Facebook Dominates Social Networking, Garnering 95% of Consumers Social Networking Time

December 26, 2011

Social networking is all but synonymous with Facebook according to new an analysis of comScore data and charted by web publisher Ben Elowitz of Wetpaint.

The service commands 95% of all social networking time, a remarkable feat essentially accomplished in just 4 ½ years.

Facebook’s fortunes took off when the disastrous mismanagement of MySpace, horrific lapses in privacy and safety features (think of the news stories of early 2009 when MySpace had to acknowledge removing 90,000 convicted sex offenders) and tawdry ads placed on user’s pages disgusted their user base and marketers alike.

How much has Facebook learned from MySpace’s foibles?

While Facebook has largely avoided the label of being a haven for sexual predators, they have been slow to provide consumer with customer support or assistance, and they have trampled consumer privacy so many times that last month’s FTC charges against the company for deceiving consumers by failing to keep their privacy policies is but one incident in a long line of penalties and fines Facebook has faced for their practices. Of note is the $9 million dollar fine levied by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s office in 2009, the Facebook Buzz debacle, and the current demand by European countries for changes, see Europeans calls on Facebook to adapt data-privacy changes to comply with local laws.

It is tempting to believe that Facebook is an unstoppable juggernaut, but that may change if another, more respectful alternative comes along.



Tech Use on College Campuses – 60% of Students Say they Wouldn’t Attend a School that Doesn’t have Free WiFi

December 22, 2011

It’s not news that this generation of college students is wired, but just how wired they are – and when they want face-time – can be seen in a new infographic showing research into technology use and preferences on campuses.

Asked which single website or online resource they couldn’t live without, only 3% picked Facebook, while 11% said Wikipedia and 36% said Google.

As for the most important software and applications for college students? Unsurprisingly, word processors are the most vital to 76% of students, but email came in second with 66% of students – so much for the theories that youth aren’t emailing. Scan the infographic to learn more….

Technology Use on the College campus
Via: Online Colleges Guide


The state of the Internet Infographic – Cool Stats to Ponder

August 23, 2011

What makes this  State of the Internet by Mashable [infographic] so interesting is that it is dynamic, you can see the number of new internet users, and new websites coming online, click around the world to see the internet’s role in various countries, and has interesting stats about the videos uploaded each minute, the searches, tweets, and more.

Interesting stats (subject to change by the time you look at them!):

  • Avg. time spent on Facebook per month – 17 hours and 33 minutes
  • Videos watched on YouTube per day – 2 billion
  • 119 Million Tweets sent per day
  • 35 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • 1.2 Million Editors edit 11 million articles per month on Wikipedia
  • The online dating industry is worth $4 billion worldwide
  • Your facebook profile is worth $91

Have fun exploring.


Kudos to Groupon for Notifying Consumers of Privacy Changes – and Doing so in Advance of Rollout

July 17, 2011

Defying the prevailing practice of steadily eroding user’s privacy and doing so without so much as a warning, Groupon has sent users a clear advance notice of pending changes and encourages users to read them.

And (Gasp!) Groupon is actually strengthening their privacy commitment to consumers, giving users more control over their privacy settings, and making their policy easier to understand.

It is a sad reflection on the internet industry that the respect Groupon shows their consumers is noteworthy, and it highlights a very clear gap that consumers generally have failed to appreciate.

There are two types of internet companies – those that respect you, and those that don’t.

Companies that respect their consumers work hard to give you full control over the information they collect and store about you. They are respectful of how they share any information about you and selective in choosing the companies with whom they share your information.

Respectful companies make it easy to understand their privacy policies and terms of use, notify you in advance of any significant changes to their terms or services, make it easy for you to remove your information from their sites and put strong measures in place to secure your data. Learn more about how respectful companies behave in my blogs Your Internet Safety and Privacy Rights – Standards for Respectful Companies, and Privacy Policy Changes – Some Companies Get Notification Right.

Conversely, companies that change their terms of use and privacy policies without notice, add features that impact your privacy, security or safety without notice, that default (or later change) your settings to public, or are careless in their protection of your information, show their true colors[i].  These companies often find themselves in the crosshairs by privacy advocates, the FTC, and even Congress.  These companies knowingly exploit you and your information for their next buck.

