How to Survive in the World of Facebook and Ecosystems

The world was much simpler when you actually had to pick up your phone and call your friend to wish them a happy birthday. Fast forward to today, and everything happens online. Not only that, more of your offline life is being sucked into the online world everyday, voluntarily or not. Case in point, Princeton Class of 2016 had a Facebook group before we even met each other (or, for people like me, seen the campus). As if that wasn’t enough, there are more than one parties out there who seek to get your attention. Suddenly, posting in one social network isn’t enough. Living in this kind of world is driving us crazy. Over the past semester, I have written exactly 10 blog posts running around the same general topic: Facebook is dominating and the competition for your online attention has been stronger than ever. It is only fitting that I end my series of posts for this class with this article: How to Survive in the World of Facebook and Ecosystems.

Knowledge is power. Nowhere is that more evident than today, in the cyber world. Each time you click “Like” on Facebook or comments on a friend’s photo, Facebook learns more about you. Armed with that knowledge, Facebook can then provide advertisers with a way to individually target ads for you. This is big. If you were an advertiser, would you rather pay millions of dollars to run your ads on television where you have no control over who watches it, or would you rather Facebook to find exactly the kind of person you want to target and present the ad? This is exactly why online companies are so reluctant to share user data with each other. In fact, they are trying to keep users to their own ecosystems so that they may know the whole online lives of these users. As I said in my very first blog post, Facebook and Google have been doing exactly this. Each with a different strategy, the two companies want to be the ultimate online extension of your lives.  What I didn’t say, though, was how we as consumers can stop being victims and start being the victors in this battle. It turns out, we can do so in two simple steps.

First and foremost, if it does not need to be online, do not post it online. If knowledge really is power, keep the power to yourself. Do not hand it over to the likes of Facebook. This is the easiest step in making sure that the online world does not take over your offline world. Many of the things we do online today can be done offline, or at least can be done away from the social networks. For example, if you want to start a conversation with your friend, call him instead of posting on his Timeline. If you want to read news, go to the New York Times website instead of signing in to Yahoo’s Social Reader. If you want to listen to music on Spotify, create your own account instead of using Facebook. This is just a preliminary precaution. For those of you who want to take this to the next level, see my blog post on how to protect your online privacy.

When you do use a social media site, there is a single, simple step you can take to make sure that no single online entity knows of your entire life. Do not stick to one social network. These social networks are already reluctant to share user data with each other. In other words, the most secure way to prevent Facebook from getting certain info is to post it on Google+. Use that to your advantage and segregate your online experience. Personally, here is how I manage my social networks. Facebook is the social network where I actually connect with friends. However, I try not to do anything else here, such as read a news article from a Facebook link. That is where Twitter comes in. Because of the nature of Twitter, it is the ideal place for me to see all relevant news. I do not use Google+ that often, but I do launch it whenever I need to take advantage of the Hangout feature. Lastly, I leave all my professional connections, not that there are many, to LinkedIn. This way, no single social network has the complete image of me. Facebook knows who my friends are but does not know what I do in my free time. Twitter knows that, but it does not get to see who I interact with. This same advice can and should be applied to ecosystems (Apple, Amazon, Google, etc.).

Throughout this course, we have taken a look at different aspect of Facebook and social networks, and one thing is clear: they are the future. This also means that it is more important than ever to protect yourself against them. Remember, they are a tool for you, not the other way around.

Why Facebook is NOT a Social Network of the Past and Why Google Should be on the Lookout

The original interview of Bradley Horowitz can be found here:

After having written 9 different blog posts for this class, some of them analysis and many of them just rants, I decided to do something a little different this week. Recently, Google VP of Google+, Bradley Horowitz, gave an interview on Business Insider, and during the interview, he showed why Facebook is “a social network of the past” and why Google’s strategy is better. I am going to play devil’s advocate to his arguments. By the end of this article, I will have debunked all of his reasonings, and I will show why Google is the one who should be hiding if and when Facebook reaches its full potential.

Horowitz’s arguments against Facebook can be grouped into three main categories. (1) Facebook is fundamentally different from how people really are in the world. When people communicate with each other, they want to really limit their conversation to just that group of people. That is why Google+ is designed from the group up around the ideas of circles of friends and video hangouts. (2) Facebook’s method of implementing mobile ads jam irrelevant information into the users’ news feeds. The users, feeling annoyed, would then just skip the information entirely. “Jamming ads and agendas into user streams is pissing off users and frustrating brands, too.” Google, on the other hand, does not bother users with ads in Google+. Instead, these ads more logically appear in Google Search, where users are actually looking for information. (3) Google’s wide array of services, when brought together with Google+ being at the center of it all, provide a new and unique experience unlike what others (Facebook) can offer. For example, with data from Google+, Google can deliver search results while incorporating recommendations, say for a restaurant, from friends.

