Monthly Archives: September 2011

Is Facebook the Biggest Threat to the iPad and the Post-PC Era?


By now we are all used to the outcry that accompanies every change to Facebook. There are a few moments of complete outrage with threats to leave Facebook and hang out with that one guy on MySpace or informative status updates telling us to how to navigate the byzantine settings in order to opt out of things like Facebook telling people where we just took a dump without our approval. In the end, though, everything stays the same (for a graphical description of this phenomenon, see the fantastic Oatmeal state of the Internet comic). We don’t quit Facebook because, well, everyone else is on it.

And, sure, it’s part of the deal to have our privacy invaded by Facebook or Google: we get free stuff in exchange for our data being mined, that’s why it’s free. And also, there is the sense that a lot of the information we share or data we give advertisers are things that we are willing to share. The reason social networking has become such an integral part of our lives is that ostensibly we want to broadcast certain things. Be they the bands we like, the books we read, the things we find interesting (and, by extension, make us interesting), we want to cultivate the perception of us that the world should have. No more bad photographs, no more embarrassing records amongst our collection. Our social avatars are our ideal selves.

The latest Facebook API, however, are a step into a whole new realm where you don’t even choose to share information: it’s done for you (unless you “opt out”, which is something you’ll only realise you have to do once damage is already done). So, theoretically, you could be in a situation where your younger siblings see that you are streaming Cum-Gargling Slutfest 38, your revolutionary leftist boss sees that you are frequenting right-wing blogs or the girl you are trying to impress with a carefully curated Facebook profile sees that you listen to Britney Spears. A lot.

The music situation mentioned was the first immediate consequence of “new” Facebook: suddenly you couldn’t even sign up for Spotify without having a Facebook account and our feeds were swamped with whatever people were listening to. And not even logging out of Facebook helps, as this post by Nik Cubrilovic explains. But it is not hard to imagine the other situations either: adult-themed websites (especially free ones) have always been the least “safe” to visit and the least scrupulous and already there are accounts of the upcoming Guardian and Washington Post apps immediately posting to our Facebook account the articles we are reading unless we opt out of this. Actively “Opting Out” is a big difference from actively clicking on Like (even though a mis-clicked Like-button already had its risks when someone I am acquainted with indadvertedly posted an affection to homosexual pornography). It is ushering in an era of participatory surveillance as defined by Albert Albrechtslund in his essay “Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance” (thanks Amanda for the reference). More than ever, it is harder to lie about where you are, or what you are doing because of social networks. Making out with a random person at a club can already come back and haunt the married via tags and places and all sorts of things, but with no knowledge of even opting in, we are quickly reproducing a Bentham-stylee Panopticon.

There are solutions, of course. I am currently using a variety of Firefox plugins in order to run Facebook in a separate “identity profile” that does not have any access to the cookies generated by the rest of my browser windows which I’m assuming work the way I want them to. Every time there is a new Facebook privacy issue, users change their behaviours slightly. They might not close their accounts, but they’ll be less inclined to upload those photos of a drunken night out or to play Facebook games that spam all your friends. Again, however, this latest change is different from those that came before it. Because now I no longer trust my iPad.

I have often extolled the virtues of Apple’s “closed garden” philosophy. When things work the way they are supposed to without any glitches and without having to worry about things like malware or task managers, I am willing to give up some functionality, like being able to mod the shit out of my device and have the menu bar in #FF0099 and the app icons being exactly 43 x 43 pixels. Even though the iOS Safari browser, leaps and bounds ahead of any of its mobile competitors in terms of stability and speed, has not allowed for the kind of tinkering its desktop version allows, I’ve not minded it so far because it’s mostly annoying ads I object to and without flash or pop-ups, they don’t bother me as much. But now, I will be thinking of the websites I visit, the apps I use and last night, for the first time ever, since I don’t know how iOS handles cookies and what apps are logged into Facebook and what websites know who I am, I thought to myself maybe I should just use my PC to browse. This is a terrible thing for what Apple branded the “post-PC era” as it keeps desktops and their modifiable software and browsers necessary, even for laymen who have flocked to the iPad in droves and dream of never having to bother with a PC again and its antiquated legacies ever again.

