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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told a live audience yesterday that if he were to create Facebook again today, user information would by default be public, not private as it was for years until the company changed dramatically in December.

In a six-minute interview on stage with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, Zuckerberg spent 60 seconds talking about Facebook's privacy policies. His statements were of major importance for the world's largest social network - and his arguments in favor of an about-face on privacy deserve c
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lose scrutiny.

Zuckerberg offered roughly 8 sentences in response to Arrington's question about where privacy was going on Facebook and around the web. The question was referencing the changes Facebook underwent last month. Your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, Friends List, and all the pages you subscribe to are now publicly available information on Facebook. This means everyone on the web can see it; it is searchable. I'll post Zuckerberg's sentences on their own first, then follow up with the questions they raise in my mind. You can also watch the video below, the privacy part we transcribe is from 3:00 to 4:00.

"When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was 'why would I want to put any information on the Internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?'

"And then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

"We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.

"A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they've built, doing a privacy change - doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner's mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it."

That's Not a Believable Explanation

This is a radical change from the way that Zuckerberg pounded on the importance of user privacy for years. That your information would only be visible to the people you accept as friends was fundamental to the DNA of the social network that hundreds of millions of people have joined over these past few years. Privacy control, he told me less than 2 years ago, is "the vector around which Facebook operates."

I don't buy Zuckerberg's argument that Facebook is now only reflecting the changes that society is undergoing. I think Facebook itself is a major agent of social change and by acting otherwise Zuckerberg is being arrogant and condescending.

Perhaps the new privacy controls will prove sufficient. Perhaps Facebook's pushing our culture away from privacy will end up being a good thing. The way the company is going about it makes me very uncomfortable, though, and some of the changes are clearly bad. It is clearly bad to no longer allow people to keep the pages they subscribe to private on Facebook.

This major reversal, backed-up by superficial explanations, makes me wonder if Facebook's changing philosophies about privacy are just convenient stories to tell while the company shifts its strategy to exert control over the future of the web.

Facebook's Different Stories

First the company kept user data siloed inside its site alone, saying that a high degree of user privacy would make users comfortable enough to share more information with a smaller number of trusted people.

Now that it has 350 million people signed up and connected to their friends and family in a way they never have been before - now Facebook decides that the initial, privacy-centric, contract with users is out of date. That users actually want to share openly, with the world at large, and incidentally (as Facebook's Director of Public Policy Barry Schnitt told me in December) that it's time for increased pageviews and advertising revenue, too.

The Flimsy Evidence

What makes Facebook think the world is becoming more public and less private? Zuckerberg cites the rise of blogging "and all these different services that have people sharing all this information." That last part must mean Twitter, right? But blogging is tiny compared to Facebook! It's made a big impact on the world, but only because it perhaps doubled or tripled the small percentage of people online who publish long-form text content. Not very many people write blogs, almost everyone is on Facebook.

Facebook's Barry Schnitt told us last month that he too believes the world is becoming more open and his evidence is Twitter, MySpace, comments posted to newspaper websites and the rise of Reality TV.

But Facebook is bigger and is growing much faster than all of those other things. Do they really expect us to believe that the popularity of reality TV is evidence that users want their Facebook friends lists and fan pages made permanently public? Why cite those kinds phenomena as evidence that the red hot social network needs to change its ways?

The company's justifications of the claim that they are reflecting broader social trends just aren't credible. A much more believable explanation is that Facebook wants user information to be made public and so they "just went for it," to use Zuckerberg's words from yesterday.

(Why didn't Arrington press Zuckerberg on stage about this? The rise of blogging is evidence that Facebook needs to change its fundamental stance on privacy?)

This is Very Important

Facebook allows everyday people to share the minutia of their daily lives with trusted friends and family, to easily distribute photos and videos - if you use it regularly you know how it has made a very real impact on families and social groups that used to communicate very infrequently. Accessible social networking technology changes communication between people in a way similar to if not as intensely as the introduction of the telephone and the printing press. It changes the fabric of peoples' lives together. 350 million people signed up for Facebook under the belief their information could be shared just between trusted friends. Now the company says that's old news, that people are changing. I don't believe it.

I think Facebook is just saying that because that's what it wants to be true.

Whether less privacy is good or bad is another matter, the change of the contract with users based on feigned concern for users' desires is offensive and makes any further moves by Facebook suspect.

Thanks to the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, it's a given that malicious hackers will devise ways to exploit the sites' numerous users in order to infect their computers with malware. This unwanted software is designed to do a number of terrible things ranging from identity theft to turning computer into remote-controllable "zombie" machines.

