Tag Archives: Facebook

The War on the SEO Front

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Silent and deadly, they work.  Relentlessly; non-stop and without rest.

They are international – or they could be local and/or regional.

The Robots. The Scammers. The Haters.

These are but a select few of many variations inhabiting the realm of social media; and they are rarely – if ever – your friends.

In time, as your social media presence grows so too does attention to you and who you are. Sometimes, it could be mass marketers looking to expand their client base – or they could view you as somebody to sell possible leads, franchise opportunities or market specific services such as business associations based upon your religious or social beliefs.

On the flip side there could be scammers, creating false personalities and attempting to learn more about you so as to steal from you. This is nothing new and often happens on such sites as LinkedIn or Facebook, whereby a picture of somebody is uploaded and a false identity complete with schools attended, places worked and personal interests – all of it created to lull you into joining and linking up with them. Once done, they now have better access to you and your social sites, finding out more about you and your associations and connection and in time, depending upon their interests, gaining more information to steal from you and/or use aginst you.

Other times, some will even go so far as to create a mirror site of yourself, sneaking in and getting the acceptance and connections from your friends and contacts without their knowing it’s really not you they’re talking to. This happens more often than many realize; next time, be on the lookout from folks who send out notifications about somebody doing this kind of identity theft.

And then there are the dedicated few – the angry ones or outright vicious mercenaries – the Haters. The Haters are out to destroy you and your reputation. Sometimes it’s all part of a greater scheme – say, corporate warfare. Dragging somebody or an entity into the mud with false statements and innuendo, even going so far as to create entire fake news sites and (sometimes) utilizing them to nefarious ends – and perhaps under the banner of ‘satire’ (one such classic site is that of “abcnews.com.co”. To many internet uses, it would appear to be the site of ABC News but in fact is not, and often it’s satire has resulted in some interesting results: witness the false news report about the NCAA pulling out of North Carolina). Other times it could be candidates and groups of angry people who are attacking public figures during election cycles, or professional associations not happy with their workplace bosses and place of employment.  Another classic example is the now infamous “whitehouse.com” (and not the “Whitehouse.gov”) – with people clicking on it thinking they’re going to the Washington, D.C. White House, only to find they’ve been re-directed to a porn site (as of this writing, this is no longer the case).

But other aproaches impact in other ways – witness, for example, “Tmobile”. Type “Tmobile” in a Google search sometime and see what happens: you’ll get, at the top of the list, a site known as “http://tmobile.pissedconsumer.com”, complete with a litany of complaints and attacks against Tmobile Corporation.Whoever manages and owns the domain and website cannot be readily found as the domain where this site resides is held by a ‘proxy’ – under a privacy cover.  And what’s more, they not only have the “.COM”, but also “.NET”, “.ORG” and “.INFO”. Which may, in part, explain why this specific site has a 94% SEO ranking: it’s popular and thus it will continue to have a high ‘hit rate’. But unfortunately, it cannot be good for business with Tmobile and to many, it’s not going to be easy to find out who’s sponsoring this site for all anyone may know, it may not be a group of unhappy consumers, but could be managed by one or more of Tmobile’s competitors.

One can only imagine how some folks at the Tmobile Corporation feel.

Now take this example at a more personal level.

Say you undergo a bad divorce, a dispute with a business partner or you’re involved in a nasty lawsuit. What better way to get back at somebody and hurt them but to attack their online reputation with negative information, malicious websites, or even go so far as to create other false sites with the intent to state negative or satiric news (sometimes the worst thing you can do to somebody is to mock them)? Think about it: what better way to help influence a future trial date but to get some negative information about your legal opponent?

Not to sound paranoid, but it happens more often than people realize – and it’s very, very easy to do.

What to do?

  1. Your best defense is a good offense. Get your name and positive reputation out there before others do, but also take control of your name – specifically, domain names. If you’re “Joseph Smith” then depending on who you are or what who you do, it may be worthwhile to spend the couple of dollars to get your name with a .COM, .NET, .ORG and a .INFO. Doesn’t mean you operate a website on those domain names (although it couldn’t hurt); what it does mean is that you’ve secured your name for yourself, and not for somebody else to obtain and go about dragging your name in the mud.
  2. Continue practicing good SEO by posting things about yourself on a regular, constant basis. Content is kind and the more you put out about yourself, the better control you are of your own reputation (for more on this, see prior postings on this subject).
  3. Don’t connect with just anyone; choose your connections wisely. See who your potential connections are connected with. Confirm they’re real; sometimes doing a reverse picture lookup is a good idea: confirm that there are indeed a real person, and not just someone else’s pictures.
  4. Get into the routine of checking up on your various sites and posting new items. Don’t get carried away: just 15 or 20 minutes a day is usually good for most people. (for larger entities, you may want to consider contracting this work out to SEO professionals. Rates can vary, but you’d be surprised how cheap this can be).

