Facebook’s Instant Personalization Questions and Answers

(With apologies to F-Secure’s Mikko Hypponen—the @scobleizer of security—I ’m going to attempt to imitate his Questions and Answers format.)

Facebook’s Instant Personalization continues to concern people who worry about privacy on social networks. Here are the questions about it that I wish I’d been asked about it.

Q: What is Instant Personalization?
A: It’s Facebook’s pleasant way of saying that it automatically shares your account information with partner sites according to the privacy settings you’ve chosen.

Q: What’s “instant” about it?
A: Unless you’ve opted out, your data is now being shared. (This is true in many countries. Facebook hasn’t turned Instant Personalization on in Slovakia or Finland, for instance.)

Q: With whom exactly is Facebook sharing my data?
A: The original three were Pandora, Yelp and Microsoft Docs. In fall of 2010, Facebook added Rotten Tomatoes and Scribd. Then in winter of 2010, Clicker and TripAdvisor went live. More partners are coming.

Q: Why?
A: Facebook is a business. We don’t know the financial arrangements behind these partnerships but they are all a part of Facebook’s broader strategy to spread its functionality or ‘like’ buttons anywhere on the Internet it can.

Q: Can they do this?
A: Yep. It’s in the site’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities AKA its terms and conditions. Grab a magnifying glass and a quadruple mocha, you’ll find it in there.

Q: Is this bad? Why am I shivering?!
A: Wired.com’s Threat Level blog called the recent implementation of Instant Personalization with Scribd a “privacy nightmare” because, among other reasons, it was difficult to opt out at first. Scribd has improved its opt out. But it’s still annoying.

Q: Why is it annoying?
A: Several reasons. 1. Facebook can partner with any site it chooses. Unless you opt of the function entirely, your information is automatically shared. 2. You may be friends with people—your boss, your mom, your employees—with whom you don’t want to share your movie or music tastes. Unless you’re paying close attention, you may be just doing just that. 3. The principle of it. Facebook says that its users can control their own information. This doesn’t meet that standard. 4. It’s too difficult to opt out. You have to drill down into the privacy settings to opt out of the feature entirely. Not being able to opt out of individual sites via Facebook’s privacy settings is especially annoying.

Q: How can I opt out?
A: I thought you’d never ask. To opt out completely: Go to “Account” > “Privacy Settings”. Under “Applications and Websites” click “Edit your settings”.  Find “Instant Personalization” and click “Edit Settings”.  Uncheck the box that says “Enable instant personalization on partner websites.” Once you do this, your information will not be shared with any partner site. You can also keep the feature on and block individual partners.

To opt out sharing with Microsoft Docs: Go to the Docs Facebook application page and click “Block Application”. Then click “Block Docs” on the pop-up.

To opt out of sharing with Pandora: Go to the Pandora Facebook application page and click “Block Application”. Then click “Block Pandora” on the pop-up.

To opt out of sharing with Yelp: Go to the Yelp Facebook application page and click “Block Application”. Then click “Block Yelp” on the pop-up.

To opt out of sharing with RottenTomatoes: Go to RottenTomatoes.com. Find the “Welcome” box with your Facebook profile picture in the upper left corner. Click “Learn More”. At the bottom of the pop-up just above the close button, click “disconnect”.

To opt out of sharing with Scribd: Go to Scribd.com. Find the “Welcome to Scribd – Where the world comes to read, discover, and share…” box on the top of the page. Click “No thanks” in the bottom right corner of that box.

To opt out of sharing with Clicker: Go to Clicker. Find the “Welcome to Clicker” box on the top right of the page. Click the “Disable” link.

To opt out of sharing with TripAdvisor: Go to TripAdvisor. Find the box at the top right of the page that says “TripAdvisor is using Facebook to show you friends’ trips and reviews.” Click “Disable” in that box.

