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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.

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Photo by Urs Steiner licensed under Creative Commons

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Samsung quashes Facebook copycat rumours June 20, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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A very strange story hit the media recently about claims that Samsung was planning to launch a Facebook clone. Samsung immediately quashed the rumours, but backtracking slightly they admitted that the Samsung ‘Family Story’ App – which allows people to share photos and news updates with friends – was going to be expanded and improved.

What is surprising about this story is that critics assumed that by adding a photo-sharing tool to their phones, Samsung would be able to in some way rival Facebook.

Facebook is now a global juggernaut with more than half of all connected people using it regularly. Even Google has struggled to build a social network to rival it, with their G+ hailed as a technical success even though very few people actually use it.

And this is the problem for any new market entrant; the network effect prevents a rival emerging quickly. Consider online auctions as another example – you will always turn to eBay first because it is where most sellers go to list their items and they are listed there because it is where most buyers go to find something.

Facebook has suffered negative publicity over their recent IPO and the incredible overpricing of the stock at flotation, but the company is still in a powerful position to control the vast majority of the time people are online – and therefore may yet justify a value far greater than it presently trades at.

If Facebook moves from being just a social network to being considered almost as ‘the Internet’ then what hope does any rival have, whether they have millions of phone handsets in the market or not?

Samsung F490
Photo by Stephane Vieillot 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

Time travel with Facebook December 13, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, IT Services, Software.
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Facebook has launched their new Timeline feature to the world this week. Much attention has focused on the improved look and feel of the user interface, particularly the large cover photo that now dominates a Facebook profile.

But much less attention has been paid to the more interesting aspect of the Timeline – the ability to move back in time to any point and see what the user was doing at that time. In effect, Facebook has created an open diary because you can go back in time on your friend’s profile to see what they were posting on the system last year – or even on a specific date.

This is an interesting development, not least for those interested in privacy. It used to be that you updated your Facebook and as the update dropped off the screen because new ones replaced it, that would then be lost forever. Now users can move back and forth in time examining every little post you made.

Many web watchers have already warned avid social networkers about the danger that they will arrive at a job interview only to find the interviewer has found some compromising photos online. But with the ability to move back and forth in time scanning the entire online history of a person, this danger just became a whole lot more real.

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Turn off the networks – says who? October 21, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Hardware, IT Services.
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A recent poll by the BBC found that most British citizens would like to the see the police respond to riots with water cannon, tear gas, curfews and even a third suggesting the police should be firing rubber bullets.

With the British riots still quite fresh in the mind of most respondents and the police being criticised for a soft approach, it’s no surprise that the average man on the street wants a tough approach – regardless of how all these measure might appear to be the beginning of a police state.

But it was interesting to see that 55% of the people polled by the BBC also believe that the police should have the power to close down social networks such as Twitter, Blackberry BBM, and Facebook.

It seems like one thing for the public to be asking the police to take tougher action on rioters, but if the public are now asking for the police to have control of the Internet then will the politicians respond? It would clearly be popular with the public, but is it right?

Those in favour of this measure are clearly arguing that many of the riots were arranged or exacerbated by communication on social networks. The one to many broadcast ability of these networks and the ability for messages to be passed on and re-broadcast makes them far more powerful than the telephone or basic text messaging.

But did the police ever turn off the telephone network in the past when there was a riot, and where would this power stop? Who would give the command to suggest that a minor civil disturbance has gone past the line and now all social networks need to be closed?

In my own experience, the messages I was seeing on the Monday night of the London riots were mainly councillors and local businesses, all out there on the street and sending messages to help people stay safe. All of this would have been impossible if the networks were down.

This is one of those moral questions that make people realise the power of blogs and microblogs – instant, available to all, and easy for others to pass on. The world has yet to really absorb the power of one to many communications, but I hope the positive outweighs the negative in public perception soon as the measures being proposed are dangerous for democracy itself.
London Flames

Is Facebook copying Google? September 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Software.
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For a long time now, Facebook has offered users a way of sharing content selectively. You can construct lists of your friends, to divide them up into friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for example, allowing the possibility to share personal information only with your family.

But it was always clunky and took a lot of time to sort users into the correct lists, very few people ever actually used it, preferring instead to just trim their friends. Not any more.

Facebook has just launched an improved system called smart lists, helping to automate the process of grouping your friends together, but Google is not happy. Google launched their Google+ social network in June and one of the key features of the network was called ‘circles’ – easy to define social circles that allow you to group your contacts by how you know them.

Google is crying foul and suggesting their idea has been copied and Facebook is responding by saying that they have just improved existing functionality. Who is right and how can intellectual ideas be protected?

There are laws around intellectual property, most people know about copyright, patents, and trademarks, but it feels as if our current raft of laws are archaic and out of step with the online world.

