Bye Bye Facebook (again)

According to Facebook’s own amazing system of self congratulation I re-joined Zuck’s army 6 years ago. My previous hiatus was due to the poor level of content rather than privacy and I rejoined predominately out of necessity. Recent events have made me rethink that decision and I’ve reached the conclusion that I have little choice but to delete my account.

Facebook grabs way more than you give

One of the revelations that’s come to light in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is the broad reaching aggregation and storage of call data, contact info (of facebook and non facebook users) based on the use of the “Find a Friend” feature. This is a classic example of technical consent being abused. While Facebook haven’t broken any laws in aggregating this data (they did ask for permission) there’s an ethical consideration as to why they need this information, why they feel justified in storing it and whether users were truly aware of the depth of their data sharing agreement with Facebook. Combine this with the “shadow profile” that Facebook keeps on every single user

Privacy controls provide a false sense of security

There are many options for controlling who can see what on your Facebook profile but nothing at all that controls what Facebook and it’s affiliates can do with your data. The concept of privacy presented by the system is only half of the problem. And as has been ably demonstrated, Facebook themselves simply cannot be trusted to treat this data with respect.

This depth of profiling is likely to become more and more dangerous

While there’s work underway to ensure rights to privacy are protected in the modern world, the pace of technological progress is so much faster that we’re likely to see more and more issues of this type running far ahead of the regulation or controls that would prevent them. With increased use of AI and machine learning, the depth of the data set is only going to need to increase and allowing companies to profile you to this level. For more see this amazing Twitter thread from Francois Chollet (ironically enough, a deep learning expert from Google)

I can’t clean my profile

I’ve removed every piece of content from Facebook I can. Deleted all my posts, removed all my photos. But there’s no guarantee that this is actually effective. Facebook have shown they maintain copies of old call logs and I have no reason to believe that content deletion isn’t simply another privacy facade.

So on May 25th (which happens to be the day that the new EU GDPR comes into force) I will be deleting my Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp accounts and filing a formal Right to be Forgotten notice to ensure they’ve removed every last byte of data concerning me, my relationships with others and my interactions from their servers.

Privacy isn’t a right, it’s something we must strive to protect and Facebook’s operations leave me no real choice but to disengage with the platform entirely.

I will still be on Twitter (@robdudley) although I’ll also be reviewing my content footprint there, and I maintain a blog which is self hosted. It’s just a shame that the greed of Facebook meant they can’t stop at running a social platform, choosing instead to profile, analyse and mine their users in increasingly murky and convoluted ways in search of every last $ in advertising revenue. That cost massively outweighs the benefit I get from the platform so, for me at least, the choice is clear.

Going Dark – a Social Network Free World?

In light of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica “scandal” I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to assume a position of being free of all social networks. Not as a definite plan but rather as an exercise in exploring the feasibility of removing myself from these services.

While I’m not one to buy into the histrionics surrounding the misuse it has rather focussed my mind on the level to which I give my data freely to these service providers and, consequently, weather I should be taking more care in who I share data with.  Since there’s next to zero actual control over the use of the data supplied to companies like Facebook the only way to win … is not to play. 

Let’s take the big ones; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and the really big player (although not technically a social network) Google.

Facebook

Ok so closing a Facebook account is easy enough. What would I lose? Well in the day to day not masses but I am a user of Facebook for a series of Pages and I’d need to maintain some form of account to access these. I could tear down the old account and spin up a new one with no real content but the viral nature of Facebook means it’s hard to keep an account off the grid so how effective this would be remains to be seen.

Sticking point: Pages

Twitter

Dead easy – there’s no real impact beyond the fact that I actually find the content here useful. Shutting down the account would be simplicity itself and there’s no real blocker. That said, it’s been a useful tool for communicating in the past. Also currently there’s no indication that Twitter is mining data to anything like the degree of Facebook although I assume this is coming.

Sticking point: I actually use it.

LinkedIn

This is tough as the value in LinkedIn has always been simply being present on the network. That said there’s next to no content on my LinkedIn profile and leaving this “professional” system online is probably not likely to result in my being mined in any way that’s going to effect me. Also, I rarely read it so the ads, targeted or otherwise, are pretty harmless.

Sticking point: none really but probably safe enough to leave alone

Instagram

Couple of problems with Insta. First, it’s a great platform and I like the transient nature of image based journalling. Second, it’s owned by Facebook and is becoming increasingly ad heavy.

Images – I guess I could get round them by using this blog to host them but I don’t get the same exposure and, let’s be honest, the narcissistic search for peer & public validation is pretty much the reason we share to instagram anyway. The biggest loss would be the workflow but I’m techy enough I can probably get round that.

Sticking point: I want people to see my lovely photos … but probably shouldn’t.

Google

Google currently run my email, calendar and file management. I could replace these but it’s not gonna be easy. Own Cloud will replace GDrive but doesn’t have the same ease of collaboration. Mail is easy to move but the spam issue is ever present. Calendar is really tricky as I’ve got a pretty nice workflow of shared calendars for the family which would be tough to replicate with Cal Dav.

Then again, I pay for these services so, in theory, Google shouldn’t be using my data to feed their ad monster (they say they don’t for paid accounts) nor are they affecting the content delivered to me based on this data so the actual impact is minimal.

Sticking point: very heavily integrated and hard to replace.

Where am I going with this?

