Tag Archives: Online Communities

Facebook Places is eye-witness testimony waiting to happen

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We’ve written previously about the privacy problems in Facebook Places. We’ve also written about the often unsuspected expense of subpoenaed social media records, otherwise known as eDiscovery. Taken together, these two facts present a whole new compliance issue for businesses and individuals: Facebook is now an eye-witness to your whereabouts.

Facebook Places lets you check into a location, establishing whether or not you attended an event or ever visited a specific business or residence. Facebook Places also lets your friends tag you into a location. Thus, you need not even acknowledge that you were at a company party or corporate retreat — your colleagues can confirm your presence for you (whether you like it or not). And, just as your friends can tag you into Facebook photos you’d rather remained unpublished and anonymous, Facebook Places can “put you at the scene” as they say on television crime dramas, associating you with places and events you would just assume stay private.

It’s the latter issue that is the most troubling. Location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla have allowed for the social media tracking of your physical presence for some time. But the user was always in control; you chose what was tracked and what was left unrecorded. Facebook Places gives your friends control of your location record, which both increases the amount of data available about you and decreases the level of control you have over that data.

The admissibility of Facebook Places data is yet to be determined and — as is often the case in civil litigation — will likely be up to the discretion of the presiding judge. Yet the power of Facebook Places to affect your legal standing in a lawsuit or criminal trial is only the beginning of the issues presented by Facebook’s new functionality.

Facebook Places now offer a whole new set of potential datapoints that you’ll have to turn over to your lawyers and copy to your opponent’s legal team. Facebook Places just ratcheted up the cost of eDiscovery and it did so by making Facebook data substantially more interesting to opposing parties.

Put simply: If Facebook Places always knows where you are, a cop or lawyer will eventually want that information, too. You’ll be expected to turn over that data at your own expense. Even if it isn’t relevant. Even if it’s inadmissible. The more scattered and disorganized that data, the more expensive eDiscovery compliance will become.

Hope you’ve got a backup plan.

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Why your company shouldn’t block social networking at work

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When social networking platforms first emerged, most companies discouraged their use in the workplace and some even made policies banning the visitation to sites like Facebook and LinkedIn on company hours.

Now, whether it is because social sites are so widespread or because many employees are now allowed to develop and sustain their personal brand and professional network on social media while at work, these sites are not frowned upon in as many workplaces.

However, there are a few industry sectors that still strongly discourage and even block the use of Facebook and the such from work, government in particular.

We have been interacting with some members of a social network for government, GovLoop.com, to see why their agency blocks social networks and this is what we found:

1. Not enough bandwidth to handle social media log ins and time spend on these sites.

2. Security issues

3. Temptation to use these sites for non-work activities

4. Loss of productivity d

While these concerns are viable, most employees are not happy with the rules against social networking access at work.

Here is why they want and should have access to these sites:

1. Employees need it for professional networking

2. Morale issues

3. Spread knowledge throughout a network in a fast and easy manner

4. Bottom-up news aggregation to quickly and efficiently spread company/industry news

5. Monitoring of relevant discussions outside of company walls

Instead, companies should practice security education and create social media policies so as not to hurt employee morale and protect the company at the same time.

Social media has become such a huge player in communication and collaboration around the workplace that blocking it may severely damage those capabilities.

What do you think? Does it make more sense to block Facebook than try to deal with the security issues or should companies embrace it?

Does your company block or allow the use of social networks? What are your thoughts on this? Leave your comments below!

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If Facebook is a virtual nation, it’s a tyrannical one

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Earlier this week, we discussed Robert Scoble’s flaming of Twitter’s draconian “death sentence” account takedown procedure. This led to some folks complaining that Twitter doesn’t have an appropriate “appeals” process for account suspensions — as if Twitter was a nation-state and its users were citizens. Indeed, two weeks ago Brad Burnham explicitly said web servcies should be thought of as governments.

Social networks have courted this kind of high-minded self description for years, labeling themselves as “communities” rather than what they really are: businesses. The notorious Socialnomics stat video noted that Facebook’s “population” — if we care to characterize its user base in such terms — would make it the fourth largest country on Earth. Facebook itself has implied its own post-national identity by calling its user policy page the Facebook Site Governance page. This is a code of law, the language implies, rather than a service contract. Welcome to the Facebook Nation.

Except Facebook isn’t a nation. It’s a business.

You’re a Facebook customer, not a Facebook citizen. You have no inalienable rights, except those guaranteed by your actual government regarding privacy and protection from fraud. There is no Facebook constitution except for the Facebook Terms of Service — which Facebook can change at any time provided they give you a self-imposed three- to seven-day heads-up. Facebook graciously promises to put any proposed changes up for a user vote if at least 7,000 people comment on a policy change. That vote will be binding, however, only if 30% of the Facebook userbase votes in the “election.” That means about 150 million people have to vote, given Facebook’s current usage numbers. This is what’s known as the illusion of participation.