Apple has always claimed that their reason for the closed garden is to protect the user (of course I’m not fanboyish enough to believe it is the only reason or even the main one, but I do think that the Apple design and software teams genuinely believe that in order to have something “Just Work” there needs to be a limit to the things you can fuck up), and compared to Android, it does seem like a much safer environment. But malware and viruses aren’t the only thing that we need to be protected from. As Nik Cubrilovic mentioned in the piece linked to above and singled out by John Gruber:

Facebook are front-and-center in the new privacy debate just as Microsoft were with security issues a decade ago.

and I believe this to be partially accurate. Part of the deal with Apple is that we pay to use their products (MobileMe instead of Gmail, Pages instead of Google Docs etc etc) and so are entitled to a better service (for this reason Apple can’t get away with having products in perpetual beta-limbo like Google does). Better service has so far meant protection from malware, not having to bother with antivirus software etc. Now it must also include our privacy. This is a potentially a huge opportunity for Apple if it can successfully convince users that their iOS products don’t “leak” our browser history to Facebook and everyone we know, but as it stands now until further notice I want to control my own browser again.

Star Wars French Ballet Disco

After participating in a month-long performance art piece entitled The Editors of Abstract Modem Pretend to Be Sloths, blog posting will resume its regular course once we get answer the 588 work e-mails that we have neglected.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this:


(via The Rumpus)

A study in journalistic styles

Karl Marx

Cover of Karl Marx

My (probably unhealthy) obsession with the Daily Mail and its particularly heinous form of “journalism” continues. Today’s topic is a study in contrast. And a case of one lazy journalist.

Suzanne Moore published an article in the Guardian on Friday about the demented idea that shopping is a form of therapy (“retail therapy”), a hobby or a patriotic duty. This is a topic that has resonated with me for some time. As a woman, I’m expected to unconditionally love shopping and lose my mind over Jimmy Choos at H&M. The fact that my boyfriend loves to shop while I find it an eternally depressing experience confuses most people.

After reading Moore’s article, someone posted a link in the comments to a basically identical article written by Moore for the Daily Mail in 2008.

While this is pretty lazy on Moore’s part to recycle a column topic after a couple years, what’s more interesting is that the same writer takes on the tone of each paper brilliantly. Here are some examples:

“I have spent many years wondering if I were not in fact a bloke, so little do I want to spend pointless hours buying stuff.” (Daily Mail)

“One of the many ways I fail at being a proper woman is that I loathe shopping.” (Guardian)

“This is not some anti-consumerist rant. We all need stuff, preferably
not stuff produced by slave children. But we don’t need as much stuff as
we keep acquiring.” (Daily Mail)

“It may be no longer de rigeur to talk of poverty or the masses, but what
Marx did speak of with great clarity was a system whereby the developed
world would have the capacity to provide more goods and services than
the proletariat could buy.” (Guardian)

“The poor may always be with us, but what about the fiscally under-stimulated middle classes? Let them eat Parma ham. From Lidl, I say.” (Daily Mail)

“We continue to admire conspicuous consumption from one class but not
another, when the reality is that we simply do not need so much stuff.
Nonetheless, this insatiable desire is constantly stimulated.” (Guardian)

Computer that can predict the future – a new way of seeing predestination?

Charlie Brooker wrote an interesting column today about a supercomputer at the University of Illinois that can “predict” the future. Nautilus reads news articles in order to predict future human behaviour – its predictions include Arab Spring.

While Brooker hits the obvious and familiar points of machines taking over the human race as well as the fact that, since the computer is reading his column, he is able to influence these predictions as well, there’s something interesting to be said about predestination in regards to the fact that that this computer can somehow determine future. This may seem like a kind of complex cause and effect, but it raises the question of whether every event that’s ever happened all leads up the events that occur in the future. If this is true, events are, in a way, predetermined before we’re even born. Of course, this doesn’t negate the idea of free will, but somehow the combined free will and decisions of everyone on the planet creates such a complex network of decisions that we have no way of avoiding what will happen in the future. It takes a very special, very influential, very powerful person indeed to derail the march of the certain future.

And what impact does this have on those whose religious viewpoint is that God always had a plan for us? It’s been determined before we were born?

The first thing that came to mind while thinking on this subject was the imminent destruction of the planet. No matter how much we try or wish that we weren’t killing our planet over the last 200 years or so (or more?), we are – and, perhaps, there’s nothing we can do about it now. I wonder if Nautilus can predict the end of the world.

DM has Natalie Portman naming baby “Adelph”


I was reading this with disbelief - Natalie Portman, a Jewish woman, was somehow dumb enough to name her baby “Adelph”? A name that if you say it aloud basically sounds like “Adolph”. No, surely not… then after spelling this baby’s name about 4 different ways in the article, I found a spelling “Aleph” later in the article – aha! That’s the Hebrew number one. Makes far more sense.

Nice job DM – nice job.