provisions granted to law enforcement agencies. Clarification is the key here though and that job falls to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security who this discussion paper was submitted to. If they do it right many of these concerns will be addressed. If they don’t then I’ll be right along side everyone else, fighting to get the legislation killed before it sees the light of day.

Honestly I feel like the reaction to this paper has been largely overblown fuelled by the passionate, but sometimes over-zealous, individuals at GetUp who have oversold what the potential legislation based off this discussion paper might be capable of. That’s an awful lot of speculation and whilst I don’t like the potential that it represents I’m not about to jump to conclusions until a final policy is tabled in parliament. Once that happens, and should my concerns not be addressed, I’ll do what every Australian should do in that case: write to your representative detailing your concerns. I agree that clarification is required but I don’t believe that warrants stirring up the shit storm that’s been done so far, especially when you take liberal interpretations of it one way and don’t consider the other.

The End of Online Anonymity? (or The Currency of the Future).

There’s been very few times in my online life when I’ve felt the need to go completely anonymous in order to voice my opinion or partake in an activity. Mostly that’s because I’ve got quite a bit invested in my online identity and with that comes a certain amount of pride which I hope to carry with me during my online activities. I think the only times I can remember trying to be anonymous about something was when I wanted to pull a prank on someone or if I was voicing a controversial/against the groupthink opinion. Still I recognise the need for a medium such as the Internet to facilitate completely anonymous communication especially when it facilitates such great things as Wikileaks.

I remember back in the early days of the Internet I spent the vast majority of my time there under a pseudonym purely because that was the way it was done back then. Indeed sharing personal information across the wire seemed like a bit of a faux pas as you couldn’t trust the people on the other end not to use it for nefarious purposes. Over time however I saw services begin to crop up that chipped away at this idea, encouraging their users to divulge some sort of personal information in order to get something in return. Blogs were a great example of this with many of the blogging starlets being those who shared interesting stories about their lives like Tucker Max or Outpost Nine. Still for the majority there was still a layer of anonymity between the writer and the reader with many choosing not to reveal details that could identify them personally, keeping their online and offline presence happily separate.

A few years later we saw the beginnings of the current social Internet revolution. These services are based around the idea of mimmicing those interactions we would have in everyday life and usually attempting to augment them as well. In order to facilitate such an idea any of the anonymity granted by the Internet has to be stripped away so that the offline relationships can be replicated online. Such information also forms the basis of the revenue streams for those who provide these online services to everyone, usually at no cost to the end user. In essence you’re trading your online anonymity (and by extension privacy) for the use of a service, effectively turning it into a currency.

Interestingly enough is that your privacy doesn’t have a fixed cost, it’s quite relative to who you are. Heavy users of social networking tools are in essence costing the company providing the service more money than those who don’t use the service as much. From a pure metric standpoint you could boil this down to bandwidth, storage space and potential incidents raised that need to be fixed by a member of your team. However those heavy users are more likely to have more personal data on your website making them far more valuable than someone else. If you take an example of say a celebrity on Twitter (as much as it pains me to say it, like Bieber and Lady Gaga) they are probably the biggest cost to you on a per user basis, but they’re also the most valuable. In essence one unit of their privacy currency is worth oodles more than someone like me.

Still the use of these services does not preclude you from going anonymous when you need to. If I really wanted to hide my tracks I could go to an Internet cafe in another city, encrypt my connection and pipe it through TOR and start blasting out information through all sorts of means without it ever being traced back to me. All the information about me online then would be less than useless, save for the fact that anyone attempting to trace me would figure out that I knew a thing or two about IT. Realistically even in this time of sharing almost too much information with the world there are still very few barriers to hiding yourself completely should the need arise.

I will admit though that the traditional means of being anonymous, which were usually an innate part of the service, have faded away. The Web 2.0 revolution’s focus on user generated content has meant that there’s is literally untold masses of information available, something which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Internet giants:

“There was five exabytes [five billion gigabytes] of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003,” he said. “But that much information is now created every two days, and the pace is increasing… People aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them.

“If I look at enough of your messaging and your location, and use artificial intelligence, we can predict where you are going to go,” Schmidt said, adding unnervingly.

“Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are. You think you don’t have 14 photos of yourself on the internet? You’ve got Facebook photos!”

