The ACLU: One of Facebook’s Best Frienemies

In the wake of Instant Personalization, Timeline, and Open Graph, it’s not a stretch to say that Facebook has a history of pushing the privacy boundaries… at least until someone pushes back.

In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission pushed back in its settlement, requiring Facebook to “respect the privacy wishes of its users and subjects [Facebook] to regular privacy audits for the next 20 years.” The New York Times commented that the FTC’s involvement essentially introduced “friction” to Facebook’s frictionless sharing, but in no way was it the end to Facebook’s skirmishes with privacy. In fact, if Facebook only had its eye on resistance from government agencies, it might make the mistake of overlooking a powerful opponent in the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to their website, the ACLU is an organization that works within the court system to preserve the constitutional “individual rights and liberties” guaranteed to every American citizen. With Facebook and privacy continuing to be at odds, it’s an easy fit for the ACLU, and as a result, the organization has consistently found itself representing complainants in many Facebook privacy cases.

Even back in 2009, the ACLU was very concerned about the information that users put on Facebook. The ACLU called Facebook’s restrictions on data collection by application developers “simply inadequate.” Their concern was that application developers could create something as innocuous as a Facebook Quiz and then use that to get access to a user’s information which could then be packaged, sold, or even turned over to the authorities.

While this concern is present today, what is more pressing to the ACLU is the increasing instances of authoritative organizations pressuring individuals to turn over their Facebook account information and passwords.

In 2010, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services asked a former employee for his Facebook account information and password after the employee sought to reestablish his employment. Supposedly, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was looking for any “gang affiliations” the former employee might have, but the ACLU called such actions “appalling.”

There has also recently been a case where a student was forced to give school officials her Facebook password, because she was accused of having an inappropriate conversation with another student on Facebook. The ACLU is currently representing the student in a lawsuit against the school.

Facebook’s response to this new trend has been swift. It is now a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password. The ACLU now has a partner in its lobby for congress to pass legislation ensuring protection of passwords from employers, schools, government, law enforcement, and any other organization in a position to request such information.

So, in this instance, Facebook and ACLU find themselves strange bedfellows, because if there’s something Facebook can’t stand it’s someone other than Facebook violating its users’ privacy.


How News Got Social

In 2011, The New York Times‘ circulation reached 1.2 million people.

The Wall Street Journal’s circulation reached 2.11 million people.

Facebook’s circulation reached 500 million people.

It’s not a leap to say that news organizations would love to harness the power of Facebook, unfortunately few have found an effective means to do so. However, for those looking to partner with the social media giant, the success of the Washington Post Social Reader is one that cannot be ignored.

Launched in 2011, the Washington Post Social Reader Facebook application is currently used by 11 million people. It instantly shares articles you read with your Facebook friends, and shares articles your Facebook friends read with you, creating a “socially powered newswire of intriguing articles.”  It also recommends other articles based on what articles a user has previously read, allowing for a better understanding of a “user’s preferences with repeat usage.”

Most importantly however, is the fact the Social Reader allows users to look at full articles without leaving their Facebook page. Users also don’t have to pay for the articles they view.

The Washington Post Social Reader has no advertisements. For many stories, it doesn’t even direct the user to content from its own site but instead uses content from partner sites like Mashable, the Associated Press, and Global Post. The average individual may question what the Washington Post may even get out of an application like Social Reader, but the answer is data. When users get the Social Reader application, it asks for permissions, but more importantly specific permissions.

Like any good app, it doesn’t ask for information the creating organization doesn’t need. For example, since the Washington Post is an organization built on its readership, it has no need for information dealing with a user’s Facebook pictures or status updates. Asking for only specific information, instead of access to everything, shortens the number of permissions, which may make users feel more at ease with the app they are allowing on their Facebook page.