Without sufficient anti-virus and malware protection programs installed, so
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cial networking users can easily become victims to these ever-evolving attacks. However, the best way to avoid becoming a victim yourself is to be aware of what's out there and what sorts of things you should avoid. Below are the best practices which you should use on Facebook and Twitter in order to keep yourself safe.

The Problem with Malicious Links

One of the most common vectors for attacks are malicious links posted either to Twitter or to your Facebook wall. In the past, such as with the malware known as Kooface, the troublesome links could be easily identified because they would often use a consistent phrase followed by a URL. For example, in August, Koobface was posting links that read "my home video :)" which was followed by a URL and then a random component on the end such as "HA-HA-HA!!", "W.O.W.", "WOW", "L.O.L.", "LOL", ";)" or "OMFG!!!"

Although the end piece changed from tweet to tweet, the message itself remained the same. However, security researcher Costin Raiu of Kaspersky Lab tells us that easy-to-identify messages are not as common anymore. Today, it's much harder to identify malicious links thanks to two newer techniques being used by hackers. Below those two newer methods are described in more detail as is the tried-and-true method of spreading malware via email.

Method 1: Hijacking Twitter's Trending Topics

The first technique, which really became popular in August of this year, involves hackers creating Twitter new accounts and then posting messages related to whatever trending, or "hot," topic was being heavily discussed on Twitter at that time. This would allow the post to be aggregated in Twitter search results where unsuspecting users would click on the included link. The text accompanying the link would be intriguing to those interested in the subject, enticing them to click through.

Method 2: Hijacking Legitimate Accounts

The second technique involves infiltrating legitimate accounts through phishing attempts and other methods so that the hacker essentially has control over a "real" account. After control has been established, if on Twitter, the hacker will then tweet out links that redirect users to malware-infected sites. Because the tweets come from an account that already has an established set of followers, those reading the tweets assume it's safe and don't hesitate to click the links.

After infecting the account of a Facebook user, malware often uses that particular person's account to spread, too. As with the malicious links on Twitter, because it appears that the links posted are from a trusted friend, other users don't realize that the posted link is harmful.

On Facebook, one of the most problematic malware programs is Koobface, a particular type of malicious software that sees 20 to 30 new variations per day. Despite the number of variants out there, Koobface's M.O. is relatively consistent: it tricks people into clicking links. These links appear on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but also on MySpace, hi5, Bebo, Friendster, and others.

Method 3: Dangerous Email

A third method to encourage social networking users to click on infected links is the old but still effective technique of sending out spoofed email. Hackers can create email messages that appear to be sent from a social networking site. The messages prompt you to "update your account" or open an attachment containing your new password among other things.

Image Credit: Last Watchdog

Although many users are now wary of email, these techniques are still being seen in the wild, so it's clear that to some extent they still work.

How To Stay Safe

There are a number of best practices that you should follow in order to stay safe and avoid infection. They are as follows:

  1. Don't assume a link is "safe" because it's from a friend: As noted above, your friend's account may be infected. You should never assume that a link is safe just because a friend tweeted it or posted it to your wall. Use your common sense. If it doesn't sound like something they would say, be wary, don't click. If you're unsure, try to contact them through another channel and see if the link is legit.

  2. Don't assume Twitter links are safe because Twitter is now scanning for malware: In August, Twitter partnered with Google to use Google's Safe Browsing API, a technology that checks URLs against Google's blacklist. This prevents spammers from posting malicious URLs to Twitter, but it does NOT prevent them from posting shortened URLs which direct users to those same malicious sites. It's better than no protection at all, but it's not going to keep you entirely safe.

  3. Don't Assume Links are Safe: Earlier this year, Twitter's default URL-shortening service, began warning users of malware. also uses Google's Safe Browsing API along with two other blacklists to identify malicious links. Although the service doesn't prevent users from posting these links, it will warn upon clicking that the site being linked to is infected. However, as Raiu tells us, this is not 100% effective either. Kaspersky has identified a number of malicious links which did not block. However, you can assume that is generally safer than the other URL-shortening services because it uses this technology and because the hackers are generally avoiding this service at the moment because of its built-in protection. But it is not completely safe - nothing ever is.

  4. Use an up-to-date web browser: Kaspersky recommends using the latest version of your web browser and keeping it up-to-date with the necessary patches. That means Internet Explorer users should be on IE8 - and since this browser is attacked the most, it's critical that you make sure it stays updated as needed. Firefox is the second most attacked browser, but fortunately, it has a self-updating feature built in. Google Chrome is also good because it has a self-updating feature as well as another security feature that runs plugins in "sandboxes," or restricted environments. If an attacker was able to exploit the browser and run malicious code, it would be isolated to this sandbox and would not able to effect the entire machine. Opera and Safari are also good browsers and should be kept current, too.

