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Facebook Deletes Fake Likes on Fan Pages September 28, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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Facebook has started deleting fake ‘likes’ on fan pages after confessing that around 8.7% of all likes were probably false.

The BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, tried an experiment earlier this year where he set up a company page on Facebook – offering bagels – and despite having no information about the products on the page it quickly attracted over 1,600 ‘likes’.

Many of the most popular Facebook pages have started shedding a large number of ‘likes’ including pop stars such as Lady Gaga.

This might all be seen as just a storm in a teacup by many, tinkering around with algorithms in much the same way as Google does all the time when they have a regular review to improve search results. But it is more significant.

Advertising is now a significant source of income for Facbeook and the number of times a product or company page is ‘liked’ has an effect on how often that page appears in the news stream of fans.

For Facebook to continue building a business model based on genuine fans with a genuine desire to learn more about products, they need to demonstrate to companies that fans on Facebook are real people – not robots automatically liking every new page.

It is significant that Facebook is undertaking this clean-up, but it is worth noting the flipside of the argument, that over 9 out of 10 ‘likes’ are by real people – and now the fakes are being removed, brands can be assured that figure is getting higher and more trustworthy.


Photo by Urs Steiner licensed under Creative Commons

Does regular data protection apply to location-aware ads? January 25, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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In 2010 I wrote on this blog about some of the difficulties associated with facial recognition and privacy. Although biometric scanning is becoming more important, it’s still not really the method of choice for advertisers who want to recognise a consumer in a particular location.

That solution is far more mundane, the good old Smartphone.

In the past couple of years, location based services such as foursquare and Facebook Places have made it easy for users to check-in and let their friends know where they are located, based on location-aware mobile devices.

What’s interesting though is that there seem to be few issues of privacy for advertisers to worry about, if some basic rules are followed.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario. You are a ‘fan’ of Starbucks cafes on Facebook. You go to one of their branches and check-in on Facebook Places. You notice that the café chain has pasted a voucher on your Facebook wall that can only be used within the next one hour at a specific location…

To some this might seem an abuse of information. The café chain knows where you are and the exact time so they can make a time-bound offer to a specific branch, but think for a moment… the consumer has already clicked ‘like’ on the Starbucks fan page to indicate that they like the brand, and they volunteered their own location information to Facebook Places.

If the consumer has volunteered all this information, then surely they are going to be delighted when the chain rewards them – rather than having any concern about being stalked by a coffee company – Starbucks or anyone else.

Though social media is involved, all the standard principles of data protection still apply even in this case. Soon advertising may be not just directed to an audience of one, but to one person in a specific place at a specific time too.

Starbucks' Christmas Bokeh
Photo by Piero Fissore licensed under Creative Commons

I’ve seen that face before somewhere… May 25, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services.
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What are the commercial implications for technology such as facial recognition?

It’s a technology that is already available today. Users of the popular Google Picasa photo-sharing site that ‘tag’ a friend in a photograph will find that the site scans their photo collection and suggests other photos where the same friend has appeared – asking if they also want to tag that photo.

But think of the implications if a computer can immediately recognise a person. Google recently launched a search tool called Google Goggles that lets users search the Internet for items using a photograph – so you can photograph something with your mobile phone and then search for whatever is in the photo. But they didn’t enable facial recognition for this tool – imagine if you could photograph a stranger on the train and find all their online social networks through a photo search. It’s a stalkers dream tool.

Commercially there should be immense opportunities for facial recognition to improve security, but the companies that are exploring these technologies also need to be aware of what people will tolerate and what is seen as beneficial. For example, most people would feel more secure at airports if passports used facial recognition technology.

But do you remember the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report? It was set in the near future and focused on a computer that could see into the future – so the police could catch criminals before they ever committed a crime. One memorable sequence in the film shows Tom Cruise walking through a future city centre where the advertising billboards use facial recognition to profile who he is in real time and to change the advert to something appropriate to him as an individual consumer.

Privacy regulations and public mistrust are going to prevent something like that happening any time soon, but with freely available social networks now using facial recognition technology, are we already on the slippery slope to a place where anonymity is impossible?