Q: Is there any reason NOT to opt of Instant Personalization?
A: Sure. If you’re a responsible Facebook users who knows and trusts all your Facebook friends, connecting with them on various social sites could be fun and useful. But as Facebook adds more features like Places and shares your information with more sites, you’re taking a risk of sharing information you may not want to share. It’s not a driving while distracted by your cell phone risk. But it is a risk.

Note: The EFF monitors Facebook’s privacy policies closely and was a resource for this post.

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Only 10% protected – Interesting study on travelers’ security habits

Kaisu who is working for us is also studying tourism. Her paper on knowledge of and behavior related to information security amongst young travelers was released in May, and is very interesting reading. The world is getting smaller. We travel more and more, and now we can stay online even when travelling. Using IT-services in unknown environments does however introduce new security risks. Kaisu wanted to find out how aware young travelers are of those risks, and what they do to mitigate them. The study contains many interesting facts. Practically all, 95,7%, are carrying a smartphone when travelling. One third is carrying a laptop and one in four a tablet. The most commonly used apps and services are taking pictures, using social networks, communication apps and e-mail, which all are used by about 90% of the travelers. Surfing the web follows close behind at 72%. But I’m not going to repeat it all here. The full story is in the paper. What I find most interesting is however what the report doesn’t state. Everybody is carrying a smartphone and snapping pictures, using social media, surfing the web and communicating. Doesn’t sound too exotic, right? That’s what we do in our everyday life too, not just when travelling. The study does unfortunately not examine the participants’ behavior at home. But I dare to assume that it is quite similar. And I find that to be one of the most valuable findings. Traveling is no longer preventing us from using IT pretty much as we do in our everyday life. I remember when I was a kid long, long ago. This was even before invention of the cellphone. There used to be announcements on the radio in the summer: “Mr. and Mrs. Müller from Germany traveling by car in Lapland. Please contact your son Hans urgently.” Sounds really weird for us who have Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Skype installed on our smartphones. There was a time when travelling meant taking a break in your social life. Not anymore. Our social life is today to an increasing extent handled through electronic services. And those services goes with us when travelling, as Kaisu’s study shows. So you have access to the same messaging channels no matter where you are on this small planet. But they all require a data connection, and this is often the main challenge. There are basically two ways to get the data flowing when abroad. You can use data roaming through the cellphone’s ordinary data connection. But that is often too expensive to be feasible, so WiFi offers a good and cheap alternative. Hunting for free WiFi has probably taken the top place on the list of travelers’ concerns, leaving pickpockets and getting burnt in the sun behind. Another conclusion from Kaisu’s study is that travelers have overcome this obstacle, either with data roaming or WiFi. The high usage rates for common services is a clear indication of that. But how do they protect themselves when connecting to exotic networks? About 10% are using a VPN and about 20% say they avoid public WiFi. That leaves us with over 70% who are doing something else, or doing nothing. Some of them are using data roaming, but I’m afraid most of them just use whatever WiFi is available, either ignoring the risks or being totally unaware. That’s not too smart. Connecting to a malicious WiFi network can expose you to eavesdropping, malware attacks, phishing and a handful other nasty tricks. It’s amazing that only 10% of the respondents have found the simple and obvious solution, a VPN. It stands for Virtual Private Network and creates a protected “tunnel” for your data through the potentially harmful free networks. Sounds too nerdy? No, it’s really easy. Just check out Freedome. It’s the super-simple way to be among the smart 10%.   Safe surfing, Micke   PS. I recently let go of my old beloved Nokia Lumia. Why? Mainly because I couldn’t use Freedome on it, and I really want the freedom it gives me while abroad.   Image by Moyan Brenn  

August 24, 2015
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suicide

Forget the personality tests – Ask Facebook instead (Poll)

