Tenth Blog Entry Sat Aug 20

Google+ icon

I just discovered a cool new user script called Facebook Friends created by a guy named Jeremy Keeshin who got curious about how Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm which is used by Facebook to determine what friends you interact with most and only show their posts in your News Feed. His user script called Facebook Friends lets you find out your personal friend ranking. All you need to do to use it is first create a bookmark-let named Facebook Friends  in your browser’s bookmarks toolbar using the following code provided at the end of this article for the bookmark-let’s address. Once the bookmark-let is created, login to your Facebook account if you have not yet done so and make sure secure browsing is turned off for your account. Unfortunately, this script does not work if your accessing Facebook using HTTPS. You can temporarily disable Secure Browsing in Facebook to use this script by going to Account Settings, Security Settings, Secure Browsing just make sure though when your done using it to re-activate the Secure Browsing feature.

Having turned off Secure Browsing temporarily and created the book-market open Facebook and click the bookmark-let. A list will appear over your Facebook profile ranking all your friends. The results might not seem too surprising but may seem personally embarrassing to you. The results might also be a bit off. For example, lets assume there are two friends in my top ten who I rarely interact with. I may assume that Facebook has them high in  my EdgeRank  because they recently posted vacation pictures that I scrolled through. So yes I clicked on their pages a lot lately but that would be an anomaly. Should Facebook infer that they are good friends? Try it out for yourself and sound off in the comments whether Facebook’s results are on or off mark for you. As promised here is the javascript code to use for the address of the bookmark-let:

javascript:(function(){var%20script=document.createElement(‘script’);script.type=’text/javascript’;script.src=’http://thekeesh.com/js/edges.js’;document.getElementsByTagName(‘body’)[0].appendChild(script);}())

Related articles

Ninth Blog Entry Fri Aug 19

Google+ icon

Liberal author and online activist Eli Pariser said at the TED conference that he was looking at Facebook one day when he noticed something peculiar. On his news feed where he usually enjoys reading through his friend’s comments and links he realized there was something missing. “I’ve always gone out of my way to meet conservatives” said Pariser “So I was kind of surprised when I noticed that the conservatives had disappeared from my Facebook feed.” Apparently, Facebook had quietly scrubbed the feed clean of anything right wing so nothing conservative was getting through. So what was going on? “It turns out” says Pariser “that Facebook was looking at which links I clicked on. And it noticed that I was clicking more on my liberal friends’ links than my conservative friends’ links. And without consulting me about it, it edited them out. They disappeared.” In other words Facebook decided that Pariser’s conservative friends weren’t relevant to him. It didn’t matter that he liked to  occasionally hear their point of view, because he clicked on their links less frequently they had been exiled from his online world.  In his new book it is this world Pariser calls the “filter bubble” where hidden code decides what you cannot see.  It is certainly a troubling phenomenon and have written extensively about his book in previous posts even reporting on small solutions individuals can use to pop their filter bubbles.

The problem Telegraph Writer Will Heaven points out in his article is that Mr. Pariser seems to think that with the Internet we were supposed to be able to remove the gatekeepers to the world’s news and information. Furthermore, the new gatekeepers in the online world are far worse because these new algorithmic editors lack the embedded ethics of the human editors in our old media. Thus, Pariser suggests apart from revealing what is personally relevant to us that this hidden code should be programmed to also show us what’s important, uncomfortable, and  even challenging towards our point of view.  Now Telegraph writer Will Heaven admits that Eli Pariser’s plea for transparency from our algorithmic editors is commendable but finds Pariser’s idea of adding ethics to our algorithms troubling. Mr. Heaven raises a good question whose duty should it be to embed civic responsibility into these codes and exactly what idea of civic responsibility would be imposed. To him Eli Pariser’s idea of adding ethics to our algorithms shrieks like the thought police. He concludes by saying that certainly Google and Facebook deserve Pariser’s thorough treatment but if the alternative to the filter bubble is an Internet edited by the New York Times he’d like to opt-out.

