A weekend coffee!

With a changed name comes changed titles. Welcome to the first weekend coffee! It might look familiar.

In late July, police will patrol the entrances to Battersea Park looking to arrest people carrying water guns.
As you know, newspapers are busy setting up paywalls (or threatening to) and pushing for various new laws to protect their dying industry. It cannot help that they sometimes forget to ignore the rules that exist.
An English muffin maker lives in fear now that an executive has left for Hostess.
Mashable has asked an important question: Does Chatroulette depend on the cock, or could it exist as a Eunuch?
The Dodge Viper logo is just Daffy Duck, upside down.
Are you an MP who lost their seat in the election, and are still trying to figure out your next move? Take some inspiration and turn to stand-up comedy.
Do you own a URL? Then you should be aware that you could be sued by a random corporation, just because they want it.
Need help getting by? Here are ten rules to live by.

Why Facebook will not protect your privacy

Recently, Facebook once again moved the line between private and public information on the site — bringing the Internet up in arms once again at the way Facebook handles their information.

Here at the Big Bad Blog, we are little surprised (with a couple of exceptions). If it is not clear by now, Facebook is not a non-profit company hell bent on protecting the privacy of those on the Internet, but a business that depends on user information being shared beyond a small group of friends and family.

What has changed?

Most Facebook users will have already noticed that some privacy settings have changed.

First, information that used to have variable privacy settings — such as Interests, Hobbies and Schools — have stopped being considered “profile information” and now become “connections” on the site. Connections are (we think obviously) things that connect Facebook profiles. Friends lists and Networks are the traditional connections on the site.

While Facebook users will have been notified of this change, and prompted to remove any connections that they do not want to have displayed publicly, they should be aware that Facebook has made all connection data public. This means that users (by which we mean adult users, Facebook has different rules for children) can no longer hide their friends lists or networks.

Second, Facebook is working to expand itself beyond the walls of Facebook and into other sites. It has partnered with other sites to share users’ information. The idea is that this will allow the partner sites (such as the music site Pandora) to tailor their services to individuals based on what they and their friends claim to like on Facebook.

This sounds great, but the ramifications must be understood — in order to do this, Facebook has relaxed the standards it applies to your data. They share it more freely and with fewer strings attached than they used to.

What does surprise us

There are two elements of the changes that surprise us.

First is the installation of applications on individual’s Facebook profiles without their permission.

When a user visits a partner site, Facebook is automatically adding an application to interact with that website to the user’s profile. Here at the Big Bad Blog, we are not sure how this works, but Macworld claims the following:

You don’t have to have a Facebook window open, you don’t need to be signed in to these sites for the apps to appear, there’s no notification, and there doesn’t appear to be an option to opt-out anywhere in Facebook’s byzantine privacy settings.

We know that the last bit about an opt-out is just plain wrong (more on that below), and we are not sure how Facebook and their partners know how to link your Facebook profile to these sites if you are just surfing and not logged in to either one of them, but in today’s world of cookies and auto-logins, it is still easy to see how your average internet user could accidentally end up sharing their entire profile with a website simply by browsing to it.

We are quite surprised that Facebook fails to tell users what is happening in this regard. While the site was quite happy to make sure that I was OK to have my list of favourite books go public, they did not for a second wonder if I might want to make adjustments based on the fact that information I place on the site is now available to third parties.

The second surprise is that opting in (or, to be more precise, not opting out) for this sharing does not just share your own information, but that of your friends. If my friends all like a certain band, the logic goes, chances are that I will too. If you pay attention to the small print (after discovering that you need to opt out), you will find out that further steps are needed to stop your friends from sharing your personal information.

Here at the Big Bad Blog, we are not impressed with this second bit. Unless you are opting out, the sharing of friends’ profile information is kept quite secret. Users could easily be excused to think that they were only sharing their own information, and not their parents’, children’s or friends’.

The second aspect which does not impress us is the change in the terms that third party apps must agree to. Prior to these changes, third party apps could only hold on to personal information for 24 hours. In order to make the new service work though, that limit was eliminated.

