Your life is hot. At least it’s hot if you use Facebook. Social networking sites such as Facebook generate enormous amounts of heat at their data centers in storing and manipulating your data and images.
It is no small surprise that Facebook has just opened its first data center in Lapland. More specifically the city of Lulea in far northeastern Sweden. The average annual temperatures in Lulea will allow Facebook to use outside air for cooling its servers for up to 10 months of the year. Lulea has a subarctic climate with an average annual temperature in the 20 degree Fahrenheit range.
Facebook’s move is part of a trend by large online providers to move their data centers to cold climates in order to save on cooling costs.
It has been a busy legal week for Facebook. Three separate suits were filed against the social media giant alleging that the company violated united states wiretap laws and state consumer protection laws by tracking user web browsing even when they were not logged into Facebook. The suits were filed in Texas, Kansas and Illinois by three different Facebook users. Together with two suits filed the week before in California, this brings the total number of suits filed against Facebook for its tracking activity to five.
Information about Facebook’s tracking activities was first disclosed last month when Australian developer Nic Cubrilovic, reported that Facebook was able track when users visited non-Facebook sites. Facebook accomplished this with cookies, the “like” button and other social widgets. As a result of this report, several consumer privacy groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Consumer Action, the American Library Association, and the Center for Digital Democracy, requested that the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) launch an investigation.
The Kansas suit seeks treatment as a class actions which would bring into the suit a wide array of users. If any of these suits succeed, Facebook could face damages of thousands of dollars per violation together with a permanent injunction against such future conduct.
How can you protect yourself from being tracked? Find out how to located cookies on your browser. Then delete any cookies from Facebook. Some add-ons to browsers such as Firefox or Chrome allow you to block cookies or even to surf the web “incognito” which will save no cookies during the session.
Today Google announced and the release of its new social networking service Google+. Initially released only to a select group of users while the service is in limited trial mode. Google intends to roll out the service more widely over the coming months.
Once you sign up for Google+ a “+You” appears on the left of the traditional Google menu bar. The service allows you to create circles of friends, visual chat rooms and news feed aggregators. One interesting feature is huddling which allows you to bring together a group of friends. If you are interested in seeing the service for your self, you can find an on-line preview at this site.
The Miami New Times, a weekly paper local to South Florida, reported today that a resident of the city of Miami Lakes, Florida, has accused two of the city’s councilmen of using Facebook to circumvent Florida’s Sunshine Law. The Sunshine Law is a Florida state law which requires political communications regarding public matters be transparent and public.
Councilman Nelson Hernandez is the sponsor of measure to prohibit council members and the mayor from serving on citizen committees. A week before the council vote on the measure, Hernandez posted sent a request to his Facebook friends, including councilman Richard Pulido, that they contact a swing vote on the council to urge her to vote in support. Pulido in return posted a comment on Hernandez’s Facebook page indicating that he supported the measure. This could be construed as a communication regarding an upcoming vote between members of the board which could violate the Florida Sunshine Laws.
According to the article, the resident who reported the allegedly improper communication has asked state public corruption prosecutor Joe Centorino to investigate Hernandez and Pulido. Considering the number of politicians who presently appear on Facebook, we can expect more such incidents in the future.
Concern for social networking privacy is driving state governments to provide legislation to fill gaps not yet addressed by federal laws. These regional solutions, rather than creating a safer social networking experience, may simply subject corporations to a minefield of local requirements.
In the latest such proposed law, new proposed legislation is working its way through the California legislative system. The Social Networking Privacy Act (SB 242), should it become law will provide the following key restrictions:
- A social networking site may not show publicly any user information other than name and city of the user without the consent of the user.
- Privacy settings must be set at the time of the account creation.
- Identifying information must be removed upon request of the user or, if the user is younger than 18, of his or her parents within 48 hours.
The law provides civil penalties of $10,000 per violation.
