Category Archives: social media

Birth, Death and Facebook

Last week, as the inaugural paper in CCAT’s new seminar series Adventures in Culture in Technology (ACAT), I presented a more in depth, although still in progress, talk based on a paper I’m finishing on Facebook and the questions of birth and death. Here’s the slides along with recorded audio if you’re interested:

The talk abstract: While social media services including the behemoth Facebook with over a billion users, promote and encourage the ongoing creation, maintenance and performance of an active online self, complete with agency, every act of communication is also recorded. Indeed, the recordings made by other people about ourselves can reveal more than we actively and consciously chose to reveal about ourselves. The way people influence the identity and legacy of others is particularly pronounced when we consider birth – how parents and others ‘create’ an individual online before that young person has any identity in their online identity construction – and at death, when a person ceases to have agency altogether and becomes exclusively a recorded and encoded data construct. This seminar explores the limits and implications for agency, identity and data personhood in the age of Facebook.

Print Friendly

Visualising Locative Media with Foursquare’s Time Machine

I’m currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming Locative Media edited collection; the piece I’m co-writing with Clare Lloyd examines some of the pedagogical strategies that have arisen to better inform users about the data that they generate whilst using locative media in various forms (from explicit check-ins with Foursquare to less obvious locative metadata on photographs, tweets and so forth). We’ve been looking at several tools and services like PleaseRobMe.com, I Can Stalk U and Creepy which visualise the often hidden layer locative media layers of mobile devices and services.

Given this context, I was fascinated to see Foursquare’s release of their ‘Time Machine’ (deployed as a promotion for Samsung’s S4) which creates an animation and eventual infographic visualising the a user’s entire Foursquare check-in history. Since I’m very conscious of where I do and don’t use Foursquare, I was fascinated to see what sort of picture of my movements this builds. The grouping of check-ins in Perth (where I live) and the places I’ve travelled to for conferences (which is the main time I use Foursquare) was very smooth, and made my own digitised journey through the world look like a personalised network diagram. The eventual infographic produced is fairly banal, but does crunch your own Foursquare numbers. I’ve embedded mine below.

While Foursquare users are probably amongst the most aware locative media users and generators of locative data, it’s still fascinating to see what a rich and robust picture these individual points of data look like when aggregated. In line with the writing I’m doing, I can’t help wonder how people would respond to a similar sort of visualisation based on their smartphone photos or Facebook posts or some other service which is less explicit or transparent in the way locative metadata is produced and stored.

foursquare-the-next-big-thing

Print Friendly

Digital Culture Links: May 21st

Links through to May 21st:

  • Sensis Yellow Social Media Report 2013 [PDF] – The new Sensis Yellow Social Media Report is out (based on a survey of 937 Australians in March and April 2013), showing widespread social media use, with growth in mobile and second screen uses:
    * 95% of AUstralian social media users use Facebook
    * The typical Australian spends 7 hrs/wk on Facebook
    * 67% of Australians access social sites on a smartphone
    * 42% of Australians use social media while watching TV
  • A better, brighter Flickr [Flickr Blog] – Yahoo have majorly redesigned Flickr, giving new free (ad-supported) accounts 1Tb of storage, which is an awful lot of photos. The Android app is now almost identitcal to the iOS app, but the new aesthetics of the web-based version are a big change, looking more and more like every other photo-sharing service around today. Quite a few long-term Flickr users (of which I am one) have voiced a range of concerns about the design changes. Also, what this redesign means for people who’ve already paid for Pro accounts is deeply unclear on the main Flickr pages. (The Twitter account seems to suggest nothing changes.)
  • Yahoo! to Acquire Tumblr / Yahoo [Yahoo News Centre] – Yahoo buys Tumblr for $1.1 billion and, in their words, “promises not to screw it up”. A clever buy for Yahoo, but it’ll be hard to integrate the rebellious/youth Tumblr userbase into the Yahoo brand.
  • Introducing Photos of You [Instagram Blog] – Just in case you momentarily forgot that Facebook owns Instagram, the photo-sharing service has just added the ability to tag photos (remarkably similar to Facebook’s tagging function). Looks like Instagram needs a better map of your personal networks before they can harness it commercially.
  • Follow the audience… [YouTube Blog] – May 2013 and YouTube users “are watching more than 6 billion hours of video each month on YouTube; almost an hour a month for every person on Earth and 50 percent more this year than last.”
Print Friendly