Why use a company or service that doesn’t respect you?

Figuring out which companies respect your privacy, security, and safety isn’t rocket science – my bet is you’ll know within 5 seconds of apply some basic criteria to sort the companies you use into respectful vs. disrespectful buckets.

Why use a company that doesn’t put you, the customer, first when respectful companies can be found in every category of online service? Though they may not be the most popular choice today, you have the power to change that.

If enough people ask themselves why they’re staying in an abusive relationship with a company that doesn’t put them first two things will happen. The most popular companies will quickly become the ones that put users first, and disrespectful companies will quickly change their tune and show greater respect in order to avoid collapse.

Understand the power you command in the internet economy.

What value does a social network, a search engine, a dating site, a shopping site, a gaming site, etc., have if it has no users? None, zip, zero, nada.  To understand this, look at the fate of MySpace. The once “unbeatable” social network bought by News Corp. for $580 million in 2005, was dumped last week for $35 million because most users left.

In no other venue do consumers wield as much power as on the internet because in the internet’s business model you, the consumer, are the core commodity. Without consumers there are no advertisers. No shoppers. No information exchanges. No matter the current size of an internet company, if users leave the company is effectively dead.

Right now, the public remains a sleeping giant, but naptime is over.

If you want a better internet experience, if you want to be respected, protected, secure and in control online it will only come by rewarding companies that do the right thing. Make a commitment to only use companies that treat you as the valuable commodity you are, with the respect you deserve, with the controls in your hands (not theirs), and shun sites that fail to measure up.

Make companies earn your business. If even 5% of internet users demanded respect, the internet world would stand on its head to provide it.  The power is in your hands, which sites will you use?


[i] Note: Not all companies who are hacked have been careless with your information, but when a company like Sony stores information like your passwords in clear text (unencrypted) it represents a shoddy disregard for consumer safety.

The Always Up-to-Date Guide to Managing Your Facebook Privacy

July 9, 2011

The first sentence of this article on LifeHacker says it all; “Keeping your Facebook info private is getting harder and harder all the time – mostly because Facebook keeps trying to make it public.”

With 700 million users – and the parents of users – valiantly trying to keep up with Facebook’s ever shifting exposure tactics (a.k.a. their privacy policies) checking the Always up-to-Date Guide to Managing your Facebook Privacy by Whitson Gordon should become a recurring monthly calendar event.

I’m serious. Given the rate of new feature rollouts/information exposure opportunities, a once-a-month check to ensure you aren’t sharing as much as Facebook would like needs to be as automatic as paying your bills.

If you’re a Chrome user, you’d be wise to also consider downloading the free Internet Shame Insurance app created by another Lifehacker, Adam Pash. This tool “adds privacy reminders to Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail to help you avoid the most common online communication faux pas. The extension sits in the background and springs into action only when you’re about to post a status update or reply all.”

My only point of disagreement with Gordon’s Always Up-to-Date Guide is with the sentence ,“Despite plenty of user complaints, Facebook still hasn’t caught on to the “opt-in” philosophy”. This isn’t a dull-witted or slow moving company that still hasn’t caught on to respecting consumer’s privacy. Rather it’s a company who knows damn well the wishes of its users but blatantly chooses to ignore these in favor of more revenue.

To learn more, see my blogs Privacy Policy Changes – Some Companies Get Notification Right and Your Internet Safety and Privacy Rights – Standards for Respectful Companies.


Privacy Policy Changes – Some Companies Get Notification Right

July 7, 2011

It’s time to demand honest, clear notices that come well in advance of Privacy Policy changes to give consumers an opportunity to opt out, protest, or take some other course of action.

Facebook users learned last week that their privacy had received another ‘haircut’. This latest round of Privacy Policy changes gives Facebook the right to sell your information to other companies in a clear profit-trumps-privacy equation.

Adding insult to injury, the company chose to minimize the press coverage – and number of consumers who would hear of the changes – by delaying their notice until after press deadlines on a Friday – for more information on the latest changes see Facebook privacy changes would share user data with other sites.