There are many other approaches, practices and routines; we’ve only just skimmed the surface.

An ounce of prevention is worth several  pounds of cure. Depending on your needs and concerns, spend some time setting up your plan and your approach – and get to work. The time, planning and effort you spend securing your internet reputation now will more than pay you back in dividends.

 

Understanding Social Media Ranking

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We discussed the power of your name and the importance of controlling your internet presence; now let’s look at the social media platforms by which you will do this.

There are a multitude of internet social sites, varying from a wide range of interests and focus. Your mission, however, is simple: finding the most prominent social media sites to establish your internet presence, enabling you to more readily ‘spread out’ and develop a greater internet impact. Remember: consistency across your social media platforms is vital. Your information about yourself should be consistent – as best as you can – with what you’re saying in all of your sites. Additionally, how you list your name should also be consistent as well (i.e., ‘Joe Smith’ is not necessarily the same as ‘Joseph Smith’).

Some of these sites are self-evident in their purpose and how they present you, the user – Facebook, for instance. But each site varies in their approach and their approaches of what they want you, the user, to employ. Thus, we’ll look more into the aspects of ‘traffic’ and presenting yourself in a way that’ll ensure greater internet presence.

It Not Just About the Number of Users,…

…it’s really about the amount of traffic and what drives that traffic. Sure, some sites can have a lot of users, but it’s more than just users which count. Understanding how ‘Alexa’ and traffic ranking works is very important.

Alexa Internet, Inc. is a California – based company providing commercial web traffic data and analytics. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon.com. Founded as an independent company in 1996, Alexa was acquired by Amazon in 1999. Alexa is an industry standard service utilized by many to determine internet traffic ranking, and thus knowing a sites Alexa ranking is important in terms of understanding any social media sites ranking.

Alexa’s traffic estimates and ranks are based on the browsing behavior of people in Alexa’s “global data panel” – which basically is an active sampling of all internet users. Alexa’s ranks are based on the traffic data provided by users in Alexa’s global data panel over a rolling 3 month period. Alexa ranks are updated daily, with a given site’s ranking based on a combined measure of Unique Visitors and Pageviews. Unique Visitors are determined by the number of unique Alexa users who visit a site on a given day. Pageviews are the total number of Alexa user URL requests for a site.

Bear in mind, however, multiple requests for the same URL on the same day by the same user are counted as a single Pageview (so clicking on your very own sites from your home computer all the time doesn’t count).

With Alexa, the site with the highest combination of unique visitors and pageviews is ranked #1 – but also importantly, it’s not just the number of users alone a social media site has that counts.

So clicking on the below link, we look at the top social media sites on the internet:

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Viewing the chart we see the usual top-level social media sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, etc.

But note this: in terms of Alexa ranking, the top fifteen social media sites are not as strong as they appear to be, emphasizing an important point: if you really want to get at the top in terms of getting successful hits, you need to produce fresh content.

Content Is King

Ultimately the biggest factor determining one’s internet presence is content: new material will beat out repeated stories clicked over and over. In the long run, regurgitating the same old story over and over will lessen interest and lower your ranking (this is not to be confused with how you describe yourself on your various social media sits: your bio is constant and although its good idea to review and update). It’s primarily what you post on your accounts which drive interest. Get into the habit of posting something on your social media sites on a regular basis, no matter how small it may be – an occasional Tweet, comment, maybe even moving up to a blog – can make a big difference bulding and defining your internet presence.

Thus, to help your ranking you need to do the following:

  1. Codify your name and make it consistent.
  2. Develop a good bio; generally, the rule of thumb is that it should be no less than 300 words. Don’t have much to say? You’ll figure out. One trick is to also insert your name within the body of the bio (just make sure it matches your user name). Often, writing in the third person, although a little strange for some, is also a great way to have your bio presented.
  3. Connect the dots – i.e., if given the option to link with other social media sites (preferably those you already have a presence on) do so. This will create your ‘web of presence’ on the Internet. Interconnecting your social media sites make for a far stronger internet presence and will sure better control for you to determine the direction you want your Internet presence to go.
  4. Post, write, update. Some things on Facebook you’ll want to keep amongst your friends, but every so often it’s good to post something ‘Public’ as it’ll get picked up by search engines. Likewise, posting on LinkedIn, Twitter or writing an occasional blog are excellent ways of creating live content, and thus drawing more positive attention – and traffic – to you.