For those who enjoyed the anonymous online life this means that, like it or not, there’s probably information on you out there in the Internet. Whilst we’re still a long way from being able to make sense of this data avalanche the ever rapid advancement in computing technology means that one day we will. This means that peeling back the veil of anonymity will be easier for those seeking to do so but on the flip side that just encourages those who value their online anonymity to find better ways to combat that. In essence we have an arms race that I can’t fathom how it will play out, but history has shown that a dedicated minority can put up one hell of a fight if they’re cornered.

I guess I take a engineering perspective to online anonymity: it’s a tool to be used for certain problems. When the time comes that you need to do something online that doesn’t come back to bite you there are options for you to follow. I’m quite happy to trade some personal information for the use of a service that I deem valuable, especially when most of it is a matter of public record anyway. In the end whilst we might see the end of our traditional views of online privacy and anonymity the tales of its death are greatly exaggerated and it will remain a fundamental feature of the medium for as long as it functions.

Hyperbole, Rhetoric and Backflips: A Stephen Conroy Story.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m no fan of our Senator Conroy and his proposed Internet filter, even though I have him to thank for the original creation of this blog and it’s subsequent success. Apart from delay after delay there’s been little to no movement from Conroy on the policy despite it being increasingly unpopular. Initially I was able to write him off as just a figurehead for the Rudd government’s slight bent towards a nanny state for Australia but as time has gone by Conroy has dissolved what small amount of hope I held out that that was true. Conroy believes in the policy wholly and damn those who would oppose him.

Most recently the biggest talking about the Internet filter was that it was going to be delayed until after the election, hoping to skirt some backlash over the unpopular policy. Not only did that ignore the fact that tech crowd saw this move for what it was (and would likely vote accordingly) soon after the announcement they back peddled with almost breakneck speed. Then, in a move that didn’t surprise anyone, they went ahead and delayed it anyway:

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says he plans to introduce legislation for the Federal Government’s internet filter in the second half of the year.

Senator Conroy had intended to introduce the legislation in the first half of 2010.

The Government announced the filter two years ago as part of its cyber safety program to protect children from pornography and offensive material. Last year it ran tests on the system.

But the plan has been criticised by internet users who claim it will slow download speeds and lead to unwarranted censorship.

Right so you prematurely announced that you would delay introducing the legislation (in a vain effort to save votes) and back flipped on that position (to try and save face that you were delaying the policy) and then went ahead and delayed the policy (in an effort to save votes?!?!?!?). Not only has Conroy shown dedication to incredibly unpopular policy he’s beginning to show complete disrespect for the exact people he’s meant to be representing. The tech crowd had little love for Conroy before and any support for the man has now vanished in a public display of incompetence. Whilst there are many bigger issues that will cost the Rudd government votes they really can’t afford to lose yet another block of voters, and Conroy isn’t doing them any favours.

Still all of that could be easily written off as political games save for the fact that Conroy has launched multiple vitriolic attacks on several Internet giants. Now granted the ones who wield the most power in the Internet world are the ones who carry the most responsibility and none are as big as Google. Still the culture and policies implemented by Google are really some of the best on the Internet when it comes to user privacy and security. This didn’t stop Conroy from launching several attacks at them, with the latest ratcheting up the crazy to whole new levels:

Instead, Conroy launched tirades on search giant Google and social networking site Facebook over privacy issues raised with both corporations over the past week. The Senator called Google’s collection of Wi-Fi data the “single greatest privacy breach in history“, and attacked the social networking site over a failure to keep user’s data private.

That classy one liner I’ve bolded for effect is probably one of the best bits of hyperbolic rhetoric that I’ve seen Conroy spew forth. The Wi-Fi data that Google collected was initially only meant to be the SSIDs (the wireless network name) which they could then use to augment their geo-location software, ala Skyhook. Unfortunately they also captured some payload data as well during the course of their collection and got slammed by the German government because of it. Realistically though the data was fairly useless to them as they couldn’t have been in range of the access points for any meaningful amount of time, so the data they would have couldn’t have been more than a few MB at most. Additionally if you had set up security on your wireless access then the data they have is completely and utterly unusable as it would appear encrypted to anyone who captured it. Saying that this was a breach of privacy is a best misleading and at worst completely ignorant of the actual facts.

Conroy doesn’t stop there either, hoping to drum up support by lambasting yet another Internet giant with his choice brand of ignorant vitriol:

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has attacked the social networking site Facebook and its former college student founder for what he says is its ”complete disregard” for privacy.

Senator Conroy is under fire from many in the internet industry for his proposed mandatory net filter. He has previously attacked Google, a key critic of the filtering plan, but last night in a Senate estimates hearing turned his attention to Facebook.