The Social Media Contradiction: Data Mining and Digital Death

I’ve got a new article in the most recent issue of the M/C Journal entitled ‘The Social Media Contradiction: Data Mining and Digital Death’. Here’s the abstract:

Many social media tools and services are free to use. This fact often leads users to the mistaken presumption that the associated data generated whilst utilising these tools and services is without value. Users often focus on the social and presumed ephemeral nature of communication – imagining something that happens but then has no further record or value, akin to a telephone call – while corporations behind these tools tend to focus on the media side, the lasting value of these traces which can be combined, mined and analysed for new insight and revenue generation. This paper seeks to explore this social media contradiction in two ways. Firstly, a cursory examination of Google and Facebook will demonstrate how data mining and analysis are core practices for these corporate giants, central to their functioning, development and expansion. Yet the public rhetoric of these companies is not about the exchange of personal information for services, but rather the more utopian notions of organising the world’s information, or bringing everyone together through sharing.

The second section of this paper examines some of the core ramifications of death in terms of social media, asking what happens when a user suddenly exists only as recorded media fragments, at least in digital terms. Death, at first glance, renders users (or post-users) without agency or, implicitly, value to companies which data-mine ongoing social practices. Yet the emergence of digital legacy management highlights the value of the data generated using social media, a value which persists even after death. The question of a digital estate thus illustrates the cumulative value of social media as media, even on an individual level. The ways Facebook and Google approach digital death are examined, demonstrating policies which enshrine the agency and rights of living users, but become far less coherent posthumously. Finally, along with digital legacy management, I will examine the potential for posthumous digital legacies which may, in some macabre ways, actually reanimate some aspects of a deceased user’s presence, such as the Lives On service which touts the slogan “when your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting”. Cumulatively, mapping digital legacy management by large online corporations, and the affordances of more focussed services dealing with digital death, illustrates the value of data generated by social media users, and the continued importance of the data even beyond the grave.

Read the rest at the M/C Journal (open access).

Incidentally, yes, one of the points in this article is already out of date as last month Google quietly launched their Inactive Account Manager. While far from perfect, this Inactive Account manager gives Google users more control over what happens to their Google stored assets after they pass away (well, actually, after they don’t log in for a specified period of time). It is, however, far from perfect.

Print Friendly

Joss Whedon, Dr. Horrible, and the Future of Web Media?

drH

I’m pleased to announce that my article Joss Whedon, Dr. Horrible, and the Future of Web Media? is finally available. Here’s the abstract:

In the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, one of the areas in dispute was the question of residual payments for online material. On the picket line, Buffy creator Joss Whedon discussed new ways online media production could be financed. After the strike, Whedon self-funded a web media production, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whedon and his collaborators positioned Dr. Horrible as an experiment, investigating whether original online media content created outside of studio funding could be financially viable. Dr. Horrible was a bigger hit than expected, with a paid version topping the iTunes charts and a DVD release hitting the number two position on Amazon. This article explores which factors most obviously contributed to Dr. Horrible’s success, whether these factors are replicable by other media creators, the incorporation of fan labor into web media projects, and how web-specific content creation relates to more traditional forms of media production.

The official version is available in the new issue of Popular Communication (vol 11, no. 2). If you can’t access the article due to the paywall, then there’s an open access pre-print available at Academia.edu.

