Why would Facebook want to enroll children in a service built with little regard for adult safety/privacy/security? For the money.

June 7, 2012

A floundering Facebook is under increased pressure to shore up their revenue and flat per user minutes. So it was no surprise to see the Wall Street Journal report that Facebook is developing technology to allow children younger than 13 years old to use the social-networking service under parental supervision in spite of their abysmal track record in protecting older consumers.

Yet Facebook is already in deep trouble over their consistent encroachment on consumer privacy, the service is a hot bed for malware and scams, their advertising is not suitable for younger users.

The issues around Facebook’s interest in onboarding the under 13’s fall into three categories:

  • Facebook’s predatory privacy practices
  • Facebook’s financial woes
  • There is a need for a responsible social network where children, adults and commercial content can mix, but Facebook isn’t it

Facebook’s Predatory Privacy Practices

From its inception, Facebook has shown a deliberate disregard for consumer privacy, trust, or safety. This attitude was evidenced by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s early IM comments, and has continued ever since through the company’s privacy policy choices, and blatant deception and exploitation of users information.  Consider the following points:

  • Consumer’s feelings of betrayal run so high that 70% of Facebook users say they do not trust Facebook with their personal information.
  • The FTC found Facebook’s assault on consumer privacyso egregious that last fall (2011) they charged Facebook with deceiving consumers by failing to keep their privacy promises. The FTC complaint lists a number of instances in which Facebook allegedly made promises that it did not keep:
    • In December 2009, Facebook changed its website so certain information that users may have designated as private – such as their Friends List – was made public. They didn’t warn users that this change was coming, or get their approval in advance.
    • Facebook represented that third-party apps that users’ installed would have access only to user information that they needed to operate. In fact, the apps could access nearly all of users’ personal data – data the apps didn’t need.
    • Facebook told users they could restrict sharing of data to limited audiences – for example with “Friends Only.” In fact, selecting “Friends Only” did not prevent their information from being shared with third-party applications their friends used.
    • Facebook had a “Verified Apps” program & claimed it certified the security of participating apps. It didn’t.
    • Facebook promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did.
    • Facebook claimed that when users deactivated or deleted their accounts, their photos and videos would be inaccessible. But Facebook allowed access to the content, even after users had deactivated or deleted their accounts.
    • Facebook claimed that it complied with the U.S.- EU Safe Harbor Framework that governs data transfer between the U.S. and the European Union. It didn’t.

The settlement bars Facebook from making any further deceptive privacy claims, requires that the company get consumers’ approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and requires that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.

Facebook also failed from the beginning to build in strong security, monitoring or abuse tracking technologies, issues they’ve attempted to patch with varying degrees of seriousness or success as evidenced by the constant circulation of malware on the service, the breach of consumer’s information, consumers inability to reach a human for help when abuse occurs, and so on.

Facebook’s financial woes

It’s always about the money. With over 900 million users Facebook is still a force to be reckoned with, but their trajectory is looking a lot more like the climax before the cliff that MySpace faced.

Facebook’s financial problems have been building for some time but the company’s IPO brought financial scrutiny to the forefront and highlights their need to infuse new blood into the service – even if that means exposing children to a service that already poses clear risks to adults. Here’s a quick recap of the financial failings of Facebook:

  • Facebook stock is in a free fall, closing at $26.90 on June 4th when this article was written. That’s down more than $11 dollars, or 29% in the first 17 days of trading – and the stock continued to fall in after hour trading.  
  • The IPO valuation fiasco is far from over; Zuckerberg is now being sued for selling more than $1 billion shares just before stock prices plummeted. The suit says Facebook a “knew there was not enough advertising revenue to support a $38 stock valuation but hid that revenue information in order to push up the share price”.
  • In April, Facebook’s payments revenue went flat according to Business Insider. After growing a consistent 20% quarter over quarter, the first quarter of this year “revenue from payments and other fees [from games and partners] actually fell slightly, according to its latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that 4 out of 5 Facebook users have never bought a product or service as a result of ads or comments on the site, highlighting Facebook’s inability to successfully market to users.