”Facebook has also shown a complete disregard for users’ privacy lately,” Senator Conroy said in response to a question from a government senator.

I’ll relent for a second and say that Facebook has had some trouble recently when it has come to user’s privacy. However the fact remains that they can’t reveal any information about you that you don’t give them in the first place and putting information online that you don’t expect anyone else to see is akin to leaving your belongings on the sidewalk and expecting them not to get taken. Facebook may have had their troubles trying to find their feet when it comes to user privacy but their response has been rapid albeit somewhat confused. They’ve heard the criticisms and are responding to them, hardly what I would call a “complete disregard” for user privacy.

Conroy has shown time and time again that he has little respect for the industry he’s meant to represent as the minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. His constant, vitriolic attacks on those who’ve been in the industry for a long time (much longer than he’s been a minister for such things) shows a flawed belief that his vision for Australia’s digital future is the right one. I and the vast majority of the technical crowd have opposed the Conroy and his Internet filter from the start and in the coming election I’d bet my bottom dollar that you’ll see a noticeable swing against him for his repeated blows against us. It would seem that the only way to kill the Internet filter is to remove him from office and it is my fervent hope that the good people of Victoria will do Australia a service and vote accordingly this year.

Google vs China: We All Win.

Doing business in China as a western company is always a tricky endeavour. It’s got nothing to do with the people, they are particularly welcoming of foreign investment and appear to be aspiring more to the western way of life. No the problem lies directly with the government and the level of control that they require over almost any business that sets itself up in their country. Not only that recent developments have shown that you have to tread extremely lightly when dealing with state owned companies. Even when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has emphatically stated that “State owned is not state run” their behaviour speaks the opposite. With the only streams of information coming from the PRC state it’s hard to verify what they say, save for risking the same fate as the Rio executives.

It’s no secret that many large world governments aren’t completely comfortable with the way China has been conducting itself recently. It’s not a new problem and not one I’d expect to go away overnight. Still, for the most part there seems to be a lot of hot air around the subject and little action. That was until recently Google launched what can only be described as one of the most damaging statements that the PRC has had flung at them to date:

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

China has a very checkered history with the Internet and companies who have made their fortune and fames from it. Google had to make some hefty concessions in order to open up shop in China and the short term result was quite a lot of flak sent their way from the privacy and net neutrality groups. It was partially deserved as well since Google had a taken quite a hard line in respect to neutrality and privacy in the past. This was a big red flag stating that they were more concerned with their bottom lines than the principals they had been trumpeting before. Still their line of “better some of the information than none of it” carried some weight and eventually the wider Internet community forgave them.

This development however is a power play on a scale that we’ve rarely seen before. Openly stating that you have evidence that the government is attempting to gather information on certain individuals illegally (and on indviduals who’s association has been the target of persecution in the past) is not something that big corporations do. Truthfully if any other company had attempted such a feat they would be committing business suicide in the Chinese market, and it would have made little waves in the media. However when a company like Google, who’s services and presence are trademarks of a developed nation, dissents against your wishes (after they fought so hard to comply with them) and then openly threatens to pull out of your country completely this sends a message to all other foreign businesses in China. The price of admission is not worth the value you can derive.

The immediate reaction from the statement was huge and it prompted the  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to demand an explanation from China on these events. With Clinton having a reputation for being a rather hard-line political figure (the adage “With me or against me” comes to mind) China is going to have a rough time dealing with her, and I can’t see them explaining their way out of it. Not to the extent that will satisfy Clinton and the technologically inclined citizens of the US at least, which means the pressure for the PRC to act will more than likely come from another area, commerce.

Google’s move to publicly name and shame the Chinese government is the signal of a much larger movement against the PRC government. Initially this will begin with the corporate sector with many companies rethinking their strategy for the Chinese market. That in turn will lead to China either writing them off as lost and continuing the way it always has (hurting their economy and international reputation) or will be forced into changing their behaviour towards foreign companies. Right now I’m not sure which way they will swing as history dictates they will shrug this off like they have with all previous controversies however with their growing middle class that is now aspiring to the aspects of the western life that we all take for granted (education, health and pervasive technology) the PRC can’t keep ignoring these problems forever. They’re not stupid either and they have strong support for the majority of their actions, especially the youth who have the government to thank for the progress that have given them so many opportunities when compared to their parents.

