A Big Week for Zuckerberg and Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook had a big week last week with a mix of good news and bad. The week began with Zuckerberg’s birthday. The young billionaire turned 28 on Monday. On Thursday, Zuckerberg’s birthday present arrived as Facebook raised $16 billion in its initial public offering valuing Facebook at $104 billion. On Friday, shares of Facebook began trading at $42.05 but fell soon afterward, closing at $38.23, just 0.6 percent above the initial public offering price.

While investors may have to wait a while before experiencing any financial gain from their investments, Facebook executives and many share-holding employees have become instant millionaires and billionaires. The company’s 3500 employees are sitting on about $10 billion of the equity. Roughly 1, 000 employees have become instant millionaires (on paper at least). Mark Zuckerberg increased his worth by around $19 billion. It is expected that the influx of money into Silicon Valley will jump-start the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Facebook’s IPO was not without its challenges. Privacy advocates organized flash mob protests against Facebook on Tuesday at locations in New York and San Francisco over Facebook’s invasive privacy practices. Just prior to the IPO General Motors pulled its paid advertising from Facebook, an advertising campaign reportedly worth $10 million. The move caused many Facebook advertisers to question the value of advertising on Facebook. The NASDAQ suffered some trading glitches, Friday morning, as Facebook shares went public, as it wrestled with an extraordinarily high number of transactions. All of this, along with skepticism on the part of some Wall Street investors, kept the price of shares from taking off, turning the day into a bitter sweet win for Facebook.

It turns out that the public wasn’t that surprised by the luke warm reception Facebook shares received. Roughly half of those polled by the Associated Press/CNBC think Facebook is a passing fad. Only a third of those surveyed think the company’s expected value is appropriate, while 50 percent say it is too high.

But that’s not the end of Facebook news this week. A class action law suite has been filed against Facebook for tracking its users even after they are logged out. If guilty, Facebook could pay up to $15 Billion.

And for icing on the cake, Zuckerber announced that he has married his longtime girlfriend from Stanford, Priscilla Chan. The ceremony took place in Zuckerberg’s backyard with fewer than 100 guests. Zuckerberg gave up his trademark hoodie for a black suit and tie with a white shirt. The announcement was made, of course, on Facebook.

Hand Over Your Facebook Password, Please!

Most of us know that employers check social networks as part of their background check for prospective employees. The Associated press is reporting that some government agencies and companies are now asking for Facebook usernames and passwords as part of the job interview process so they can check the applicants private profile page. Facebook is fighting against the practice by threatening to sue the companies involved for violating member privacy. The ACLU is fighting the practice as well and calling it an invasion of privacy.

The concern over employers asking job seekers for Facebook login credentials has grown this past week. Senators Richard Blumenthala and Charles Schumer called for a federal investigation into the new hiring practice. Numerous employers in New York City, Seattle, Washington, and elsewhere across the nation have begun demanding that job applicants turn over their Facebook and e-mail user names and passwords. With 8 percent unemployment, Blumenthal and Schumer say that such requests amount to a form of coercion “that could set a dangerous precedent.” “In an age where more and more of our personal information — and our private social interactions — are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public,” Schumer said in a statement released Monday. “This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence.” According to Blumenthal, a ban on such hiring practices is necessary to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy. “With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants’ private, password-protected information,” he said.

Want a Job? What’s Your Facebook Logon? [NewsFactor]
Senators Call for Probe Into Coercion of Facebook Logins [NewsFactor]

Protect Your Reputation on Facebook

The potential for abuse in Facebook photo tagging is immense and the results can seriously mar a person’s reputation. Recently practical jokers have started tagging innocent Facebook users in unrelated and indecent photos, causing embarrassing photos labeled with your name to show up in your friends news feeds. Face recognition in Facebook can also be used to reduce your level of privacy and security. A recent study showed how easy it is for anyone to track you down on Facebook with nothing more than a photo of your face (see my previous post). It’s all added up to making me rather nervous about sharing photos on Facebook. There are, however, some simple steps Facebook users can take to protect yourself from photo attacks and embarrassment.