I will now rebut Horowitz’s points, one by one. First off, it is true that Facebook does not allow an easy and convenient way for users to limit their conversations. Google+’s solution in circles look indeed to be very promising. However, one oversight makes this argument practically invalid: the online world and the offline world are still two discreet, intermittently overlapping realities. People do not always want the same thing online as they do in their lives. For instance, when people get on Facebook, they actually want to discover things about their friends that they can’t in the real world. Imagine if Facebook suddenly turned all of the wall posts private; would you still use it? At the heart of Facebook is this belief that people want to share and discover things with each other. When they do want to make things private, though, Facebook users have the option of doing so in Facebook groups and messaging. Google+’s implementation of circles is clearly superior to Facebook’s friends lists, but it is like trying to apply medication when there is no actual injury.

Horowitz was not wrong to point out that Facebook, unlike Google, has been struggling with how to monetize its mobile users. Facebook’s solution, according to him, is to “make payroll by jamming users with ads.” However, I do not see how users would be bothered by this. Again, Google fails to understand that people do not behave online in the same way as they do on the web. If there is a flyer thrown into my face every corner I turn, I would certainly be annoyed. However, when I go on Facebook, I want to discover things. Sometimes, those things can be ads. In fact, Facebook’s implementation of mobile ads actually preserve/enhance the user experience more than Google’s implementation (in search). When people check their Facebook news feeds, they want to discover new things. When a certain thing does not interest them, regardless of whether it is an ad or a friend’s post, they simply scroll past it. In Google search, on the other hand, people want relevant information, not promoted data. Facebook at least provide a clear distinction of what is an ad and what is not. I find it harder and harder to trust that the link I am clicking on Google is actually there because it is relevant, not because someone paid for it to be there. (While we are on this topic, google “best smartphone” and see what comes up.)

I wonder if the Search team has an issue against the Android team.

It is actually quite ironic that a Google VP would accuse anyone of having intrusive ads while one of Google’s top products, YouTube, has one of the most disruptive ads on the planet. Browse on YouTube long enough, and an ad is shoved on your screen. Who is compromising the user experience now?

Before moving on to Horowitz’s last argument, I have to applaud Google’s recent efforts to unify its products. Doing so really add value to the Google ecosystem. That said, Google has put itself into an awkward position here. Because Google has so many products, it ends up competing with everyone. For instance, Google would love to have Google+ integrated into all smartphones, namely the iPhone. However, because Google is also the maker of Android, there is no way that Apple (or any other smartphone developers) would implement Google+ into its products. In fact, Apple recently kicked YouTube and Google Maps out of iOS. This is not an isolated case. Google is fighting a multiple-fronts war here, and if history is any indication, it cannot win this kind of wars. For instance, Apple came really close to replacing Google Search as the default search engine on Safari with Microsoft’s Bing. (When you see Apple and Microsoft collaborating, something is up.) As this and many other cases showed, Google is struggling to be everywhere while at the same time doing everything. Facebook knows this, which is why it is not making a phone. Unlike Google, Facebook is built into iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Unlike Google, Facebook is integrated into multiple app stores, including Apple’s and its own app catalog. Unlike Google, Facebook has no trouble making partnerships while focusing on what it does best: social networking.

So far, though, I have only shown why Facebook should not be concerned with Google’s efforts. What about the other way around? This is where it gets interesting. People’s relationship with Facebook’s flagship product, its social network, is much more deep and personal than their relationship with Google’s flagship product, Search. Even if Google gets all the recipe right and make a perfect social network, it still lags the tremendous amount of users that Facebook has. True, Google has a lot of users for its other services, but those services, unlike social networks, are not social. A user will have not nearly as much trouble abandoning Google Search than he would have abandoning Facebook, simply because his friends are all on Facebook. On the other hand, if Facebook comes up with a perfect search engine and integrates it right into their social network site, many users will flock right over, especially if Apple and Microsoft help by making “Facebook Search” the default search engine on their products. In short, Facebook’s hold on its users is much stronger than Google’s could ever hope to be.

