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

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.

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

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

Social networking is the big thing these days. What happened to face-to-face interaction, people ask. As employers demand more and more of our time, as we increase the physical distance between where we live and where other people who are or have been important in our lives live, as we disconnect from the landline telephone system and broadcast television (replacing them with mobile phones and Internet-enabled communications devices), it is only natural that we would grab onto something that allows us to continue our existing relationships and to build new ones. Now, we have to understand that–as currently structured–the social web is extremely vulnerable, being in the almost sole control of a small number of vendors, including Facebook and its fading rivals MySpace and Bebo; Twitter and its weaker rivals Jaiku and Plurk; the for-sale or soon-closing Delicious and its rivals Diigo and already-closed Magnolia; the not-closing-yet Flickr and its rival Zooomr; Digg and its competitor Reddit; and even blogging sites (, TypePad, LiveJournal, Xanga). As was already the case with Pownce (a “better” Twitter which was purchased and closed) and (Ma)Gnolia and which will soon be the case with Yahoo! Video, those who post data to any centralized service are subject to losing that data when the service closes. If the service is sold or taken over, the new owners may have a completely different privacy policy than the original owners–your writings and photos may suddenly wind up being distributed and used without you having any say in the matter.

As any economics student can tell you, monopolies and oligopolies, once they form, are not concerned about you and your needs at all. Your cable company is not concerned about making you happy, but with preventing you from purchasing services from others which they can sell to you instead (for a small added fee, of course).

It does not have to be closing, nor being bought out. Users of Brightkite’s status updates and location services found they had mere days to try and retrieve their data before the service wiped the data from their old services as it transitioned to a “group texting” service. In fact, users who used external services or clients to post were caught off guard when they were no longer able to post.

Lesson number one. Every service is subject to closure, even those run by the largest companies in the business. As we go on in this series, we’ll talk about how to reduce the impact you experience from any particular service’s closure. For now, just think about all the information you have posted to MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Blogsome, and so on. What happens if a particular service closes before you have had a chance to download your data? What happens if they are taken over by someone who changes the terms of service to give them the right to use or sell your data?

Saturday, 2011-January-15 at 06:31


I’m now using Amplify and Posterous (and soon, possibly Tumblr) as a way to begin unifying the various blogs and microblogs I use. I often have 12 or more tabs open in a browser in order to monitor and respond to everything. I’m hoping to slim that down.With Yahoo shutting down service after service, I think I need to ensure that no non-paid service hosts all my data. I want to move to paid accounts with the services that are most important (and which accept such accounts), such as the StatusNet Cloud, and TypePad.And hopefully, I’ll take more time during the current unpaid downtime to build and develop my skills and understanding even more.Note to,, and you should keep an eye on Diaspora and similar projects. The day that Diaspora offers a client API, you should begin implementing it. And same for Friendika, GNU Social, and other, similar projects.

Saturday, 2011-January-01 at 22:29

How to buy a Dell WITHOUT windows (via life one degree north, one-o-three degrees east)

A couple of years ago, I spent about two months trying to buy a Lenovo laptop without Windows and then waiting for my refund when they wouldn’t accomodate me. (To this day, I don’t recommend anyone attempt to do business directly with Lenovo. They could easily have told me up front that the system I saw on their site was no longer available.)

I have purchased Dell’s N-series a couple of times, (by entering to get there) and have noticed that they are nearly always months behind the comparable Windows machine in hardware specs. But this intrigues me. I think I will attempt the same thing next time I have the funds and the desire to buy a computer. Either that, or I’ll head directly over to System76.

And by the way, if Dell were at all serious about Linux, they would make sure that everything they make has certified Penguin-compatible hardware. That way, even those who pay the "Windows tax" have the option of replacing it with a privacy-respecting, freedom-preserving operating system. My nephew and I have Dell lappies that were bought at retail stores. Both have Broadcom BC-4312 wireless cards that only work when they feel like it (using either the open b43 driver or the company’s binary sta driver).

How to buy a Dell WITHOUT windows I was asked by a friend to get a Fedora CD to her and her friend so that their children can learn to use Linux.  I suggested that I will help by shipping the Live CDs as well as spending some time (along with my 2 sons) to teach their sons how to use Linux. Then the request came back asking where can they get a new laptop without Windows and that prompted my revisiting the website to see if I can get a machine without 'oze.I have a Dell … Read More

via life one degree north, one-o-three degrees east

Tuesday, 2010-December-28 at 18:27

Fresh, Minty Taste

How I Came Full Circle With Linux Mint

I have related a few times over the past few years how I converted my main laptop, the one that goes with me when I’m working, from Windows XP to Linux Mint, then upstreamed it to Ubuntu because I wasn’t happy with Mint’s updates policy. Later, when I upgraded Ubuntu to 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope”, there were some rough edges, including non-working sound. At that point, I appreciated Mint’s philosophy of trying to keep things more stable.

Now, that lappy is headed for the great recycle bin in the sky. Or actually to the San Bernardino County toxic waste disposal site. I was fortunate enough to have plenty of warning that it was dying, so I purchased its replacement a few months back, while I was in Missouri. Because I was out of state, and because the Dell Ubuntu site only had one computer on the list (Inspiron 15N), I bought a similar product (Inspiron 15) at Best Buy for the same price. I saved shipping to California, and shipping from California to Missouri.

By this time, I am quite accustomed to wiping off Infesticus microsoftii spp. Vistus (Windows Vista) and replacing it with something usable. So now I am back to using Linux Mint, currently “Gloria”, Linux Mint 7.

Gloria appears to be mostly based on Ubuntu 8.10. I say this because my graphics pad doesn’t work. But since I don’t travel with it, I’m not worried. On the other hand, it starts with sound muted (similar to Ubuntu 9.04 after I entered all the fixes). I’m not going to generate too much data in the next month, because I’m going to do a clean install instead of an upgrade next month when Linux Mint 8 comes out.

System requirements are generally the same as the underlying Ubuntu version. In this case, I actually replaced Vista with Ubuntu 9.04 and found that the issues were not just the dying hardware of my old lappy. This meant that I did not have to worry about the requirements. If you are hardware-challenged, opt for the XFCE or Fluxbox versions. The LXDE version would likely have been great, too, but it won’t be ready when version 8 comes out.

At this time, Firefox (version 3.0.14 or 3.5.2) is really crashy in the 64-bit version of Mint. It is probably best to use a 32-bit platform for the next year or so, then do a clean install in 64 bits at upgrade time. At that time, whatever plugin or extension is causing the crashes should be 64-bit also.

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Sunday, 2009-November-01 at 06:10


I just wanted to thank those who sent funds. My niece Sarah is back in the US, being examined and treated. There are still large costs that have not been met, but at least she is here in the US, where medical options are better than in China.

If you’d still like to help, I’m sure it won’t be refused.

Thursday, 2009-February-12 at 13:11

Happy New Year 2009

Just a quick wish for each of you to have a great year.

Enough doom and gloom. Let’s join together in our local communities to make the coming year better than the one that is just ending.

Wednesday, 2008-December-31 at 21:13

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