  • The amount of time users spend on Facebook has also gone flat according to ComScore, a fact also highlighted by the Reuters/Ipsos poll which found that 34% of Facebook users surveyed were spending less time on the website than six months ago, whereas only 20% were spending more.

 

  • Advertisers are bailing. A nasty reality check came from General Motors just days before the company’s IPO as GM pulled their ad campaigns saying “their paid ads had little effect on customers” according to the Wall Street Journal.  

And an article on HuffingtonPost.com  reports that “more than 50 percent of Facebook users say they never click on Facebook’s sponsored ads, according to a recent Associated Press-CNBC poll. In addition, only 12% of respondents say they feel comfortable making purchases over Facebook, begging the question of how the social network can be effectively monetized.”

It’s easy to see why investors are angry, lawsuits have been filed and the government is investigating the debacle.

When 54% of consumers distrust the safety of making purchases through Facebook, and 70% of consumers say they do not trust Facebook with their personal information, and reports that consumer distrust in Facebook deepened as a result of issues around the IPO the company are surfacing, Facebook is looking more tarnished than ever.

As Nicholas Thompson wrote in The New Yorker, “Facebook, more than most other companies, needs to worry deeply about its public perception. It needs to be seen as trustworthy and, above all, cool. Mismanaging an I.P.O. isn’t cool, neither is misleading shareholders. Government investigations of you aren’t cool either.” And ´ The reputation of Facebook’s management team has also been deeply tarnished, particularly by the accusations that it wasn’t entirely open to investors about declining growth in its advertising business.”

There is a need for a responsible social network where children, adults and commercial content can mix, but Facebook isn’t it

Facebook has identified a real gap. There is a legitimate need for a social networking platform where kids can interact with adult family members and other trusted older individuals as well as commercial entities.

This need is evidenced by the 5.6 million underage youth still using Facebook today with or without their parent’s permission for lack of a more appropriate solution.

This 5.6 million underage user number is noteworthy for two reasons:

A)      It shows a significant number of children are using the site.

B)      More importantly it represents a 25.3% reduction of underage users over the past year when Consumer Reports found 7.5 million underage users on the site.  One could reasonably assume that the dramatic drop in underage use of Facebook is precisely because Consumer Reports published their data and that alarmed parents stepped in to block their use.

That 25.3% reduction strikes at the very heart of two of Facebook and their advocates’ key tenants; 1) since so many underage kids are already using Facebook, it would be safer for them if Facebook opened up the service for underage users and gave parents some access and controls to manage their use, and 2) parents want their children to be able to use Facebook.

To be clear, of the 5.6 million children still on the service, many have parents who helped them get onto Facebook. According to Dr. Danah Boyd, one of the researchers studying the issue of parents helping children get on the site, the reason parents told her they allowed their children on Facebook was because parents “want their kids to have access to public life and, today, what public life means is participating even in commercial social media sites.”

Boyd added that the parents helping their kids with access “are not saying get on the sites and then walk away. These are parents who have their computers in the living room, are having conversations with their kids, they often helping them create their accounts to talk to grandma.”

Note that Boyd’s findings don’t say parents want their children on Facebook. The findings say parents want their child to have access to public life. Given the dearth of alternative options, they allow their kids on Facebook with considerable supervision.  Why with considerable supervision? Because the site has inherent safety issues for users of all ages, and the safety issues would be greater for kids.

To date, Facebook has chosen not to cater to children under 13 because to do so requires complying with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which Facebook advocate Larry Magid suggests “can be difficult and expensive” – yet hundreds of companies who take children’s privacy seriously comply with the policies today.

It is more than a little suspicious that Facebook made public their consideration to open their service to children just after they doubled their lobbying budget and just before the upcoming review of COPPA requirements – where the company will have the opportunity to press for weaker COPPA regulations.