Related articles

Eighth Blog Entry Fri Aug 19

Google+ icon

Previously, I have written extensively about the filter bubble phenomenon described by Eli Pariser in his book “The Filter Bubble: What The Internet is Hiding From You” and how personalized filter bubbles can be bad for democracy. Well today I’ve discovered a new perspective on the subject by an author that agrees that the filter bubble can prove troublesome for democracy and users but criticizes Pariser’s solutions to the problem. The article starts off by summarizing what Eli Pariser said about filter bubbles and Facebook at the TED conference that there is a shift in the way information is flowing online and if we don’t pay attention to it, it could be a real problem. This is where the article suggests that Eli Pariser’s solutions would make things worse saying that it is not always a problem. In fact the algorithmic editing or hidden code at work on some websites is reasonably harmless.

For example, if your shopping on Amazon.com and looking at books written by Malcolm Gladwell and biographies by Mozart Amazon’s algorithm engine might recommend you to read books by Alex Ross in their more items to consider section. They do this because Alex Ross writes about the history of music and like Malcolm Gladwell also writes for The New Yorker. Using their algorithms Amazon fills in the banks for you so you don’t have to. However, if you do a Google search for Egypt on your PC and a friend in another town or state does the same on a MacBook Pro you would expect to still get the same results. Surprisingly that is not the case at all. Google’s website can tell where you are, what browser your using and even what computer you have then using these signals it can provide you what it thinks is the best result.

So when Eli Pariser compared the Google search results for “Egypt” from two friends he was shocked. Apparently, one saw information about the political crisis and the protests in Tahir Square but the other only got a list of travel agents and fact books about the country. Here in the political sphere Telegraph writer Will Heaven agrees with Eli Pariser that invisible algorithms have disturbing implications. Websites like Yahoo News are already “personalizing”  their coverage and others like Huffington Post.com are apparently flirting with similar technology. Suppose your researching information on President Barack Obama from an impartial news site but it knows you just visited his campaign website so even if you don’t realize it you may end up receiving biased results. News websites will get to know what you want to read and spoon food you more of the same. As a result you will only get to access information these websites think are personally relevant to you. Anything that challenges or broadens your world view won’t be visible. So the only information you see will be the information you want to see not what you need to see.  In my next article will discuss Eli Pariser’s comments at the TED conference about Facebook’s News Feed and filter bubbles in more detail.

Seventh Blog Entry Fri Aug 19

Google+ icon

In the previous article some tips were provided for how users can pop their personalized filter bubbles so they can access and view the neutral, unfiltered web. This article will provide details on how to prevent Facebook from filtering out posts from friends or pages in your your News Feed. Previous articles have discussed the unintended and possible dangerous consequence of having personalized filter bubbles online showing us information web companies think we want to see based on our previous purchases, clicks and searches online not what we have to see. The previous article noted while there was no magic bullet to do so there were some individual things users can do like deleting browser cookies, enabling private browsing and if their browser has a do not track feature turn it on to prevent tracking cookies from being installed on your computer. It also provided instructions for how to access and delete the cookies for Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, how to erase the Web History in your Google account and turn off instant personalization in Facebook for partnered sites.

Before providing instructions on how to change the settings in your News Feed to prevent posts from friends and pages you have not clicked to “Like” or “Comment” on will provide some  background information on why they would do this and how Facebook filters the News Feed.  Having done so will also use examples provided by Eli Pariser of how some of his friends have disappeared from his News Feed and then provide the instructions needed on how to resolve this problem in the following paragraphs.