Well-known social networking companies such as Facebook and Twitter oppose this legislation. On May 16, 2011, the California Chamber of Commerce joined Facebook, Google, Twitter, Skype, eHarmony, Match.com, and Yahoo in signing an open letter to the sponsor of the bill voicing their opposition.
The letter argues that by requiring users to make a broad privacy determination before the use and become familiar with the service, most users will click through rather than making an informed decision. It challenges that the bill singles out social networking sites from all other online sites and suggests that it will have a chilling effect on California’s e-commerce. Finally, the group of companies threatens to file challenges to the law under the US and California constitutions, particularly singling out the commerce clause of the US constitution.
This strong opposition has already had an effect as the bill stalled on the senate floor this past Friday, May 27, 2011, by a 16-16 vote. The vote drew supporters and opponents from both sides of the aisle. Notwithstanding this initial defeat, the bill’s sponsor, Ellen Corbett (D), will bring it up for a vote again next week.
Common sense dictates that you have to read opinions on social networking sites with a critical eye and more than a bit of skepticism. However, this week a we got a rare look beneath the skirt at how social networking sites are used to manipulate opinions by high priced marketing firms.
Rumors circulated the Internet over the past few days that an unknown principal had hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to plant opinions and blog articles online attacking Google’s respect of privacy. USAToday learned of the story and disclosed the campaign in an article which speculated as to the identity of the unknown principal.
The plan seems to have unravelled when a blogger approached by Burson rejected their offer and instead disclosed the e-mails describing the plot. In a May 3 e-mail to Christopher Soghoian, a blogger and former FTC researcher, Burson’s John Mercurio offered to ghost write a blog story attacking Google’s data collection policies for Soghoian. Mercurio would then help Soghoian get it published as an op-ed piece inThe Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Roll Call and The Huffington Post.
Today the principal behind Burson’s campaign was revealed by Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast. It was none other than Facebook. According to the Lyons article a Facebook spokeman confronted with evidence confirmed that Facebook had hired Burson-Marsteller and defended the manipulation of the social blogging for two reasons:
First, because [Facebook] believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, because Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.
At least some of the driving passion behind Facebook’s secret campaign seems to be a new Google service which pulls personal information from Facebook and other sources to create circles of friends which can be accessed through one’s gmail account. The May 3 e-mail describes this new service as follows:
Unfortunately the ink was barely dry on the settlement before Google rolled out its latest tool designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users – in a direct and flagrant violation of its agreement with the FTC.
Interestingly, this news breaks at a time that the blogs and news sources are filled with stories about Facebook’s large number of members who are unsupervised minors.
So what is the reader to make of this? How many other articles on blogs and on-line news sites are manipulated by marketing firms. How can you trust any content when the social networking sites themselves are trying to manipulate news. Only one thing is certain — question what you read, read both sides and double check all sources.
You have invested hours into developing your on-line persona. Your blog has dozens of links and hundreds of followers. Your facebook page is tied to hundreds of friends. Your Twitter account had a thousand followers. However, how secure are you in your on-line persona? What rights do you have to this identity?
Before you develop a false sense of permanency in this illusory world — read the terms of service. You may be very surprised by what few rights you have. This is what Danah Boyd learned when she woke up to find her Tumblr blog gone and another company using her blog name at the same address. She says on her new blog:
All are moved to a new URL, breaking everyone’s links to content that I had on the site and giving me no choice in this process. And a company who also uses the name zephoria is now posting at that Tumblr page (and seems to have been for the last two days). Tumblr did not notify me. And while their ToS [Terms of Service] says that they will, it also says that Tumblr “reserves the right to remove any Subscriber Content from the Site, suspend or terminate Subscriber’s right to use the Services at any time…”
Danah suspects that another company claimed a trademark right to the name she used and Tumblr, without giving her notice or a right to dispute the claim, transferred the account.
If your handle and blog name and images and other online content is important to you, consider traditional forms of protection such as trademarks and copyrights. The more valuable your on-line persona becomes the more you need to consider taking steps to protect it…and….read the terms of service.
