Quirks in Tech

An informal space where I think about the oddities of technology, politics, and privacy. Also some other stuff.

Showing 31 posts tagged facebook

Facebook Messenger app sparks privacy concerns ∞

Aug 6, 2014

The Little-Known Loophole Obscuring Facebook and Google's Transparency Reports ∞

For some time I’ve been asking corporate executives how they do, or don’t, account for legal requests served by Canadian authorities on American social networking companies. And the obscurity has been noted in work I’ve previously published on this topic. In an admittedly selfish way, it’s terrific to see a Canadian reporter look into this issue further only to learn that the transparency numbers provided by Google et. al. do not fully account for non-US authorities’ requests for data.

Hopefully we’ll see other journalists, in countries the US has Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) with, file similar requests to better break down how many requests their domestic law enforcement agencies are issuing to the American companies responsible for storing and transiting so much of our personal data. While Google and other companies should be congratulated for their work it’s apparent that corporate transparency isn’t enough: we need better government accountability and corporate transparency to properly understand how, why, and how often authorities request (and receive) access to privately held telecommunications data.

Jul 23, 2014


Facebook will give you five billion dollars for that flute

(via Daily Cartoon: Tuesday, November 19th : The New Yorker)

A nice comment on the business of purchasing services to acquire younger and younger users.

Nov 26, 2013

Facebook's 'Other' Folder ∞

David Pogue’s recent post on Facebook’s ‘Other’ folder notes how the company is effectively hiding a significant number of legitimate messages from its users in an attempt to prevent spam and ‘unimportant’ messages from disturbing subscribers. What follows are a few examples of legitimate messages that subscribers missed because they were placed in this folder:

  • “Notification of the death of a friend was hidden in my Other box. I had been very hurt at not being told, and actually missed her funeral.”

  • “I just checked my ‘Other’ folder and found out that I won a free high-end kitchen faucet for a contest I entered last year. Rats.”

  • “Just looked at my ‘Other’ messages and found one about a job opening — in 2011. Think it’s been filled?”

  • “Whoa! There’s tons of important messages in here. Former students of mine were trying to reach out to me. I can’t believe Facebook doesn’t notify you in any way about these.”

  • “Unbelievable! My husband’s wallet was lost and presumed stolen — someone had found it a year ago and sent us a Facebook message, which was hidden until now! Thanks so much.”

  • “Just checked and found a message from someone telling me that they found my lost wallet…a year ago. They really need to redo some thinking on that ‘other’ folder.”

The intent of Facebook’s filtering is noble, insofar as it’s meant to cut down on the cruft and spam that people inevitably get in their email inboxes on a daily basis. I’m sure that the logic is as follows: if we can get people to like using Facebook messages more than email, then we can convince people to rely on our corporate system and wean people off of their traditional email services. Unfortunately, it looks like Facebook’s filtering system suffers from flaws, just as their competitors’ systems do. Worse, and unlike most of their competitors, Facebook subscribers can’t access this folder from their tablets or smartphones without visiting Facebook via the web interface. So, for people that predominantly engage with Facebook using the company’s mobile applications, this folder is effectively invisible. Messages simply vanish into a black hole. This is a very bad thing.

While Facebook’s system makes sense, I suspect that a great many people are as ignorant of the ‘Other’ folder’s existence as the people who wrote to Pogue. This information asymmetry between the developers and users suggests a problem in the UX or UI, insofar as it shouldn’t be a shock that this folder exists. Good UI and UX will prevent subscribers from getting ‘shocked’ about the existence of hidden messages, and will help ensure that the service remains ‘sticky’ for its user base.

Network effects can stymie subscriber churn but they can’t stop it entirely. If Facebook undermines professional or personal networks because of how it handles suspected ‘unimportant’ messages, then the network effect that Facebook currently enjoys could be weakened and expose a part of Facebook’s flank to companies that are more attuned to people’s communicative interests and desires. It will be curious to see how/whether Facebook incorporates the information that arose from Pogue’s columns, and if they actually modify users’ interfaces such that the ‘Other’ folder is more prominently displayed. At the very least, something should change in the mobile applications so users can at least theoretically access all of those ‘unimportant’ messages.

Jul 21, 2013

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