Could You Quit Facebook for 99 Days?

99 Days of Freedom logoCould you go 99 days without Facebook? It is a question that is worth asking yourself, especially if you are someone who checks into Facebook several times a day. A group called Just wants to encourage people to give up Facebook for 99 days. They are calling this effort 99 Days of Freedom.

What would your life be like without Facebook? Would you feel uncomfortable about not visiting the popular social media website every day? Would you miss it? Maybe your life is so busy that you wouldn’t really notice the absence of Facebook. That might be true for those who use Facebook infrequently.

There is a bigger question to consider. Would you be happier without Facebook? That is the question that Just is focused on. Just launched this experiment in response to Facebook’s controversial mood experiment. Unlike Facebook, Just is not interested in manipulating your mood. Instead, they are interested in determining how life without Facebook impacts user’s happiness.

Joining the “99 Days of Freedom” experiment is easy. Change your profile picture on Facebook to the icon you see at the top of this blog. Share your last link. Don’t use Facebook for 99 days. That means no logging in, no messenger, and no sharing.

Just will contact you after day 33, 66, and 99 to see how you are doing. Give Just your email address if you would like to join their happiness survey. You can put a countdown on your Facebook page to let your friends know when you will return (as well as why you are taking a break).

The selection of 99 days was intentional. Just feels that participants would lose interest in the experiment if it ran longer than 99 days. They also felt that a smaller number of days would make it harder to assess behavioral change.

To be clear, this experiment is not a protest against Facebook. Instead, it is viewed by Just as a way for people to experience the emotional benefits of moderation. Those who take part will help Just discover if people truly are happier without having Facebook in their lives.

Were you Part of Facebook’s Psychology Experiment?

FacebookMuch has been said about how Facebook utilizes the information that its users choose to post. There have been many blogs regarding privacy issues (especially when Facebook makes changes to it). People are aware that their photos or posts could be included in Facebook advertising. Were you aware that Facebook can also use your data for psychology experiments?

Scientists at Facebook published a paper that appears in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The paper is titled “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks”.

The psychological experiment on Facebook took place for 1 week (January 11 – 18, 2012). Participants were randomly selected based on their User ID. There were about 155,000 participants who posted at least one status update during the experimental period.

The experiment manipulated the extent to which people were exposed to emotional content in their News Feed. The scientists were looking for something they refer to as “emotional contagion”. By this, they meant that they were watching for signs that emotional states can be transferred from one person to another without direct interaction between people (and in absence of nonverbal cues). What they discovered is that “emotional contagion” really can happen. From the abstract:

When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts. When negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.

It is a very interesting finding. Unfortunately, it was discovered as a result of scientists secretly manipulating some Facebook user’s emotions by tweaking whether they were shown positive or negative posts during the experimental period. It feels like a really horrible thing to do to random people who have no idea they were being used as a “guinea pig” in a psychological experiment.

If you are on Facebook, then you have agreed to be part of experiments like this one when you clicked that you agree to the Facebook Data Use Policy. Part of it says that potential uses of your data include “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research, and service improvement”.

The scientists stayed within those boundaries to do the experiment. They used machine analysis to select positive and negative posts. This enabled the experiment to be done without having human researchers read user data that contained personal information. I cannot help but wonder how many other psychological experiments have happened on Facebook (or if more will happen in the future).

Facebook had an Outage

FacebookFacebook had a temporary outage that affected all traffic from the internet and apps to the social network. The popular social network was down for somewhere between ten minutes and about half an hour or so (depending upon which news resource you read and which country it was located in). At the time I am writing this blog, Facebook has returned to its usual service.

The Guardian reported that this was the longest outage that Facebook has had in four years. It also shared that there was a noticeable drop in the amount of Facebook referrals to The Guardian while Facebook was out of service.

About 1.28 billion users were suddenly unable to access Facebook while it was having the outage. TechCrunch reports that Facebook was unavailable in multiple regions around the world. This included the UK, France, Belgium, and parts of Asia (including India).

Personally, I noticed that my friends who live in Australia were posting Tweets in which they wondered why Facebook was down. It was rather amusing to see people from all over the world turn to Twitter to complain (and make jokes) about Facebook’s outage.