Based on the above none of the networks or systems are pain free to leave but I can probably work around most of the limitations. So should I close down FaceBook, Twitter et al? Or are we truly living in a post privacy age? Well that’s a conclusion for another post.

(Image credit: Privacy Online by BlueCoat Photos)

5 things I’d like to see my government commit to in 2018

I do my best to avoid having to interact with the government. Which is not to say I’m some anarchist hiding in the woods, rather I find the general process to be so cumbersome and frustrating that I go out of my way to avoid dealing with them at all unless absolutely necessary.

A wise man once told me that it’s very unfair to present a problem without a solution so, in the spirit of just that, here are my 5 things I’d like to see the government adopt to make being one of their citizens just a little less painful*.

And yes I realize this are all “techy” and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s a clear trend in service provision around the world and any government which isn’t looking towards “Digital by Default” is one that’s being left behind.

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AirPods are a traveller’s best friend

A lot has already been written about Apple’s first foray into the world of wireless audio and it was enough that I grabbed a pair as soon as they became available in my local Apple Authorised Reseller (no official Apple store on Jersey so it took a while). From the outset I’ve been impressed by these little pods.

They simply delivered.

The pairing experience was super slick. Sound quality is amazing (these are not just wireless versions of Apple’s stock buds they ship with every iPhone). Using them as a bluetooth headset for calls is effortless and clear (my trusty Plantronics Voyager Legend, the third of the voyager series I’ve owned, hasn’t been switched on since I got the AirPods). Battery life is good, the charging case is great and they seem to just stay put, more than I can say for my wired buds.

Sure they’re a more open style of bud. My previous in ear were a pair of RHA MA750i which were also stunning and, being the in ear canal style of bud provided a better seal against the world outside but the AirPods are lighter, have no cable tangling round my jacket & neck and, in most cases, the small amount of ambient sound is actually quite useful. So the Pods are pretty much my daily drive but during a recent trip to Munich they really came into their own (with one exception).

Let’s start with that exception. Flying is a noisy business at the best of times and the leakage of the pods meant I couldn’t completely shut this noise out. Trying to watch a show on Netflix on my phone was impossible as quieter dialog was lost in the wider hubbub of external noise. I’m not sure if there’s a solution that would provide a better seal but it’s a small point and, to be totally honest, I have a separate set of noise cancelling cans for situations where I need total isolation.

Onto the positives. Being able to pop them in and out without worrying about the aforementioned tangling is amazing. During checkin, security, and the flight you’re constantly having to take them out to interact with staff, listen to announcements and the auto pause feature makes this a doddle.

Sound leakage in a preflight situation is actually pretty useful. Being able to hear the announcement is starting (and then seamlessly pop out one of the pods, pausing the audio to listen properly) is really handy. Likewise avoiding the gormless moments where staff are trying to get your attention without then having to dance a can can in front of you is a decent gain.

Having arrived in a new city the pods took on a new level of utility when combined with Google Maps. I suck at navigating a city environment and rely heavily on Google to get me from A to B but in most cases the means a regular check of the phone to verify I’m still on the right track. The AirPods (and any other Bluetooth headset) receive the turn by turn announcements means my phone can stay safely in my pocket for most of the time. Also these announcements overlay music beautifully so I can walk like a total badass, rocking out and not getting totally lost at the same time.

The final winner for travel, these things are tiny and you can slip the case in a pocket or bag without any issues at all. The Pods themselves are pretty discrete (compared to wearing a traditional headset) and so you can listen, talk & navigate without looking like too much of a weirdo.

So if you have an iPhone and are in the market for a new set of buds I can’t recommend Apple’s offering enough – give them a whirl and I doubt you’ll regret it.

My 11 Must Have WordPress Plugins

I’m a huge fan of WordPress. Not because it’s the best CMS out there but because through a combination of experience and the light weight, flexibility of the platform I’ve found I can build most anything I need quickly and easily.

At the heart of this (aside for WordPress itself of course) are a range of plugins that I deploy to pretty much every single site I build. Some are commercial and I have no problem paying the developers for what is often an awesome amount of work. Some are free, some are complex and some are really simple.

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Those who can, should teach

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”

George Bernard Shaw

Man and Superman (1903) “Maxims for Revolutionists”

Both of my parents were teachers and I was privileged enough to actually enjoy most of my schooling thanks to lucky placement within the UK comprehensive system and some dedicated and top class teachers. As such, I’ve always considered the above maxim to be somewhat unfair but at the same time could understand the underlying point especially when taken in the context of the more vocational subjects where the true subject matter experts tend towards actual work in their chosen sphere.

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Lessons from the start line. 3 years as a startup CTO

It’s midnight and I’m sitting in the bar at a local hotel while a group of Germans attempt to convince the manager that they should be allowed to continue playing their horrifically heavy industrial techno on the PA in the ballroom. the manager sighs, capitulates and I turn back to the code editor, open on my laptop.

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Thirteen years, looking back and moving forward

It seems strange to think that this particular corner of the web has been around in one form or another since 2003 and yet today marks the 13th anniversary of my first proper blog post.

Of course the archives of those previous sites (I’ve lost count but at least four domain names and half a dozen CMSs have powered all of the various incarnations) have long since been tidied away, memories are great to maintain but not necessarily something you want for all to rummage through. They’re still out there if you know where and how to look, I’ve nothing to hide, but prefer not to make it quite so easy for the voice of 23 year old me to echo out over the cocktail party hubub of history.

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