  5. Keep Windows up-to-date: As always, Windows users should make sure their systems are current with the latest patches from Microsoft. Automatic updates should be turned on.

  6. Keep Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash up-to-date: At the moment, Adobe Reader and Flash are the two most targeted programs by hackers. A lot of malware specifically goes after known vulnerabilities within Adobe's software. In addition, a common method of attack, such as that used by Koobface, is to redirect a victim to a malware-infested site where the user is prompted to update their Flash player or Adobe Reader in order to see the website content. NEVER do this. Always go to Adobe's site on your own to download the latest version or update the software on your computer using its own built-in update mechanisms.

  7. Don't assume you're safe because you use a Mac: While it's true that Mac users are less targeted than Windows users, they are not immune to malware, despite what those commercials may say. Although Apple did include some malware protection in their latest operating system, it only protects users from two trojans; you cannot count on it alone to protect you. There are a couple of hundred of trojans currently in the wild that specifically target Mac machines, according to Kaspersky. In fact, there may even be as many as a thousand, but researchers are unable to identify all of them because Mac users don't typically run anti-virus software which is how much of the data is collected. These days, when a user clicks an infected link, the malicious web page will now sometimes identify whether that user is coming from a Windows or Mac machine and then display the appropriate version of the trojan accordingly. A particular family of trojans known as "DNS Changer" trojans are the most common ones used to attack Mac machines. The only way to really be sure that you're protected against these malicious programs is to run anti-malware software on your Mac, but most Mac users won't do so, preferring to take their chances since their risk is lower.

  8. Be wary of email messages from social networks: Because email addresses can be "spoofed" by hackers, you can't assume that an email from Facebook or Twitter is really from those the site it claims to be from. As always, you should never open attachments you were not expecting to receive and you should be wary of clicking on links - especially if you're being told to "update your account." If you do click on a link and are taken to a web page that asks you to log into the site, DON'T DO IT. It would be handing over your password to the hackers. Instead, you should always access the sites directly by typing in their URL in your browser or clicking a saved link in your Favorites.

It's Not Just a Matter of Common Sense Anymore

As the above best practices show, a lot of the things you can do to protect yourself from malware are the same as they have been in the past - keep your computer and browser up-to-date, don't open attachments, etc. However, malware is trickier to identify these days thanks to social networking sites. It now uses the trusted identities of your friends in order to lull its victims into a false sense of safety. You can no longer simply assume that because someone you know posted a link, it's automatically safe. You can't even assume that the networks themselves are safe, either. They're not always scanned for malware-laden links, and when they are, such as is the case with Twitter, it's not a 100% effective method.

Security researchers are actively working on better ways to fight this problem - for example, Kaspersky just announced their "Krab Krawler" project which will help keep their blacklists current by scanning for malicious links on Twitter, but it's not a tool that end-users can download to protect themselves; it's only one of many methods that security firms use to collect data about the malware on the internet. The best way to stay safe is to follow through with all the best practices - not just one or two. Malware isn't ever going away, so everyone must do their own part in order to stay safe on the web.

We promise to refrain from any cynicism about the survey results we receive. That said the surveys are sometimes misleading, looking for a public relations hit. Hope that isn't too cynical but the results of a Citibank commissioned survey about small business use of social media makes us wonder.

Citibank and GfK Roper conducted the survey. GfK Roper interviewed 500 small business people over the phone. The businesses had fewer than 100 employees. They were drawn from a database and segmented by SIC code. Segments included manufacturing/construction,
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transportation and communication, wholesale/retail, financial services and professional services.


Here's what's frustrating. No doubt the results are accurate. It would be far more astonishing if the totals were much higher than what the survey reported. The problem is the survey results come from a much larger study commissioned by Citibank about small business and the recession.

What Citibank repors about social media is just a small set of data that was part of a much larger questionnaire concerning small business and the recession. As a result, the survey has little depth about how small businesses are actually using social media.

Here's an example of what the survey reported. For instance, they say that social networks are not lead generators for small businesses.

Again, it is no big surprise that social media represents a smaller part of the pie. Here's what we do find interesting. The fact that small businesses are beginning to see the value of using social media for generating leads. A full 12% of the people said they use these social networks for that purpose. Using these social networks for generating leads is pretty experimental at this point. The fact that 12% are doing it at all is impressive.

