Blog: Miracles for Sale – Lazlo Ferran

This week: Facebook privacy, FREE Offers, building a social network, OCD Update and Formula One.

I haven’t actually seen the film Miracles for Sale from 1939, but having read the synopsis, I want to see it. The reason for my choice of title will become clearer if you read the section on Facebook privacy. Because You’re Worth It might have been a more appropriate choice of film title but the 2002, made for TV film has no reviews and no actors in it.

Facebook Privacy
Now I am making some progress with my project to build my own Social Network, I have to start thinking about I handle data and specifically how to keep member’s data private. Privacy is a huge issue these days; when I asked a friend for his views he told me he had joined over ten networks and that people are into privacy these days. I think he’s right. People don’t want to share their personal information with anyone but their closest friends. The problem is that Facebook is doing exactly that.

If you log in to Facebook and then click the drop down to select your Privacy settings you will see a menu on the far left which includes Apps and Ads. I suggest you turn off any aps you don’t use (I found many here listed which I never use) but for now click on Ads. At the bottom you will find a sub section: Website and Mobile App Custom Audiences.
Read this. So how does Facebook get away with this? Simples: they are very open about it.

But are they? If you click on the Learn more link in the first bullet point (it’s not very obvious because they have used a dark blue highlight with black text) you will see a video that explains how Online Behavioural Advertising works. Its all pretty simple and we know the theory behind it; by sharing some of your data with advertisers, Facebook allows the advertisers to place adverts in front of you if they think you might buy their products. In the process Facebook makes shit-loads of cash. Nothing new there.

However, Facebook is keen to point out they don’t share any of your Private Data. They only share your public data. In actual fact I found Facebook’s link didn’t work but a quick google located the website they refer to: http://www.iabuk.net/.

I was curious. This websites didn’t seem aimed at the general public but more at advertisers; they constantly talk about ‘they’ and ‘them’ when referring to the public who are viewing the adverts. It seems like another world from social networks so I hunted around and found this video: http://www.iabuk.net/video/the-evolution-of-online-display-advertising.

This is much more interesting than the first video. I had the uncomfortable feeling while watching it that I was being given the hard sell for the concept of the Ad Exchange. I didn’t really understand what it was other than a network of people sharing your personal data. I needed to do more research.

I won’t go into technical details but it seems to me that what Facebook and the Ad Exchange do is share your IP address which they consider NOT to be your Private Data. They consider this Public Data. This is because from a techy point of view, they processes simply won’t work unless they share your IP address (essentially the physical address of your computer). While it’s true that they are not connecting your browsing habits with your name, they ARE connecting them with your computer so to me, the difference between your IP address and personal name is academic. Sure somebody else could be using your pc/mac/laptop but most of the time it will be you.

I suspected as much because recently a friend of mine was caught in a retail scam and when she contacted them they managed somehow to connect her with her blog posts criticising them even though she used a false name on the blog. There is only one way they could have done this; if her IP address was shared.

Thus it looks like they have hidden a declaration of what they do beneath layer upon layer of jargon. Paradoxically it looks like the older process or infrastructure called the Ad Network is more transparent and fairer; there the advertiser buys advertisisng space on a website and trusts the publisher (usually the owner of the website) to publish their advert for them. In this process the advertiser never sees any data about you until you browse or buy their products.

While thinking about how to use RDF on my Social Network I had started to wonder how I was going to share the triples while (which is a fundamental part of the RDF paradigm) and now I have decided to develop a system along the Ad Network model.

Free Offers
Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate is still FREE on Amazon until 5 November for Halloween.
Attack Hitler’s Bunker! will be FREE on Amazon from 6-10 November. This will be its first free promotion so make sure you grab a free copy.

Building a Social Network
This week I had to choose a triple store for my data. It has taken me a few weeks to think about this because it was not clear to me how one can legally or morally share data in an RDF world although the world of triples is one of sharing data. I want to contribute to the Global Graph so I needed RDF. In the end I settled on MongoDB. It’s slow (according to reviewers) at inserting triple data but this doesn’t matter to me. My primary store is MySQL and I only need to run a daily cron to update the triple store. However, MongoDB is quick to query and more versatile if I later choose to build some commercial tools. Note: I will DEFINATELY NOT be sharing members’ Private Data of my members. So if you are one of those already in the test group, don’t worry!
Since installing the triple store (thanks MongoDB makers – your instructions were wrong and caused me problems for a few hours!) I have focused on building a Facebook Ap. That is about all I am prepared to say about this for now. It’s proving a bit tricky to achieve what I want but for those of you who are interested, I will keep you updated.

OCD Update
For those of you not aware, I have suffered from OCD for the last 18 years. After a six-month period of private Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) last year, ending in November, I pursued a plan devised by myself and refined by my therapist for the next six months. My fear is of dust and germs and my flat had become difficult for me to clean. My plan was to employ a regular cleaner and this worked for a while. But then I was made redundant. SInce then I have had to make do with cleaning myself. I must admit, there has been little improvement in my OCD since then. I talked to my doctor about it and we agreed that I should apply for more treatment on the NHS. I was placed in a queue and my first appointment is on the 6 November. I will let you know how I get on.
On the same subject, there were two tv shows on OCD this week; one focusing on patients at a treatment centre and one on OCD sufferers being used to clean the flats of people who simply don’t clean. I didn’t catch the second but the first was interesting. One sufferer called James seemed to suddenly gain control of his OCD through a fairly simple exposure exercise. For those not familiar with the term, one of the techniques used in CBT is exposure; making the sufferer touch something they don’t want to touch and then not applying their normal rituals to counter the effect. I am very happy for James that he made progress so quickly. I found it quite moving I did note that OCD can look amusing to the casual viewer. One case I have heard of was a sufferer who was convinced they caused road accidents wherever they drove and so had to loop back to check the roads all the time. Their journeys took a very long time to complete.

Formula One
I am even sadder that Mark Webber will be retiring this year. He has been a very underrated driver and has suffered while at Red Bull. Their constant pushing Vettel forward and holding Webber back has curtailed a promising career. I am not normally a conspiracy theorist but I do wonder why it is that Mark always gets the technical issues. Why on earth wasn’t his KERS turned on and charged when on the grid last Sunday?

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