Why Facebook’s Biggest Resource Will Be Its Downfall (Spoiler alert: It’s not mobile)

Ever since the beginning of this course, several faults with Facebook have been highlighted. Many believe, rightly so, that privacy is a joke on Facebook. Some fear when their posts get seen by a random stranger or when they are “friended” by one. Others feel that Facebook makes it impossible to let bygones be bygones, and what goes up there stay forever. Others are simply stressed out by the amount of friends they have. This stems from a common theme: there are just way too many people on Facebook! What many consider to be Facebook’s greatest resource, its multitude of users, may prove to be its downfall.

Facebook having so many users is exactly why privacy is such a big issue on Facebook. Recently, Facebook has hit the billionth mark on number of active users. That is absolutely incredible, but it also means that it is that much harder for Facebook to regulate privacy. Imagine if you post a status update and set it to “Friends only.” Then, a friend came along and shared your status…publicly. Suddenly, the number of audience of your status jumped from the few hundred friends you have to all billion people using Facebook. Now supposed you want to take that status down, and you did. Sadly enough, that does not affect the status shared by your friend. This kind of effect is why many worry that Facebook makes it impossible to forget.

Suddenly, Facebook is not so appealing anymore. From being a safe heaven for college students, Facebook is now virtually open to everyone, and we have to live with that. This shift has not gone unnoticed, too. One of my favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother, had an episode a while ago with the following dialogues:


“Nobody goes on Facebook anymore.”

“You know who is on Facebook? Everybody’s parents!”


This brings me to my second point, which is the lost of exclusivity. One of the reasons that made Facebook so successful in the early days was the fact that it was exclusive, first to a few universities and then to university students. It is a paradox of the human mind: we all want something good, but once everyone else has the same thing, the object loses its appeal. Facebook, as of now, has virtually no cool factor left. Additionally, Facebook used to be a safe space, especially for teenagers. How would they feel now that the rest of the world is on Facebook, too?

All of these factors lead to Facebook’s competitors getting an advantage, as they, by definition, do not have as many users as Facebook. For instance, Twitter might be an appealing alternative for teenagers looking to escape their parents. Or, Google+ could be a safer place for people who want to share yet want to be left alone.

If Facebook wants to avoid such a thing from happening, it needs to find a way to handle its large profiles of users. For instance, Google+ is built from the ground up to be based on groups of friends. That way, even if Google+ one day has billions of users, nobody would feel overwhelmed as they are still interacting with just a select group of users. Facebook tried to implement a similar feature, but to a much less prominence. After all, doing so would go against Facebook’s own principle, for it wants us to have as many friends as we can. However, Facebook needs to find a sweet spot, otherwise its users may start flocking over to other social networks.

Software Security and the Brilliance of Gatekeeper

Computer viruses isn’t news. When you first learned to use a computer (at least if you are from a younger generation), the first thing you are told to do is probably to run anti-virus softwares. Sadly, these softwares are most probably the most annoying part about computers. Then came the iPhone, the miniaturized computer that somehow has escaped infections despite its popularity (the same, however, can’t be said about its rival, Android). What is the difference between iPhone and all the other operating systems? Can any of the lessons be applied to protect our personal computers? (Hint: the answer is yes.)

To understand why the iPhone has escaped software attacks, one must understand fundamentally how its operating system, iOS, handles apps. iOS, unlike other operating systems, does not allow apps the full access to the system, and it does so by a technique called Sandboxing. The best way to understand Sandboxing is to picture a physical sandbox. Each application on iOS gets its own little Sandbox to play with, and it is not allowed to go into anyone else’s sandbox. This means that the apps each get their own documents folder. This is why the iPhone lacks a file system. They are also not allowed to do anything outside of their own sandboxes at all. This is the key to how iOS escapes malware. It is impossible for any iOS apps to, for example, disable the home button to keep you in the app or to delete your documents in another app. How then do these apps get access to system features, like the calendar and camera? In a least techie way of describing this, Apple built doorways known as “API” for each of these specific functions. If the Facebook app wants to access your photos, for example, it needs to open the photo doorway. Android has a similar, but much weaker, Sandboxing system, which is why Android phones can be customized as one pleases.

Sandboxing is just half of the story. The other half is the App Store. It is well known that the App Store is this amazing collections of apps, but many may not know that Apple actually has to screen each app before they are put on the store. This way, most of the spotty apps are removed, and the few exceptions are quickly removed once discovered. All the apps in the App Store must also follow certain rules, Sandboxing being one of them. As Apple proudly heralded in its World Wide Developer Conference 2010, the App Store is a “a curated platform (and) it is the most vibrant app platform on the planet.” The keyword here is “curated.” Every app on the App Store must be given the “ok” from Apple, and this is why iOS users do not have to worry about security threats from these apps.