Since the Social Reader shares articles a user reads with their Facebook friends, privacy settings are included to where users can decide what groups of their friends are allowed to see the articles a user reads. This impacts the reach of the Social Reader, because not only can it be limited to certain groups of friends, but if a friend wants to read an article that a user’s Social Reader shares with them, they must also allow the Social Reader app.

It is also important to note that by using the Washington Post Social Reader, users are automatically upgraded to Facebook Timeline, the new version of a Facebook profile, which allows users to share more information about themselves over the course of their life.


My name’s Andrea Feminella, and if I could boil myself down into one word right now, it would be busy or buried or suffering from a terrible case of graduate student osmosis, but that is considerably more words than just one.

In any case, I’m up to my ears in scholarly research, so my time is limited at best. My morning routine is down to an efficient science where I wake up, have my coffee, and like a good functioning member of society, check my Facebook. See, I don’t have time to comb the internet news anymore, and with my few precious seconds of me time, I prefer to be social. This sometimes is a problem though, because the more I look at friends’ status updates, the more I realize how out of touch I am with what everyone’s talking about.

There was an earthquake in Acapulco?

Mauritania’s a country?

Who is Trayvon Martin?

….Peyton Manning is a Bronco?

Blah. Now I wish I could keep myself in the loop with my friends, but it’s exhausting, and I have no time.

Then I heard about’s social reader.

I like, their online news is great, and come on, it’s CNN! So I download it, and it notifies me whenever my friends are talking about one of CNN’s hot topics. Since the hot topics today are as follows

the social reader notices when my friends Megan and Ashley are commenting how “messed up that Trayvon Martin situation” is. It then notifies my Facebook wall when I go to check it in the morning.

“Andrea, your friends are talking about TRAYVON MARTIN

Here’s what you need to know:

Like what you read? Send it to Ashley and Megan!”

With this notification, all I need to do is click on these links, and I know exactly why that Trayvon Martin situation is so “messed up.”

I send the latest story to Ashley and Megan, so they can read up on all the developments, and in the time it takes for me to drink my morning coffee, I’m caught up on the news my friends are posting about.


And Still More Chapter Topics

So a lot has already been covered, and I think all of the previously mentioned topics are great candidates for articles. Here’s a few more to add into the mix:

An article about how other companies are using Opengraph technology: For those companies that err on the side of caution when it comes to Big Data, it might be beneficial to show them what other companies are doing to take Big Data to the next level.

An article about the possible online privacy bill of rights currently brewing in the White House: This article would show how Big Data retains the anonymity of participants while collecting information that benefits the companies that use it. It would also show the difference between aggregate data, which is perfectly acceptable to use, versus identifiable data, which most likely would violate the online privacy bill of rights.

I absolutely agree with Jackie’s opinion to include Moneyball as a chapter. Getting companies to understand our definition of efficiency is crucial to the client recruitment package as a whole.

Kelsi also had a great point about including the regression equation in order to figure out a company’s y. I’m not sure if it should be in our individual chapters or in the mini-articles at the beginning, but regardless, this information should definitely be included.

My personal opinion is that we need to include some of the assumed pitfalls of Big Data. If it has an reputation, we need to address it head-on in order to ease future clients’ concerns. Show them the their competitors using it. Show them the controversy, and then diffuse it with the true facts surrounding Big Data. Our opening articles should be informative but should also advocate the technology we’re trying to sell. If the clients are comfortable and they like what we tell them, why wouldn’t they go with us?

Taking Datamining a Step Further

Hey guys,

I was on CNN’s tech site and found this article to be particularly interesting:

Manage and (sell?) your data online

This could work, assuming we as consumers know what we want…

Oh These Crazy Kids and Their Apps!

I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to be writing about, so I’m just going to say a few words about an enlightening CNN article about apps I just read.

This particular article reported on the FTC’s investigation of app developers using data mining in children’s apps. While the investigation itself was inconclusive about the link between user information given in an app and the ads the app generated, the article painted a shady portrait of how data mining violates a child’s privacy.