TechCrunch also reported that the outage affected not only the Facebook website and its smartphone and tablet apps but also some Facebook plug-ins that were attached to other websites. Those of you who use Facebook and have connected it to other websites may want to check and see how you were affected by the outage. Or, you may want to check your stats to see how Facebook’s outage affected traffic to your website.

What happened that caused Facebook to have an outage? That hasn’t been revealed. Several websites (including The Guardian) posted a statement that came from Facebook. It said:

Earlier this morning, we experienced an issue that prevented people from posting to Facebook for a brief period of time. We resolved the issue quickly, and we are now back to 100%. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Facebook Rolls Out Expanded Privacy Checkup Tool

FacebookHave you ever worried about accidentally sharing too much on Facebook? I don’t mean the concern that it might be inappropriate to share all the details of your hospital stay. Instead, I mean the fear that your post could be read by people you never intended to see it. Facebook is aware of these concerns.

A blog post on Facebook Newsroom gives details about a change to privacy settings that is being rolled out. Current users of Facebook will soon see a “Privacy Checkup” pop-up appear when they make a post.

“We just wanted to make sure you’re sharing with the right people”, it helpfully states. It offers a brief tutorial about each privacy setting, making it easier for users to select how private they want an individual post to be. There will be more “Privacy Checkup” pop-ups later on, if it has been a while since a user has changed who can see his or her posts.

As of May 22, 2014, when a new person joins Facebook, the default audience of their first post will be set to “Friends”. Previous to this change, new users of Facebook had their default audience set to “Public”.

In addition to that, new Facebook users will get an automatic “reminder” that appears when they make their first post. It points to the privacy setting button that is attached to each post and asks “Who would you like to see your post?” If the person chooses to ignore that popup, their post will automatically be set to “Friends”.

Overall, these changes could help prevent Facebook users from embarrassing themselves by posting something publicly that was intended to only be seen by their friends. This change is very similar to one that took effect in October of 2013 that changed the default privacy setting on the posts on Facebook accounts of teens (age 13 through 17). It went from having the default privacy setting be “Friends of Friends” to “Friends” only.

Groups Ask the FTC to Investigate the WhatsApp Deal

WhatsApp logoThe Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate how the WhatsApp deal will impact the privacy of its users. Facebook acquired WhatsApp just a few weeks ago.

The concern is that Facebook will use the personal information of WhatsApp’s more than 450 million users to target advertising. Those who started using WhatsApp before it was acquired by Facebook were told that WhatsApp would not collect user data for advertising revenue. The complaint states:

Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes and has made clear that it intends to incorporate the data of WhatsApp users into the user profiling business model. The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users’ understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice, subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

On June 18, 2012, WhatsApp posted a blog titled “Why we don’t sell ads”. Perhaps the key point is this sentence: “Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product.”

WhatsApp also posted a blog on February 19, 2014, titled “Facebook”. It is about the acquisition. The key point from that blog might be this sentence: “Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.” The blog promises that users can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting their communication through WhatsApp. Facebook has issued a statement indicating that they will honor WhatsApps commitments to privacy and security.

This situation reminds me of some words of wisdom that gets passed around. You cannot be certain that anything posted on “the internet” (on a blog, in a chat, or through social media) will be kept private forever. That being said, I can understand why users of WhatsApp feel betrayed. WhatsApp promised not to sell their data for adverting purposes. Will Facebook keep that promise? It will be very interesting to see what the FTC thinks about this situation.

Facebook Now Has a Donate Button

FacebookThis is the time of year when many people consider donating money to charities. Now, you can do that directly through Facebook. This week, Facebook started rolling out a brand new feature called Donate. It allows Facebook users to do more than simply click “like” to indicate that they support a particular charity.

The Donate feature is being used on Facebook with several non-profit charities right now. They include: Oxfam America, Donors Choose, LIVESTRONG Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Water.org, The Nature Conservancy, Malaria No More, Girls Inc., World Wildlife Fund, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, ASPCA, RAINN, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, American Cancer Society, Blue Star Families, UNICEF, Kiva, United Nations World Food Programme, and The Red Cross. More may be added in the future.