As you may have already noticed, in return for security, the users must give up control, at least on iOS. Obviously, this does not work for personal computers. We want our computers to be as customizable as possible so that we may do whatever we want with it. This struggle between control and customizability is mind-boggling, and it looked like we may have to stick with anti-virus softwares. However, just a few months ago, Apple released a new version of Mac OS X with a new security system, and the only word that can do it justice, and barely so, is “brilliance.”

Here is how the current Mac security system works. With the release of the latest version of Mac OS X, Apple has implemented a new feature called “Gatekeeper.” Gatekeeper is, as the name may imply, is all about preventing malicious software from entering into the computer. Basically, all Macs categorize applications into three main camps. The first camp houses all the apps downloaded from the Mac App Store (MAS). These apps receive the same benefits as those downloaded from the iOS App Store, mentioned earlier. The second camp is basically comprised of all apps not fitting into the previous camp or the next one. The last camp, however, is where the brilliance of Gatekeeper is.

The third camp is called “Apps from Identified Developers.” Many people will download apps exclusively from MAS and that will be enough. However, many will also discover that many of their favorite apps are not on the store. These apps include Google Chrome, VLC Media Player, and Microsoft Office. There are a number of reasons why these apps are not on MAS. Some, like Chrome, simply breaks the rules of MAS by its very nature, in this case running a third-party web browser engine. Many apps are also not capable of living in the Sandbox without compromising their feature sets. Others simply do not want to go through Apple for distribution of their softwares. After all, Apple charges 30% of all sales and takes a longer than optimal period of time to approve applications. These limitations effectively debunk MAS as a plausible exclusive channel to download applications. Apple needs to come up with something better, and along comes the Developer ID system. The way the system works is that any registered member of the Mac Developer Program ($99/year, like iOS) can request a Developer ID from Apple and sign it into their apps. If a developer is discovered to be malicious, Apple can easily revoke the certificate. In short? Apple now curates developers instead of individual apps. This way, Apple can provide roughly the same (maybe slightly less) safe environment that users have come to expect from its stores without actually imposing the rules and limitations of the stores.

Now that you understand how Macs identify applications, it is not hard to understand how Gatekeeper works. It is as easy, literally, as a choice between three settings: MAS apps only, MAS apps + apps from identified developers, and all apps. Defaulted at the second setting, Gatekeeper determines which apps can be run and which one should not be run. This way, Mac users do not have to worry about malicious applications. Best of all, Gatekeeper’s deterrence can easily be overcome by right clicking and choosing “Open.” Suppose Google is not a registered developer, but you know that Google Chrome is not a malicious software. Gatekeeper makes it really easy for you to override its judgement, and it remembers your settings so it does not ask you a second time. It does not take a genius to see the brilliance of this implementation. Gatekeeper protects the average users without them having to do anything while at the same time giving power users the control and customizability they crave.

Many people bemoan the resemblance of Gatekeeper to Windows’ infamous “Allow Access/Run As Administrator” implementation, but little usage and an open mind will quickly rectify the mistaken belief. Windows’ implementation blocks administrative rights to all apps, safe or not. Gatekeeper, on the other hand, goes the extra mile of first determining whether the app is from a trusted source. Only when it suspects an app does it prevent the app from running. This is a subtle but game-changing difference.

Is Gatekeeper the perfect implementation of a security system? Nope. It is, however, the best one so far. Apple intended the current version of the Mac to bring the best of iOS and re-imagine it for the personal computer, and they have certainly done that in the security aspect. Malicious developers will always try to find a way to get around Gatekeeper and other firewalls, but at least for now, Mac users can rest easy knowing that they are safe.

Hurricane Sandy: What It Shows About Internet Addiction

It is said that only in adversity does one show one’s true nature, and nowhere is that more relevant than during the catastrophe that is Hurricane Sandy. The largest Atlantic hurricane  on record swept past the east coast, leaving major cities like New York City crippled. Ironically, the worst part about this disaster, personally, is not the disaster itself but what comes after. True, this disaster brought out the best in people, with many donating and volunteering to help the survivors. What really caught my eyes, however, is the action of Verizon Wireless. At the wake of the storm, Verizon sent out vans with wifi-hotspots and charging stations. My first reaction: “Seriously? Is that really what the victims need right now?” This really is a sad reflection of our community today. Whether you like it or not, the Internet is so embroiled in our culture that many cannot live without it.

First, please note that I am not criticizing the actions of Verizon or any other entities helping out with the disaster. I do understand that there are people who need to have a working phone with Internet connection, whether for business or pleasure, and I praise Verizon for being there for their customers. That is not the point of this article, which is to analyze the strong influence of the Internet in our lives.