Would it be safer for kids using the site to have additional protections such as Facebook suggests implementing?  Yes. But that’s the wrong question.  It is also safer to give kids cigarettes that have filters than to let kids sneak cigarettes without filters.

The real question is how do we fill the existing gap that compels kids to get onto a service that was never designed to protect them?

We need a service that has all the safety, privacy and security protections of the best children’s sites that also allows access to the broader public, news, events, and even appropriate advertising.  That service could easily interface with aspects of Facebook, yet leverage reputations, content filtering and monitoring, and human moderators to provide an environment that Facebook does not have, nor has shown any interest in creating.

This service is imminently buildable with technologies available today, but Facebook’s track record shows they are not the company to entrust with building the online service capable and willing to protect our children’s online safety, privacy and security.

Facebook’s proposal is all about their financial needs, not the needs of children.

Linda


The Digital Marketing Mess – And Insight into Who’s Looking to Profit from Your Information

June 2, 2012

A new infographic showing the social media marketing landscape was unveiled by Buddy Media this month and though the intent was to show how complicated the marketing world has become, it is also an excellent representation of some of the companies fighting to make money off of your information. It’s staggering.

While not every company listed here is collecting or sharing your information – like the URL shorteners – most of these companies would not exist if it were not for the personal information shared online.

Make no mistake, it’s all about the money. You and your information are commodities driving a multi-billion dollar ecosystem. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this business model – you gain tremendous benefits from the internet and all the tools and services it provides – it’s critical that every user to understands just how far their information may be spread and why managing the information they share, and with whom they share it is critical.

 

Linda


Gang Members Charged with Recruiting Teens Online for Prostitution

April 15, 2012

A new criminal case brings back into focus the role of the internet in gang activities as 5 members of the gang set ‘Underground Gangster Crips’ have been charged with sex-trafficking underage girls. The Crips is a massive gang with over 35,000 members organized into an estimated 800 individual gangs or “sets” in more than 30 states and 120 cities.

Court documents say the gang members recruited teen girls through Facebook, DateHookUp.com, in schools, and on Metro busses. In the course of pimping and trafficking these girls, the court records charge these gang members transported them across at least 4 states.  If convicted, each could serve life in prison.

Gangs have been leveraging the internet’s power to glamorize gang life, recruit, coordinate, commit crimes, and brag about their crimes, for many years. To learn more about gangs internet use and prostitution/human trafficking see my extensive coverage in these blogs: 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends and The Internet,   Gangs use of the Internet and Cell Phones  and Human trafficking Top Initiative for Incoming NAAG President Rob McKenna

According to court documents, in this most recent case just outside of D.C. if the girls tried to quit, they were threatened and subjected to violent and frequent beatings and threats. The ring leader, Justin Strom, 26, allegedly choked one girl when she said she no longer wanted to engage in prostitution.

The affidavit shows that in another occurrence, Strom made a 17-year-old girl use cocaine, cut her on the arm with a knife and then forced her to have sex with him. The girl was

The gang members charged allegedly recruited at least 10 girls – most of whom are 15 and 16-years-old – over the last three years often telling the girls they were pretty and could make money by having sex with men. Many girls were required to have sex with gang members as an “initiation”. The girls allegedly would share the proceeds with the gang — sometimes $50 or $100 per customer — afterwards gang members would supply the girls with drugs and party with them, according to court records.then taken to an apartment, where she was forced to have sex with 14 other men. Strom allegedly collected $1,000 that night. Sometimes, girls were forced to go door-to-door soliciting men for sex. Two gang members drove her home, and according to the affidavit she was told she “got what she had coming” and that if she told anyone they would “come back and kill her.”

These arrests add to a string of prostitution and trafficking charges against gangs in the D.C. area; Members of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, also have been accused in federal court in Virginia of prostitution-related charges involving juvenile victims.

The Underground Gangster Crips have a long and violent history in Fairfax County, allegedly committing rapes, armed robbery and selling drugs, according to court documents.

