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12/5/2012
04:47 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Social Networks Continue Push For Control

The Internet was supposed to facilitate direct connections between individuals and disempower gatekeepers. Instead, it has become a massive man-in-the-middle attack.

5 Facebook Rivals Hot On Its Heels
5 Facebook Rivals Hot On Its Heels
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Social networking shouldn't be compulsory, and yet it's becoming an obligation. The hunger among Internet companies for data about who you are, what you do, where you go, and who you know keeps growing. They want you to share so they can earn. So they have violated Communication Neutrality: They have made mechanisms for expression into vehicles for marketing, forcing those who participate in online life to promote.

Social networking has become inescapable. Startups often require a Facebook or Twitter login. Google now requires a Google+ account to post app reviews on Google Play. And in many lines of knowledge work, including journalism, participation in these networks has become a job requirement.

The latest entry in the field comes from Microsoft, which has just opened a social network of its own, the aptly named so.cl. Evidently, the world needs more sharing.

Or it would, if social networks were actually about sharing. The irony of the constant cajoling to share more, of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's self-serving predictions that everyone will share more in the future, is that social networks themselves limit how they share the data they've collected. They don't so much share as restrict, through contractual API limitations, through incomplete export capabilities, through burdensome processes, under the pretense of user protection, or to spite the competition.

[ Read Facebook Overload: Just Getting Worse. ]

Consider the latest dustup between Instagram and Twitter. According to the New York Times, Instagram's CEO Kevin Systrom acknowledged that his Facebook-owned company has eliminated the ability to embed pictures in Twitter and intends to make posts to Twitter redirect users to Instagram to view images.

Share and share alike? Hardly. You promote, we monetize.

Social networking isn't about sharing. It's about marketing. Perhaps the most obvious proof of that is Facebook's promoted posts, through which advertisers can pay to have their marketing distributed more widely in Facebook users' news feeds.

Sharing at its best is private, personal and genuine. It's direct. It doesn't involve intermediaries. It doesn't have terms of service or privacy policies that describe how you will not be getting privacy. But public sharing is something else entirely. It's publishing, or something like it, paid for by free online services worth far less than the data surrendered and the labor required to produce it. But that's capitalism, isn't it? Buy low, sell high.

Publishing used to imply a separation between editorial and advertising. But these days, editorial and advertising are often blurred in a suspicious slurry. Our reflexive distrust of advertising has been disarmed because the norms of social networking make everything potentially commercial. If you're not promoting someone else's brand, you're promoting the brand that is you. To condemn marketing on the Internet is to be a hypocrite, because everyone's doing it or benefiting from it.

The problem with commercial communication is that it's something less than honest. It's antisocial because it calls trust into question. Social networking undermines the social contract. Marketing might be necessary but it shouldn't pervade every online interaction.

It might be easier to surrender social interaction to intermediaries, but there's no reason it has to be that way. The Internet was supposed to be the great disintermediator. It was supposed to facilitate direct connections between individuals and to disempower middlemen and gatekeepers. Instead, it has become a massive man-in-the-middle attack.

A criminal man-in-the-middle attack is covert and aims to steal important data. A social man-in-the-middle attack is merely obscure and aims to use important data, lawfully though seldom with informed consent and adequate disclosure.

In the years ahead, perhaps it will be different. Despite the underwhelming adoption of social network alternatives such as Diaspora and Tent.io, social networking could become more like WordPress, a service that users could run for themselves through a cloud computing service provider. You shouldn't need Facebook, Google, or Microsoft to share. That's what the Internet is for.