Decades ago, the world with the Internet is just baffling to many. This idea of even being connected to an entire community, let alone the entire world, is just overwhelming and leaves many people flummoxed. Fast forward to now, and almost everyone owns a device capable of connecting to the Internet (many even carry those devices all the time!). Driven by the popularity of sites like Facebook, the Internet soon became the norm, and not just for entertainment. I for one will not be able to do any of my university works without the Internet. However, is this really beneficial to the society? Has the Internet displaced any of the five basic needs in life? Evidently, at least for a certain group of people, it has.

So, what is the problem with the Internet? The Internet itself is not the problem; it is people’s addiction to it. The Internet has been so vital that it has become like a drug to many. Deprive them of it, and they start showing withdrawal symptoms. Admit it, we’ve all been there. Why else do people pay ridiculous amount of money to roam internationally when traveling?

Just like many good things in life, too much of the Internet can be detrimental. Case in point, I have been to too many family dinners where everyone ends up interacting with their gadgets, not each other. In fact, my classmate, Amanda, wrote a blog post two months ago about this very phenomenon. The Internet is so convenient at connecting people, we have forgotten how to interact without it. Even Facebook, very recently, admits that too much of Facebook is not healthy.

We have to relearn to live without the Internet. That sounds easy; it’s not. There are many actions and routines that we take for granted. For instance, I check Twitter every morning for news update, and I rely on Facebook to keep track of my friends’ birthdays. I know too many people who must check their Facebook feed every hour. Going cold-turkey is not necessary, but some moderation must be put in place. Perhaps Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, said it best, “Take your eyes off that screen and look into the eyes of the person you love…Have a conversation, a real conversation.

Facebook, You Are Not Ready to Be King

It is a great week to work at Facebook. The company’s stock closed at an all time high of $23.23, and the world’s youngest billionaire was able to add $2 billion to his pocket. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Facebook and Google are fighting for control of the web. Now that it seems to have figured out how to monetize its mobile user base, Facebook seems to be well on the way of winning the battle. I also wrote about how Facebook is so ubiquitous, it is not going away anytime soon. In fact, I read an article a few days back that even parents take disciplining to Facebook. It is not so hard to imagine that pretty soon, Facebook will be everywhere. However, consider the implications of that statement for a moment. As fun, addictive, and ubiquitous as Facebook is, it is not ready to rule the web. Facebook is like this young teenager who is being groomed to take over his father’s company one day, which is fitting considering how young the CEO is. In some ways, it is fresh and innovative; in others, it is rash and dangerous. Unless Facebook undergoes a radical change anytime soon, I for one do not wish to live in the world dominated by Facebook.

The amount of information Facebook has on us is ridiculous. When we first signed up for Facebook, we gave up our names, birthday, relationship status, and interests, to name a few. As we continue using Facebook, Facebook’s data on us grows. It knows exactly what kind of sports we like, which of our friends are close friends, and what we look like. To prove my point, allow me to present a website, “Take This Lollipop.” Try this at your own risks.

To make matters worse, starting last year, Facebook developed a new tool that would allow any websites to create “Facebook app” that would link the users right back to Facebook. I did not know how powerful this was until yesterday, when a friend of mine suddenly “liked” my activity on CNet. My first reaction was, “What activity?” Turns out, when I played the video review of the new Microsoft Surface, CNet automatically sent that data back to Facebook that I “checked out” the tablet. To make this even creepier, I never even connected my CNet account to my Facebook account. Facebook, I have a reputation to keep. You can’t go around telling people that I checked out a Microsoft product. In all seriousness, remember that as of now, Facebook is not nearly at its full potential. Imagine how much more Facebook will know about us when it is truly everywhere.

Facebook’s massive data on us is not nearly as scary as how tactless Facebook is in using it. Facebook needs to learn to respect its users. True, when we signed up for Facebook, we agreed to its privacy policy (assuming anyone actually reads it). Technically, Facebook can do whatever it wants with our data. However, there are certain moral obligations that Facebook must uphold. Quoting an analogy from my class discussions, even though we users know what we are getting into by jumping on the Facebook train, Facebook needs to respect us enough to give us the chance to get off. In fact, Facebook has been going in the very opposite direction. It is virtually impossible to delete anything that has been posted to Facebook. Facebook also has a habit of rolling out new features without giving users much of a choice to opt out. The news feed and timeline are prime examples of this. Like a teenager, we can never know what Facebook will do with a loaded gun in its hands. This is not the kind of character fit to dominate the Internet; Facebook must learn that moral obligations are different and just as important, if not more, than legal obligations.

