Is The C.I.A. Monitoring Your Facebook And Twitter?

6a00c2251f58b7549d00e3989994b40004-500piAs the fallout from last week’s Facebook privacy changes continues (will famous people revolt as a group, perhaps?) it looks like advertisers aren’t the only ones set to profit from the new relaxed policies at the uber-popular social networking site. Enter the government, who is apparently cottoning on to the fact that a lot of people volunteer a LOT of information about themselves, albeit at 140 characters or less. Also, watch out who you friend! Apparently there are undercover agents in disguise roaming unsuspecting Facebookers. This from a worrisome editorial in this weekend’s New York Times:

The government is increasingly monitoring Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for tax delinquents, copyright infringers and political protesters…In some cases, the government appears to be engaged in deception. The Boston Globe recently quoted a Massachusetts district attorney as saying that some police officers were going undercover on Facebook as part of their investigations.

Wired magazine reported last month that In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, has put money into Visible Technologies, a software company that crawls across blogs, online forums, and open networks like Twitter and YouTube to monitor what is being said.

The editorial is advocating for new federal privacy rules that reflect the new digital age we are careening into at top speed, and which the government will clearly be playing catch-up with for the next ten years. So what’s the solution in the meantime? The simplest one is to stop sharing so much information! Whether an entire generation raised on posting most of their personal lives online will adhere to that is another story, so maybe in the meantime only friend people whom you’ve actually met?


Twitvid.com Launches Twitter Video Search

Twitter video service Twitvid.com today launched a real-time search engine for videos shared on Twitter. Twitvid not only tracks videos shared through its own service, but any YouTube link shared on Twitter. The videos will be ranked by relevancy, timeliness and popularity.

Twitvid.com is one of many services that makes it easy for users to share videos on Twitter. In fact, the market for video micro-blogging via Twitter has become so crowded that at one point there were two services using the Twitvid moniker. The other Twitvid has since re-branded as Vid.ly and competes with 12seconds, Twiddeo, yfrog, Bubbletweet and others. Twitter video search could help Twitvid.com separate itself from the competition — until others also jump on the real-time search bandwagon.

Real-time search has become especially hot ever since both Google and Microsoft via Bing said back in October that they would incorporate live tweets into their search results. Google and Bing both license Twitter’s so-called “Fire Hose,” meaning the companies get all tweets submitted to Twitter in real time.

Twitvid doesn’t license the Fire Hose, but it’s in a unique position because it has a lot of real-time data of its own. And Twidvid isn’t just trying to outsmart search bigwigs like Google and Microsoft; it’s also competing with similar offerings from Twitmatic and Oneriot, both of which we’ve covered before.

The company told us that it’s also launching advanced video analytics for its users today, as well as an odd feature called “virtual gifting” that sounds a lot like Facebook’s virtual gifts, but with video.

In related news, Imageshack’s yfrog Twitter video platform announced support for BlackBerry and Android smartphones late last week. Applications for BlackBerry OS 4.2 as well as Android 1.5 and 2.0 can be downloaded directly from yfrog’s web site.



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Is Sarah Palin’s WaPo Climategate Op-Ed A Necessary Evil?

Palin_385x185_656313aSo the Washington Post has opted to run another Sarah Palin op-ed piece, this one about Climategate. The piece is a re-working of something Palin posted on her Facebook page last week and the Post is apparently drawing the ire of some readers for running it as noted by its own media reporter Howie Kurtz on Twitter.

Here is the gist of the op-ed, which honestly is not saying much that hasn’t been said (and refuted) in harsher terms by many others in the past few weeks:

“Climate-gate,” as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known, exposes a highly politicized scientific circle — the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference. The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won’t change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse…This scandal obviously calls into question the proposals being pushed in Copenhagen. I’ve always believed that policy should be based on sound science, not politics.

Leaving aside the irony of Sarah Palin calling for “sound science’ vs plain old politics(!), there remains the question of whether WaPo is really just traffic-baiting by publishing the piece, (which is pretty clearly ghost-written, but as Kurtz points out that is not a new thing where politicians and op-eds are concerned).

Choire Sicha at the Awl won’t link to the op-ed directly because “they shouldn’t be rewarded with the clicks, which is pretty much what this is about, I figure.” Which, of course is what it’s about. Also, what I assume Bono’s (arguably less damaging) op-eds at the NYT are about. Also, what 75% of the internet is practically about these days. Also, in the larger sense why Sarah Palin was tapped to be Vice President in the first place, John McCain wanted the attention and the votes of a certain portion of the population.

The other week the Washington Post announced it was closing its New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles bureaus, a decision which could ostensibly leave this country with one national newspaper. If by printing a Sarah Palin op-ed they are somehow able to up their traffic or ad rates or something, than I think it may just be a sort of necessary evil. You know, like slide shows and the like.


Financial Times Writes About MySpace – But Misses The Story

“…News Corp dragged its feet over implementing Ajax, a program that allows users to send a message, an e-mail or to post a comment on their friends’ pages without having to open a new browser window.”
- From the Financial Times’ look at the decline of MySpace, emphasis added

Yeah, no it isn’t.

