Will Google+ ever replace Facebook? It’s difficult to imagine. While 15 million people—including tens of thousands representing businesses—have reportedly signed up for the beta, Google+ is still some 700 million users behind Facebook.
However, it’s clear that the search giant has created a social platform with interesting features—like Circles and Hangouts—worth checking out. And for me, Google+ represents more than a Facebook clone that lets me know I have new friends whenever I log into my Gmail or Google Reader. It’s a chance to rebuild my social network using what I learned from years of using Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.
In many countries you can start your Google+ account now, by logging in here. Here’s a nice preview of what you’ll find there:
To be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest Google fan. I’ve even tried to get it out of my life. But I do recognize that there is an opportunity here to make my social interactions on the web more interesting with a little less risk. So here’s how you can start your social network over on Google+.
1. Know why you’re using a Google+.
When Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain used to complain about the burdens of fame, critics would say, “No one ever started a rock band to NOT become famous.” And no one goes on a social network to be ignored. We just want control over what kind of attention we get.
Google is a business that gives away the vast majority of its products for free. Why? The old saying goes, “If you aren’t paying, you are the product.” Google makes billions selling you to advertisers. When you search (or check your Gmail), you pay for it by experiencing ads. Search will always be the core of Google’s business. So what you share on Google+, if you allow it to be public, is likely to show up in a Google search.
Some say Google+ isn’t a vast improvement over Facebook. The same potential to share information you shouldn’t exists and soon even things like games and apps that create privacy problems on Facebook will appear on +. I agree. However, you have improved. You are get what is at stake when using a social network. You know that people have lost jobs and scholarships because of their social media presences. And in the US, your social networking history is even fair game for potential employers. Knowing all this, there are tools in Google+ that make sharing more logically and potentially safer.
If you’re at the point that you feel you still want to be social but you’re existing network doesn’t work anymore…. If you’re sick of having your information shared and being opted into new features all the time… If you just want to start over, Google+ is perfect for you.
2. Get your privacy settings right.
Are Facebook’s privacy settings purposely confusing or is there just so much going on with the site that they have to be complex? Both answers are true. Some features—like facial recognition, using your identity in ads and Instant Personalization—are, I believe, purposely hidden. Others just naturally are buried to make the site easy to use.
Google+ is still relatively simple. It will become more complex but you still can quickly get most of your privacy settings right. Here are the three most important settings.
Prevent anyone on Google+ from emailing you
As my social networks use has grown, my email has become more sacred. I use it for business and close family and friends, exclusively. Google+ as a default gives everyone on the network the right to email you.
To turn this off, go to the gear in the top right corner and select “Google+ Settings”.
Select “Profile and privacy”.
Next to Public profile information click “Edit visibility on profile”.
Under your profile image, you’ll a “Send an Email” box. Click on that.
Until, at least, you have your circles set uncheck the box next to “Allow people to email you from a link on your profile”.
Turn off email notifications
Go to the gear in the top right corner.
Click on Google+ settings.
On the left of the next screen click on “Google+”.
I recommend you uncheck every box on this screen. How will you know if you have any Google+ activity? There’s a notification box that will automatically pop up in red on the black interface bar that appears whenever you use any Google site.
Now, while you’re on this page.
Edit who can see your pictures and videos
On the bottom of the Google+ Settings screen, you’ll see “You can change the visibility of your photos and video tabs on your profile.”
Click on “photos” first.
Until you set up your Circles, you may want to turn this tab off.
When you’re done adjusting these settings, click save then go back in your browser and do the same thing for videos.
3. The most important step: Take your circles seriously.
The average Facebook user has 120 friends. They also follow over 100 groups, brands, celebrities and organization. This produces a tremendous amount of information. As a result, Facebook edits your feed to give you the updates you’re most likely to interact with.
You may be following people you haven’t talked with in years and missing updates from your mom. And you’re probably sharing everything with everyone—unless you use Lists or Groups, which are challenging. As a result, people are often sharing much more than they realize.
Google+ aims to fix that. You don’t want to share your travel plans with anyone but your family? Only Google+ that is easy if you take your Circles seriously. As you add new friends, place them in the right circles.
And as you share, only share with the Circles who you want to reach. It’s much simpler than Facebook’s Groups and just requires a little thought before each post.
More on Google+
Many people think Google+ isn’t just about competing with Facebook, it’s a social backbone for web. Regardless, these 21 Google+ Privacy Tips will put you ahead of the curve on the fastest growing social network in history.
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
It’s amazing how advertising can power huge companies. Google has over 57 000 employees and some 66 billion US dollars in revenue. And Facebook with 12 billion and 10 000 employees. These two giants are the best know providers of ad-financed services on the net. And modern advertising is targeted, which means that they must know what the users want to see. Which means that they must know you. Let’s take a closer look at Facebook. We have already written about their advertising preferences and I have been following my data for some time. Part of the data used to target ads is input by yourself, age, gender, hometown, movies you seen etc. But Facebook also analyzes what you do, both in Facebook and on other sites, to find out what you like. It’s obvious how the tracking works inside Facebook itself. Their servers just simply record what links you click. Tracking in the rest of the net is more sinister, it’s described in this earlier post. Your activity record is analyzed and you are assigned to classes of interest, called “Your Ad Preferences” by Facebook. Advertisers can then select classes they want to target, and the ad may be shown to you based on these classes. You can view and manage the list using a page that is fairly well hidden deep in Facebook’s menus. Let’s check your preferences in moment, but first some thoughts about this. Advertising may be annoying, but it is the engine that drives so many “free” services nowadays. So I’m not going to blame Facebook for being ad-financed. I’m not going to blame them for doing targeted ads either. That can in theory be a good thing, you see more relevant ads that potentially can be of value to you. But any targeted ad scheme must be based on data collection, and this is the tricky part. Can we trust Facebook et al. to handle these quite extensive personal profiles and not misuse them for other purposes? 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. Follow these instructions: Go to Facebook and locate an ad, a “sponsored post” or a “suggested post”. These items should have a cross or a down-arrow in the upper right corner. Click it. Select “Why am I seeing this?” from the pop-up menu. This screen contains some interesting info but proceed to “Manage your ad preferences”. Review the list and come back here to tell us what you think of it. Delete the inappropriate classes. Deleting all may reduce the number of ads you see. So let’s see what people think about this test’s accuracy: [polldaddy poll=9023953] So using Facebook’s Ad Preferences as a personality test may be entertaining, but not very accurate after all. You should probably look elsewhere for a real test. The catch is that you can select what test to take, but not how others collect data about you. Someone else may rely on this test when evaluating you. You have actually granted Facebook the right to share this data with basically anyone. 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
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