Two weeks back, I wrote about measures one can take to create a firewall between Facebook and the rest of the Internet. However, if and when Facebook becomes the sole dominant entity on the Internet, it will be impossible to prevent Facebook from spying on us. As it is now, we have no idea nor can we expect a certain decency as to how Facebook uses our information. Any form of monopoly is bad; one by Facebook is a nightmare. Facebook needs to grow up, for all of our sakes.

Why Promoted Post Is a Terrible Idea

*This article is inspired by a CNet article, available here.

*This article deals more with why promoted post is a terrible idea to make money. For why nobody would want to pay to promote their posts, check out my classmate Amanda’s article.

Starting this earlier this month, Facebook started experimenting with personal promoted posts. The idea is that people who really want their status updates to be seen (i.e. an important announcement) will be willing to pay $7 to “promote” their posts. Upon paying, the person’s particular post will be prioritized in the person’s friends’ news feed. This is part of Facebook’s strategy to find new ways to make money other than advertisements, which are not working well in the mobile space. While this feature makes sense for pages, it is a terrible idea for personal profiles.

Let’s start with a little background. Facebook’s primary revenue comes from advertisements. Although half of Facebook’s over a billion users access Facebook from mobile devices, it is no secret that Facebook has been struggling to make money from mobile users. On a computer browser, it is easy to unobtrusively add an ad tab to the right of the news feed. The same cannot be said for a mobile device; the screen is just too small. As a result, Facebook has been experimenting with new ways to make money from mobile users. While it is totally understandable that Facebook as a company needs to make money, allowing people to pay for their posts to be prioritized is not the way to go.

Personal promoted posts breaks the very purpose of Facebook’s news feed. Facebook wants the users to trust its formula for delivering “top stories.” Based on some complicated algorithm that considers the amount of comments, the amount of likes, and the time the post was posted, Facebook will automatically present the most relevant posts to the users. By allowing promoted posts, suddenly, the news feed becomes a collection of who pays the most amount of money instead of relevant posts.

Most users do not even want promoted posts. According to a survey by Sterne Agee, 83.6% of Facebook users are not willing to pay a single penny for Facebook. In fact, only 1.2% are willing to pay more than $5, much less Facebook’s $7 pricing. In my own opinion, there are two primary types of message that general users would want to promote. The first is a message to a select group of people. Facebook’s Group feature does a much better job at this. That leaves the second type, which is an announcement to the general public. The problem with the logic that people will pay is, if the person and the announcement are important enough, people will end up liking and sharing the post, eliminating the need to pay. That is how Facebook works. When one sees a post he likes, he can either like it or share it. SHARING is the heart and soul of Facebook…or maybe it isn’t anymore. This brings me to my final and most important point.

Promoted post itself is not nearly as dangerous as the precedence it sets up. It shows that Facebook as we know it is changing, and not for the better. If it becomes the norm that users must pay to have their posts prioritized, how long will it be till Facebook starts charging for its services in general? This act of monetary incentive is the very sign that Facebook is transforming from the “cool” service it used to be to just another corporate giant.

Nobody is stopping Facebook from making money. In fact, we all want Facebook to make money so that it may continue to serve us with its awesome service. However, there is a line, and personal promoted post crosses it. Facebook should not lose sight of its mission, which is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” There are other, more effective ways to make money. For example, Facebook has been including mobile ads right into the users’ news feed. While this does disrupt the news feed, the disruption is subtle. Users see the ad. Advertisers are happy. Facebook gets paid. Period.

Four Easy Steps to Protect Your Privacy in the Facebook Era

I used to be one of the many people who believed online privacy is not really an issue. After all, as long as I think before I post, how can my privacy ever be compromised? Then, a few months ago, I read an article about how Facebook tracks its users off the site. My immediate thought? “Not cool, Facebook.” As much as I enjoy using Facebook, I do not appreciate the idea that Facebook knows exactly what I am doing outside of Facebook site. My first thought was to log out every time, but it turns out that Facebook is capable of tracking even logged-out users. I’m sorry, Facebook, but this is officially creepy. If you are like me and would like what you do outside of Facebook to stay outside of Facebook, here are a few easy steps you can take. Note that I will be focusing primarily on Facebook, but many of these tips are applicable to any online entities.

Step 1: Set aside a different browser just for Facebook (and other social networks)

Note: If you are on a mobile device, you can simply use the default Facebook app and not log in using Safari. You may also follow the steps here with a secondary browser, like Google Chrome.

