May 23, 2010

Facebook About to Change Privacy Policy. Again...

It took me a bit to understand and figure out all the privacy options on Facebook... And now it may be time to start all over again.
I concede that some changes were REALLY necessary.  However, updating the policies and modifying the control interface so frequently is also affecting users' ability to understand what is going on.
Perhaps FB will send a notice to inform of the changes and proactively explain...

May 14, 2010

Google: Agreement With Italian Antitrust Authority

Following an investigation by the Italian Antitrust authority, Google agreed to change its terms of use regarding AdSense and to allow more transparency in the rev-sharing with publishers and content providers.  Also, considering the alleged abuse of dominant position with respect to Google News, Google agreed to maintain separation between News and Search indexing.  Accordingly, Google will keep deploying separate set of crawls to feed into its News aggregator.  As a result, publishers and content providers will be able to pull-out of Google News while keeping their visibility intact on Google Search.
Here is the document with the details (in Italian...). 
In fact, I believe that this agreement underscores the powerful connection between Google's two products AdSense and Google News.  Another way to look at the issue could be considering the ongoing negotiation between Google and content providers as to achieve a fair rev-sharing deal with respect to Google News ads revenues.
Probably, AdSense was not considered a viable solution anymore, given the little transparency allowed by Google's trade secrets.  However, it seems that Google and the newspaper industry are moving forward and coordinating their business models since Google is now willing to disclose information about the revenues generated out of the publishers' content.
I have the feeling that more open policies in AdSense may also cast some light on the existence of price discriminations amongst different kinds of content and content providers (i.e. AdSense affiliates).  If this is the case, the ads market will surely benefit from it and even the "little guys" may be able to cut better deals for their content. 

May 13, 2010

Art. 29 Working Party: unacceptable that Facebook changed default settings to the user's detriment

Yesterday Art. 29 Working Party issued a press release where it declared it unacceptable that Facebook radically altered its privacy policies to the detriment of users.
The issue concerns the default settings. The WP recommended:
a default setting in which access to the profile information and information about the connections of a user is limited to self-selected contacts. Any further access, such as by search engines, should be an explicit choice of the user.
However, Facebook users know that it is necessary to navigate the privacy settings and go through a series of opt-outs.
Furthermore, the WP points out to Facebook and other social networks the lesson learned by Google in Italy: when a user uploads some contents involving a third party's personal data it is necessary to "to obtain free and unambiguous consent."
On the latter point there are still some fundamental technical problems. In fact, I am not sure how it would be possible to protect the interests of third parties by assigning such tasks to the social network platform, unless the WP requires that Facebook or other social networking sites add another check-box on their terms ... something like this:
"You represent that the uploaded or shared content (" Content ") does not violate the privacy and / or other personal rights of third parties and that in any case you have previously obtained free and unambiguous consent to the publication of the Content from the owner of any personal data or personal rights relating to the Content."
It would be easy for users to mark this check-box (among the many). Who knows if this will be more effective than similar disclaimers about copyrighted content.

600px-Blue_check.svg.png (600 × 600)

May 8, 2010

Brief History of Online Feedback / Rating... Some Thoughts

Stage 1. Men were created with the ability to have opinions of their own.  Opinions can be complex, simple, logical, contradictory, expressed verbally, non-verbally, etc.

Stage 2. Then men became Internet users and were allowed to give feedback on a 5-star basis.  Internet users still have opinions and share them in form of "Comments".

Stage 3. Following, users had the possibility to give a thumb up OR a thumb down.  Users can reply to comments or even re-post them in their own opinion-stream.

Stage 4. More recently, users can "Like" stuff.  No complexity whatsoever is necessary nor allowed.  Similarly, any negative feedback is unpractical (or curtailed) since it would be bad form with respect to "business partners" of the site in use.   Yes, it is possible to write something if you really, really care (which happens when you are upset about a service you paid for). However, other than in such case, who bothers about typing if they can just click.

But wait, there is more.  The evolution of feedback and rating systems is not limited to the progressive simplification of the tools and the user interface.  It rather (and more importantly) concerns what data are collected and associated with the users' ratings.

The person who is rating content or items (the "rater") has become the center of the action.  This is somehow counterintuitive, yet the most valuable information for the website has nothing to do with the items rated thereby.  In fact, the most valuable information is that one concerning the "rater":  its tastes, preferences, behavior, etc.

Therefore, it is key that such information is made as standard and accessible as possible.  For this reason rating on one dimension ("Like" button) may work better and eliminates certain "noise" in users' behavior analysis.  Hence, simplification is functional to enhance user-profiling and, eventually,  to better target those users with relevant ads.

On the other hand, all kinds of feedback regarding content/items have become a very effective "bait" to incentivize interaction and attract traffic. This happens despite being common knowledge that on-line feedback and ratings are easily manipulated and often unreliable.

I believe we can start looking at feedback and ratings from a different perspective.  In fact, I have the impression that their social significance has changed as they do not represent anymore a vehicle to convey opinions but rather a form of basic interaction to show an acknowledgment that something does exist.  To the contrary, if there is no "Like" button underneath it, such thing cannot be part of the user's profile for advertising purposes.  And, that somehow makes that piece of content invisible on the Internet.

May 6, 2010

Privacy Bill Introduced. More Notices and Consent.

The House of Representatives recently introduced a bill (pdf here)  that, if passed, would significantly change the game of privacy regulation.  The bill requires notice to and, in some cases, consent of an individual prior to the collection and disclosure of certain personal information related to that individual.
This bill will raise the bar for all businesses, whether on-line or off-line.  It also promises to harmonize the US regulation with the higher EU standard.
However, one of the limits of this proposed bill is that it stresses the importance of privacy policies and privacy notices, while both the Internet industry and consumer groups seem to agree that privacy policies are ineffective since very few people read them and even fewer can understand their content.