Print Friendly

Digital Culture Links: April 25th

Links through to April 22nd (catching up!):

  • Siri secrets stored for up to 2 years [WA Today] – “Siri isn’t just a pretty voice with the answers. It’s also been recording and keeping all the questions users ask. Exactly what the voice assistant does with the data isn’t clear, but Apple confirmed that it keeps users’ questions for up to two years. Siri, which needs to be connected to the internet to function, sends all of its users’ queries to Apple. Apple revealed the information after
    Wired posted an article raising the question and highlighting the fact that the privacy statement for Siri wasn’t very clear about how long that information is kept or what would be done with it.”
  • Now playing: Twitter #music [Twitter Blog] – Not content to be TV’s second screen, Twitter wants to be the locus of conversations about music, too: “Today, we’re releasing Twitter #music, a new service that will change the way people find music, based on Twitter. It uses Twitter activity, including Tweets and engagement, to detect and surface the most popular tracks and emerging artists. It also brings artists’ music-related Twitter activity front and center: go to their profiles to see which music artists they follow and listen to songs by those artists. And, of course, you can tweet songs right from the app. The songs on Twitter #music currently come from three sources: iTunes, Spotify or Rdio. By default, you will hear previews from iTunes when exploring music in the app. Subscribers to Rdio and Spotify can log in to their accounts to enjoy full tracks that are available in those respective catalogs.
  • Android To Reach 1 Billion This Year | Google, Eric Schmidt, Mobiles [The Age] – “Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt predicts there will be more than 1 billion Android smartphones in use by the end of the year.”
  • Soda Fountains, Speeding, and Password Sharing [The Chutry Experiment] – Fascinating post about the phenomenon of Netflix and HBO Go password sharing in the US. When a NY Times journalist admitted to this (seemingly mainstream) practice, it provoked a wide-ranging discussion about the ethics and legality of many people pooling resources to buy a single account. Is this theft? Is it illegal (apparently so)? And, of course, Game of Thrones take a centre seat!
  • “Welcome to the New Prohibition” [Andy Baio on Vimeo] – Insightful talk from Andy Baio about the devolution of copyright into an enforcement tool and revenue extraction device rather than protecting or further the production of artistic material in any meaningful way. For background to this video see Baio’s posts “No Copyright Intended” and “Kind of Screwed”.
  • Instagram Today: 100 Million People [Instagram Blog] – Instagram crosses the 100 million (monthly) user mark.
Print Friendly

Digital Culture Links: February 23rd

Links through February 23rd:

  • Nielsen Agrees to Expand Definition of TV Viewing [The Hollywood Reporter] – Nielsen ratings reflect that online TV ratings are growing and matter: “The Nielsen Co. is expanding its definition of television and will introduce a comprehensive plan to capture all video viewing including broadband and Xbox and iPads … By September 2013, when the next TV season begins, Nielsen expects to have in place new hardware and software tools in the nearly 23,000 TV homes it samples. Those measurement systems will capture viewership not just from the 75 percent of homes that rely on cable, satellite and over the air broadcasts but also viewing via devices that deliver video from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, from so-called over-the-top services and from TV enabled game systems like the X-Box and PlayStation. While some use of iPads and other tablets that receive broadband in the home will be included in the first phase of measurement improvements, a second phase is envisioned to include such devices in a more comprehensive fashion.”
  • Billboard and Nielsen Add YouTube Video Streaming to Platforms [Billboard] – The Billboard music charts in the US finally adapt to include online activity, including YouTube streaming data, and suddenly Baauer’s meme-tastic ‘Harlem Shake’ debuts at the top of the Billboard chart! The ratings, they are a-changing.
  • Why I’m Done Posting Photos of My Kid On Facebook [Chicago Now] – Short but well written piece on why parents should be more careful about what photos etc they share of their kids online. Author calls parents “online guardians”. “We all want to believe that Facebook takes parents’ concerns about privacy seriously. But the truth is that Facebook is a publicly traded company that cares first and foremost about making its shareholders happy. We have no idea how far it will go to do so, especially since the company is not extraordinarily profitable right now. But what we do know is that Facebook is pushing our boundaries now, often, to see just how much of our privacy we’re willing to give away.”
  • Instagram users begin fightback against stolen photos [Technology | guardian.co.uk] – Solid piece on the challenges of photos from Instagram (and the web in general) being used by others without permission. Copyright, theft, credit and ethics all get a mention, but the short version is: if copyright is understood on the web (often it’s not), it’s often not respected whatsoever. For the Instagram examples, I can only image this will get worse, not better, with Instagram moving more solidly onto the web proper, not just mobile devices.
  • Introducing Your Instagram Feed on the Web [Instagram Blog] – Furthering their shift to looking more and more like parent-company Facebook, Instagram have expanded the web presence associated with each username, allowing the liking, commenting and exploring of the people you follow on Instagram without use of a mobile device. The only thing you can’t do is upload an image from the web (yet).
  • Coming and Going on Facebook [Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project] – “Two-thirds of online American adults (67%) are Facebook users, making Facebook the dominant social networking site in this country. And new findings from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project indicate there is considerable fluidity in the Facebook user population: * 61% of current Facebook users say that at one time or another in the past they have voluntarily taken a break from using Facebook for a period of several weeks or more. * 20% of the online adults who do not currently use Facebook say they once used the site but no longer do so. * 8% of online adults who do not currently use Facebook are interested in becoming Facebook users in the future.”
Print Friendly