The Donate feature will appear in your News Feed next to posts made by these participating non-profit groups. You can also find the Donate feature at the top of the Facebook page of these organizations. Other non-profit groups that want to have access to the Donate feature need to fill out the Donate interest form in the Facebook Help Center.

A Facebook user can click on the “Donate” button and choose how much money he or she wants to donate to a specific organization. Payment will be made via credit card.

TechCrunch points out that the Donate feature will allow Facebook to collect credit card numbers and other billing from Facebook users. The LA Times notes that 100% of the money that users donate will go to the organization they wanted to donate to.

Two Million Passwords Stolen by Hackers

Trustwave logoOn November 24, 2013, researchers at Trustwave discovered that hackers have obtained up to 2 million passwords for websites like Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Twitter (and others). Researchers learned this after digging into source code from Pony bonnet. It appears that information about this has only been made public very recently.

Here’s some quick stats about some of the domains from which the passwords were stolen:

* Facebook – 318,121 (or 57%)
* Yahoo! – 60,000
* Google Accounts – 54,437
* Twitter – 21,708
* Google.com – 16,095
* LinkedIn – 8,490
* ADP (a payroll provider) – 7,978

In total, Pony botnet stole credentials for: 1.58 million websites, 320,000 email accounts, 41,000 FTB accounts, 3,000 remote desktops, and 3,000 secure shell accounts.

According to Trustwave, around 16,000 accounts used the password “123456”, 2,221 used “password” and 1,991 used “admin”. Now is a good time to go change your passwords into something strong and secure.

Doing so won’t make it entirely impossible for hackers to crack it, but it could make it more difficult. Trustwave noted that only 5% of the 2 million passwords that were stolen had excellent passwords (meaning the passwords had all four character types and were longer than 8 characters).

AVG Android Social Apps

AVG LogoToday’s Android apps from AVG are aimed at social media users rather than performance junkies whose needs were covered yesterday. AVG has two apps in this space, Image Shrink & Share, and Privacy Fix. Very different apps themselves but both are worth a look..

AVG Image Shrink & Share works on the premise that the average smartphone camera takes photographs which are unnecessarily large for social media purposes. Most people can’t be bothered to downsize the photos and risk incurring bandwidth charges by uploading the large photos anyway. Image Shrink & Share solves this problem by resizing photos on the fly before passing them onto the relevant social networking app. The original photo is not affected and stays on your phone or tablet.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to share a photo on Facebook. You review the photo in Gallery or Photos as normal. Hit the share icon and choose AVG Image Shrinker instead of the app you would normally use (it’s on the left in the screen shot which is from the new Photos app which has a different layout and background).

AVG Shrink & Share Apps Onward Sharing Apps

Then you are prompted for the final app that you want to use to post the photo, say, Facebook or Google+. Image Shrink & Share resizes the photo based on your default selection and then passes it on to the social media app (or other app) for comment and posting.

You can setup the default size for each application individually in the Settings menu. If you turn an app off, it doesn’t show in the second list presented by Shrink & Share, so it’s a useful way to declutter your sharing screen as well.

Social Media App wpid-Screenshot_2013-11-11-18-53-01.png

In practice, I found that it worked very well and solves the problem very neatly. Images resized correctly and looked good. If I had one suggestion, it would be to have a native resolution option on the resize settings so that photos can be passed through without alteration. I know that it’s not strictly necessary as I can simply choose to share directly to the app, but it makes the process consistent.

Overall, if you post lots of photographs to social media sites, this is a must-have app. Personally I’ve found it handy for uploading images to WordPress as it has a 2 MB limit on photos, so AVG’s tool gets round that problem for me.

Moving on, AVG PrivacyFix is less about sharing and more about controlling your exposure on Facebook and Google+. It’s a complementary app to the PrivacyFix website which covers LinkedIn too, but the app currently only looks at Facebook and Google+. It’s simply a case of giving the app access to your accounts after which PrivacyFix will make some comments and recommendations.