My only criticism of the above is that it’s disingenuous. Facebook has every right to run its product to the benefit of its (not yet publicly traded) shareholders. Yet, Facebook would like to be thought of as a virtual nation rather than a business, because it’s more meaningful to be a citizen than it is to be a customer. If you feel like a citizen, you’ll probably stay a customer. This mindset and perception benefits Facebook shareholders, but is in fact a detriment to Facebook customers — because it gives customers the idea they’re entitled to “appeals” and “due process” and a “vote.”

You’re entitled to none of the above.

If Facebook is a nation, it’s a tyranny — with Mark Zuckerberg as the charismatic dictator. You can be exiled from Facebookistan at the whim of the regime. You can be forced to use the local currency and store it in local banks, rather than the neutral third-party cash systems you enjoyed before. You can be forced to use approved state-run media for your business advertisements. And all of this, of course, is termed as a benefit for the glorious people.

Still want to be a citizen of Facebookistan? Don’t think that Twitteropolis is much better, either. And above all, don’t fall for the illusion of citizenship when really, you’re just a customer. And most times, you’re not even a paying one at that.

Facebook owes you nothing. You’re entitled to nothing. Go in with your eyes open to this basic fact. And, above all, I hope you have a backup plan.

Twitter and Facebook can kill you without cause or recourse

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Twitter "Account Suspended" message
Image by .imelda via Flickr

A week ago, Robert Scoble called out Twitter for issuing death sentences without warning, explanation, or obvious chance for appeal. A “death sentence” in this case refers to the complete suspension of a Twitter account, such that the owner can’t log in. Apparently a friend of Scoble’s joked about selling his Twitter account — an action which violates Twitter’s Terms of Service — so Twitter suspended the friend’s account before it contacted him to explain why, or what he could do about it. Eventually, the account was restored, but only because the friend of Scoble gave an explanation that satisfied Twitter. That time his account was down is time he’ll never get back, and there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again.

Short form: Twitter can shut off your account any time it wants, and may only give it back if it feels like it. Addendum: Facebook has an almost identical policy and a history of acting on it.

We’ve discussed previously how rare it is to own a popular Twitter account. Facebook fans have a suggested dollar value, too. Yet these assets can be removed from your marketing portfolio without warning — and often without immediate explanation — for any perceived or assumed violation of terms of service that these service providers can and do change as they like.

Imagine if your phone company behaved in a similar fashion, disconnecting your phone number(s) because it didn’t care for the phone conversations you were having. Of course, that could never happen — and not (just) because of government regulation. You pay for your phone service, so the phone company has a certain financial incentive to care for your business. Facebook, Twitter, and most web apps are free. Zero dollars buys you zero service level guarantees. Never forget that you have access to Twitter and Facebook only so long as it is convenient and beneficial to them.

Hope you’ve got a backup plan.

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The employee that creates your company Facebook Page could own it forever

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RAAAAAAHHHH He-Man Broke Facebook!
Image by pauliepaul via Flickr

UPDATE: Facebook recently rolled out a fix to this very problem. Page creators can now be deleted as administrators. This is true, however, only if the Page creator adds someone new as an admin. Thus, it should be company policy that whoever creates a company Facebook page must immediately add a second administrator as soon as a Page is created. If that doesn’t happen, a Page creator will control your company Facebook Page forever.

Here’s a little wrinkle in Facebook’s operating paradigm that most businesses don’t consider: The creator of a Facebook Page can never be removed as an administrator. Put more directly, whichever employee uses his or her personal Facebook account to create your company Facebook Page will forever have access to it. Even if that employee leaves the company. Even if you fire that employee for gross negligence or criminal activity — like illegal use or abuse of your Facebook Page.

For those confused by the nomenclature, a Facebook Profile is the account used by a person. A Facebook Page is the account used by a brand or business. The distinction is made because multiple people (Profiles) can work for or administer a single business or brand (Page). The problem is that whichever person (Profile) first creates a Facebook Page can never be removed as an administrator. This setup works fine if the Facebook Page creator is the owner of the company. It doesn’t work so well when the creator of a company’s Facebook Page is the summer intern who leaves to take a paying gig at your direct competitor.

The only known workaround for this problem is to try to create the same Facebook Page over again — with exactly the same name as the existing Facebook Page — then fill out a form attached to the “this name is taken” error message. Then you wait for a manual response from Facebook, who will respond at their own convenience and anoint someone as the “rightful” owner of the Facebook Page.

Meanwhile, the former employee (who may have a grudge about the “former” part) retains full admin privileges to your company’s Facebook Page. Including the right alter or remove content, message or ban your Facebook fans, or outright delete the entire Page.

Hopefully, you’ve chosen a mature, professional employee to create your company Facebook Page; someone who would abstain from abusing his or her eternal admin privileges to your Facebook Page even after leaving the company. More likely, however, you assigned the task of creating a Facebook page to a normal human being.

Hope you’ve got a backup plan.