RIOT gear: your online trail just got way more visible

By Tama Leaver, Curtin University

The recent publication of a leaked video demonstrating American security firm Raytheon’s social media mining tool RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology) has rightly incensed individuals and online privacy groups.

In a nutshell, RIOT – already shared with US government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort in 2010 – uses social media traces to profile people’s activities, map their contacts, and predict their future activities.

Yet the most surprising thing isn’t how RIOT works, but that the information it mines is what we’ve each already shared publicly.

Getting to know you


How Raytheon software tracks you online.

In the above video, RIOT analyses social media accounts – specifically Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and Foursquare – and profiles an individual.

In just a few seconds, RIOT manages to extract photographs as well are the times and exact location of frequently visited places. This information is then sorted and graphed, making it relatively easy to predict likely times and locations of future activity.

RIOT can also map an individual’s network of personal and professional connections. In the demonstration video, a Raytheon employee is surveyed, and the software shows who his friends are, where he’s been and, most ominously, predicts that the most likely time and place to find him is at a specific gym at 6am on a Monday morning.

Privacy concerns

The RIOT software quite rightly raises concerns about the way online information is being treated.

Since privacy rules and regulations around social media are still in their infancy, it’s hard to tell if any legal boundaries have been crossed. This is especially unclear since it appears, from the video at least, that RIOT only scrutinises information already publicly visible on the web.


Your friends, photos and ‘check-ins’ online leave a digital footprint that programs like RIOT can trace. Gavin Llewellyn

The usefulness of some social media tools for mapping a person’s activity are abundantly clear. Foursquare, for example, basically produces a database of the times and places someone elects to “check-in” to specific locations.

Checking-in allows other Foursquare users to interact with that individual, but the record is basically a map of someone’s activities. Foursquare can be a great service, allowing social networking, discounts from businesses, and various location-based activities, but it also leaves a huge data trail.

Foursquare, though, has a (relatively) small user base (around 30 million) compared to Facebook (more than one billion) – although Facebook, as we know, also allows users to check-in by specifying a location in updates and posts. But the richest source of information we tend to share publicly, but not even think about, is our photographs.

Picture this

Every modern smartphone, whether an iPhone, Windows or Android device, by default saves certain information every time you take a photograph. This information about the photograph is saved using something called the Exchangeable image file format, or “exif” data.

Exif data typically includes camera settings, such as how long the camera lens was open and whether the flash fired, but on smartphones also includes the exact geographic location (latitude and longitude) and time that each photograph is taken.

Thus, all of those photographs of celebrations, birthdays, and our kids at the beach all include a digital record of where and when each and every event occurred.


