Public wifi warning

I don’t use it, and neither should you.

In less than 20 minutes, here’s what we’ve learned about the woman sitting 10 feet from us: where she was born, where she studied, that she has an interest in yoga, that she’s bookmarked an online offer for a anti-snore mantras, recently visited Thailand and Laos, and shows a remarkable interest in sites that offer tips on how to save a relationship.

Bit pushed for time this evening, so here’s a link I read earlier.
Eye opening.

Your phone is listening

Here’s a VICE article about how your smartphone is listening to the things that you are saying, and is serving you adverts based upon the things that you speak about.

It’s entitled:

Your Phone Is Listening and it’s Not Paranoia

Sadly though, it does appear to have ignited quite a lot of paranoia about the fact that your phone is listening.

Am I the only one not to have known about this before?

I didn’t think this was news. I thought that this was common knowledge. After all, access to the microphone is often part of the permissions that you give apps when you download or update them.

Am I the only one not to be hugely worried by it either?

I’m not routinely planning terrorist attacks or coups d’état (although…?). And if I did, I’d make sure that my phone wasn’t right next to me. And even if it was, I’d probably only get served some google ads about terrorist attacks and coups d’état.

In fact, given that I am going to be served ads while I am on the internet, I have no issue with targeted ads. I’m wont to ignore them all anyway, but at least they might be of some interest to me.

“This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature”

Something is wrong here. If someone believes, even fleetingly, that a feature on your platform is a bug, that’s a problem.

And I think that the bug feature that I read about this morning which has apparently been rearing its ugly head on Facebook recently is potentially going to be a big problem.

ZDNet reports that Facebook has been automatically publishing posts under people’s name and placing them at the top of the News Feed for their friends to see. Now, while that might seem annoying, it probably doesn’t really present any sort of problem – that is, unless the content that Facebook is publishing under your name is politically controversial:

One associate whose name was attached to a rabidly right-wing political post said she disagreed vehemently with the sentiment it expressed, and she couldn’t imagine why it appeared under her name.

Or just plain embarrassing [screenshot]:

A colleague of mine and a friend of mine had both “liked” somewhere along the way. No problem, right? Wrong. recently ran a somewhat racy promotion for the “Date Night Gift Pack from K-Y: Including $10 off 2 movie tickets, Yours & Mine Lubes, and K-Y Touch Warming Oil,” and the ad implied that my associates liked the K-Y products. To say that my colleague and my friend were mortified would be an understatement!

Now, that could be a little distressing on a personal level, but imagine that you were using your Facebook account in a professional purpose and your clients or colleagues get suggestions that you are recommending sexual lubricants. Ouch!

Facebook’s response to the ZDNet article confirms that this can happen to anyone who Likes a page – any Facebook page:

To help people find new Pages, events, and other interesting information, people may now see posts from a Page a friend likes. These posts will include the social context from your friends who like the Page and will respect all existing settings.

We’ve warned you before about who you share your social media account details with, but it’s a bit difficult not to share your Facebook account details with er… Facebook. Personally, I’m not a huge Facebook user, but I do see its value and its uses. However, I can only see that this bug feature will dissuade users from Liking pages, which is the primary way that Facebook now works. Own goal?

ZDNet continues:

Even worse, if you’re the recipient of these messages, there is no way to prevent them from appearing in your News feed. You can hide individual stories as they appear, but you can’t block the page from posting again, and again, and again. And even if you remove the friend completely from your news feed, the forcibly shared posts appear. The only way to stop it is to unfriend the person whose Facebook identity is being misused.

If you’re concerned that inappropriate content might appear in your friends’ News feed under your name, you should immediately go through the list of pages for which you’ve clicked Like, and Unlike any that you think pose the potential of embarrassing you.

I’ve pored through Facebook account settings and can find no way to disable this kind of sharing. There are settings that control whether your name is attached to ads, but these aren’t ads. If they were, the word “Sponsored” would appear alongside them. (And if they’re unlabeled ads, well, that opens another can of worms, doesn’t it?)

In the meantime, I’d go for that middle paragraph option above. [Profile -> Likes -> Go to individual FB page -> Hover over LIKED button -> Click Unlike from dropdown menu].

The trouble is, with sites as innocuous as (think of it as a Boots or a Clicks pharmacy) posting “dodgy” stuff as you, where do you draw the line?

For your peace of mind, I promise that’s Facebook page will probably never post dodgy stuff on your behalf.

Money for research

As a scientist, I know just how difficult it is to secure funding for research projects. That’s why it annoys the hell out of me to see that someone (albeit not a scientist) has gone and got a lump of money to find out if television wildlife documentaries infringe on animals’ privacy.
And apparently, yes they do.

Footage of animals giving birth in their burrows or mating crosses an ethical line that film-makers should respect, according to Brett Mills, a lecturer in film studies at the University of East Anglia.
Mills compiled a report on animals’ rights to privacy after reviewing scenes from the BBC’s 2009 wildlife series “Nature’s Great Events”.

Perish the thought that some money should be spent on something important like finding a cure for HIV or addressing the growing scourge of XDR-TB.

No, let’s rather give Brett a big wad of cash to go into the woods with a video camera and see if he can make a badger blush.