In Facebook Privacy Settings click the link to “Customize settings” and look at the “Things others share” category.

  1. Change “Photos and videos you’re tagged in” to “Only Me”
  2. Disable “Suggest photos of me to friends”
  3. Consider changing “Can see Wall posts by friends” to “Only Me”
  4. Consider disabling  “Friends can check me in to Places”

Look over the other settings to make sure you aren’t unintentionally sharing personal info with strangers.

Back in the Privacy settings, uncheck the box for “Let friends of people tagged in my photos and posts see them.” to insure that you don’t inadvertently embarrass your friends.

Finally, at the bottom of the page under Apps and Websites, I suggest changing the settings so that Apps have no access to any of your personal info or your friends. The biggest abuse of Facebook privacy comes through third-party apps.

After this exercise, you should be able to sleep a little sounder at night.

Stay safe!

Face Recognition Threatens Privacy

Carnegie Mellon researchers have demonstrated how a photo of a person’s face can uncover private information stored in social networks. The research was presented at the Black Hat Security conference where thousands gathered last week to discuss the latest in hacking and security technologies. The purpose of the research was to show how face-recognition software freely available from Facebook, Apple, Google and others, may provide the next big tool for hackers, marketers, and snoops.

The researchers ran three experiments to illustrate their point. Each experiment utilized face-recognition software, an Internet connection, and social networks to uncover detailed private information about a person given only a photo of the person’s face. In the first experiment, they used profile photos from a popular dating site to track down the person’s profile information on Facebook. In the second experiment, they photographed students walking across campus, and were able to use the photos to find the students on Facebook. In the third experiment, the researchers were able to accurately predict personal interests and even the Social Security numbers of subjects based only on a photo of the subject’s face. They then went on to create a mobile app that takes a photo of a person’s face and gives back personal info about that person gleaned from the Internet. Each experiment illustrates how strangers can access personal information of individuals intended only for friends, in some cases with malicious intent.

Imagine photographing people on the street, and immediately accessing their name, home town, interests, lists of friends and other private information. More-over, imagine someone doing this to you? Now imagine the technology in the hands of hackers, businesses, marketers, the government, law enforcement agencies, and snoops. The technology will force us to “reconsider our notions of privacy,” the researchers say.

Facebook Rolls Out Messages

Facebook has been busy rolling out its Messages feature to all of its half billion users. Facebook Messages combines chat, email, and cellphone text messages into one application. So, for instance, if I were your Facebook friend, you could click my name on your Messages page and view all of our communications in one stream. A conversation you start with me in Facebook chat could be continued using text messaging on our phones, or even email. Messages maintains your communication history, so you can view your stream of conversations with each of your friends over the course of years. Facebook supplies its users with @facebook.com email accounts, but Messages also works with non-Facebook email addresses as well.

Facebook calls its service Seamless Messaging. It’s actually a form of what the industry calls Unified Communications. Communication has become complicated with many of us owning multiple email accounts, multiple chat accounts, and even multiple phone numbers. Accessing all of those accounts can be time consuming and error-prone. Unified communications allows users to access all of their communications through one interface. Facebook isn’t alone in its pursuit of unified communication. Google Voice allows users to merge multiple phone numbers into one central online service, where phone calls can be screened, redirected, and voice mail messages can be transcribed and delivered through email or text message.

Unified communication allows users to take control of the complexity of communications. Facebook Messages combines various types of messages into ongoing conversation streams. It allows users to sort messages from friends into one folder, and all others into another folder. It also provides a strong solution for spam.

Recent trends in online communication are moving away from traditional email and moving towards Facebook posts, tweets, and text messages. Facebook’s Messages feature may well point the way to the future of online communication. It is safe to assume that Facebook will be pursuing voice and video communications in the near future as well. As we move towards unified communication, it is smart to consider the benefits and risks of trusting a single commercial provider with all of our communications.

