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Facing up to Facebook Privacy

Facebook is one of the most important social platforms on the internet today. I joined it probably several years ago now, not long after Facebook Applications were introduced.

Those of you that follow me on my personal Short-Form “Bird” Social Media Site Before It Went Terrible account, @strategyoracle will probably know that I keep that account protected — i.e. only those that request to follow me and I allow can read my tweets. I do that because that is the way that I feel most comfortable using the service and it is how Short-Form “Bird” Social Media Site Before It Went Terrible is most useful to me. I have tried using that account both publicly and privately, and ultimately it was more useful and more comfortable to keep it protected.

On Facebook, I have also used the privacy options to make Facebook a tool that is useful to me and that I feel comfortable with. I was able to keep most of my information inside a small group of trusted friends and in doing so, I felt comfortable using it and sharing with it.

In recent years, though, the degree of control that Facebook gives you has eroded. This EFF post demonstrates how the service and its privacy policy has changed in this respect since 2005. I have found it more and more difficult to feel comfortable using Facebook in the context of these changes.

The final straw came today.

Now, it seems that any ‘connection’ that you make — whether it be with a friend, or a page that you ‘like’, has to be public.

Facebook came up with a screen asking me to make many ‘page’ connections public, based on my interests and activities that I had previously entered. Even leaving aside the fact that it showed me interests I had previously deleted from my profile, I was horrified to learn that unchecking all of the boxes to share the information actually removed all that information from my profile! There is now apparently no way to restrict information such as my activities and interests and only show that to trusted people. It’s share all, or have nothing, when it comes to this information.

It is quite clear to me that this is now the choice:

You either use Facebook as publicly as they want you to (even as that changes in the future), or you don’t use it at all.

I choose the latter. Assuming I don’t get convinced otherwise in the next few hours, I consider it pretty likely that I will delete my Facebook account. After all, I can always create one again later.

I am hugely disappointed that it seems Facebook doesn᾿t seem to respect people who are more private by nature. I am sorry to all those who may prefer Facebook as a medium for communication and will not be able to contact me there.

UPDATE: I went ahead with the delete. I can always create an account again later and remember you can always send me an email or request to follow me on Short-Form “Bird” Social Media Site Before It Went Terrible (or follow my public Short-Form “Bird” Social Media Site Before It Went Terrible account too).

Three Years of Self-Hosting

Three years ago, I made the slightly crazy decision to run this website from my own server. This page is brought to you by a four-year-old generic PC that sits under my desk and dutifully hands out the web pages of my site to anyone from anywhere on the internet that asks for them.

Over the last three years, running my own server has taught me a lot. It has given me complete freedom and control, as well as complete responsibility over my own website. The hardware, software and configuration are all my own thing — if I get it wrong, I have to fix it.

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How to access Gmail’s new iPad interface on your Mac

UPDATE: the scrolling fix doesn’t now work, as of 2010-11-08. This appears to be a server-side change and unfortunately I am not aware of a solution. 🙁

I put together a short screencast on how to access Gmail’s new iPad interface on your Mac. If you’re a fan of Gmail’s web interface on the iPad and would like to use it on your desktop computer too, this is a cool trick.

The user agent you need to enter into Fluid is:

Mozilla/5.0(iPad; U; CPU iPhone OS 3_2 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/531.21.10 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0.4 Mobile/7B314 Safari/531.21.10

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Being an April Fool

April Fools’ Day can be a lot of fun. There are certainly some cool technology hoaxes that have happened on this day — even Gmail (which obviously wasn’t just a hoax) shares its birthday with the celebration. It’s often fun as well to see what respected news organisations like the BBC have to show on this day.

But do you know what? It’s OK not to like April Fools’ Day.

Often expressing the opinion that you don’t really like hoaxes or practical jokes is met with responses such as “spoilsport” or “lighten up”. They are responses that hook into our susceptibility to peer pressure.

So if, today, you don’t really want to play the April Fool game, don’t feel you have to. Don’t listen to those who may push you into liking it.

It is perfectly OK to be ‘boring’. Rumour has it that I excel at just that. 🙂