Facebook applications can now hold on to your information indefinitely.

How secure are third party Facebook applications? What would they do with the data? These questions should now be asked by users, but the change was applied quite quietly and users can be excused for not realizing that the rules had changed.

Why you should not be surprised about the rest

While we do have issues with the means by which some of these changes were implemented, and the ability for users to opt to share friends’ (presumably private) data, we are not surprised.

While not an original thought — though one for which we cannot find the original quote to credit — if you use Facebook, you are not Facebook’s customer. You are their product. You are what they sell.

This is the nature of a free service, and must be accepted. Facebook is a business, and their business model depends on monetizing the information that you have placed on their network. This means finding new ways to share it with potential customers who are interested in the data.

Pandora wants to know more about users’ listening habits, and what their friends are listening to. That will help them to understand what kind of music their users want to hear. Facebook’s database gives them a lot of useful information.

Users who want their needs to be the focus need to be customers. They need to pay for the service.

What you can do about it

Consider all your information to be public. Facebook is a business which depends on sharing the information you place there with other parties. Because of this, their attempts to open up your information and lower your privacy settings are unlikely to end anytime soon. If you do not want information to be publicly available, do not put it on the website.

Opt out of “Instant Personalization”. You can prevent Facebook from sharing information with the websites that you (or your friends) visit. Mashable provides a step-by-step guide for your reading pleasure.

Pretend to be a minor. Facebook takes a different approach to those under eighteen. If you tell the site that you’re a child, your information will be better protected than if Facebook thinks your an adult. As an adult, you are expected to know better.

Delete applications where you are not a customer. If you have a third party application on your Facebook profile which works on a Facebook-like scheme — where the business model is to gather information from you (or is unclear), rather than to sell you things — then delete it. These applications now get to store your information indefinitely, and if you are not sure of how they plan to use it, don’t let them.

Leave Facebook. Ultimately, the above options are about two things: Awareness of what information you are sharing, and/or trying to frustrate Facebook’s business plan. If you are truly uncomfortable sharing items online, or supporting Facebook’s business plan with your personal information, then Facebook is not for you. Find (or start) a social network where users pay to be members, instead.


BoingBoing [2]
Mashable [2] [3] [4]

The war on passengers continues

These are hard times in which to be a frequent flyer — it seems that everybody is trying to make the experience as difficult as possible. On one side are the airlines, who are busy cutting costs and coming up with brilliant ideas like forcing people to pay to side beside one another, or charging to use the toilet.

The other side seemingly at war with customers are those in charge of their safety — taking as intrusive an approach as possible to ensuring security on board the aircraft. People have decided to blow up planes using liquids, so you are not allowed to bring a bottle of water (or mouthwash) on the plane with you. People have attempted to blow up an airplane using their shoes, so you must now remove your shoes for a scan prior to boarding.

And so it goes. The terrorists come up with a new idea, passengers are hit with a new hurdle they must cross before boarding an airplane.

So it comes as new surprise that following this latest attempt, there are new rules that must be followed. Before we get to those, however, let’s recap:

1. On Christmas day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria attempted to blow up a plane just prior to landing in Detroit, Michigan.
2. Some time before that, Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father warned the U.S. government that his son might do some terrorism. Blow up a plane, or something.
3. Mr. Abdulmutallab’s attempt involved the lighting of explosives that he had (it is believed) moulded to his body and hidden in his underpants.
4. Prior to his attempt, Mr. Abdulmutallab used the toilet.

Our (admittedly untrained) minds here at the Big Bad Blog have our attention drawn to points two and three. Specifically, why was the information provided by the young man’s father ignored? And how can we catch those smuggling aboard explosives in the manner described?

Points one and four are the sort of thing a nervous person would do prior to something big that is making them nervous. Emptying the bladder prior, and — as likely as anything else — procrastinating until the last possible moment before carrying out the plan. Given that it seems natural that blowing one’s self up would be cause for nerves, and passenger reports make him sound nervous, this seems more likely than attributing the timing of the attempt (and bathroom trip) to being part of Mr. Abdulmutallab’s nefarious scheme.
The Transport Security Agency (TSA) of the United States’ (admitted highly trained) minds look at points one and four. Specifically that the attempt was at the end of the flight, and the man used the toilet first.