The only way to stop Facebook from tracking your browsing history is to cut off the social network from the rest of the web. One very easy method of doing so is to have a separate web browser just for Facebook. Note that I meant browser, not browser window. Clicking “new page” in Internet Explorer brings up a new browser window, not a different browser. If you do not have another browser installed, I would recommend getting either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Remember to use this alternative browser only for Facebook.

You are not yet done. Even though you have shifted your Facebook browsing experience to a different browser, as long as Facebook’s cookies still exist on your default browser, Facebook can still spy on you. Therefore, we have to first clear all the cookies from your browser. This will not result in any data lost, but you may be logged out of sites that you have opted to stay “signed in.”

If you are on Internet Explorer: Follow this tutorial from Microsoft.

If you are on Google Chrome:

To access the settings page, either click on the three bars icon on the top right and choose “Settings” or paste “chrome://chrome/settings/” into the URL bar. Scroll down, and click on “Show advanced settings…” Scroll down until you see “Privacy,” and click on “Clear browsing data.” Check only the third and the fourth boxes (cache and cookies), and proceed to clearing the data.

If you are on Mozilla Firefox:

Click on “Tools,” and then “Clear recent history.” Choose “Everything” for time to clear, and click the “Details” button. Go ahead and uncheck everything except for “Caches” and “Cookies.” Clear your data.

If you are on Safari:

Click on the “Safari” button and choose “Preferences.” Go to “Privacy.” Click on “Remove All Website Data…”

Your default browser is now officially uncontaminated. You can continue using the browser normally and switch to the secondary one when using Facebook. Note that this method actually kills two birds with one stone by breaking all the Facebook apps that track your actions on other sites (i.e. Yahoo Reader, Spotify).

Step 2: Do NOT Connect with Facebook

We’ve all seen the virtually omnipresent “Connect with Facebook” button. Clicking on the button allows one to use his Facebook account on a third-party website instead of creating new account. It also allows easy sharing on the website’s content (for example, an article) to Facebook. Unfortunately, in return, Facebook will know exactly what one does on that website. If you value your privacy, do NOT click on the button. If you already made the Facebook connection, stop it immediately. Go through the hassle of creating a new account. If you see something you really must share, copy and paste the URL to your Facebook (on the alternate browser). This little inconvenience is a small price to pay for privacy.

Step 3: Dislike the “Like” button

Similar to the “Connect with Facebook” button, many websites, especially news websites, have a Facebook “like” button next to their contents. The purpose is to allow the user to easily indicate interests in that particular content. Under the same logic as the previous point, this action is to be avoided. Instead, if you are really interested in an article and want to share it, paste the URL into your status update.

Step 4: Create a Public Email

One of the reasons why some would prefer to use their Facebook account in place of making a new account on a third-party site is that they do not want to give out their emails. After all, nobody wants to deal with spams in their inboxes. However, as mentioned in Step 2, this method brings too much compromise. Instead, make a new email for public use. This will be the email that you are not afraid to give out to any random strangers. Whenever you sign up for an account anywhere, use this email. If you already have several accounts associated with your current email address, consider making it your public email and create a new private one. This way, your personal inbox is automatically segregated from the spams you receive when signing up for accounts.

In selecting which email provider to use, remember that your public email is naturally more prone to cyber attacks. Consider using Gmail and enabling two-steps verification for the best security.

By following these four simple steps, you have already taken a huge step in protecting your privacy on the Internet. You may also want to take a look at your privacy settings on Facebook for added protection. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment here or hit me up on Twitter.

Of course, these steps are by no means perfect. There are other ways for Facebook and other Internet entities to spy on you. For this very reason, the best defense is to be careful what you post on the Internet. The Golden rule to remember is that once something goes on the Internet, including Facebook, it is no longer private.

Why Facebook is Here to Stay

Get comfortable with your profile; Facebook is here to stay. Despite the growing competition, Facebook, a social network that started just over 8 years ago in 2004, has a stronger foothold on the market than ever.

It is no mistake that Facebook is so ubiquitous. Try to listen to music on Spotify, and you will be asked to connect to Facebook. Try to read some news article from Yahoo, and you will be asked to connect to Facebook. What is even more absurd is that Facebook’s influence extends past the digital world. Look at any typical advertisements, and you will most likely see at the bottom the practically generalized phrase, “Like us on Facebook.” A few years ago, it would not be wrong to refer to Facebook as just a social network. Do so today, and it will be a huge understatement. Facebook has crept its way into so many corners of our lives, it’s hard to imagine life before it.