Everything’s balancing on a hair trigger now, the results will only come with time.

At the end of the day the world at large is better for Google having taken this action. The censorship of their search engine is already starting to fade away and this will eventually lead to the wider (non-tech) crowd question why a company with a presence that reaches all corners of the globe is leaving China. It could be the beginning of the end for the totalitarian PRC, but even I think that idea is a little far fetched.

And now, we wait.

Internet Privacy? Surely You Jest…

Ever since the social web revolution of the past few years the issue of privacy has been thrust into the limelight repeatedly with the same results every time: people whine and complain yet nothing really changes. Unfortunately the majority never end up realising that anything you put on the Internet can be considered private, just as anything you left out on your front lawn would be. Still people continue to use the service and put increasingly inappropriate information up causing sites like Fail-Book to materialize that exploit everyone’s misplaced trust in this service.

Don’t get me wrong though, I have a Facebook account with quite a lot of information on it. However for the most part the majority of it is locked out to the wider world, but I’m under no illusions that I’m a social engineering attack away from one (or more) of my friends being compromised and my full account being laid bare for whomever was after it. That doesn’t worry me however as the data I have on there is nothing a quick Google or thumb through the Whitepages wouldn’t pick up. I also have a damn good level of trust in my friends to not put anything stupid up there and three years of use of the service hasn’t seen this trust broken. It would seem however that I’m in the minority.

This still doesn’t detract from the fact that some of Facebook’s policies are a ass-backwards. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, has gone on record recently saying that privacy is no longer considered “normal”, something which I’m finding hard to swallow:

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook has said that people no longer have an expectation of privacy thanks to increasing uptake of social networking.

Speaking at the Crunchie Awards in San Francisco this weekend, the 25 year-old web entrepreneur said: “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

Zuckerberg went on to add that the rise of social media reflects the changing attitudes among the general public, saying that this radical change has happened in the space of five years.

We have a term here in the IT and engineering industry called eating your own dogfood. When an organisation provides a service it speaks volumes when they use the service themselves. Zuckerberg, to his credit, does use Facebook however it would seem that he has a different expectation of privacy to the one he preaches. I say this because recently Facebook enforced all users to update their privacy settings, with them oriented towards exposing more information to the wider world. It was a valid move for them from a business perspective (more public data = more visibility) however when their own CEO ends up blowing his profile wide open you have to question how the normal user will fair. Zuckerberg stated that it was deliberate, but his actions say otherwise (I.E. it’s now back the way it was). You can see why I don’t swallow the tripe that Zuckerberg is peddling, he’s saying one thing and doing another.

For some reason the social web has made us incresingly trusting of large organisations providing us something for free. In fact it’s the norm and any organisation attempting something on the web that dare charges for it is only months away from being usurped by some young upstart in a garage who does the same thing for gratis. This means now that most of the free applications on the web don’t seek revenue directly from their consumers, they get it from the data that their application harvests. The price you pay for free services is that organisation knowing some very intimate details about you.

You might not think there’s much value in knowing that you loved that book you read last week or that you and a couple friends are all fans of the same celebrity but to marketers and product researchers this stuff is a drug. Facebook’s advertising system is so detailed that you can narrow the demographic you target by age, gender, location and even sexual preferences. It doesn’t stop there either, with them tracking basically every activity on Facebook:

The Rumpus: On your servers, do you save everything ever entered into Facebook at any time, whether or not it’s been deleted, untagged, and so forth?

Facebook Employee: That is essentially correct at this moment. The only reason we’re changing that is for performance reasons. When you make any sort of interaction on Facebook — upload a photo, click on somebody’s profile, update your status, change your profile information —

If you have a product with a known demographic your advertising budget will go a lot further if you can just target them, rather than say posting a billboard on a highway. Facebook isn’t the only one doing this, our friendly search giant Google’s advertising network has been using such demographic capturing technology for years now to better target their Adsense and Adwords programs.

So while I won’t go on a crusade and say that everyone should stop using these services I will say this: manage your expectations appropriately. Facebook et al are great tools for staying in touch with friends (and finding long lost old ones) but if you wouldn’t put it on your front lawn you shouldn’t put it on Facebook. If you can’t trust your friends not to put something on there then it would be best not to be on there in the first place. Whilst I would lament the death of such humourous sites like Fail Book it would be a small price to pay for the populace at large wising up to the fact that there’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world.

But then again I’m probably asking too much. (Seems I’m getting more and more cynical in my old age ;))