We should consider how the information we post online could be used before posting it. shutterstock.com

Given that so many of us share photographs online using Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Flickr, it’s not surprising that RIOT might be able to build a picture of where we’ve been and use that to guess where we might be in the future.

Yet we don’t have to leave this trail. Most smartphones have the ability to turn geographic location information off so that it’s not recorded when we take photographs.

Most of us never think to turn these options off because we don’t think about our social media persisting, but it does. Our social media fragments – our photos and posts – have no expiry date so it’s worth taking a moment when we set up a new phone or account and tweak the settings to only share what you really want to share.

If RIOT demonstrates anything, it’s the fact that information shared publicly online will likely be read, shared, copied, stored and analysed in ways we didn’t immediately think about.

If we take the time to adjust our privacy settings and sharing options, we can exercise some control over the sort of profile RIOT, or any future tool, might build about us.

Tama Leaver receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Print Friendly

Digital Culture Links: January 29th

Links for January 29th:

  • Vines Map Mashup – See where Vines are being posted in real-time on a map – And now there is a mashup, showing where Vine video snippets are being posted in realtime across the globe. Quite compelling to watch.
  • 3D-print your face in chocolate for that special Valentine’s Day gift [guardian.co.uk] – While I’m a big fan of 3d printing, this seems just a little too creepy for me: “Stuck for a Valentine’s Day gift with that special personal touch? A Japanese 3D-printing company may well have the answer – providing the opportunity for you to print your own face in chocolate. Shibuya’s FabCafe is offering a two-day workshop for budding techno-chocolatiers to learn how to transform their face into a sinister edible treat. For 6,000 Yen (£40), you can have your head scanned and turned into a 3D digital model, which is then printed in plastic in high definition on a ProjetHD printer. A silicon mould is made from this positive form and filled with melted chocolate – and the final product can be secreted in a box of chocolates and presented to your unsuspecting loved one.”
  • Twitter’s Vine Has A Porn Problem [TechCrunch] – Everyone is shocked to discover that since anyone can post their 6-second videos on Vine, a few people are posting porn. *OMFG*
  • vinepeek – An endless stream of recent Vine video posts (hypnotic): “vinepeek shows you newly posted Vines in realtime. Sit back and watch the world in 6 second bites. Best viewed on a desktop browser. This stream is coming straight from Vine and is unmoderated. You have been warned! :) Unlike lightning, sometimes Vines strike twice. Please be patient if you see a Vine more than once. If it seems to freeze, refresh the page.”
  • Vine: A new way to share video [Twitter Blog] – Twitter releases Vine, a micro-video-sharing app, which lets users post videos of up to 6 seconds in length (mp4s, not GIFs).
  • Facebook’s Graph Search tool causes increasing privacy concerns [Technology | guardian.co.uk] – actualfacebookgraphsearches.tumblr.com makes the news: “Privacy concerns are mounting around Facebook’s recently announced search tool, after it was used to unearth lists of people related to supporters of the outlawed Chinese group Falun Gong and companies apparently employing self-declared racists. Graph Search, Facebook’s answer to Google’s search engine, was launched last week by founder Mark Zuckerberg, who promised it would help people find friends who share their interests. Critics argued it could be also be used to unearth compromising information on Facebook’s 1 billion members. In a blog launched on Wednesday, a series of controversial search results have been made public, showing the extent to which those who share photos, personal information and “likes” on Facebook could have their privacy invaded.”
  • How to Protect Your Privacy from Facebook’s Graph Search [Electronic Frontier Foundation] – “Earlier this week, Facebook launched a new feature—Graph Search—that raised some privacy concerns with us. Graph Search allows users to make structured searches to filter through friends, friends of friends, and strangers. This feature relies on your profile information being made widely or publicly available, yet there are some Likes, photos, or other pieces of information that you might not want out there. Since Facebook removed the ability to remove yourself from search results altogether, we’ve put together a quick how-to guide to help you take control over what is featured on your Facebook profile and on Graph Search results.”
Print Friendly

Facebook’s Graph Search, privacy and the social media contradiction

[Last week I wrote the article below for The Conversation. It’s reproduced here mainly for my records …]

 Facebook Jelly Belly

Initial responses to Facebook’s newly announced Graph Search (a name only a software engineer could love) appear to be split into two main camps:

Both responses are entirely valid.

