Community Driven Privacy and Facebook: PC / Mac / iPhone Dependent?

Facebook is poised to find out whether a social media company make money while adopting user-driven privacy which impacts their revenue potential and shareholder value. Additionally, privacy standards on Facebook may be mobile device / PC browser dependent.

ESET Research Sr. Director Jeff Debrosse and I were talking yesterday about the fundamental differences in Open Content contributors versus employees and a formalized business model. The takeaway we both agreed on was that people intrinsically motivated will provide a better solution that someone wage-earning any day, any time.One of Jeff’s case studies was a discussion of the peer reviewed studies done on Wikipedia’s Open Content vs. Encarta battle being Encarta closing its doors in 2009. In several studies, open source efforts like Wikipedia had been predicted for years to effectively kill content provided for payment.

Open Source? And Facebook? You Lost Me…

The question becomes whether security and privacy concerns be moderated by a community more effectively than security experts – in effect, a pay-for-skill model versus a community, voluntary Open Content model?  image

Open Content Security is an issue close to my heart because of my involvement with the Securing Our eCity campaign going on in San Diego. The grassroots effort is in effect, leveraging the Open Content model to bring interested parties together and educate everyone (kids, seniors, military families, small businesses, college students) about the risks we all have in the 21st Century with cybercrime on the rise.

What’s Being Said: Mobile / Privacy

Facebook is well established, just as the mobile phone is. In fact, in an unofficial cubicle poll, some of us post more than 50% of our Facebook entries with a mobile device. But is online privacy with Facebook technologically agnostic or can different rules apply if you post with your iPhone or other Smartphone? 

Does this mean that early adopters are somehow privacy compromised with their mobile device usage? And what happens if the rules change yet again for Facebook content?

Michelle Green answers these and other Facebook privacy questions in her recent blog post on Ivebeenmugged.com, one of the most up to date resources for privacy and identity theft information online. She also brings up some rational discussion items about privacy in general and where to find the rule changes as they occur: 

“When you post to FB from your smartphone, that device’s privacy settings are in play, not yours… …People who rail about privacy losses or who expect someone to sort it all out have missed the point. Unless you and your bicycle are willing to go cash only and crash at your friends’ houses forever, you’re leaving a data trail. The best you can do is be forearmed and knowledgeable.

…I am impressed with the public lengths FB has gone to establish positive relationships with its member base. It speaks to Facebook’s understanding of privacy as control. If you want to voice your opinions on the running of the platform, you can become a fan of the Facebook governance page. As a fan, you will receive notices of changes to governing documents… If a suggested change gets more than 7,000 comments, FB will offer alternatives that users can vote on. If 30% or more of registered users vote, the vote’s result will be binding on the company. That’s a hell of an approach for a corporation, particularly a privately-held company. The cynic in me that wants to call this hype still recognizes it’s pretty damn substantive hype. 

It does give Facebook leave to say, however, that whatever happens to your data depends on you, the enlightened citizenry of the Facebook Republic.”

How can I know if my mobile apps guard my privacy?

As far as external resources show, Michelle’s question about device controlled privacy settings has merit. This Forbes article speaks towards iPhone apps in particular:

WhatApp is a site that rates the privacy, security and openness of web and mobile applications as well as the various platforms they run on… [whatapp.org], which was co-created by Stanford University Law fellow Ryan Calo last year and went into beta in March, has rated Facebook's privacy significantly lower than that of other platforms like Twitter and the iPhone.

"I think people are upset because when you download an app, you don't have any control over what the app developer sees on your profile," says Calo. "There's the perception among users that they don't need to give away so much information to have the apps do the same thing as they are currently doing."

…Calo says he also wants to encourage developers to build apps not only for functionality and fun, but with privacy in mind. Developers can use the site to "brag" about their apps' privacy if they've achieved a high rating.

Open Content Privacy Takeaways

I’m optimistic. Maybe that comes from my Berkeley upbringing where my UC Berkeley parents were members of the first coop food stores in the state. Maybe it comes from watching a life scale model of people doing the impossible every day and landing jets on a pitching flight deck – one every minute. Both show a dedication to the intrinsic value of the group’s well being, and I think that any community – Berkeley hippies or Naval Aviation – has the same ability to organize and provide a better product than the private sector can because they take pride in the job itself.

  1. If Open Content rules apply to security as well as they did with contributing content to Wikipedia, then efforts like Securing Our eCity and other grassroots Open Content projects have a stronger chance in success. This means we can win this cybercrime through education and community involvement.
  2. With the direction Facebook is taking as well as watchdog style community groups like WhatApp, industry privacy concerns may have a stronger chance of being addressed by the free market instead of regulation. 

Securing Our eCity Contributing Writer

Open Content Research Resources:

  1. Motivations of Contributors to Wikipedia [PDF]
  2. Search for a Better Intellectual Property Model: Lessons from Open Source [PDF]

Author ESET Research, ESET

  • Toby

    I noticed something about the iphone facebook app. On facebook (the website), if you are not friends with someone, you can't post to their wall. However on the iphone app, you can browse to their wall (and it says 'has no posts' or whatever) but there is also a text box where it seems you can post a comment. 
    Has anyone tried it?

  • R. Michelle Green

    Charles Jeter — Thanks for going into more detail on privacy from mobile devices. The likelihood that people will keep up with all this is so small!  Again the deck is stacked for the house…  BTW, I am enjoying delving into your site!

  • Charles

    @Toby: Interesting – that sounds like it could be worth following up on. I've noticed that some content from LinkedIn and other social networks leaks into Google search results which makes me wonder if there is a platform-specific privacy exploit on a social network, would your content quickly become searchable via commercial engines?
    @Michelle: You're welcome! Great content deserves a plug or two. The deck does get stacked for the house, but even they hate the 'overt' cybercriminals like Aryeh mentioned in his '1.5 million' post on Saturday. Hopefully the open-source privacy efforts from FB pay off and it turns into a responsible Neighborhood Watch-like program.

  • William Harris

    I’m finding it more difficult to trust these social networking sites given their lack of privacy concerns. The facebook CEO also seems to have done some shady things in the early days of FB and has showed complete apathy towards the privacy concerns of the users. The lack of privacy is reaching absurd levels in social networking with other sites like Blippy appearing on the scene. Hopefully, facebook makes some changes soon.

    • http://www.securingourecity.org/blog/about/about-charles-jeter/ Charles Jeter

      Hi William,

      Thanks so much for the comment. The irony that you’d mention Blippy just before my scathing article about it is simply a killer coincidence. :)

      To be fair, I see a lot of benefit to keeping the world connected through social networks. As the United Nations Development Program’s Internet Communication Technology Digital Opportunity Initiative showed back in 2001, the benefits of people who communicate regularly bring higher income and more peace to all. (very rapid summation of a complex theory) So what that means is that I can get back in contact with people from Australia or Tokyo I met back in the early 1990s all with a simple name lookup. If they want to talk to me, super cool!

      However… The secret is in the usage of the data. Visibility into the EULAs and when they change EULA is what separate business from nonprofit. The more people share, the more they are vulnerable to marketing as well as cybercrime. One is legal, the other is not so much.

      I think Facebook will adapt or it will turn into the next Bebo / Friendster / Myspace and fade off into oblivion.

      Charles

  • Willhelm

    I couldnt possibly live without an Iphone :p Great article btw, thanks for it.

    • Charles Jeter

      Thanks Willhelm! You never know where your data goes when it’s all device dependent… Talk about another way to confuse the consumer!

  • Wunag H. Moont

    Have you ever tested it on your own?

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