These practices are unacceptable. It’s time to demand a change.

Most companies, including flagships Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo!, go to great lengths to protect your privacy, have clearly understandable policies that don’t change every time you turn around, and clearly respect their users.

Geni.com, a genealogy site, goes even further and embodies the proactive approach to policy changes. Not only do they make their privacy practices clear on their website, the following email was just sent to their users giving very clear, advance notice about changes to their privacy policy. It’s so impressive, I’ve attached the entire email; it is well worth your attention. Click the image to see in full size

Geni.com site richly deserves the accolades they’ve received from PC Magazine, TIME, and CNET for being a great website. Their advance notification of policy changes to each and every member (and they strengthened their privacy protections – what a thought!) has now earned them a far humbler, but rarely given, award – the LOOKBOTHWAYS seal of approval. Congratulations Geni on being a shining example of transparency and consumer respect.

We encourage all companies with a web presence to employ consumer safety and privacy best practices in every aspect of their development, testing, support, and within their consumer services.”

As a percentage of companies, those who exploit consumers are but a fraction, but the tremendous reach of Facebook, and others with less than stellar track records like Google, means that most of the US population  (and a significant number of global users) are adversely impacted by their actions.

Sending users an email notification of any upcoming policy changes is easy and ethical. Sites already store every registered user’s email address, and email provides an excellent opportunity to clearly explain changes – including graphic representations of complex concepts – and provide links to where they can learn more, or ask questions.

The Radicati Group estimated that the number of emails sent per day in 2008 were around 210 billion, so for most sites sending an email to all their users would barely be a blip. But for huge sites that feel sending several hundred million emails would be prohibitive, there is a clear alternative; use a notification screen in front of every user (once per user) at least one week in advance of the changes that requires their action, or the action of their parent, before proceeding. For those who did not log on during the notification week (or longer time period), the notification should be changed to inform them of the changes that did occur so they can take action at that time.

Will providing clear notification annoy some users? Of course, so do seatbelts but they protect consumers from clear risks.

You have the right to an informed online experience. You have the right to set your own terms for your online experience. You have the right to expect online products and services to guard your safety and privacy. Learn more about your rights in Your Internet Safety and Privacy Bill of Rights.

As consumers you can—and should—vote with your feet if the experience you’re having on a service doesn’t meet your expectations. Even Facebook has had to beat a retreat when enough consumers rioted.


Facebook Rolls out New Feature – Using Same Old Tactics

June 19, 2011

“We should have been more clear” Says Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes, responding to criticism about the deployment of the company’s new feature called Tag Suggestions without first notifying the users. Tag Suggestions is a facial recognition feature that allows users to identify an individual across multiple photos.

Sure you can turn off this feature, but it’s on by default.  The defense seems to be “if you don’t like it you can turn if off”, but that’s really the whole point. Users should not have to find a feature they don’t know exists to turn it off – after the feature has already rolled out and their images possibly tagged.

The Facebook apology (“we should have been more clear”) rings particularly hollow as this follows a long history of implement first; weather the protests; sound contrite but don’t change anything; wait for people to give up fighting it – and if that doesn’t work, reluctantly pull back.

Remember Beacon? This ‘feature’, launched in late 2008 took details about purchases a user made and by default shared that information making it visible to all their friends. Under extreme pressure Facebook finally made it optional then, nearly a year after its launch, they were forced to close it entirely after they lost a class-action lawsuit by furious users.

Facebook Privacy Settings. Can you say oxymoron? At least once a year Facebook ‘updates’ it’s privacy settings to expose more of your information than ever before. You can see this clear erosion in a blog posted in April 2010 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation titled Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline. These updates usually come after tremendous consumer protest and investigations by government bodies in the U.S. and abroad (you can thank the Canadian Privacy Minister and the EU for some of the restraints Facebook has had to bow to)

In fact, it was only a year ago that we heard nearly the same apology over another set of privacy encroachments, when Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s said, in what might have been one of the biggest understatement of 2010″We just missed the mark”. That statement, and this week’s “we should have been more clear” are non-apologies. As Peter Kafka commented on the 2010 incident “After weeks of noisy complaints about Facebook’s newest privacy issues, Mark Zuckerberg used an op-ed in the Washington Post to reverse course and beg his users for forgiveness. Hah! Not really. Zuckerberg’s 528-word memo might seem contrite, but only if you skim quickly. Read closely and you’ll see that it’s a classic nonapology–he’s sorry that Facebook “move[d] too fast.”

