Social Networking Vulnerable, Federate It To Protect It (Part 2)

Monday, 2011-January-17 at 03:34 1 comment

As we saw in Part 1, the information you share on social networking sites is vulnerable because they are subject to closure at any time. Site closure is not the only way your data can be lost leaked.

When you sign up for a service, somebody is paying rent on a building, paying electricity to run a server, paying staff members, and paying for network service. As much as you may like to think that random companies like you so much that they provide all these things for free, that is really not the case. They are seeking to get paid by someone for something.

Many sites are partially or entirely advertising-supported. This means that you are bait to enable them to catch advertising sponsors. Several years ago, this meant that they had to use pop-ups, pop-unders, and other unsavory techniques to try and divert your attention from the content that brought you to the site. In exchange, these advertisers would pay the site money.

These days, advertisers want personal information to enable them to “target” their ads at groups to which you belong, in an effort to make you more likely to buy their products and services. Facebook is willing to help application developers access users’ names, usernames, genders, addresses and mobile phone numbers. (While this is a particularly egregious example, Facebook is not the only one doing such things).

It is important to understand that if you don’t have a financial relationship with the company offering the service, you are not their customer. You are merely the bait they use to catch their customers.

Now let us think about some scenarios.

  • The DeLorean Scenario: Person decides to start an ad-supported social network. Service never gains enough users to produce enough ad revenue, so person resorts to “desperate measures” in order to keep the doors open a little longer. In this case, person sells access to the user database. Ooh. Now “Scumbag Collectors LLC” starts calling you because someone you went to high school with owed their client some money.
  • The Leaker Scenario: Something you said angers rich and politically-connected people. Suddenly, your accounts at big, centralized social networking services are cancelled, and you have no access to your pictures or other data which you had uploaded.
  • The Cracker Scenario: That big social networking site suffers a security breach. They gain your information, including a password which you use for your e-mail and three other social networking sites and your bank. Before you know it, your money is gone and images of you are edited to show you performing disgusting acts with farm animals before being re-uploaded to your sites.
  • Shameful Scenario: The service chooses to accept advertising from companies, organizations, and causes you personally find distasteful. People who visit your online profile are greeted by extremist group recruitment ads featuring video of group members telling why non-members’ lives have no value to them.
  • Monopoly Scenario: The company behind the site makes so much money from ads that they stop responding to the needs of site users at all. However, your online data and veryone you know is on that site.
  • DMCA Scenario: Something you post brings a charge of copyright violation. Rather than allowing you to prove that someone else’s copyright is not being violated, the site decides to cancel your account.
  • What each of these scenarios have in common is centralization. Centralization makes social networks vulnerable, more vulnerable than they would be otherwise. With centralization comes unequal power. With centralization, $BIGNETWORK can treat you any way they choose when everyone you communicate uses that network and only that network. With centralization comes the need for big data centers, big expensive data centers, with plenty of ad revenue to pay for them. With centralization comes the overpaid CEO who somehow believes he/she “deserves” to earn millions of dollars per year while the site which is paying that salary is unmaintained for years at a time.

    Lesson number two: With centralization, especially where you have no financial relationship with the company providing the central site, comes all sorts of abusive activities. With centralization, one company has its hands on the collective throats of its users’ social networking activities. Unless you pay for the site, you’re not a customer, and the company that owns the site will likely have no loyalty to you, nor much of an urgency to solve any situations you find problematic.

    Keep a watch on the things that are being done by the social networking sites you use. Try to be ready to jump off of those which are provided to you without charge in order to protect yourself from the anti-user activities such sites often engage in.

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Social Networking Vulnerable, Federate It To Protect It (Part 1) Social Networking Vulnerable, Federate It To Protect It, Part 3

1 Comment

  • 1. tonybaldwin  |  Monday, 2011-July-04 at 21:41

    re: “When you sign up for a service, somebody is paying rent on a building, paying electricity to run a server, paying staff members, and paying for network service. As much as you may like to think that random companies like you so much that they provide all these things for free, that is really not the case. They are seeking to get paid by someone for something.”

    I have one friend, and, incidentally, a skilled hacker and FOSS advocate, who says he finds decentralized social networks like diaspora and friendika are likely to be unstable, just because they have no financial incentive. Someone can run a pod/node, and then dump it, because they must pay for hosting, bandwidth, etc., and make no money to pay for those things.
    Or they will eventually put ads on them.
    It gives one pause…how can decentralized social networking remain stable? Unless you run your own node/pod, how can you be certain that the one you use won’t change policies, crash or dump the node all together, or abuse your data? Important questions, really…

    I, for one, DO want to see private, decentralized, non-corporate social networking become THE social media of the internet. It spells “freedom”. Freedom from corporate interests, manipulation, advertisements, intrusion, etc.
    But it depends on various matters: a free internet, no censorship, net neutrality, so they can’t just choke the bandwidth or access off to OUR network sites…
    And what will guarantee our stability?
    A regular back up of your profile, so you can move it, re-install it elsewhere, if need be might be one start, I suppose.

    I’d like to see universities host diaspora/friendika/statusnet pods/nodes, even if they initially do it for their students/staff.
    And we need ways to keep LINKED profiles on more than one site/node.


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