Air Canada has reported (and BoingBoing confirmed in a first-hand account) that new security requirements have passengers confined to their seats for the final hour of the flight, during which they are not permitted to access their carry-on luggage or have anything in their laps. Neither of which, it is noted, would have stopped this most recent terrorist — even if he did something in the bathroom, he would just have to have done it a few minutes earlier.

Even if we take it as given that Mr. Abdulmutallab waited until the plane was in United States airspace, and then checked his explosive device before attempting to detonate it, neither of these facts — nor the reaction to them — are terribly pertinent to the preventative measures that are aimed to prevent the repetition of these events. Double-checking can be done at any point throughout the flight, and Mr. Abdulmutallab did not need access to his carry-on luggage in order to carry out his attack.

All in all, the (admittedly highly trained) anti-terrorist minds at the TSA have decided that the problem is customer access to the bathroom (still available during the rest of the flight), and the presence of magazines in passenger’s laps. In short, they are using this attempt as nothing but a pretense to slap extra restrictions on passengers, without any apparent benefit.

The correct course of action for the TSA should be invisible from the passenger’s viewpoint. Maybe a few more pat-downs (which may or may not have helped find moulded-to-the-body, sewn-in-the-underwear explosives), and certainly a more in depth look at those few people whose parents have called the United States government and said “my son’s a terrorist.”

In fact, we at the Big Bad Blog think that not allowing such people on an airplane without full scrutiny (and a complete search) is the irresponsible behaviour which resulted in this incident. Extra restrictions do not help. Listening to warnings and behaving with appropriate caution might.

Air Canada
BBC (2) (3)
Boing Boing
Classically Liberal (from which the photograph used in this article was taken)

Social media and being trapped in a well

Last week, there was a little news story which would normally go under the radar: Two girls, aged 10 and 12, were trapped in a storm drain in Australia. They were rescued.

A normal day, one might think, for Australian emergency services.

Of course not — because the girls called for help via Facebook instead of 000 (the Australian equivalent of 911 or 999), it became a social-media-newstorm. Mashable leads off their story with the words “Social media can be a bad thing.” On my twitter feed, N3W_Media asked “Are we raising a generation devoid of common sense?

All interesting questions. To Mashable: Apparently. To N3W_Media: Possibly.

The comments on Mashable’s blog entry paint a pretty horrid picture. People there are making strange assumptions — half of them seem to think that the batteries must have been dying. Others are suggesting that the ten-year-old girl stuck in a storm drain was looking for “hype”. Another suggests that this is natural selection in action. Somebody even suggests that texting the first person on your contact list would be the best thing to do.

For the record, the first person on my list is a co-worker in Bulgaria. Alex: if you ever get a text from me saying I’m trapped down a well, know that it is real.

Everywhere, people commenting. So few bothering to add thought, research or reason to the discussion.

My first thoughts wonder what I would have done in the same situation. At their age, of course, there was no such thing as Web 2.0, or social media. No Twitter or Facebook. Heck, there were no mobile phones. I would have yelled for help until I was hoarse.
Imagining that I had access to today’s technology, I am guessing that I would probably have called my parents. They instilled that in me — if I’m ever in trouble, they will help. It was more prevalent than any encouragement I ever received to dial 911 in an emergency. In fact, my first memory of the number 911 is the song 911 is a joke by Public Enemy. I was 13 when that came out, older than either of these girls. Even that “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial is better burned into my consciousness.

Moreover, I think of something I read recently in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: People need to practice dialing 911. It seems simple, but in a truly stressful situation, you will NOT think. You will do what you know, what you practice. These girls undoubtably spend a lot of time on Facebook. They have probably never dialed 000. In Blink the person being interviewed suggests that they encourage people to practice dialing, but I have never seen such encouragement elsewhere. But I do not doubt that it’s true — in a stressful situation, we behave instinctively. It is not unreasonable that a 12-year-old girl would thus update Facebook, her default use of her mobile, instead of dialing a number she has never dialed previously.