The Internet is not something to fear or avoid; rather, it’s an opportunity to control how you appear and what you offer to prospective buyers, employers, your professional peers both nationally and internationally or developing new contacts. For some, social media can be a nuisance and a bother; it’s your choice. But in today’s world it’s best to consider controlling what aspects of your person and who you are. Who you are on the Internet increasingly plays a bigger role than many realize; ignoring the Internet is often done at one’s peril. Who knows what comes up about her whenever somebody does an Internet search; better to define that for yourself before something or someone else does. Besides, what better way then to put your best foot forward?

 

The Party’s Over: It’s A New Generation Now

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And so the fallout from Edward Snowden continues. As the saga draws on (is he about to become a Russian citizen or not?) we overlook the bigger story: the Internet, as we know it, is dead.

As reported in The Guardian, the Internet is facing several inexorable trends: balkanization along nationalistic lines, the outreach of governments and outright commercial control.

When first instituted, the Internet was regarded as an open, totally free place of informational exchange: an ‘Interzone’ of sorts (to coin William Gibson) but now as time marches on, this is no longer accurate. Now, China and other nations routinely censor and control input and output of Internet access: Twitter is throttled, Google is curbed along with a host of other outlets. In some nations, the notion of a free and open Internet is practically banned outright, while in the so-called bastions of freedom (United States, Great Britain and Western Europe as a whole) internet surveillance is now the norm.

In the meantime, we’re starting to see pricing schemes reflective of the (overlooked) class system: if you want more Internet access (or more speed / faster access) you can expect to pay more for it. Libraries both domestically and internationally are facing cutbacks and thus limiting even more access for those who do not possess a computer, while premiums are being put in place on those who wish to participate on the so-called medium of ‘free exchange’.

In John Naughton’s excellent article, “Edward Snowden’s Not the Story. The Fate of the Internet Is” (http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/28/edward-snowden-death-of-internet) these issues were illustrated with a striking clarity.

And if you think you’re safe reading this article, better start changing the way you think. Of course, there’s the old chestnut: if you’re doing nothing wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about.

Wrong.

People make mistakes, especially in government, law enforcement and the military. It’s not too uncommon for wrongful arrests to take place; false accusations to spread or outright misunderstandings to take place leaving in the wake of ruined lives, reputations and personal financial disasters.

And now, as recently reported by Glenn Greenwald, low-level NSA (National Security Agency) employees can readily access emails, phone records and other information. (Really? No kidding!) So if you’re a file clerk who happens to be working for the NSA, you can review your family, friends or neighbors phone records, internet trolling history or other information (such as keeping tabs on that girl who dumped you last month).

If you just happen to be involved in a domestic dispute or a lawsuit with a government or corporate entity, expect to see your records accessed and reviewed as a matter of course.

It’s obvious ‘file access’ of these and other types routinely take place in various levels of government within the United States beyond just the federal levels. Sometimes, data accessed is utilized for political purposes: somebody running for office seeking out information about their worthy adversary. Other times, it’s for personal reason: divorce, outright personal hostility and an agenda of revenge. Don’t think it can’t happen: it does – and it happens more often than folks care to admit, taking place beyond just the federal level as well. Local governments and their officials have increasingly been caught reviewing private citizen records, through such supposedly secure information bases as NCIC (National Crime Information Center), credit history lookups, billing histories along with a host of other sources.

But what is remarkable is the lack of public response. You’d think with Glenn Greenwald’s recent expose, they’d be a bigger outcry. In fact, just the opposite: we’re witnessing a generational change. What was once a sacred domain – privacy – is now becoming a thing of the past. Younger generations are surrendering their privacy in a multitude of ways – putting up pictures of their ‘lost’ weekend  on Facebook; running commentary and personal attacks on social boards; personal commentary depicting their sexual activity or other ‘personal ‘ issues on their Twitter accounts – the list goes on.

Although privacy is still a sore point with a number of folks, the younger generation coming up are akin to those old timers who lived during the atomic age: expecting a blow up to happen, the atomic age generation held a diffident viewpoint of life with an expectation of being blown up at some point. Now, in the age of Big Brother, the younger generation is becoming inured to the notion of being watched 24 x 7, going about their business and even posting some of their more intimate scenes in public settings because, well, that’s what a lot of people do.

This one of the fallout of living in the Age of Surveillance: one becomes used to being watched and, in fact, embraces it to the point where they simply let it all hang out. Expecting our records to be reviewed and exposed is something many now expect. Sure, folks aren’t thrilled by it, but what are you gonna do about it? – so goes the argument.

All of this is bad enough, but add into the mix the notion of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and bizarre (disturbing) alliances – such as the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and Amazon coming together (see my prior post on this development), along with Google’s all-out effort’s to develop AI (likewise posting earlier), things are taking on a darker trend: it will soon be more than just being able to read your information, but actually read who you are – and what you’re really about, even if you don’t know yourself.