It was only a matter of time before we started to see libel suits involving tweets. Tweeting, which involves 140 character messages exchanged on a distributed network run by Twitter, Inc., has become a ubiquitous from of communications for many. Once a message is twitted, others who receive it can propagate the message by “re-tweetting.”
News organizations have become frequent users of Twitter as part of their strategy to connect with the readers and to build interest in their news reports. This has led to an interesting lawsuit for an associated press reporter.
In Spooner v. The Associated Press et al. (U.S. Dist. Ct-Minneapolis-Court File No.0:11-cv-00642-JRT -JJK), NBA Referee Bill Spooner alleges that during a Jan. 24 game between the Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets, he called a foul on a Minnesota player. Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis disagreed with the call and engaged in a verbal exchange with Spooner. Spooner allegedly promised to review the call at the half, but Rambis “asked him how he would get the points back.” According to Spooner, he did not respond to this question. According to the complaint, however, associated press reporter Jon Krawczynski tweeted to his readers that Spooner “ told Rambis he’d ‘get it back’ after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.” Spooner alleges that the tweet is defamatory and accuses him of game-fixing. He has demanded that the tweet be deleted and retracted and seeks “more than $75,000″ in damages.
Although it is not a direct issue in this suit, an interesting question is raised by the facts as to the liability which might be faced by those to “re-tweet” the original tweet. A look on Twitter shows that Krawczynski’s tweet has been re-tweeted 29 times. Each re-tweet is a republication of the libelous statement and could subject the re-tweeters for liability. That, however, is a lawsuit for another day. If you don’t want that other suit to be about you, be careful what you re-tweet.
While beheading is not a likely punishment in this modern era, a member of the royal guard is nevertheless feeling the heat from comments he made on a social networking site. Guardsman Cameron Reilly, a young 18 year old who joined the Scots Guards last year, has been excluded from the royal wedding ceremonies due to criticisms that he posted on Facebook. Mr. Reilly’s ire was particularly directed at the blushing bride Kate Middleton. Amongst the less flattering statements were a barrage of obscenities and that assessment that she was “stuck up.”
One of the problems facing employers, and in this case the British Army, is that it is not always obvious or predictable what triggers improper on-line conduct. What caused this ire in the guardsman? According to his post “Ms. Middleton Her and William drove past me on Friday and all I got was a sh_ty wave while she looked the opposite way from me, stupid, stuck-up cow. Am I not good enough for them! Posh b_tch. Who really gives a f_ck about her?” Presumaby Mr. Reilly expected more personal attention.
Reilly had previously published questionable statements on Facebook but had apparently not been disciplined. While at a Jewish protest he posted “[h]ave got on e of the Jews in my sights now lmao. “ Lmao stands for laugh by f_ck_ng _ss off. In another comment he described the city of London as a “Paki holding cell.” Paki is a derrogatory term for British citizens of Pakistani origin or derivation.
We do not know if the British Army has instituted a social networking policy but, as we have previously commented on this blog, it is critical that employees know their online liability. Not only just the employee understand what constitutes a networking site but also what they can do in commenting about work or their clients and what the consequences are for violating the policy. Finally, having the policy is not enough — it must be strictly enforced. This little incident will certainly bring to the forefront how military organizations deal with this growing problem.
Two Myspace users, Linda Virtue and Lily Castro, filed suit against Myspace in the Eastern District of New York, Virtue v. Myspace, Inc (Case No. 11-cv-1800), alleging violation of federal privacy law. The 13 count, 33 page complaint alleges breach of the Stored Data Communications Act, breach of contract, invasion of privacy and various other common law counts. The suit bases its claim on the Myspace practice of sending advertisers the user’s unique ID numbers when they click on ads. The unique ID’s can be tied to user’s personal profiles including their name, age and browsing history. The plaintiffs claim that Myspace does this after falsely assuring its users that they can restrict information disclosure.