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It’s also nice that Facebook is somewhat open about this and let you view “Your Ad Preferences” (Note. Not available in all countries.). But that name is really misleading. The name should be “Facebook’s Ad Preferences for You”. Yes, you can view and delete classes, but that gives you a false sense of control. Facebook keeps analyzing what you do and deleted classes will reappear shortly. I made a full clean-up a couple of months ago, but now I have no less than 210 classes of interest again! This is really amazing if you take into account that I block tracking outside of Facebook, so those activities are not contributing. And I have a principle of not clicking ads in any on-line media, including Facebook. And liking commercial pages in a very restrictive manner. But the thing is that Facebook has realized that people dislike ads. “Suggested posts” or “Sponsored posts” are in fact masqueraded ads and any interaction with them will record your interest in the classes they represent. I have to admit that I do click this kind of content regularly. And where did that suicide thing come from? No, I’m fine. I’m not going to jump off a bridge and I’m not worried about any of my dearests’ mental health. I have not interacted with any kind of Facebook content related to suicide. Except that I can’t know that for sure. Facebook tries to give an open and honest image of itself when presenting its Ad Preferences settings and the possibilities to manage them. But this rosy picture is not the full truth. The inner workings of Facebook advertising is in reality a very complex secret system. When you interact with something on Facebook, you have no way of knowing how it affects your profile. Something I have clicked was apparently associated with suicides even if I had no clue about it. Ok, time to take the Facebook personality test. Let’s see what kind of person they think you are. 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Remember this clause in the agreement that you read and approved before signing up? “We transfer information to vendors, service providers, and other partners who globally support our business, such as providing technical infrastructure services, analyzing how our Services are used, measuring the effectiveness of ads and services, providing customer service, facilitating payments, or conducting academic research and surveys.” You did read it before signing, didn’t you?   Safe surfing, Micke   Image: Screenshot from facebook.com  

August 13, 2015
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AshleyMadison

Is it OK to cheat on the AshleyMadison cheaters? (Poll)

The user register of AshleyMadison has been hacked. You don’t know what that is? Well, that’s perfectly fine. It’s a dating site for people who want to cheat on their spouses. Many dislike this site for moral reasons, but there is apparently a demand for it. The Canadian site has some 37 million users globally! Some user data has already been leaked out and the hackers, calling themselves Impact Team, have announced that they will leak the rest unless the site shuts down. So this hack could contribute to many, many divorces and a lot of personal problems! "We will release all customer records, profiles with all the customers' sexual fantasies, nude pictures and conversations and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses." The Impact Team This is one hack in a long row, not the first and certainly not the last site hack where user data is leaked. But it is still remarkable because of the site’s sensitive nature. Think about it. What kind of information do you store in web portals and what bad could happen if that data leaks out? If you are cheating on your spouse, then that is probably one the most precious secrets you have. Disclosure of it could have devastating effects on your marriage, and maybe on your whole life. Millions of users have put their faith in AshleyMadison’s hands and trusted them with this precious secret. AshleyMadison didn’t misuse the data deliberately, but they failed to protect it properly. So it’s not that far-fetched to say that they cheated on the cheaters. What makes the AshleyMadison hack even worse is the site’s commercial nature. Users typically pay with a credit card issued in their own name. They can appear anonymously to their peers, but their true identities are known to the site owner, and stored in the database. So any leaked information can be linked reliably to real people. The sad thing is that the possibility of a leak probably never even crossed the mind of these 37 million users. And this is really the moral of the story. Always think twice before storing sensitive information in a data system. You must trust the operator of the system to not misuse your data, but also to have the skills, motivation and resources to protect it properly. And you have very poor abilities to really verify how trustworthy a site is. This is not easy! Refraining from using a site is naturally the ultimate protection. But we can’t stop using the net altogether. We must take some risks, but let’s at least think about it and reflect over what a compromised site could mean. This hack is really interesting in another way too. AshleyMadison is a highly controversial site as cheating is in conflict with our society’s traditional moral norms. The hack is no doubt a criminal act, but some people still applaud it. They think the cheaters just got what they deserved. What do you think? Is it right when someone takes the law in his own hands to fight immorality? Or should the law be strictly obeyed even in cases like this? Can this illegal hacking be justified with moral and ethical arguments? [polldaddy poll=8989656]       Micke   Image: Screenshot from www.ashleymadison.com  

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