Prediction: expect to see Internet profiling to become the new norm. Just as we’ve witnessed the distasteful practice of racial profiling undertaking by State law enforcement officials on the national highways, we can expect to see something similar taking place in the coming years via our records, our book and music purchases along with any other activity we undertake.

So next time, if you can, remember to bend over and give the camera a moon; we all could use a laugh.

Let’s all give the AI’s something to mull over.

“Don’t Fire Until You See The Bits of Their Data!”

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(Well, maybe General Putnam didn’t say that at Bunker Hill, but if he were around today, he’d probably would,…!)

Happy July 4th and smile for the camera – or at the folks who are busy watching you, courtesy of your tax dollars – or at the potential hackers who want to take you for all that you’re worth (kind of wish that the folks at the NSA would spend more time going after those guys, instead of watching us, but I digress,…).

Regardless of how you may or may not feel, privacy is a resource that is quickly becoming rare – like that of an old Armagnac or fine scotch – leaving those of the older, more refined generation to sit back and reminisce more and more about the good ol’ days when one didn’t have to worry about somebody looking over their shoulders – unlike say, the newer generation who’s not afraid to let it all hang out and put those pic’s of doing themselves in during yet another ‘unofficial’ office party on their Facebook page.

Regardless if you’re the old person who hollers at the kids sticking their nosy access points on your PCS bill or somebody who’s cutting edge and isn’t afraid to let it all hang out, privacy is a resource everyone has to seriously consider – particularly when you’re doing any kind of business transactions – and for good reason. It’s bad enough to worry if somebody has your credit card and goes out purchasing a pile of items using your funds, but what happens when a competitor ‘borrows’ one of your ideas from your Dropbox account – and all because you thought that it was safe from outside eyes?

And so, in keeping with the good old American value of TANSTAAFL – “There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” we of Shockwaveriderblog stand up and raise the flag proudly and stick it up the nose of those who are busy trying to get our homework answers when they should be doing it on their own anyhow! With this in mindlisted below are some useful, easy and effective tools for your home / personal use as well as for some businesses to consider employing.

But first we raise these important caveats:

1. Use at your own risk. Don’t blame us if you didn’t follow the instructions or things didn’t come out as expected. Read and follow carefully, using these tools as you would a gun: always assume it’s loaded – and they are: with your information and data.

2. Software alone is never an answer: it’s how you mange your staff, inclusive of training, employee awareness and effective IT policy.  One good example is banning the usage of USB thumb drives in an office setting to prevent the spread of viruses as well as preventing any installation of trojans or bots, along with keeping any documents managed with a controlled setting, to name a few policy points worth enforcing.

3. Always read the fine print and know exactly what your needs are before you go and get something. Often, people buy the biggest and the baddest for the simple reason they feel it is the biggest and the baddest they want – when, in fact if they did their homework, they would’ve saved both time and money if they did just a little more homework and gotten something that works just as well – if not better – for a lot less time, trouble and money.

It’s not about being paranoid: it’s just about being cautious and using common sense: besides, do you want to wind up in a lawsuit arguing about why your lack of security awareness lead to a major loss in revenue, loss of stockholder confidence – or your job?

It’s a competitive world out here – but that doesn’t mean you have to lose sleep over it.

Here are some tools worth serous consideration:

The Taskboard (www.taskboard.co). The Taskboard is an inexpensive app which puts all of your financials (college savings, mortgage, car payments, checking account, utilities, 401K’s, etc.) under one simple, easy to use app. With the Taskboard, the authorized user enters their information; once entered only the authorized user can view the accounts, pay their bills / deposit money and monitor their activities. Also, since the data entered stays with the user (i.e, it doesn’t go through a website or an online service) nobody but the user can see / access their accounts. The Taskboard is designed only as an account manager: it cannot hold any real-time information regarding user account activity. Just make sure you don’t lose your password as only you, the user, will have access to any information: your password is not kept with the folks at Taskboard Enterprises…!

Digital Quick (www.digitalquick.com) DigitalQuick makes it easy to protect your personal and business files in the cloud and desktop. With Digital Quick, you protect, control, and audit your files by knowing who and when your files were accessed, along with a wide range of other actions which make this a rather kick-ass piece of work that any home or small to mid-size business employing Dropbox should really consider. Best of all, Digital Quick’s encryption is strong, making it a tough little nut for ay hacker to crack – that is, unless they happen to have a Big Blue supercomputer or so laying around,…!

Titan File (www.titanfile.com) A relatively new company, Titan File is for larger entities, and offers some serious legs to anyone who wants to manage their information at an enterprise-wise level as arguably Titan File is a full-blown ECM solution.  As Titan File puts it:

Titan File lets you organize information around people and context instead of files and folders, making it easy for you to find what you need – whenever you need it. We also let you drag and drop files from various sources into communication channels to make sure that you always have your projects, colleagues and clients with you, everywhere you go.