What’s really at stake here is money.  Every single piece of information about you has financial value. Too many consumers think that using a company’s “free” services is free. They aren’t. It just means the company makes money in some other fashion.  Facebook (like other ‘free’ companies) makes money by advertising. The way they attract advertisers is by providing advertisers as much information as possible about you so they can target the most relevant market segments.  This means collecting as much information as they can about you = more money.  Given this financial model, Facebook’s intrusion of consumers’ privacy is no accident; it’s the key to their financial growth. If you look on Facebook’s advertising page you’ll see this clearly spelled out:

I am not opposed to companies making money. I am opposed to them doing so using information they did not give consumers a full understanding of how it would be used, or giving consumers the notice and ability to block the collection of new types of information IN ADVANCE of rolling out new privacy encroachments.  That’s just unethical.

Facebook has learned over their long history of introducing new features without informing users that in most cases, memories are short. After the initial furor subsides users accept the new settings. It was for just this type of behavior that the moral of the frog placed in warm water, vs. the frog placed in boiling water was created.  Letting encroachment occur incrementally because you are too complacent to address each new infringement allows Facebook to take every last shred of your privacy.

As users you need to demand rights or you won’t have any. It is for this reason  I periodically publish your ‘bill of rights’ as internet users:

Consumer Internet Safety and Privacy Rights – A Standard for Respectful Companies

ALL Internet users have the expectation of a safe Internet experience, and respectful companies strive to provide quality safety and privacy options that are easily discovered and used by consumers.  Your safety and privacy, as well as the safety and privacy of your family on the Internet should be core elements of online product and service design.

In a nutshell, online consumers should demand these rights (I’ve highlighted the ones specifically relevant to this incident):

  1. Establishing safety and privacy settings should be an element in the registration, or activation of a specific feature’s, process.  This includes informing you in easily understood language about the potential consequences of your choices. This allows, and requires, you to make your own choices, rather than being pushed into hidden, default settings. 
  2. During the registration or activation process, articles of the terms and conditions, and privacy policy, that might affect your privacy or safety, or that of a minor in your care, should be presented to you in easy to understand language, not in a long, complicated legal document in small font.  
  3. You should expect complete, easily understood information and age appropriate recommendations about every safety and privacy feature in a product or service.
  4. You should expect to easily report abuse of the products or abuse through the products of you or someone in your care.
  5. You should expect a notice or alert if a significant safety or privacy risk is discovered in an online product or service you or someone in your care is using.
  6. The provider needs to publish on a regular basis statistics demonstrating how well the company enforces its policies.  Such statistics should include; the number and types of abuse reports, number of investigations conducted, and number and type of corrective actions taken by the provider.
  7. When services or products are upgraded, you have the right to be informed of new features or changes to existing features and their impact on your – or your child’s – safety or privacy in advance of the rollout. 
  8. When the terms of use or privacy policy of any provider are about to change, you have the right to be informed in advance of the changes and their impact on your – or your child’s – safety and privacy.
  9. When a provider informs you of changes to their features, privacy policy, or terms and conditions, they should provide you with a clearly discoverable, way to either opt out, or block the change, or to terminate your account.  
  10. When terminating an account, your provider should enable you to remove permanently and completely all of your personal information, posts, photos, and any other personal content you may have provided or uploaded, or that has been collected by the provider about you.

 To disable Facebook’s tagging feature:

Go to your Facebook Privacy Settings, under the Account menu

  1. Click “Customize Settings.”
  2. Under the heading “Things Others Share,” click on Edit Settings next to “Suggest photos of me to friends.”
  3. Switch the “Enabled” menu to “Disabled” and click “Okay.”