Speaking about the case, U.S. Attorney Neil H. McBride said “The sex trafficking of young girls is an unconscionable crime involving unspeakable trauma. These gang members are alleged to have lured many area high school girls in the vile world of prostitution, and used violence and threats to keep them working as indentured sex slaves.”

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II described the case as “every parent’s worst nightmare,” adding that it showed human trafficking can happen anywhere and is “a very real danger here in Virginia. By working together with U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride and our law enforcement partners, we will send a swift and strong message that this criminal behavior will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Learn more in my posts Child Trafficking and the Internet and ‘Women to Go’ Shop Drives Trafficking Awareness in Israel; What You Can do in Your Community.

The sexual exploitation of women and children by gangs and other criminals isn’t just a problem in D.C., or L.A. or Chicago. The sexual exploitation of women and children as a revenue stream is occurring in towns and cities across the country. And every single decent person has a role to play – you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution when it comes to identifying and reporting the exploitation of women and children.

To get involved in the campaign against human trafficking, you can find more information and organizations in your area by searching online for human trafficking and your region. If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, or you yourself are a victim, get help by calling the Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888. Or Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s hotline 1-800-THE-LOST.

Location of the NCMEC posters:

Linda


New Online Safety Lesson: Infographics: Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

March 19, 2012

The 13th installment in the lesson series I’m writing on behalf of iKeepSafe, focuses on developing and understanding of how to interpret and create infographics

Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Research indicates that visual communication may be more powerful than verbal communication, suggesting that people learn and retain information when it is presented visually better than when it is only provided verbally or as text .

Every single day we create with 2.5 billion gigabytes of data from sensors, mobile devices, online transactions, and social networks. That amount of data is equal to a full-length episode of “Glee” running continuously for 214 thousand years.

To see and use this lesson, the companion presentation, professional development materials, and parent tips click here: Infographics: Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Linda


New Online Safety Lesson: The Power of Positive Collaboration – If we each do a little, we all do a lot.

February 27, 2012

The 12th installment in the lesson series I’m writing on behalf of iKeepSafe, focuses on leveraging the internet to benefit local communities.

Remember flash mobs, those groups that seemed to come out of nowhere to perform a dance in unlikely public places? This concept has been reinvented with a socially conscious twist through “cash mobs”: groups who respond to online invitations to visit a specified store to help their community’s local economy.

Although negative internet behavior tends to grab the spotlight, most people use the internet positively. Socially conscious people understand they are part of a larger community, and that for the community to thrive, everyone needs to contribute to the greater good.

Learn the positive side of “going viral” and how the World Wide Web exists as a community of collaborators supporting local businesses and neighborhoods.

To see and use this lesson, the companion presentation, professional development materials, and parent tips click here: It Takes a Village – The Power of Positive Collaboration

Linda


Internet Phrase of the Month – “QR Code”

December 8, 2011

You see the little squares in ads, in stores and on billboards, stickers, business cards, and posters, but you may not be among the millions of users actively scanning these for information.

Once scanned, the QR code navigates the user to a website with special deals or information, a video about the company, service or product, or even be used to place a phone call.

How to use a QR Code:

You’ll need a phone with a camera, and the ability to download scanner applications – note some of these will also scan barcodes.  To find the right application for your phone, search the mobile marketplace relevant for your phone’s operating system. Some popular choices are this Barcode Scanner for Android phones, QuickMark for Iphones, and MobileTag for BlackBerry.

Start your scanners!

Linda


Texting Infographic Has Amazing Stats

December 2, 2011

Consider the following stats:

  • There are 4.2 billion texters worldwide =  3 in 5 people
  • Texting is the most used data service worldwide
  • Last year 6.1 Trillion texts were sent (2010) – or 193,430 per second
  • Texting has improved conditions for people across the world

Curious to learn more? Scroll down to see the infographic by mbaonline.com

Planet Text

Linda