Your information is stored encrypted in the same secure facility where the government stores health records. We do it in a way that separates logical and physical storage so that no one can get an unauthorized access to your files or files of your clients and colleagues. 

Know who, where, how and when had access to the shared information. You get the benefits of a true real-time and cross platform application. You will be immediately notified whenever a new activity (such as a client uploading a new file or a colleague leaving a message for you) happens. We support access from majority of modern mobile devices, allowing you to remain connected.

Need we say more?

DocStar (www.docstar.com) is a full blown / bona fide ECM solution that’s being used by major entities such as the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations) along with a host of other entities, both big and small.  Speaking as a records manager, DocStar is a serious solution. With DocStar, your files are encrypted, secured, and you can program your DocStar software set to do a wide range of services and file management, even to the point of creating your own workflow solutions (i.e, how you want your documents / files to be seen and managed by whom for what purpose, etc.) – and BTW: DocStar also offers a cloud solution worth checking out. DocStar’s audit trail is strong and also has a unique feature in that DocStar links with the U.S. Postal Service to confirm any and all documents being stored on the DocStar system is indeed, a bona fide copy of that document; this comes in VERY handy when/if you or your company have a court appearance and need to show actual documentation: with DocStar the documents stored on the system are indeed the real thing.

Wickr (www.mywickr.com) As the folks at Wickr put it, “The Internet is forever. Your private communications don´t need to be.” So true that,…. WIckr is an app (Apple and soon Android) that works when you and those whom you’re communicating with also has Wickr. Wickr is essentially a ‘read once’ message that self-destructs on your pre-set timeframe (Mission Impossible, anyone?). Send a message to another Wickr user that you have in your Wickr directory, they read the message and after the pre-approved timeframe, the message self destructs: completely gone.  At the Wickr website:

Only the receiver is able to decrypt the message once it was sent. Wickr does not have the decryption keys. Send and receive text, photos, videos, voice and pdfs,… Wickr uses AES256 to protect data and ECDH521 for the key exchange. RSA4096 is also used as a backup and for legacy app versions. Wickr also uses SHA256 for hashing and Transport Layer Security (TLS). Encryption keys are used only once then destroyed by the sender’s phone. Each message is encrypted with its own unique key and no two users can have the same AES256 or ECDH521 keys ever. Our servers do not have the decryption keys, only the intended recipient(s) on the intended devices can decrypt the messages. Wickr has hundreds of thousands of downloads in over 113 countries. Celebrities, royalty, reporters, feds, lawyers, doctors, investors and teens are the early adopters.

BTW: it’s worth noting that Wickr’s encryption exceeds NSA Suite B Compliancy (Compliance for Top Secret communication).

Burner App (http://burnerapp.com) is a cool app (iPhone; Android version out soon) that’s useful in several ways, not the least of which you can use your existing regular phone and have a / or a series of private lines that act as though they’re also your own number (note: when using the app, you’re still using your regular phone plans’ airtime). This is very handy when you’re signing up for services and programs and don’t want to give away your regular number to potential marketeers.  With the Burner App, whenever you receive an incoming call from a ‘burn’ number that you’ve assigned for a specific purpose, you can answer it accordingly – and do so knowing that your actual phone number won’t be compromised. Bear in mind, though, as the folks at Burner App point out:

We do keep backups of our data and should the records be subpoenaed, we will cooperate with law enforcement. Remember these records are all tied to your primary phone number. Burner is great if you are trying to protect your phone number from other people. If you are trying to protect your phone number or conversations from the police or equivalent, it’s probably best to seek another solution. 

Evoice (www.evoice.com) is not a software package or app, but rather a service that you pay to have a / or a series of toll free numbers. A handy feature for small business seeking to have a good toll free phone service without the costs or hassle of managing answering service staff. What make Evoice stand out though, is it’s price tag, ease of use and the ability to forward your phone messages to an assigned email account that converts your voice messages into texts that you can read. Thus, wherever you are, you’ll be able to receive phone calls, read them in a text format knowing that you have a degree of separation from the caller(s).

Burner phone (https://www.burnerphone.us) Wish I had this back in the days when I was managing political / election campaigns in New Jersey; would’ve made those clandestine payoffs and midnight meetings at the local diners a lot easier (just kidding) (well, kind of anyhow)…! It’s a simple, thirty (30) day kit that gives you a disposable phone with a charger, 16 hours of talk time, nationwide coverage (more or less) along with the promise that any and all personal information involved with the phone that you use destroyed completely after thirty days. And what’s most interesting is that they accept Bitcoin as a means of payment (somehow, I keep hearing the old Judas Priest refrain, “Breaking the law! Breaking the law!“) but seriously, if you want to make sure that the private business you’re conducting really stays private (welcome to Las Vegas!) then maybe this is something that you need to consider.