In a lecture on the filter bubble Eli Pariser gave at the TED conference he mentioned an interesting discovery he had made about Facebook’s News Feed. A video of this lecture is available by the way on YouTube titled “Beware online filter bubbles” for anyone wanting to see it. Anyways in his lecture Mr. Pariser mentions that although he is a liberal he has conservative friends and likes to know more about how conservatives think and what they write about so he often friends conservatives on Facebook. So Mr. Pariser was surprised one day when he discovered all his conservatives friend’s posts had been automatically removed from his News Feed. What had happened was that Facebook without consulting him had automatically started filtering those friends out of his News Feed because he did not click on links to their posts in his News Feed and interact with them very often.  Now one could argue having such filtering might be a good thing if you have liked too many public pages on Facebook whose posts appear on your News Feed and/or have too many friends for the News Feed to show all those posts it could result in an information overload with your News Feed becoming cluttered with too much information. However, if you have friends you’ve not recently interacted with whose posts you want to be able to see in the News Feed it would be a good idea to edit the settings for your News Feed so Facebook can’t filter out posts by any of your friends.

Facebook will filter out content from your News Feed from friends you’ve not recently interacted with. In order to disable filtering of your News Feed in Facebook there is a very simple solution. Scroll down to the bottom of your News Feed and click the Edit Options link. A window will popup allowing you to edit the settings for your News Feed.  On the window that pops up notice the option “See posts from” and click to change the settings for that option. By default you will notice the option is set to show friends and pages you interact with most. What this means unfortunately is that if you do not “Like” or “Comment” on updates from a friend or from a page over a certain period of time  then updates from those friends and pages will stop appearing in your News Feed.Now one might argue that Facebook activated this feature for the News Feed by default to make the News Feed more personally relevant to you. After all if you are interacting more with certain friends and pages it would make more sense for you to see their posts.  However, one might think that this is what the Top News link in your News Feed should be for but unfortunately this default setting also affects your Top News. The good news is the solution to resolve this problem is very simple. All you need to do is change the option from show friends and pages you interact with most to all of your friends and pages to prevent Facebook from filtering out posts from your News Feed. Well there you go you can now browse the neutral un-filtered web without any personalized filter bubbles getting in your way.

Sixth Blog Entry Thurs Aug 18

Google+ icon

Here is some interesting and potentially good news for any users concerned about personalized filter bubbles hiding information from us online that we may not necessarily want to know about, as we don’t spend time trying to find out about every single news story and topic online but might need to know about. While there is no magic bullet so to speak for popping filter bubbles there are some methods to avoid them online. One of these recommendations is to delete browser cookies often, and if using a browser that allows you to disable tracking cookies users should do so via their browser’s security settings. In Google Chrome you can do so by accessing Preferences, Under the hood, Content Settings to view all cookies installed to your computer by Chrome. In Mozilla Firefox access Preferences, Privacy and enable custom settings for history. To access cookies stored on your computer by Apple’s Safari web browser depending on which version of Safari your using visit Preferences, Security or Preferences, Privacy and in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer cookies can be accessed via Internet options, Privacy.

Erasing cookies and enabling private browsing to prevent new cookies from being installed to your computer when browsing the web are good ways to reduce your chances of being caught in a personalized filter bubble.However, there are other steps you can and should take to minimize the risk of being caught in a filter bubble. If you have a Google account and happen to do web searches via Google when signed-in it is likely that Google is saving your web history. Remember the expression those who fail history are doomed to repeat it? Well a great deal of Google’s search personalization features are powered by your web history that is the list of websites you’ve accessed via Google. Translation: Google can and is saving your web search results so they know what websites you searched for and accessed via their site. By default if your logged in to their site Google tracks this information for you, compiling a long list of everything you’ve searched for on their site that can span a number of years.

To remove this stored data visit Google’s homepage, having logged-in click your username in the top right corner and access Account settings. If you have a Google+ profile when you click Accounts you will have to scroll down to the bottom of the accounts page that loads and click on the link to visit the previous version of the Google accounts screen. Then you can click edit in the My Products area and click Remove Web History Permanently to permanently remove Google’s Web History from your account.