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Facebook vs. Google: the Battle for Web Supremacy (Part 2)

Last week I talked about the history of the battle between the two web giants, Facebook and Google, and how Google plans to win with its “one Google experience.” If you haven’t read part 1 of this post, I strongly suggest reading it first as there will be references back to certain arguments I brought up. As for the rest, here is part 2, detailing Facebook’s similar yet fundamentally different strategy and how this conflict will affect us users in the end.

Facebook Everywhere

Try to sign up for an account on a website today, and most of the times you will see a little blue tab labeled “Connect with Facebook.” When did Facebook become so ubiquitous? Facebook originally started as a just an online social network, but ever since then, it has evolved to become so much more. Indeed, Facebook has slowly crawled its way outside of and into more of our lives. Its goal, ultimately, is to be present everywhere, or as Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, put it, to be “a social layer across every device.”

It is really easy to generalize Facebook’s strategy to be the same as Google’s; however, to do so would be a grave mistake. While the two web giants definitely have similar, if not the same end goal, how they approach the goal is completely different. As detailed in part 1, Google wants to be in every part of your life, and in order to do that, it has built an ecosystem such that you never have to leave Google’s site. Facebook, on the other hand, sees things differently. While it would certainly love you to stay on its site, Facebook also recognizes that it cannot satisfy your every need.

Instead of keeping everyone on its website, Facebook aims to be everywhere. One way it has been doing that is through partnerships. In the past few years, Facebook has created partnerships with several strategic partners to fill out the void left by its services. For example, instead of building a music store, Facebook partners with Spotify. Instead of building a video chat system, Facebook turns to Skype. Instead of building its own app store, Facebook creates an online catalog  of all Facebook-connected apps that links back to other app stores. Very recently, Facebook struck a deal with Dropbox to bring better file-sharing to the social network. Facebook also has been working hard with Apple, Microsoft, and, ironically, Google to build system-level Facebook integration directly into their mobile operating systems. (To be honest, due to the openness of Android, Google may not have a say in the matter.) Facebook also has worked hard to create a powerful software development kit (SDK), allowing anyone to build Facebook-connected app, whether mobile or on the web, and send user data back to Facebook. Yahoo is a prime example here with its social reader, which allows Facebook to know exactly which article the user read. The famous/infamous blue “Connect with Facebook” tab is another example, which saves the user the hassle of creating a new account in return for giving Facebook information about the users’ activities on those sites. Through these strategic partnerships and a strong developers’ SDK, Facebook hope that wherever you are, Facebook will be there, too.

Personally, Facebook’s strategy is a lot more feasible than Google’s. In fact, Google’s strategy has put Google itself into a catch-22 situation; by choosing to compete with everyone, Google risks losing a portion of data just because its users choose to go to someone else for a certain service. For example, Facebook’s partnerships allow its social network to be integrated into Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. Google, sadly, gets to integrate Google+ into only one of the three. It is for this very reason that Facebook is not building a phone; it can simply achieve better results through partnerships.

Facebook needs to find a way to make itself present everywhere, not just social network. In many areas, creating partnerships will suffice. However, there are a few key areas that Facebook can simply provide a better solution. One such area is search engine. If anyone can break Google’s search monopoly, it is Facebook. Facebook may already have a deal with Microsoft and its Bing search engine, but, honestly, Bing is not making a dent. Google may have access to virtually all the search history in the world, but Facebook has access to the intimate parts of its users’ lives. Because of this, Facebook should (and it actually is) build its own search engine.

Effect on Users

So, what does this battle means for us users? Superficially, we seem to gain from the battle. After all, this is competition, and competition is good for consumers, right? Not exactly…as a consequence of this battle, unless you choose to restrict your web activities to just one of the companies, there is no easy way to integrate your web experience. For instance, Google’s introduction of Search Plus Your World seemed benevolent at first. However, Facebook and Twitter later accused Google of prioritizing social results from its own Google+ over other social networks’. This eventually led to a few companies, including Facebook and Twitter, creating a tool to “neutralize” Google’s tactic. This tool, named after Google’s very own slogan when it first started as a search engine, is called “Don’t Be Evil.” The deadliest sin is when I google myself, my Facebook profile is not the first result, or even the first page.

Now, imagine an ideal world where these two companies collaborate instead of battle. Facebook would be the ultimate social network, and Google would be the ultimate search engine. Whenever you search on the Facebook search bar, Google search results are integrated in. Similarly, when you search on Google, Google incorporate Facebook data into search results, so you will see exactly which articles your friends “liked.” This is only an elementary idea of how Facebook and Google could collaborate and give us users the best experience on the web. Unfortunately, these two giants are more focused on owning our web browsing screen rather than enriching it.