To learn more how you can take advantage of these and other tools, let us know; there’s a lot out there and these are only the surface of the tools / services available to you and yours.

Contact us if you want to learn more; love to hear and learn as well as teach.

Happy July 4th!

A Little Bit of Snowden In All Of Us

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Man is not what he thinks he is; he is what he hides.

– André Malraux

By now word has reached many regarding one Edward Snowden and the exposure of the NSA’s (National Security Agency) PRISM program and how the agency has literally taken to storing records of our phone calls, emails and other communiques – and more importantly, how this is all done indiscriminately with little or no control parameters from the legal system. Indeed, it’s probably not surprising that George’ Orwell’s 1984 is now selling like never before.

But the remarkable thing about all of this is how many of us accept surveillance by the state as part of our lives – just as my generation learned to live with the notion of imminent nuclear annihilation. Now, our children are growing up with the idea of cameras watching their every moves, emails and text messages being accessed at will while through the powers of analytics, our thoughts, desires and attitudes expressed through our various accounts on Facebook, PinInterest, etc.

As I’ve said before in my early work, privacy is dead; get used to it.

But I also recall earlier conversations with professionals on this very topic of privacy.

Some years ago, I befriended former neighbors of ours – a remarkable couple who shared a commonality with having some distant shared family relations: the woman and her live-in boyfriend who rarely spoke about his work, save for one evening while dining, I mentioned my interest and knowledge of arabic history. During the course of the coming weeks, the gentleman and I would speak at length about the various works of Farid ud-Din Attar (“The Conference of the Birds”), the point of the view of the arabs in regards to the various crusades along with a host of other fascinating discussions.

It was during the course of these dinner discussions that I learned from the nice gentleman how he casually happened to be in Damascus during the Lighting (Arab / Israeli) War of 1967.  I later on brought up this point when it was quiet and it was then he realized his faux pas – to which I assured him that it was a point I had already forgotten; some things are just best left unsaid.

Later on that week, I was given a small token – a 5 inch diskette. When I examined the diskette, I learned that it was an encryption software package, designed to encrypt your files on your computer.

Understand, this was not for general distribution and was well before the days of PGP or otherwise.

During the course of time, I learned a number of skills and notions, one of which is a basic axiom of intelligence: never use any obvious ‘hiding’ tools for you’ll only draw attention to yourself and to your colleagues. The purpose of the encryption package, I learned, was to take a message, recast it into another message – but in english and not encrypted gibberish – so as to make it appeal as a normal communique.

Which leads us to another vital point: some messages are best sent by way of reference only.  As an example: speak as if you’re talking about a book you’ve read and wish to share with another; make references in a manner that the outside observer wouldn’t fully appreciate the nature of your conversation. For example: you tell another about a great scene from the classic novel, “The Three Musketeers” – more specifically, the scene where Aramis and the others hold off the Cardinal’s forces enabling D’Artangnon to escape. What this scene is about is sacrifice by a handful against a larger force – a holding action. In effect, by relating this scene you are telling your colleagues that you’re seeking a rear guard action, whilst to an outside observer they only see you speak about a scene from book.

Privacy has always been a concern; note how during the Italian renaissance – when competition was fierce and the living bloody – the notion of communicating with another without having their thoughts shared except to those intended for was uppermost on many’s minds. Many devised complicated algorithms and encryptions (such as those created by the legendary master, DaVinci) while others used references to the Roman poet Catullus, passing messages with deeper meaning amongst each other while seemingly speaking about literary verses,….

Who says the humanities are dead?

As to our family friend,… one cold, windy evening I came home to see him standing in the parking lot, furiously speaking with another gentlemen: I glanced over, but sensed that something was amiss: he appeared harried and wary, looking all around. I made it a point to avoid speaking with him, walking by him as though I didn’t know him, pretending that I did not also notice the gentlemen with whom he was speaking with.

Later that week, our neighbor came over, distraught and upset, telling us how she came home, only to find everything of her boyfriend – and she did mean everything – was gone. “It was as if he never existed!” The books he had, the computer, his clothing – everything – gone.

We never saw him again, but I remember his lessons well, for what he shared goes beyond just simple citizen paranoia about one’s own government: it’s also about how one should conduct business – period.

Amongst my other lines of work – specifically with regard to records management –  I often tell people to be careful what and how they things away; how emails are to be distributed and read by whom and how information management is truly about having an attitude of caution and a realization that somebody’s always looking over your shoulder – and if you’re not careful, is also likely to eat your lunch.