If you use Facebook the next step is to access your Facebook account’s privacy settings and adjust them accordingly to ensure that it keeps your important data private. Facebook has often been criticized more than any other company for making a great deal of  previously private data public. A number of times Facebook has  automatically changed user’s data settings for them without advance warning. As a result for all you know Facebook could change your privacy settings without your informed knowledge or consent to make more of your private information available to the public. For examples, the pages you liked on Facebook may have been private but are now public and while all these changes might not be clear to users they enable companies to create and sell profiles with information about you to whoever they want. So the most important thing to remember when using Facebook is to not share anything on Facebook you don’t want everyone online to know about you. If you use Facebook it would be wise to increase your privacy settings to the highest level possible.

It is also worth noting that if your logged in to Facebook they can by default transmit information about you to certain websites like Microsoft’s Bing and Pandora Radio  in addition to other websites. That is they can personalize their sites using data from your Facebook account.  Therefore it would be a good idea for users concerned with privacy or being caught in personalized filter bubbles using Facebook to also turn off the instant personalization feature in the privacy section of their accounts.

To turn this feature off just follow these simple instructions. The first step is to log-in to your Facebook account, and then click Account in the top right hand corner of your screen. Next from the drop down menu that opens click Privacy Settings and under the heading Apps and websites click Edit your settings. On the page that loads scroll down until you can clearly see the heading Instant Personalization on your screen and click the Edit settings link next to it. A popup titled Understanding instant personalization may open up but is not needed so you can close it.  Finally scroll to the bottom of the page and uncheck the box labeled enable instant personalization on partner websites. This will prevent websites Facebook partners with from accessing your data.

Fifth Blog Entry Wed Aug 17

Google+ icon

Today I would like to share some potential good news for consumers concerned about media consolidation and reduced competition in the broadband market for high speed Internet access. After AT&T accidentally posted public comments to the FCC proving that it’s merger with T Mobil USA was really about reducing competition and consumer choice, firing workers and raising prices opposition to Ma Bell‘s proposed merger that would set consumers and the wireless market back 30 years is growing. For most of the twentieth century AT&T had a monopoly over wire-line communications in the market for telephone service but its Ma Bell monopoly was fortunately broken up in 1984 by the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division to increase competition and provide consumers more choice. Unfortunately in the 2000s the FCC and US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division chose to revisit that decision and made a historic mistake when they allowed AT&T to reconstitute Ma Bell by re-merging with two of the original Baby Bells SBC Communications and Bell South that had been part of the Ma Bell system. Now if the mergers involving AT&T Mobility, T Mobil USA and Qualcomm were to proceed it would set consumers and the telecommunications market back another 30 years with AT&T and Verizon Wireless controlling nearly 80% of the wireless market. Effectively AT&T and Verizon Wireless would have a near duopoly of the wireless market for post-paid cellular phone services and the mobile broadband market. Today the wireless market is already an anti competitive oligopoly and the wire-line broadband market for fixed high speed Internet access is a duopoly of big cable and phone companies that has gotten worse with Qwest acquiring US West and now merging with CenturyLink. To allow more consolidation in either the wireless or fixed wire-line markets will result in even fewer consumer choices, higher prices, reduced investment and the potential for more market abuse and ISP discrimination online.

Therefore I oppose Ma Bell’s plans to monopolize the Internet and all our communications technologies. I have seen through their empty rhetoric promising that if their allowed to merge it would magically result in increased consumer choice and that they would provide universal access to broadband. Ma Bell wants to create an anti consumer and anti competitive Ma Cell and they must be stopped before it’s too late.

I also have serious concerns about Time Warner Cable the nation’s second largest cable provider for high speed Internet and digital cable TV service buying Insight Communications the ninth largest cable provider of broadband and digital cable TV service in the country. Previously I have also spoken out against the Comcast NBCU merger that was unfortunately approved For it’s anti competitive and anti consumer harms. However, I am pleased because of it’s approval of that merger that the FCC despite opposition by cable companies is strengthening carriage rules.