So, what is Graph Search?

If Graph Search works as advertised, then it’s a technical marvel, allowing a huge array of complex searches using real questions, not just keywords.

Type in “Which females in my area, around my age, support the Fremantle Dockers and are single?” and suddenly Facebook becomes a very specific and useful dating service. But this nuanced, “natural language” searching also means that, for many users, it will be even easier to delve into the minute details that are seemingly hidden on your connections’ Timelines.

The discussion around the release of Graph Search highlights something more important – something that could be described as the “social media contradiction”.


 

‘Social’ media?

“Social” implies conversation and other communication which we are accustomed to thinking of as ephemeral – largely disappearing after the interaction is finished. Conversations in the street or telephone calls generally don’t persist once they’re done.

To Facebook and other social media service providers, it’s the media side of social media that matters. Media fills the databases – the most valuable part of Facebook to marketers (the actual customers of Facebook) – and this media has no expiration date.

Once entered, my relationship status, likes, photos, comments on friends’ photos, silly news stories I share and current location are all media elements which are in the Facebook database in perpetuity … unless I go to some pains to remove them.

Social media networks generally aren’t run by governments, and rarely by philanthropists. Most are for-profit corporations. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and most other online services have shareholders and are out to make a profit.

Different, but increasingly similar

Every time someone has a conversation on Facebook, or does a search on Google, that information gets stored in a database. Google and Facebook make their money by harnessing that enormous database and allowing advertisers to reach people making specific searches or discussing specific topics.

Graph Search makes the experience of Facebook more like the experience of Google. An effusive profile of the Graph Search team in Wired notes that the core software engineers have both defected from Google, including Lars Rasmussen who was one of the original creators of Google Maps (and the ill-fated Google Wave).

Notably, while Facebook is becoming more searchable, Google has been trying to gather more social information about its users by merging the privacy policies governing all of its products into one, and linking them all to the company’s social network, Google Plus.

These two online giants might have different origins, but they are looking increasingly alike.

‘Privacy aware’?

Be it Google or Facebook, privacy is a key issue in social media, and one which is at the heart of the social media contradiction. At any given moment, the design of a service like Facebook may make some information feel private, even when it’s technically not.

When Facebook shifted from profiles to Timelines, old conversations that were buried in the past were suddenly easy to find by scrolling back through the years. Graph Search takes that a step further, as anything in your history – any past conversations, any old photos or anything else shared on Facebook – will be searchable by others if your privacy settings allow it.

Limiting the visibility of a photo to “friends of friends” doesn’t just control who will see it initially on their newsfeed. It now controls who is able to search for that photo, in terms of location, caption, people tagged in it, or whatever other data exists about that photograph.

Facebook touts Graph Search as “privacy aware” but all that really means is the service will respect Facebook’s already complicated privacy options.


 

Be aware, act sensibly

As Facebook makes our data accessible in yet another unexpected way, it’s perhaps time to stop reacting to each change with outrage, and become aware of the ongoing social media contradiction.

Every online conversation we have, every photo we upload, every item we share goes into a database. Corporations will try to harness that database to make money. That doesn’t make Google or Facebook malicious, it just makes them a business.

The social media contradiction occurs when we imagine Facebook or Google to be a service, not a business. If we keep in mind anything shared will be stored forever, analysed, and harnessed to make money, then, like Facebook, we’ll be aware that social media is media, not just social.

As users, our business is to try and be aware of the privacy settings available on these services and take our options seriously. Facebook might change how their database is accessed and utilised, but if we’ve only shared something with our Facebook friends, they’re the only ones who can search for it.

Of course, if it’s not on Facebook at all, no-one can use Facebook to find it.

[This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article. ]

Print Friendly