We Think Therefore We Are: The Study of Collective Intelligence

Endless studies have been made regarding analyzing the nature of human intelligence as individuals, but now with the growth of the Internet and social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), new models and approaches are being called upon as the new field of ‘Collective Intelligence‘ comes to the fore.

Collective intelligence is simply what its name implies: studying the nature of intelligence as a series of groups or collectives. And the man who’s leading the development of this new field is Thomas Malone of MIT (http://io9.com/5962914/the-emerging-science-of-collective-intelligence–and-the-rise-of-the-global-brain). As Dr. Malone put it:

I’d define collective intelligence as groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent. By that definition, of course, collective intelligence has been around for a very long time. Families, companies, countries, and armies: those are all examples of groups of people working together in ways that at least sometimes seem intelligent.

Well, at this point, one has to point out that groups of people don’t always act intelligently – at least not in ways that we may regard as being smart – as Dr. Malone also pointed out:

It’s also possible for groups of people to work together in ways that seem pretty stupid, and I think collective stupidity is just as possible as collective intelligence. Part of what I want to understand and part of what the people I’m working with want to understand is what are the conditions that lead to collective intelligence rather than collective stupidity. But in whatever form, either intelligence or stupidity, this collective behavior has existed for a long time.

So what does any of this have to do with the price of beans in China, you may ask? After all, it all seems kind of obvious when you think about it (as the old saying goes, ‘a person is smart; a group of people aren’t’).

Think again:

What’s new, though, is a new kind of collective intelligence enabled by the Internet. Think of Google, for instance, where millions of people all over the world create web pages, and link those web pages to each other. Then all that knowledge is harvested by the Google technology so that when you type a question in the Google search bar the answers you get often seem amazingly intelligent, at least by some definition of the word “intelligence.”

Or think of Wikipedia, where thousands of people all over the world have collectively created a very large and amazingly high quality intellectual product with almost no centralized control. And by the way, without even being paid. I think these examples of things like Google and Wikipedia are not the end of the story. I think they’re just barely the beginning of the story. We’re likely to see lots more examples of Internet-enabled collective intelligence—and other kinds of collective intelligence as well—over the coming decades.

If we want to predict what’s going to happen, especially if we want to be able to take advantage of what’s going to happen, we need to understand those possibilities at a much deeper level than we do so far. That’s really our goal in the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, which I direct. In fact, one way we frame our core research question there is: How can people and computers be connected so that—collectively—they act more intelligently than any person, group or computer has ever done before? If you take that question seriously, the answers you get are often very different from the kinds of organizations and groups we know today.

Collective intelligence analysis is a field which reviews how people think on a collective basis (which brings to mind Isaac Asimov’s famous “Foundation” series in which a futuristic galactic Empire’s eventual collapse and fall is predicted by a so-called “psycho-historian” who creates his magnum opus involving a detailed plan of the galaxy’s future foretelling the fall of The Empire – and then developing a detailed plan for establishment of a replacement Empire by predicting how people will behave in terms of groupings – ala presumably collective intelligence analysis – and all of this 1,000 years after the fall!).

All sounds far-fetched? Perhaps. But as many stock market programs and financial market computer services functions following the 1987 stock market crash, systems have been put in place to prevent ‘panics’ or other group / market scenes in anticipation of how the herd acts (as the old saying goes, ‘it’s fear and greed which largely motivates Wall Street’) – and understanding how the herd thinks (depending, of course, which herd you’re looking at) is now, more than ever before, important.

We’re talking about big money here – and much, much more than just about money.

We live in a crowded world with diminishing resources: the ice caps are melting, population groupings becoming restless (witness the recent study regarding the so-called Arab Spring riots collating directly to rising food prices – http://www.mindfulmoney.co.uk/13103/sector-watch-/the-economic-consequences-of-rising-commodity-prices.html). With all of this, it’s now – more than ever before – a matter of our survival to know and understand how people think, especially in terms of groupings as there are as few things as dangerous as when groups of people come together (anything can happen: an impromptu football game, a sudden Shriner’s parade – or worse!).

It’s also worth noting that understanding how groups of people work is also fundamental to the success of any political / electoral undertaking.

So what; old news. We’ve all come to expect and realize how people behave badly (or otherwise) in large groupings.

Not really.

All of this also underscores a subtle – but very significant development – which Dr. Malone points out: where do we draw the line between collective intelligence and cognitive intelligence inherent within our computer networks? It’s becoming more and more like the ‘push / pull’ scenario: who or what is doing which? Or can we ever really tell?

This distinction is one that’s becoming more and more blurred – and only promises to continue doing so as we become more and more intermeshed with our social media / computer networks. Who we are is increasingly being defined as part of a greater electronic vision of ourselves: at what point does the mirror reflect upon itself and its electronic image – and not just directly on us?