I worry about not just telecom companies discriminating online but cable providers as well with cable companies setting up unfair bandwidth caps online to discourage consumers from using services from often smaller competitors providing alternative video related services online. The cable companies cannot offer cheap a la carte programming options nor can the satellite TV providers obligated by programmers to bundle channels by the major broadcast and cable TV networks making consumers pay for channels they may not even watch. To this end they might try two things that might be unfair for consumers. First of all since cable companies also provide broadband in addition to their basic and digital cable services they might discriminate against a la care offerings online by capping the bandwidth of users subscribing to their broadband services but exempt their own services unfairly from competitors. Second create proprietary online services for viewing video online and discourage consumers from cutting the cord by bundling online TV offerings with their paid TV offerings requiring consumers pay for bundled channels.

Already a number of paid TV providers to this end have launched TV Everywhere online services for video requiring authentication so only consumers who subscribe to digital cable or satellite TV that have bundled channels can watch TV online. In fact Time Warner Cable and satellite TV provider Dish Network have created native mobile applications for Apple’s iPad devices to stream live TV channels to Apple’s iPads so you can watch TV also on your iPad. However, since it is part of TV Everywhere you can only watch TV programs using their apps on your iPad if you pay either provider for their TV services. TV Everywhere providers are trying to create a walled garden where you can freely watch live TV streamed to an iPad or other devices as long as you don’t cancel your cable or satellite.

On the issue of broadcast retransmission I often side with the TV providers over the greedy programmers wanting the providers to pay them more each time their retransmission contacts are up for renewal. In fact I have supported Time Warner Cable’s Roll Over or Get Tough web campaign urging them to get tough with programmers as any increase in the fees they have to pay programmers would have to be passed on unfairly to consumers. I have even supported Time Warner Cable’s I Want My TwCable TV app web campaign telling greedy programmers wanting providers to pay them more letting consumers stream programs to an iPad that they should not be double dipping. Instead of price gouging providers and consumers the few greedy TV networks should join the supportive TV networks who are allowing their programs to be streamed by providers to iPads using apps like Time Warner Cable’s TWCable TV app and Dish Network’s DISH Remote Access for no additional fees. After all paying for TV even if you don’t have a DVR/HD DVR and video on demand and/or premium movie channels is still expensive because of bundled channels.

One thing I don’t like in the TV market is the lack of customization of digital cable boxes and satellite TV boxes as you cannot install your own software, change the user interface etc. I have been using Apple Macs with Front Row which was unfortunately discontinued for Mac users in OS X Lion but can continue to use it with my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X Snow Leopard and do plan to do so. I have chosen not to upgrade to Lion so I can keep using Front Row which in my opinion is the best media center software for the Mac available as it has a great user interface. I have also seen Windows Media Center which is more sophisticated than Front Row as it allows users with TV Tuners in their computers to record live TV via Media Center.

Personally I prefer an application called Virtual Dub though when using Windows PCs for capturing and editing TV programs. I like Boxee and the original Apple TV which let’s you sync content to the device as opposed to the new streaming only model of Apple TV. I think streaming is a great idea but the new streaming only modeI of Apple TV is more limited than the original model which I have. I would prefer syncing and streaming as opposed to the new model’s streaming only emphasis. Both the original Apple TV and the new streaming only model use a Front Row like user interface for navigating and accessing content.

I know Dish Network offers their subscribers Google TV but don’t know why anyone even using Dish Network that wants Google TV would pay Dish Network more for having Google TV when they can simply buy a set top box like the Logitech Revue that comes with Google TV software on their own and use it.

Fourth Blog Entry Fri Aug 5th

Google+ icon

These days social networks have plenty of cool features including their mobile native and web apps for smartphones and tablets, their geo-location and multimedia sharing features and the ability they provide you to update your status via text message there are also drawbacks which I will describe below. The first one involves the emergence of personalized filter bubbles a topic I am revisiting from an earlier blog post, and the second privacy.  As web companies strive to tailor their services including news and search results to our personal tastes a dangerous and unintended consequence may occur. We could get trapped in personalized filter bubbles and don’t get exposed to new information that challenges or broadens our world view. I’ve mentioned before that in his book “The Filter Bubble: What The Internet is Hiding From You” Eli Pariser has said that this is bad for democracy. After all the Web was meant to be an open and inviting, advanced global telecommunications network enabling users all over the world to freely share information and communicate online. As such it was intended enable individuals to meet and interact with new people online, make new friends etc who they can freely share information and communicate with online. Instead we are seeing a walled garden of proprietary online services and platforms springing up to lock-in users to a specific platform or service that are isolating us into individual groups and cutting us off from other users online.