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Melanie Rodier
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Melanie Rodier,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 4:40:40 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
Great blog. I agree that the social man of the middle attack isn't all that different from the criminal attack. After all, most people have no idea what is being done, or will be done with their data and would hardly agree to it if they knew. A Wordpress-type of DIY social networking platform is a very interesting thought - though Facebook has permeated peoples' lives to such an extent - many of whom are attracted by the possibility of connecting to hundreds or thousands of people on the site - that it seems difficult to imagine that the general population might actually favor another, more niche, social network, no matter how horrendous the current privacy policies, sharing policies, commercial policies etc are.
tmmaurer
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tmmaurer,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 7:57:30 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
I agree that it would be hard to move. Even the "move" to Google+ didn't really happen. Unless you can get your whole crowd you want to interact with to go with you (ha!), it simply fragments things even more. I already can't keep track of how best to contact people. Don't want to fathom adding yet another avenue into that mix.
Zem Boson
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Zem Boson,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 6:31:43 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
Email.
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 8:35:24 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
I'm glad I read this thread first because that was my first thought... email... after reading this blog post.
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 5:16:39 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
Great piece, Tom. A vendor told me yesterday that, at this point, people expect that companies will mine their data to return targeted ads and messaging and content. I respectfully disagreed that it's a general expectation or assumption--I think it's more likely that the majority of social networking users have no idea how their information is being used, or even that it is being used at all.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Mike
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Mike,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 8:25:03 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
Really? I strongly doubt the majority of social networking users are unaware that the networks they use are businesses that need a way to make money. Since the social networks are free logic ought to assume it's the users themselves that are the product and are therefore subject to marketing based on the data they self-report.

In fact, I would be shocked if, for example, the majority of Facebook users were so naieve that they didn't think their data was actively being used by marketers. Whether they like it or not is a different question - but it's definitely a general assumption. Or, more people live under a rock than I thought.
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 3:19:25 AM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
I'm not saying that the majority of users don't understand that social networks are businesses. I'm saying that I think the majority of people don't know how their information is mined and then used.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Soozy G. Miller
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Soozy G. Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 7:43:41 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
"Publishing used to imply a separation between editorial and advertising. But these days, editorial and advertising are often blurred in a suspicious slurry. "

--So true. I have experience in traditional publishing (magazines and books) and the editorial and advertising depts back then HAD to be completely separate--either on different floors or at least at opposite ends of the building. It was a strict publishing standard. Now I live near a newspaper where the edit and ad people are all in the same room.
eafpres
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eafpres,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 9:25:03 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
In "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress", the late Robert Heinlein had a word for this. TANSTAAFL--There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. This has been the question behind all the "free" internet businesses. How, eventually, do they fund themselves and their shareholders or owners? Tom, I agree with you that the greater Facebook user base shouldn't be so naive, but I wonder if you give the crowd too much credit?

Nonetheless, there are degrees. What are your thoughts on Linkedin's model vs. Facebook?
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/6/2012 | 11:14:41 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
I find it difficult to enjoy LinkedIn because the service is simultaneously a nag and an obstacle. I don't have the time to field all the connection requests and participate in the discussions -- being social is a full-time job. And it stymies me from connecting with people who I'm not already connected with. I'm not going to pay for a LinkedIn upgrade just to make it easier to email someone whose email address is probably accessible via Google Search.
lgarey@techweb.com
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lgarey@techweb.com,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2012 | 6:58:19 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
To me the latest pox from LinkedIn is this "so and so has endorsed you." Not to be unappreciative, but now I feel like I have to go "endorse" people back. Yet another rabbit hole.

Lorna Garey, InformationWeek
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
12/7/2012 | 11:02:20 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
Yes, thought I would comment on an article once on MSNBC. Put in my credentials and got a prompt that indicated it would be automatically published to an additional 8 chat/blogs/services without an option to opt out of any of them. At least they had the good sense to include the cancel button or infamous X in the upper right corner.
JamesLester
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JamesLester,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 10:18:48 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
This is SO right on. Google actually "knows" nothing. Algorithms simply find connections on the web to your search request. And boy do they ever manipulate the results. Usually the organization you are looking for is at best half way down the page of results.

But over time, the do know YOU, what you like, who you are, and where you live, etc. Social media is social marketing, pure and simple. Nothing bad in that, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, let's just call it a duck.

As to the competition among them, it's capitalism at it's purest. These are commercial companies,not social services. A very important and timely blog!
Mike
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Mike,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 10:40:21 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
To me, it's implied that by voluntarily self-reporting my personal information in a commercial platform like Facebook or Google+ marketers will know more about me and be able to more accurately market products and services that I care about, based on the information that I provide. That's better than marketing products and services that I don't care about.