If there really was a legal challenge over the concept of grouping your friends separately to your colleagues then it is likely that a legal battle could rumble on for years and be entirely irrelevant by the time any judgement is passed. And if that’s the case then there really is very little to protect ideas – any company that wants to succeed will ride the wave and take a chance – or face failure because of a desire to comply with pre-Internet laws.
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Cloud: What about regulated environments? April 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing, Software.
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The cloud changes everything. That’s the consensus view. Whether it’s remote infrastructure management, software as a service, or utility computing or all of these strategies combined in some way, the cloud is changing the IT services market.

But forget the hype you read in a lot of the business and tech press. Most of us are already using cloud-based services with photo-sharing, video-sharing, document-sharing services, or even tools like Google Apps and Gmail. Facebook and LinkedIn are both tools that exist in the cloud and most executives probably use them each and every day.

The question is really how do we move from acceptance of consumer tools to a place where these applications can be used in a bulletproof and robust corporate environment?

It’s a tall order. IT leaders have a different focus to personal end users, particularly when it comes to availability and security. These are particularly important factors when the IT service is purchased from a supplier and will translate into key performance indicators applied to a service level agreement. The small print of the publicly available services does include information about service levels, but it will usually just excuse the provider from any responsibility to give you a reliable service.

If Google Mail was never available when you wanted to use it then it would be abandoned and never used, but it’s reliable enough for most of us most of the time – even with some occasional well-documented failures. Google does offer a paid version of their mail product, with SLAs, so it works better for corporate users who want that guarantee.

But can real companies make this work? It’s more than two years now since Guardian News and Media Group in the UK switched 2,500 users over to Google Apps and with it being such an easy financial decision, more will follow – so it can be done and stepping away from email on individual PCs is no longer seen as such an unusual move.

The cloud is coming and it will change more traditional bread and butter IT services such as ERP and CRM for the supplier market. But how does all of this work in a regulated market such as the public sector, banking, or for a utility. What are your thoughts ahead of the Thomas Eggar Technology and Enterprise Forum on Thursday May 12?

What’s in your (data) wallet? November 12, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Outsourcing, Software.
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So Google is fighting with Facebook over the right to access the address books of each other. The issue is that Facebook allows the user to find new friends by scouring through your Google address book and determining whether those email address are active on the social networking site.

But Facebook doesn’t allow Google the reciprocal rights to go scouring through the friends of a Facebook user and to scoop up their contact details for the Google address book. This anomaly has existed for some time with Google grumbling about it, but now their frustration has boiled over to the point that they have stopped allowing Facebook automatic access to Google address books. It’s still possible to do it all manually by exporting contacts to a file and then importing them, but it’s fiddly and has multiple steps, especially compared to the automatic check.

So who owns your address book anyway? Isn’t that list of contacts actually your own property? How can these giant corporations be fighting over my address list – as someone who uses services from both companies, like half a billion others. Well, if you still use a Filofax or Rolodex then you do own your contacts, but that doesn’t help very much when you want to send an email or make a call, unless you are sitting at your desk right next to that stack of thousands of Rolodex cards.

Both companies can clearly see a converged future. Mobile phones are synchronising automatically with online address books now, so the player who ends up with the dominant address book system will be in a powerful position, controlling email, social network, and mobile contact databases for hundreds of millions of people and watching how users use those contacts.

I’m interested in the point at which that information, self-created by me, ceased to be my own property. Do I have a say in how my address book is used or squabbled over any longer?

One is on Facebook October 29, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Software.
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The British Monarchy recently set up a stall on Facebook. It allows users of the social media service to ‘like’ the royals and subsequently receive updates on engagements, along with additional media such as photographs and video. But the Facebook page has been beset with problems as virtual vandals have filled the page with hatred and abuse, most often directed at the Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The British royal family is no stranger to complaining subjects. The Queen recently received the bad news that the government was suspending payments to her family for a year and then reducing royal funding by 14%. But clearly by using tools such as Facebook, the royals are trying to reach out and connect to subjects, to show that they retain some relevance in a modern world that usually values democratic rights over hereditary rights. The endless online abuse demonstrates that for leaders of any format, it is not quite so easy to open the door to the public and to ask for an exchange of ideas using the Internet.

Most people posting abuse on Facebook are doing it in their real name. This differs from anonymous blog comments, where only an IP address can possibly reveal the identity of the comments posted, and if posted from the free wifi connection in a pub or café then they are almost impossible (at least very difficult) to trace.

How different is this world in which people are prepared to make scandalous statements about leaders, royals, and celebrities using their true identity and does it open up a new chapter in the possibilities for libel in future? If I were being sued for posting libellous statements on Facebook about a celebrity then could I use account hacking as a viable defence, given that automated ‘bots’ often end up hijacking live accounts and posting out unwanted spam messages. With spam being so common, could I use this as a defence?

I’d be interested to hear what the legal experts think because we are entering a new era of online debate, one with more accountability in some ways, but with more get-out clauses than ever before…