You like me, you really like me

This week, I read two very different articles about using the like function on Facebook.

First, I read about Mat Honan of Wired liking everything he saw on Facebok for 48 hours. Then I read about Elan Morgan avoiding Facebook’s like function for two weeks.

The results speak for themselves.

Honan managed to change Facebook into a nightmare site, full of trashy linkbait. All the reasons we put up with Facebook’s horrible privacy track record were lost in a giant trashpile of “… and you won’t believe what happened next!” By contrast, Morgan saw the trash pile diminish and his friends emerge. From his description, it sounds like the Facebook News feed that conned us into signing on to the service re-emerged when the likes were thrown in the trash.

A reminder

After reading the two articles, the first thing I thought was well yeah, duh, of course.

But these things are only obvious now that my attention has been drawn to it. Facebook’s like function is not, in truth, a tool for Facebook users to indicate that they like something. It is not a thumbs-up to the author of the status. These things are spin.

The like function is Facebook’s primary tool to track what you are looking at, and it feeds the algorithm that places garbage in your Facebook News feed.

And if you overfeed the algorithm, it grows to Godzilla proportions, and decimates the Tokyo that is your News feed. Starve it, and it dies. Or, at least, becomes a weak shadow of its former self.

Strangely enough, while I had been finding Facebook much worse lately, I did not associate it with my recent decision to be more participatory — which, essentially, means that I’ve been liking more things. If anything, I was trying to like my way out of it – trying to like more ‘better’ things, in an effort to turn the algorithm. I should have been starving it, instead.

I really like you. You really like me.

So I’m going to take a page out of Morgan’s book, and stop liking you on Facebook.

Not just you, though. Everything.

I’ll still try to be more participatory, but using comments instead. It might even cause some conversations with friends. Which is exactly what Facebook is meant to encourage. But what it needs you to avoid.

And if you stop liking me? I’ll understand. From here on, I’ll assume that you would have liked what I wrote. You just don’t want to feed the algorithm.


Image is Thumbs up, by Vincent

Ask your ISP to delete your data today

Apologies to international readers – today I’m speaking to my fellow UK residents. Although I suppose a variant of this applies to EU visitors to the Big Bad Blog as well.

There has been a trend of late for governments to force your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to track what you’re doing online. They are required to keep a record of the sites you visit, the emails you send, and the calls you make. The idea being is that the government can then retroactively spy on you, as they will have a huge amount of data on your behaviour, if they ever have reason to suspect you of a crime.

Of course, with all your data collected, there is always the worry about hackers. Or your ISP selling the data. Or whatever happens in your favourite dystopian science fiction future.

But good news! In April, the European Court of Justice found that such laws violate our right to privacy!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your ISP has stopped collecting all this data. To help keep your data private, I recommend scooting over to the Open Rights Group page, where they have created a convenient online form you can use to ask your ISP to delete your data.

Or, if you don’t want to use their form, just download the letter template, and ask them yourself.

The password conundrum

Until recently I guffawed at password managers. They were for the weekminded.

Me? I didn’t need them.

It’s simple, really — I have a formula. I combine a site’s name with a mnemonic, which generates a sequence of letters, numbers, and symbols which is long, hard to guess, and doesn’t fit with any sort of normal dictionary-style attack.

The whole thing is pretty much perfect. It allows me to visit a site, and punch in a long, complex password. Right out of my head. It’s written down nowhere. It’s not used for any other website.

Sure, sometimes I have websites complain that my password is too long. Or contains “illegal” characters. Or doesn’t start with a letter. And I complain under my breath that they shouldn’t complain that my password is too secure, and use a dumbed-down version of the formula.

(Oh, and hello, Microsoft. I was surprised to find that you belong in the group described in the previous paragraph. Shame on you.)

Oh, but the security breaches these days. It seems that a new site has a breach every few days. So I need to create a new mnemonic, or integrate the current one in a different way. Or use the dumbed down one.

But I don’t go through every website to change to the new mnemnoic, so I have a mix of two. Or four, if you count the dumbed down versions. Or more.

And it’s getting ridiculous. Because they’re long, semi-random strings, I make occasional typing mistakes when typing in the password. And now I don’t know – do I re-type the password I just used? Do I move to the dumbed-down version? Do I move to the older mnemonic? The newer formula? I can find myself typing in a half-dozen different passwords, before either getting in or locked out.

My previously brilliant approach to having memorable, unguessable, unique passwords has evolved into a mess of alternatives that I can no longer keep straight.

In other words: it’s time for password management.


The Options

Looking through the world of password managers, I see three that stand out from the pack.

LastPass seems to be the general market leader. And both RoboForm and Keeper seem to offer good quality solutions …


All the (good) solutions I have found have something in common. They are provided by companies based in the United States. And it seems inevitable that the U.S. will pass a legal requirement to make web sites “wiretap ready”. Which is another way of saying that there will (probably) soon be a requirement that every U.S.-based website put a backdoor in their website which will allow the police — and hackers, because that’s the nature of online security — access to the data therein.

Essentially, I have to assume that an American service will be compromised. And I don’t want all my passwords to be compromised.

So, Internet. Over to you.

Is there a quality password manager that is headquartered in Europe (and stores their data here)?

Do any of these options work in a way that will keep my passwords in a protected place off of American soil?

Image is Secure Cloud Computing, by FutUndBeidl.

The money and the mouth

There are some things that have been bothering me lately. There’s the government’s horrible track record with technology, capped by the Great British Firewall, with which David Cameron and friends do their best to hobble the internet. For the children.

I don’t think it’s doing the children any good.

Of course, blocking pornography from children (even if only in theory) is one thing – one of the many arguments that oppose this approach is that it’s a slippery slope. And there are signs that no time has been wasted, and we appear to be on our way towards slipping already.

And then there’s the spying.

If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.

I have almost taken the opposite approach, and try to make my online interactions public, as much as possible. But Mr. Orwell’s advice seems inadequate. Another line from the same novel tells us that Big Brother is watching. And it’s true, but Big Brother doesn’t only watch us. It watches our friends. And it can learn a lot about us, if our friends don’t hold their secrets as closely as we do.

Between the corporations and GCHQ, it may not be possible to hide secrets online anymore. Even if you can’t find them yourself.

I am surprised about the degree to which these things bother me. So when the Open Rights Group put out a call for support last week, needing more member in order to hire a legal director and fight these sorts of things in the courts, I jumped in.

I put my money where my mouth is. Or, rather, where my mouth ought to be.

The Open Rights Group met their goal, but that shouldn’t stop you from following in my footsteps and joining as well. This sort of legal work is expensive, and it sometimes seems as though there’s a new front every week.