For example, when you use Google+ you only communicate and share information with the people in your Google+ Circles. Yes you can always add new users to your circles you want to follow, communicate and share information with but we often end up then picking and choosing what users to allow in and they are often people we already know. For example, I don’t friend anyone on Facebook I don’t know personally as I don’t want strangers seeing my personal profile with all my information.  However, at the same time there may be some people I don’t already know who I might like to get to know that I never would if I don’t send them friend requests. Depending on the social network you use you may not even be allowed to send a friend request to another user unless you indicate you know the person already. For example, with the professional social networking service LinkedIn if you want to add  a contact you have to indicate how you know the person and if you don’t you might not be allowed to add them. For privacy reasons this could seem like a good idea but if all social networks employ this feature it could make it harder to meet new people and make new friends. Social networking will only be about interacting with your existing friends. When you share something on Facebook all your friends get to see it you can’t pick and choose when posting to your Wall which Facebook friends get to access your post. Anyone your friends with on Facebook can view your post then if its not intended for them. One thing nice about Google+ is you can pick and choose which one of your circles you want to share information with when you make your posts private. That way you can choose which friends of yours on Google+ can view your posts if you have three or four friends for example in only one circle, and another three or four friends in a separate circle depending on which circle you choose only the friends you have in that circle can view your posts.

Now another disadvantage in using social networks is that they make online privacy a luxury that is unavailable to users.  You see social networks can make your personal information freely and easily available to anyone online resulting in more of our personal information potentially becoming publicly available online. This raises the question among privacy conscious users are social networks safe? That is an important question that certainly needs addressing especially as users updating their social network status wirelessly using mobile devices check-in to public locations with wireless access and add geo-location data to their posts to tell people where they are. Now what do web companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn do with your personal information when they get it? They use it to deliver personally relevant and targeted advertising to you. Their not just personalizing services for your benefit but so they can deliver more relevant ads to you as they are in business to make money.

Historically we have always had corporate gatekeepers in our media. At one time we had a corporate gatekeeper AT&T’s Ma Bell monopoly for our wire-line phone communications but AT&T’s monopoly was broken in 1984 to provide more competition and consumers more choice. Unfortunately we are starting to have corporate gatekeepers standing in the way of our communications again in the Internet era with AT&T allowed in the 2000s to reconstitute the Ma Bell monopoly which is on the verge of creating a Ma Cell monopoly for the wireless market with their T Mobil USA and Qualcomm mergers. However, the gatekeepers in our media have typically been human editors. On the web as these filter bubbles emerge we are seeing that the new gatekeepers are algorithmic in nature and are web based automated robots. So the new gatekeepers for the Web are electronic algorithms and the filter bubbles coming up that they moderate are invisible to us. They are automatically personalizing our web search results and other information we access on the web without our permission or knowledge. Even if they were human editors the point of the open internet was to get rid of gatekeepers so we can have open and universal access to media and communications which we could freely use. Even if you perform Google web searches when signed out of Google they can still find out what web browser, computer or mobile device your using and what your location is and then use that information to personalize your web search results.  Websites can install tracking cookies typically associated with advertising to track who in their network of advertisers a user visits. So if I visit Yahoo.com then Yahoo could put  tracking cookie on my computer to find out if I visit other sites affiliated with them that is other sites in their network that often have advertising.  So these web companies even when you don’t sign in to their sites can still get information about you and use it to personalize your results. As a result users trying to stay out of the new filter bubbles may have a hard time doing so. The single greatest thing we can do is spread awareness of the issue and empower users to be more cautious sharing information about themselves with social networking sites.