Give Me Some Privacy



Last December Time Magazine announced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the Person of the Year in its annual selection. This happened despite the overwhelming lead in the publication’s reader poll by the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Multi-billionaire Mark came only tenth, just behind The Unemployed American).  The official choice led to a semi-strong backlash against Time editors, who were accused of ignoring their own readers, as well as self-censorship. No one, however, expected Assange to get back at the social networking king several months later.

Earlier last week the eccentric Australian spoke to Russia Today and named Facebook the “most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented”. Assange went as far as suggesting that along with Google and Yahoo, Facebook has an actual built-in interface for US intelligence to get personal data on the users. Thus, in a strange and ironic twist Assange became an advocate for online privacy. We are talking about the very man, who openly gathers and disseminates others’ private information. Of course I realize that there is a difference between the privacy of a regular Joe and the secrecy of a government machine, but still… There is no denying that the surfacing of classified data may potentially place at risk thousands of innocent people.

Nevertheless, considering the amount of irrelevant or simply boring information found in thousands of diplomatic cables released, the famous whistleblower might actually be on to something. After all, now we know that American diplomats across the globe are not much different from the people on our friend-lists. Apparently, instead of sending holographic bomb schematics to their eye-patched bosses, they share observations on ego-driven habits of politicians surrounding them. Oh, the excitement!

On a more serious note, WikiLeaks information was instrumental in the Arab Spring developments. At the same time some of the uprisings in the Middle East were dubbed in the media as Facebook Revolutions. This ought to show that Mark Zuckerberg’s creation played as historic a role in shaping up the new face of the region as did Assange’s. Yet, the controversial activist chooses to dismiss (or at least not acknowledge) this fact altogether.

Getting back to the privacy issue. All the rights-and-freedoms talks aside, we should really stop pretending that intelligence agencies cannot get all the private data they want without using Facebook. In fact, it is more comforting to believe they did have some means of collecting information prior to 2004. Sure, it must be easier now, with everyone hanging out at the same place online, but what do the Bonds and Bournes really learn in addition to the data already harvested from our tax forms?

Typical reaction from crowd.

Typical reaction from crowd

That’s right; as much as the prospect of the authorities finding out about my FarmVille habits petrifies me, I am pretty much ready to let it slide.  Also, I want to tell all the community site users out there that unless we really want to bore government spies to death with information about our music choices and cooking tastes, we are pretty much safe.  There are plenty of platforms around, created specifically for the discussion of conspiracies and/or human rights issues. Scanning them would be of much more use for the Big Brother, than going through millions of social networking profiles looking for… something/anything. More importantly, we are all adults with clear comprehension of what should and shouldn’t end up on the web (hopefully).

All the joking aside; once you realize that what you do is important enough to the point of raising serious concerns about privacy and security, perhaps that’s when you should consider private social networks. Until then, please refrain from updating your statuses with detailed plans of the CIA Headquarter infiltration.

Until the End of Space

By Zima, May 4, 2011

Myspace for Sale! That’s right; one of the giants of the social networking industry is up for grabs once again, with the asking price of just 100 million dollars. This, however, is hardly surprising for anyone who witnessed the rise and fall of the once mighty entity.

As they say, space is the final frontier. Quite sadly, this just wasn’t to be for one of the pioneers of social networking. Over time Myspace just became too cumbersome and ultimately limiting for people looking to enhance their real-life interactions with an online experience. And once you are limited in space, you begin seeking a way out.

Myspace (MySpace back then) was born in 2003 – the year celebrated its 8th birthday, Friendster was quickly gaining momentum, and Mark Zuckerberg was still hacking into Harvard network to create Facemash. At the same time GeoCities was already swimming in shut-down rumors, proving that a service with millions upon millions of users could fail in spite of everything. A lesson could have been learned right there…

By 2006 Myspace became the number one social networking site in the US, a position it managed to hold on to right until Facebook stomped the competition in 2008. “The Place for Friends” was exactly that – a collection of individual spaces, all decorated (more or less) uniquely, depending on the users’ understanding of style and overkill. This, however, was also a major contributing factor for the public perception of the website’s “quirk”.

Most adults looked down on the service. No wonder, really, when you consider that every second page was dedicated to the most recent pop sensation, bombarded visitors with intentional misspelling, and featured over-the-top rants by angsty teenagers. When Facebook arrived on the scene, preloaded with the college-age core group of users, it became a default choice for the mainstream mature audience. By the time Myspace warmed up to the idea of a necessitating change, it was a little too late. The shape of the social networking landscape was already changed forever.

Just look at Facebook. It needed approximately two seconds to realize the potential of that hot new thing called Twitter. Next thing you know, there is a twitter-like feed on the site. Once out of the gate, Zuckerberg and Co. never looked back, really, constantly adding subtle improvements on the go. That was something Myspace seemed to understand, but failed to implement. More effort was put on entertainment features, annoying animated backgrounds, and memory-draining videos, than on social networking bells and whistles.

On top of the pressing competition, Myspace was a troubled endeavor from the get go. All the liability suits, lax security issues, mismanagement of advertising space, compatibility problems, later-day layoffs, etc., did not help the matters. By 2008 what was once considered the flagship of social networking has fallen by sidelines. The biggest problem became the brand itself. It was just too recognizable as a tainted product at this point, despite the millions of accounts in use. In later years all the news of improvement in security and design were overshadowed by the information of rapidly declining traffic and revenues.

After losing the fight for the much-coveted title of the Social Networking Heavyweight Champ, Myspace quickly spun the developments, and claimed it actually no longer considered itself a Facebook competitor. Supposedly, the portal sought to become a gateway into the entertainment world. Perhaps, this was a wise move, considering the site’s history with the showbiz (many performers used the platform for promotion purposes). Unfortunately, even this did not produce the much needed relief, when VEVO, a music website run by the likes of Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, opted out of the takeover (at least for the time being).

Just to give you a reference of the situation by this point – when News Corp. bought Myspace in 2005, the website was the entire Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy in terms of the pick-up price and generated hype. Six years later it is shipped around as The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Ouch.

So, yes, it has been a bumpy ride, but the final destination was always there if you think about it. Working in the industry it is important not forget that the money comes from customers who expect a company to deliver the best user-experience there is. Raining stars on the background is just a wrapper; what matters is the satisfactory interaction. Once the audience realizes that, there is not much to do but to observe it flee to a better vessel.