What this survey lacks is substance. We know that few small businesses are participating in social media. We are still in the growing phase. How does this data compare year- to-year? This survey does not have that information.

What would be more interesting is a detailed look at how small business people conduct themselves online with questions that go in-depth into work habits and knowledge about social media.

The reality is we see a lot of innovation in how small businesses use social media. We see it growing by leaps and bounds. Compare it year-to-year and we would expect the picture would be a bit different.

The examples of how small businesses use social media are all around us. The food carts are awesome in my hometown of Portland, Or. @koifusionpdx is a Korean taco truck that tweets where it is going. They always have lines when they tweet where they are or where they plan to be. Another Korean taco truck in LA has had similar success. I could come up with dozens of other examples.

We show that just so it is on the record that there is a lot of life out there in how small businesses use social media.There are so many questions that can be asked in a survey to get a far more detailed view about the market.

I asked for an interview with Citibank about the survey results. No one was available today but I did get this email reply from a PR person:

As the survey stats show 3/4 of small business owners are not using social media to grow their business, but the survey also shows that 24% are using it, so you are right - it is a fact that companies are starting to use it, which is great as it's a great way to grow a business.

He goes on to say that the results were picked out of a far larger survey about small business and the recession.

So, the survey about social media was really not even intended to be in-depth at all. Instead, they segmented the data about social media out of the larger survey and crafted a press release with a tabloid headline: "Citibank Survey Reveals Small Businesses Not Joining Social Media Conversation"

It does not get much better. The press release quotes a senior executive who states:

Our survey suggests that small business owners are still feeling their way into social media, particularly when it comes to using these tools to grow their businesses," said Maria Veltre, Executive Vice President of Citi's Small Business Segment. "While social media can provide additional channels to network and help grow a business, many small businesses may not have the manpower or the time required take advantage of them."

Her statement reflects little understanding of social media. Yes, small businesses are still feeling their way with social media. This can also be said for some of the largest businesses in the world. Further, Veltre states that businesses may not have the manpower or the time. That does not appear to be a quantified statement, again reflecting the survey's lack of depth. In addition, the quote from Veltre makes her look like she knows little about how social media is even applied.

We checked into the Citibank web site to see how they are using social media. The site does not even have an RSS feed as far as we can tell.

They have no links to Twitter or Facebook. They do have a sparsely detailed Facebook fan page with 525 members. Doesn't that seem like a tiny number of people considering they are the third largest retail bank in the United States?

They have almost no presence on Twitter. I thought I had found the Twitter account for the bank but I am updating with what looks like it could be the real thing. But I don't know. They have such little presence on the social web that it is hard to tell. Even so, this Twitter feed is just aggregated Google News alerts. Is that it?

What a disappointment. We are told that Citibank will do a more detailed look at how small business uses social media. We sure hope so. For these results say very little about social media and its adoption in the small business market.

The 3.5 release of ThoughtFarmer, the self-titled "social intranet software," adds the kind of features that fully embody their strategy: incremental changes to encourage collaboration.

ThoughtFarmer has quietly been working to build an intranet that really meets of the needs of enterprise, especially designers of all stripes. True to its name, the software combines all the hallmarks of an old school intranet with a comprehensive set of social features, including blogs, wikis, activity streams, and status updates (among others).
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Now, a hierarchical intranet with a Microsoft back-end may not be quite as sexy as, say, Jive's social business software. But consider where some of the larger enterprises ThoughtFarmer has served are coming from.

In the case of eHarmony, a 250-person team was using WordPress as an intranet. If the company behind one of the largest dating sites on the web is using that, just imagine what smaller shops might be limping along with. In cases like these, a solution like ThoughtFarmer is a godsend indeed.

There are two standout new additions to the ThoughtFarmer 3.5, DiscussionCapture and a dynamically-generated employee directory.

The first is a step towards solving a common problem in the enterprise: the employee who, no matter how much they are goaded, consistently fails to leave the black hole that is the email inbox, stopping collaboration in its tracks.

By battling with the notoriously thorny Exchange server APIs, DiscussionCapture automatically creates pages from threads in an email distribution list. This turns your emails in to a searchable knowledge base for those who're comfortable in a more social work environment. What's more, distributions lists can be managed from within ThoughtFarmer by anyone, circumventing IT and Exchange altogether.

The story behind DiscussionCapture is indicative of the way ThoughtFarmer thinks.

IDEO, a leading design consultancy, asked them specifically for this functionality, and a strategic partnership between the two saw it become a reality. When the makers of a turnkey solution looks to the people actually using their software as chief inspiration for new features, you can feel good about buying that perpetual license.

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