This is not, as suggested earlier, “devoid of common sense”. There is no common sense in this situation. There is what you have practiced, and what you have not.

Let us turn instead to Mashable’s claim: Too much social media for the girls. Arguably true, but what are the alternatives:

1. They call 000. If you accept my argument above that this is unlikely, it probably is not happening. They will try to do something more familiar.
2. They call/text people they know. One by one, until they reach manage to reach someone, or calm down enough to think to call 000.

Is sending a mass update to everyone you know not better than option number two? Yet nobody would blink if they called their parents, who called 000. However, updating Facebook — a better survival strategy — is looked down upon because it is not option one.

So with all this in mind, why did I answer Mashable and N3W_Media as I did above?

Because I am not answering in terms of the girls. I am answering in terms of the responses I have seen on the Internet. Responses from Mashable, from N3W_Media, from Mashable’s commenters, and the people who retweeted Mashable’s story.

Can social media be a bad thing?

Mashable suggests that social media can be a bad thing. I agree. Most social media is done in small bites, which is encouraged even more with the rise of Twitter. 140 characters or less — say what little you can. It can be a good thing, forcing us to be concise. Limitations can spawn creativity and editing is never a bad thing. But it can also eliminate in depth thought and analysis, in favour of the one-liner. It can discourage sourcing and resourcing.

The flip side — the long side, if you will — is the world of blogs. The blogosphere, as it is known, is full of self-appointed experts on all subjects. Mashable and N3W_Media are no exceptions to this phenomenon. Mashable’s dedication on reporting any and all stories involving social media, with commentary, as they happen is commendable. It’s why I read it. But it is a mistake to believe that this makes their authors into experts, or even critical thinkers.

Knowing what is going on is different from having an aptitude for analyzing or critiquing it. The post’s author (and Mashable founder) Pete Cashmore is undoubtably a fantastic blogger who engages his readers. He is a former web technology consultant. No mention of his education or work experience.

Mr. Cashmore is clearly an expert on many things, and quite successful. But should we be taking his tone on this article — about the behaviour of pre-pubescent girls in an emergency situation — with a grain of salt? Given that he is a 23-year-old web expert, I would say yes. Yet his colouring of this article — something that appears to have been off-the-cuff — has influenced the way huge numbers of people see this situation.

So yes, Mashable. Social media can be a bad thing. It allows us to proclaim ourselves as experts in regards to things we know little about, without researching them, and have our voice heard and believed. It allows us to lose the ability to differentiate between who is in the know, and who is not.

The ability to think critically about what we read has never been more important than it is today. As much as authority should not be trusted on authority alone, it has now been scrambled into niche markets. Mashable reports on social media — but what about when social media crosses paths with emergency services? They have no expertise on the latter. Without research into the subject — apparently not done — their opinion should hold no special value unless it is supported by strong arguments.

That it does speaks to our inability to critically analyze the information at hand.

A generation devoid of common sense

So what of N3W_Media’s question, then? Are we raising a generation devoid of common sense?

I fear this might be the case — not due to the actions of the girls. They did what pre-teens with mobile phones and facebook accounts do when they need to get in touch. They posted to Facebook. When under stress, we do what we practice. Thinking comes later.

But what of the reactions to this story? A quick review of comments shows “dumb bitches”, “Sad and Wrong”, “ROFL tards”, “they deserve it”, to name just a few. Who are these people, so quick to pass judgement? How do they see something wrong in two trapped children calling for help? Sure, not everybody is reacting like this, but many are. I wonder where concepts such as giving the benefit of the doubt have gone to.

I know that I should not expect to find intelligent, mature behaviour on the Internet. I am disappointed nonetheless.

Moreover, I wonder why people do not consider what they would have done themselves in that situation — what they really would have done — trapped in a storm drain. Do unto others as you would have done unto you is not just the golden rule, after all. It is common sense.