Facebook Offers Email That Isn’t Email

As rumored, Facebook has announced its own email messaging system. Facebook users will soon be able to use the their username @facebook.com as their email address. the email system will be integrated with Facebook’s other messaging systems so that users can access all of their messages from one central location. Facebook’s email also allows its users to freely communicate with friends and family that are not in Facebook. Because of its integrated nature, Facebook claims that its new Messages feature is not an e-mail killer. Just the same, the new service will increase competition with Google and Yahoo, since Facebook users will no longer have a need to use Gmail or Yahoo Mail for personal email. The addition of email to Facebook, is a big step towards Facebook’s dominance of the Web. Some worry that the company is becoming too powerful as it controls increasing amounts of Web user’s personal and private data.

Facebook Challenges Google

Competition between Google and Facebook is likely to ramp up this week. Facebook is expected to announce its own email service at the Web 2.0 Summit on Monday. A facebook.com email service would compete directly with gmail.com. Facebook is also challenging Google in the online advertising space. Facebook increased its share of the online ad market in the third quarter up from 18 percent to 23 percent. This week Google blocked Facebook and other Web services from freely accessing its user’s information. Also, an email from Google to its employees was leaked indicating a generous holiday bonus for Google employees plus a ten percent across the board raise in 2011. With 23,000 employees making an average salary of $100,000, the raises will cost Google $233 million annually. Analysts speculate that Google is sweetening the pot in order to keep employees from jumping ship to Facebook.

Facebook Leakage

An article in the Wall Street Journal has revealed that some Facebook Apps, including the popular Farmville, are providing Facebook usernames to marketing companies. The marketing companies can use that information to track user activities online. While users’ online activities are often tracked and mapped to an anonymous user’s PC, having access to users’ Facebook ID allows marketing companies to associate a specific person with the data collected. In an effort to avoid any further criticism, Facebook is considering the use of encryption to block third-party application providers from sharing user-sensitive information.

The Associated Press-mtvU Technology Poll Results

A recent poll of over 2,000 randomly chosen college students found that, while students are dependant on social media, they also recognize its hazards and limitations.

How does online social networking impact relationships? 85 percent of students surveyed believe that social networking sites make them feel more connected to people. 54 percent believe that technology assists in feeling closer to people, while 28 percent believe that technology makes it more difficult to get close to people.

Does social media reduce stress? Fifty seven percent of students surveyed said life without computers and cell phones would make them more stressed. However, a significant number — 25 percent — said it would be a relief. The majority of students polled feel “pressured to instantly answer texts or voice mails.” They get nervous if their friends don’t immediately reply to a message.

Social networks can be a source of embarrassment and abuse. Last month Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after others secretly webcast his sexual encounter with another man. Prior to killing himself he posted to Facebook: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

Social networks can also provide a platform for support. One in five students say that they’ve posted messages seeking emotional support. Two thirds have read public posts by friends pleading for assistance. Twenty percent say that they have had friends who discuss suicide online, with 13 percent having friends that followed through.

Laying your heart out online has its consequences. Students can feel regretful and overly exposed. While 8 in 10 students claim to live happy lives, 6 in 10 have felt too stressed to hang out with friends or too agitated for school work.

Despite the amount of time students spend online in social networks, a large majority of students believe that it’s better to resolve conflicts with people in person. They “prefer face-to-face conversations over networking sites or texting for seeking help with personal issues, supporting others with problems or telling friends they’re upset with them.”

Still, many students hide behind technology when it comes to confrontation. About 7 in 10 students have engaged in arguments using only text messages, and about half have used technology to avoid in-person confrontations. Social networks also provide insight into your whereabouts. Around 6 in 10 students frequently track someone by repeatedly checking their social networking site.

Technology: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Kill It [NewsFactor]