“Ajax” is a term referring to functionality that allows a scripting language (Javascript) to load content without refreshing a webpage. It’s no more a program than HTML is a program. How do I know this? Because I develop web sites. But if I didn’t, its Wikipedia page is a Google search away.

Who cares?, one might ask. The story, after all, isn’t about arcane web protocols – it’s about MySpace’s inglorious descent into irrelevance. It’s about how the News Corp. acquisition of the site transformed from a triumph to a debacle.

It’s true. It is about that, and it’s a very good read (as Mediaite’s Joe Coscarelli notes in his review). But the story of MySpace’s decline is inextricably linked to the story of its failure to adopt technological changes. The assessments in this story miss crucial steps in Facebook’s rise to prominence that were the knives in MySpace’s spine. It’s as though someone wrote a post-mortem of the American automobile industry without describing Japanese cars.

Two examples.

Friends’ Activity
Much is made in the article of Facebook’s ability to automatically send invites to the friends of new users. What isn’t mentioned is the real change that set Facebook apart, early on: the friends’ activity timeline. Now common on social sites, the news feed of new relationships and profile changes was roundly criticized by users at launch. Many considered it invasive, since they were used to the more passive structure of other sites. That feature was added in September of 2006. Here’s a chart of subsequent growth.

Many of us sign up for a lot of new, interesting websites – but which do we use over the long term? What Facebook realized was that the social component would keep users engaged, spurring growth as they encouraged those they knew to join the network. It’s standard logic now, but in 2006, it was groundbreaking.

Facebook Connect
What’s happened since, as Slate’s Farhad Manjoo notes in a great piece about Facebook’s growth, is that Facebook has become infrastructural. The scope of people’s engagement with the site yields exponential benefit to participants old and new. What was missing was only the ability to carry that social infrastructure to other sites.

In December 2008, Facebook launched Facebook Connect, essentially a set of tools that allow any website to let users log in with their Facebook identity. The benefits work two ways: sites are given an easy way to not only provide access to site functionality, but are given access to social media’s Holy Grail: the Facebook user timeline. Sign into Digg using Facebook Connect, and any links you add to Digg are posted on your Facebook timeline. And Facebook, meanwhile, extends its brand – and its role as the backbone of online interaction.

(A quick aside: it’s that ability to become infrastructural in a unique way that has allowed Twitter to grow quickly – and why Facebook considers it most threatening. It’s also why, in my estimation, Foursquare will never become a long-term blockbuster.)

Both of these technologically innovative moves by Facebook were critical in taking MySpace out of the game, the latter being the death blow. (MySpace is even rumored to be adopting Facebook Connect next year.) Neither was mentioned in the Financial Times article because the reporter, Matthew Garrahan, didn’t understand the technology. Garrahan got right, it seems, that Murdoch’s misstep in announcing a billion dollars in ad revenue in 2008 crippled MySpace’s ability to innovate – but MySpace, even early last year, was already doomed by Facebook’s tools and its own size.

Business reporters need to understand the web and how it works. Merely visiting or using a website doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how it is doing – any more than driving a Chevy Cavalier would be enough to report on expected revenues for its parent corporation. A reporter doesn’t need to be able to write Javascript, but they need to understand what they don’t know about technology.

The Financial Times told a good story about advertising revenue and News Corp.’s decision-making process. The nut of the story, though, was about web technology. And that, they got wrong.


Are Russian Hackers Responsible For Creating Climategate?

articleLargeForget the health care bill, the Salahis, and maybe even Afghanistan. In all likelihood this week and next are going to be dominated by coverage of the Copenhagen summit and debate over Climategate. The term has been popping up with greater frequency ever since a computer system at a well known and respected climate change research center in Britain was hacked and the leaked documents revealed that some environmental scientists believed so strongly that Global Warming is man-made that they may have conspired to keep conflicting results from being published. Or not, depending who you ask.

What is not up for debate is the fact the whole debacle is threatening to derail the global climate summit that begins today in Copenhagen, and which President Obama will attend next week. The timing of the hacking and the revelations coming just weeks before the summit could not have been more spectacular or damaging. So who was responsible? One high ranking official is pointing a finger at the Russians.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that the theft from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was not the work of amateur climate sceptics, but was a sophisticated and well-funded attempt to destroy public confidence in the science of man-made climate change. He said the fact that the e-mails were first uploaded to a sceptic website from a computer in Russia was an indication that the culprit was paid.

“It’s very common for hackers in Russia to be paid for their services,” he said. “If you look at that mass of e-mails a lot of work was done, not only to download the data, but it’s a carefully made selection of e-mails and documents that’s not random at all. This is 13 years of data and it’s not a job of amateurs.”

It is difficult to imagine that the timing of all this was merely coincidental. Or that all that sorting to produce the most damaging results could have been accomplished by some extra savvy kids with too much time on their hands (another theory is that it was an inside job). But the question remains, if there is any truth to this claim, who is holding the purse strings?

Meanwhile, this is not the first time Russian hackers have created global Internet disarray. This past August hackers based in Russia managed to bring down (to the utter panic of New York media types) Twitter, Facebook, and parts of Google in an attempt to silence a single pro-Georgian blogger.