What Are You Not Telling the World Online?

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Last year, there was a brilliant preliminary report that came out of MIT where two grad students decided to explore the idea of privacy implications based on omission. In other words, these students said that they could predict, with a high degree of accuracy, the sexual orientation and inclinations of people based on their activities, friends and, notably, omission of certain information on the social networks.

The study was called Project Gaydar and reported a high degree of accuracy in identifying the sexual orientation of people who explicitly did not share that on Facebook.

Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction. The two students had no way of checking all of their predictions, but based on their own knowledge outside the Facebook world, their computer program appeared quite accurate for men, they said. People may be effectively “outing” themselves just by the virtual company they keep.

In an age of renewed concerns about privacy surrounding Twitter, location-based networks such as Foursquare and Facebook’s new Places service, one wonders just how much information that you are not sharing is actually being shown to the world.

For instance, is it logical to deduce that when a persons tone online moves from gregarious to tame, they may be job hunting and wanting to put their best foot forward? Or maybe in the early stages of a new, burgeoning relationship? What can be surmised by a spate of new LinkedIn recommendations? Is a pattern of Twitter status update frequency something that can be reasonably used to deduce some meaning?

Many people are very cautious to curate their online identities in such a way that seems presentable to the outside world. They shape and form their identities for maximum benefit. But what are they not saying that is still being communicated?

My friend, and data monkey, Keith Casey and I are proposing a panel to explore this more at SXSW. We would love your vote to ensure we get selected. It’s a fun topic and one that is front and center in an age with increasing privacy concerns.

I Told You So: Blockbuster Sued over Facebook Beacon

In December, I wrote a post stating that Companies using Facebook Beacon as a marketing tool would get sued and demonstrated the privacy policies in effect at a number of the Beacon partners. One of those is Blockbuster, which as noted in the December post, was so over the top with it’s privacy policy. It’s, in fact, criminal, in my opinion.

Techcrunch is now reporting that Blockbuster is in fact being sued by a Texas woman who under the premise of a 1988 federal law called the Video Privacy Protection Act (18 USC § 2710) which was enacted after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork was b0rked when video rental history was released during his confirmation hearing. The law prevents video rental companies from disclosing personally identifiable data regarding a member and his/her rental history.

Sidenote: Can someone do a LEXIS/NEXIS search for me and find out if this law has ever been upheld by the SCOTUS?

This is pretty important. Admittedly, I have not done any significant research into how Beacon works with partners since late last year, but at the time, the data was shared by identifiable email addresses. How else do you associate a users partner activity with a Facebook account?

This flew in the face of their privacy policy which stated:

Blockbuster will not provide User or Member e-mail addresses to business partners, unless the User or Member has provided express permission to Blockbuster.

Regardless of whether a Facebook user has opted in or out of Beacon advertising within Facebook, express opt-in is required on the Blockbuster side. And at the time, and pertinent to this lawsuit, even with consent it is criminal for video rental companies to share this kind of data, per 18 USC § 2710.

Stick around Technosailor for more of what you need to know. ;-)

Update: Online Media Daily writes, “But the Beacon platform still allegedly transmits information about people’s activity from Blockbuster to Facebook, unless they have checked a box telling Blockbuster to never send such information.” Enough said.

Ubica a tus Amigos con Livecontacts

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FindWhere lanza el beta de Livecontacts.

FindWhere, proveedor de servicios de ubicación y seguimiento via GPS, lanzó hoy la versión beta de su herramienta social de ubicación.

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Livecontacts funciona en cualquier red celular GSM y eventualmente funcionará en teléfonos sin GPS. Según la compañía, pronto podrás incluir data de ubicación en tu mensajería de texto, juegos y redes sociales desde tu celular. El sistema de ubicación puede ser activado por el usuario según su preferencia.

La posibilidad de ubicar a tus amigos en tu celular (y que estos te ubiquen a ti) abre interesantes posibilidades (dodgeball ha intentado algo parecido), pero también nos obliga a pensar más a fondo en nuestra privacidad y hasta donde estamos dispuestos a cambiarla por comodidad.

Hasta ahora hemos estado dispuestos a compartir mucho de nuestra vida profesional y cotidiana via redes sociales como Twitter y Facebook con perfectos extraños que sólo conocemos por referencia (a veces de otros extraños). Aplicaciones como Livecontacts nos permitirán compartir nuestra ubicación física con nuestra red social… fomentando encuentros en el mundo físico. Se cierra de esta forma el círculo social, usando la internet para encontrarnos fuera de ella. Espero que esto sea para bien de los usuarios y nadie salga lastimado.

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