PrivacyFix Start

Here are the recommendations PrivacyFix gave me for Facebook and Google+.

PrivacyFix Facebook PrivacyFix Google+

You can tap through each and PrivacyFix will give you some information on the impact of changing the option and if you wish to proceed, show you what was done. Here’s some info on turning off Search History and then the output from opting out of ad tracking.

PrivacyFix Implications PrivacyFix Ad Tracking

AVG PrivacyFix is another great app. It’s certainly not one that you are going to use everyday, but it’s definitely worth running every month or so to check that your exposure on social media is at an acceptable level. Clearly you can use the PrivacyFix website to cover LinkedIn, but I hope AVG extend the Android app to cover LinkedIn and perhaps others such as Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, etc. I also think that this would be a great tool for parents to check the privacy settings on their children’s accounts and that’s a feature that AVG ought to promote directly within the app and website.

Both Shrink & Share and PrivacyFix are free apps, so go ahead, download them from Google Play and try them out.

Facebook Changes Privacy Options for Teens

FacebookParents who have a teenager that uses Facebook may want to take a minute or two and familiarize themselves with a new privacy change. Facebook announced that it is going to allow teens more options when it comes to privacy. This affects Facebook users who are between the ages of 13 and 17.

Previously, when a teenager joined Facebook, his or her posts were automatically set to allow “Friends of Friends” to see that post. The teen had the option to change individual posts to “Friends” only.

As of October 16, 2013, when people age 13 through 17 sign up for an account on Facebook, their first post will automatically be set to be seen by “Friends” only. All future posts made by that teen will be available to “Friends” only (unless the teen chooses to change that option).

In other words, this change allows teens to make a decision about whether or not to post something with the setting of “Friends”, or “Friends of Friends” or “Public”. Teens will also get extra reminders that pop up if they choose to make a post “Public”. The reminder will say:

Did you know that public posts can be seen by anyone, not just people you know? You and any friends you tag could end up getting friend request messages from people you don’t know personally.

If the teen reads that, and makes the decision to go ahead and make that post “Public”, another reminder will pop up. It points out, again, that sharing with “Public” means that anyone (not just people you know) may see your post.

It seems to me that this change might make teens more aware of who, exactly, can see what they post on Facebook. I cannot help but wonder if this might help prevent some of the online bullying that goes on. A teenager who has concerns about being bullied could make all of his or her posts set to “Friends” only. That teen could also remove people from his or her “Friends” list that are problematic.

On the other hand, this change also would allow teens to share all of their posts as “Public”. Parents may want to have a discussion with their teenagers who use Facebook and make sure their teen fully understands that “Public” really does mean everyone can see what was posted.

Your Facebook Page Can Appear in Search Results

FacebookFacebook has made yet another change that will affect how private your Facebook page is. A new change will allow anyone who uses Facebook to find your page simply by typing your name into the Facebook search bar. Now is a good time to manually change the privacy settings on your posts.

Michael Richter, Chief Privacy Officer for Facebook posted more information about this privacy change on the Facebook Newsroom blog. Facebook will be removing an old setting that had the clunky name of “Who can look up your Timeline by name?” very soon. The decision to remove it was announced a year ago, but the removal did not happen until now.

He had a few suggestions about how to control what people see on your Facebook page. You are able to change the privacy setting of each, individual, post. Change the setting to Friends instead of Friends of Friends or Public. This can be done for old posts and new ones.

You can use your Activity Log to review what you have already shared. This allows you to easily find things that you would like to delete. Somewhere in there is the option to untag photos and to change the privacy settings of past photos.

The other suggestion is somewhat out of your control. You can ask your Facebook Friends to delete or remove things that are on their pages that you are involved in. Hopefully, your Friends will decide to respect your request.

It is also possible to go into “Privacy Settings and Tools” and limit who can see what is already on your Facebook page. Look for the setting called “Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or public”. Michael Richter says this will allow you to limit all of those posts to only Friends “with one click”.

For a while, Facebook will put up a notice that reminds users that “sharing with public” means that anyone can see the post you are about to make. There is one exception. According to CNET, your Timeline will not be visible to the people whom you have blocked on Facebook.