Facebook being an intermediary is just the cost of doing business - credit to them for capitalizing on a basic human need to share and connect with others. Besides, social networks are not the only way to connect with people; if someone wants to share something privately, email is still an option.
Mike_Acker
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Mike_Acker,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 4:29:19 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
one does not have to participate in social networking.

what is fb, at its core anyway? just a convenient means of compiling a sort of web-page based on messages. like twitter it converts messaging into a broadcast system -- with links following messages

why participate then ? hanged if i know: i don't

IMHO everyone holds a "Creative Commons" copyright on their PII. Any un-authorized re-distributing PII then is a copyright violation. $150,000 penalty per occurrence.

AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 8:40:45 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
The problem with your last thought is that you pushed that little button when you signed up agreeing to the TOS... and relinquishing nearly all control of your social life.
Mike_Acker
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Mike_Acker,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2012 | 8:48:40 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
tee hee yep . but i never pressed their button . i just like to yap a lot on DISQUS . i would not be at all surprised to find fb has a way of picking up on most anything we do
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
12/7/2012 | 8:33:00 PM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
This is highly insightful comment.I think of social networking as an expanded form of business communication, not to be confused with personal interaction or personal communication. At the same time I take a jaundiced view to how some companies are grabbing data from it and treating it as a basis for marketing. They know nothing and soon display that. The best social networking has a personal element in it and is revealing of the author. But it's a wise author who saves the truly personal for a more personal setting..Charlie Babcock, InformationWeek
ctcusick
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ctcusick,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/9/2012 | 3:13:48 AM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
Appreciate your thoughts on social networking and privacy. So rare to hear anyone care to consider the deeper issues. Making such, not so obvious, yet egregious, privacy violations should not become standard as you point out in your article here, but has all to quickly become the case. Cloud computing will never secure ones data, not even with new 'secure' standards being proposed. Do you know what nation your clouds data center is physically located in? Are the privacy laws the same as in your home country? Will your data be misused when the company is acquired or sold? End users of cloud services don't know, and would not know, to consider such things! I shudder when I hear about school districts and government agencies utilizing cloud services such as Google Apps. Its about money for them, not your rights to privacy or whatever else concerns you.

Technology and privacy currently is much, much worse than we will ever know. We should be extremely concerned about technology and privacy issues.

I turned off my FB a couple years ago when I found out they never delete user data and all too frequent of changes to the FB TOS and\or AUP privacy\usage policies were very annoying. Back in 2001 I set up my own web and terminal server on my home network so I could access my data remotely, shortly after, my ISP began blocking it. Such censorship was not illegal until merely a few years ago or so, but the damage is done, I never set up the services I needed after they blocked me. I was forced into cloud services such as hotmail, google, etc. My ISPs were always happy to sell me sub-standard hosting services however.

The sad reality is all these services could easily be run on ones own system(s) within their own domicile, but that would take the money and control out of it for the cloud service providers and others involved. Your smartphone could download playlists and videos off your own home based cloud, as well as get email, or that file you need. Unfortunately, corporations and others want the most important and expensive component, even more information about you.

~CTC
Dallas McMillan
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Dallas McMillan,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/12/2012 | 10:08:03 AM
re: Social Networks Continue Push For Control
Your points are valid, but assume that social media should be provided as a free service with no strings attached. Want world class connectivity, uptime and networking for $0. Try doing this on a small scale on your own servers. - Social networks need to pay for infrastructure and their founders hope to make a profit.
To expect them to provide a service which is free, transparent and open is naive and utopian.
Of course, there ARE free social networks, such as many blog sites etc like the wordpress example you give.
The downside is all your friends and family are somewhere else.
There is no doubt that some networks (eg FB) have abused their trust and market share, and will pay the consequences, but some sort of paid model is going to deliver a better service for most users, yet no one wants to pay up front, so backend profits such as data mining are the most successful business model at present.
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