Now maybe my creep factor is long since gone, but I feel like it is this type of exposure that produces the negative stigma we talked about in class a couple of weeks ago. Sure, I think that it sounds bad think about an app “gathering data to push targeted ads to your 6-year-old,” but let’s step outside of the hysteria box here.

What happens every time a kid sits down to watch his favorite Saturday morning cartoon? It isn’t ads about car insurance he’s seeing, it’s ads about toys. If it’s Transformers he’s watching, chances are he’ll see ads about action figures, toy trucks, and Nerf footballs. That’s an example of advertisers pushing targeted ads, but you don’t see parents in an uproar about it.

Now to be fair, I will say that perhaps everyone’s a little creeped out, because someone is actually selling a child’s information as opposed to simply pushing a product. The permissions screen alone can be a little eyebrow-raising.

According to the article, permission screens for a phone app or a tablet app are a little different than the permissions we’ve already discussed for Facebook apps. For example, a phone app may ask for “your phone’s contact list or location data,” but keep in mind that since it’s most likely not the child’s phone, the information the app is getting is the parent’s and not the child’s.

The FTC is also concerned about the fact the these kids’ apps can be linked to social media sites like Facebook, which children should not have an account on until they 13. Some of these apps can also facilitate financial transactions, like giving links to additional games and levels, without leaving the app itself. This causes concern that children can make purchases without parents, because credit card information may already be stored in the phone or tablet.

While I see these points as somewhat valid, I still believe that this type of advertising behavior isn’t that different from what’s already been done. How long have grocery stores kept the sugary cereal been at the eye level of a child, who can throw in box into a grocery cart without their parents knowing? What about television remotes? Kids could click a button that purchases a movie they want to see, and they don’t need a parent  to approve that purchase. It’s up to the parents to keep the remote out of the hands of children that don’t know how to use it. Phones and tablets should be used the same way. It you don’t want to supervise your child’s use of technology, you should not give them access to it.

This may be a strong and harsh stance, especially considering I have no children, but the government can only do so much regulating. The rest is a gray area. According to the FTC, app stores may require developers to tell users what information they will be using, but the app store apparently does little to enforce this. It’s a similar problem to Facebook and its apps, but the difference here is that the app developers themselves can be punished.Here’s the example from the CNN article:

In September 2011, the FTC settled its first legal action against a mobile app developer in enforcement of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. According to the consent decree, the developer (W3 Innovations, which also has done business under the name “Broken Thumbs Apps”) was ordered to start publishing information about the kinds of data collected via their apps and how that data is shared, to get parental consent before collecting any new data, and to delete all the data they had collected so far — plus pay a $50,000 fine.

To me, what’s interesting is the fact that the developer didn’t get penalized under a general technology law, but a law that was specifically for children. Perhaps that’s the only legal restraint in place for app developers today, and if that’s not enough to alert your creep factor, nothing will.


Hey guys,

So this is not so much an educational post as it is a nervous plead for help. My client is CNN, and Dr. Shamp was nice enough to set me up with Phil Sharpe. Mr. Sharpe and I have been exchanging emails for the past week, and now I have a meeting with him at the CNN Center in Atlanta next Tuesday morning, the 28th. He wants to introduce me to the social media staff and show me what they are working on with Facebook and Open Graph. He also wants me to meet the VP of Social Media Platforms, who is stationed in New York but happens to be in town on that day.

I’m super exited but also mildly freaking out. What do I say to these people? Do I simply absorb everything that they are currently doing, or do I also pitch my idea for a social reader? If I use this meeting to pitch my idea, I can figure out if they like it or if I need to go back to the drawing board. However, the downside is if I pitch my idea, what will I be able to show them on May 4th?

I’m probably over-analyzing this (what else is new), but this meeting is really important, so any suggestions or comments are greatly appreciated. Maybe we can talk about it in class on Thursday.

Thanks guys!