2011-07-01

Facebook, Google+, and Centralized Proprietary Monocultures

This week, Google released Google+, which is basically a social network that's a lot like Facebook, but run by Google instead of Facebook. The big deal here is that it's a lot easier to modify privacy settings and configure what information to post to which group(s) ("Circle(s)" in Google+-speak) of contacts. This shows that Google, at least on the surface, takes privacy a lot more seriously than Facebook. I say this because whenever a controversial privacy settings change occurs on Facebook, it's usually in the direction of less privacy, and only when the users get outraged does Facebook do anything at all (and it's usually insignificant), because the truth is that Facebook's business is built upon selling users' data to companies for marketing, advertising, etc. I've also gotten annoyed with Facebook's chat and constant UI changes that occur for no good reason, so I'm a little more drawn in that sense to Google+ because it integrates Google Chat (which I know works), and all of Google's applications have kept pretty much constant, simple UIs over the years. Please note that I haven't actually used Google+, though I have an invitation (it seems like Google can't process that invitation right now); any statements that make it seem like I've used it are actually just my hopes and expectations.

But at the same time, I'm a bit wary of joining yet another centralized, proprietary social network. Why? Because they could screw me over at any time, and that's pretty much what happened to many Facebook users on Linux. You see, this week, Facebook not only blocked KDE applications from uploading pictures to the site (which was among the selling points for KDE 4.6), but it also deleted all pictures that had previously been uploaded that way. That's outrageous! And worse yet, when prominent free software reporters and proponents complained to Facebook, they got a rather cold response, which indicated both that Facebook didn't really care about the KDE users and more third-party uploaders could be blocked soon. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case, as about a day later, all the KDE applications were allowed to upload to Facebook again, and all the deleted photos were reinstated. It all turned out to be a big mistake/misunderstanding. Whatever.

So the issue is that whether I join Google+ or just stick with Facebook, in either case I'm at the mercy of the company managing that service. No matter who you are, if you plan on uploading pictures to these "cloud" sites, don't delete them from physical storage at home. Always keep backups on hard drives, etc. Because if you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket falls into a black hole, you're sunk. And until Diaspora actually gets going and starts draining users from Facebook (which unfortunately doesn't look likely at all, considering that I haven't heard anything new about the project for a year or so), although I will certainly use Google+ with an open mind, I will continue to remain wary and vigilant.

14 comments:

  1. quote:: No matter who you are, if you plan on uploading pictures to these "cloud" sites, don't delete them from physical storage at home. Always keep backups on hard drives, etc. Because if you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket falls into a black hole, you're sunk. ::quote

    That advice pretty much applies to anything "in the cloud". You leave yourself vulnerable to pretty much anything "they" want to do, and anything that can go wrong, and run the risk of losing YOUR data when you rely on such "services".

    The only way you can ensure that your data (photographs, images, writing etc) is safe is to keep a copy on your own computers and keep backups of that.

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  2. Even with diaspora, there are not many people who are actually going to buy and maintain their own server. They will outsource to someone else who has a pod- which leads to the same issues of information gathering, privacy, backups, etc.

    I am not a diaspora user, so please say if these concerns are nonexistent.

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  3. @tracyanne: That's true, and I meant to add that too.
    @Sandeep: That's true too, so it's a tradeoff between convenience and privacy, I guess.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  4. Google is not Facebook. Every company has its own motivations and its own people leading them. Google will screw up in completely different ways than Facebook and in different ways than open source projects. None are perfect.

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  5. One word- Diaspora. You can host your own node while keeping your connections with friends over the internet, without giving up your data. It's all encrypted using PGP keys.

    I think there's a false dichotomy between utilizing the web for data while losing your privacy and keeping everything on a stale hard drive with no flexibility while keeping your privacy.

    I think it's essential that we reflect on solutions like Amahi, ownCloud, SparkleShare, etc. to make sure that private data owned on the person's own hardware has a place among the services of companies.

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  6. @Anonymous: Well that's sort of my point too. I guess the main message is to back up all your data and to not trust "the cloud" too much.
    @Scio: But you just contradicted yourself there too. How many regular people are really going to take the time to set up their own node on Diaspora? It won't "just work" as Facebook does; it takes a little more work than that, and I fear that will limit Diaspora's audience to the more techie crowd.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  7. As a side note, do we still knows what will happen when stuff goes into a black hole, o noble and fair one?

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  8. @Anonymous: Oh dear, not this again....

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  9. Diaspora is being actively developed.

    It's in private testing status currently, and is definitely not ready yet for your average Facebook user. However, those interested in testing it out can go to https://joindiaspora.com/ and sign up for an invite.

    I've been casually using it for several months and they are definitely making progress.

    The beauty about diaspora, is not that you HAVE to create your own node, but that you CAN. It's on par with Email or Jabber in terms of flexibility.

    Sure, most of us aren't going to host our own Email or XMPP server, but whatever server we choose to use can communicate with the rest of the servers and form an interconnected network where we're not locked in, or dependent upon, any one company for hosting.

    That's the strength of diaspora, it's not just a nerds program. It's a framework that allows people to socialize and communicate with those outside their "social provider" just like we do with our various email providers.

    Cheers all!

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  10. @daemox: I greatly appreciate the clarification, because that does change Diaspora in my mind from being a social network for Slackware users to being a social network for Facebook users disaffected by Facebook's numerous privacy policy changes, etc. Thanks for the comment!

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  11. Read this why facebook is an irritating asshole. http://paidcritique.blogspot.com/2011/07/irritating-things-with-facebook.html

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  12. @pipoy: I'm not really sure I agree with much of what you said. For one, if you don't like posts or comments on your wall, you can delete them. For another, you can change the privacy settings to disallow tagging. Anyway, thanks for the comment!

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  13. I think google plus will take the lead because acordin to this site clavier , 7 million american desactivated their fb account I wonder how will they response to that :) .
    P.S the original clavier article is in arabic for a tranlated copy use google translate plz

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  14. @Cool Salah: Hmmm, that is certainly an interesting statistic. Thanks for the comment!

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