No matter how you look at it, there is tremendous potential within this field of study. Perhaps with a little luck, we can not only understand how and why groups of people behave as they do, perhaps we could eventually figure out how to keep them from doing stupid things.

Privacy is Dead; Get Used To It

From the Overlooked News Department,…. At a recently held (November 9th) congressional hearing regarding privacy, nine (9) major data mining sites testified and answered a number of rather startling and revealing questions (as reported in http://www.propublica.org/article/yes-companies-are-harvesting-and-selling-your-social-media-profiles) – among them:

Their responses, released Thursday, show that some companies record — and then resell — your screen names, web site addresses, interests, hometown and professional history, and how many friends or followers you have.

* Some companies also collect and analyze information about users’ “tweets, posts, comments, likes, shares, and recommendations,” according to Epsilon, a consumer data company. 

* Acxiom, one of the nation’s largest consumer data companies, said in its letter to lawmakers that it collects information about which social media sites individual people use, and “whether they are a heavy or a light user.” The letter also says Acxiom tracks whether individuals “engage in social media activities such as signing onto fan pages or posting or viewing YouTube videos.”

* Epsilon, a consumer data company that works with catalog and retail companies, said that it may use information about social media users’ “names, ages, genders, hometown locations, languages, and a numbers of social connections (e.g., friends or followers).” It also works with information about “user interactions,” like what people tweet, post, share, recommend, or “like.”

* Data companies of course, do not stop with the information on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Intelius, which offers everything from a reverse phone number look up to an employee screening service, said it also collects information from Blogspot, WordPress, MySpace, and YouTube. This information includes individual email addresses and screen names, web site addresses, interests, and professional history, Intelius said. It offers a “Social Network Search” on its website that allows you to enter someone’s name and see a record of social media URLs for that person.

In the words of Captain Renault (from the movie ‘Casablanca’) “shocking to see gambling taking place in this establishment!”

Everyone knows this is taking place – and so what?

Actually, it is getting to be a rather big deal. One of the key factors which lead to the re-election of President Obama (http://swampland.time.com/2012/11/07/inside-the-secret-world-of-quants-and-data-crunchers-who-helped-obama-win/print/) it was the very use of this data which lead to extremely well-targeted listings and action items:

…campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he said after taking the job. He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official “chief scientist” for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions.

None of this should come as any surprise. As far back as 1997, my colleagues and I had written a number of articles and reports on this trend. As noted in an article for ASIS (American Society for Information Science) presented during the 1997 Washington, DC conference (http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Feb-97/lutz.html), I noted that:

We are witness to the demise of our notions of privacy; this trend is congruent with rapid technological development. Luddites could argue that as technology grows, privacy dissipates; thus, technology must be curbed (so the argument goes). The genie is, however, well out of the bottle. Modern conveniences and economic advantages far outweigh any notions of denying the benefits and comforts which we amply enjoy. … In the coming century, our identities will be how we appear on innumerable databases; our visage reflected in the hidden cameras and how we stand within society’s walls defined in the roll calls of databases. The time is right, therefore, to educate both the public and legislators about the relationship between ourselves and the tools which gather information about us and our fellows.

And this was back in 1997.

We’ve well surpassed the point of no return: as Lutz’s Law of Privacy states, there is an inverse relationship between privacy and convenience: the more of one, the less of the other. Add into the mix wireless / handheld communications devices and now, more than ever before, you are who and how you appear within the electronic realm. Arguably, you and how you appear electronically is more important than how you appear in person as job recruiters, credit agencies, services or strangers who wish to meet and greet you will judge you more by how you exist online than how you are in person.

Competition is everywhere: whether be it for those seeking elected office or businesses seeking an edge and expanding their costumer base. Now, more than ever before, how and who you present yourself as is more important than ever before. Increasingly, you will find others – employers, potential clients, contacts – determining and deciding whether or not to work with you / hire you on the basis of what you post or whom you associate with – and as the evidence suggests, this is going beyond just your posting the photos of that ‘lost weekend’ on your Facebook page that you and your fraternity buddies did.

Wondering why you didn’t get that job or obtain that contract? Think  about it.

But before you let your paranoia get the best of you, just remember: it can work both ways. Given the increasing reliance folks have in using online services, who’s to say that you couldn’t beef up your profile more and gain the edge you need?

So the next time you consider LinkedIn, consider also MyBrand as well as revisiting your Facebook page. Add more appropriate pictures and keep your personal commentary through more secure means. Be careful with whom you associate with and who you link up to.

You never know who’s watching – or who would be interested in tapping you for opportunities you didn’t know existed,…