What Does Facebook Know About You?

More than you probably thought possible.

A recently released study shows that computer-based personality judgements are more accurate than those made by humans.

This study compares the accuracy of personality judgment—a ubiquitous and important social-cognitive activity—between computer models and humans. Using several criteria, we show that computers’ judgments of people’s personalities based on their digital footprints are more accurate and valid than judgments made by their close others or acquaintances (friends, family, spouse, colleagues, etc.). Our findings highlight that people’s personalities can be predicted automatically and without involving human social-cognitive skills.

spy photoBy analyzing 150 of your “Likes” on Facebook, a computer can figure you out with more accuracy than your closest family members. Maybe it’s time to go back and see all the things you’ve chosen to “Like” on Facebook.

This is more important than it seems at first glance. You may think that it doesn’t matter what Facebook thinks about you. While that is debatable (and probably wrong), it’s what this data can be used against you for that is concerning.

Per a Newseek article about this study, one of the study’s authors talks about it:

…there are also dangers to having machines that can judge people’s personalities and emotional states, says Kosinski. “Like any other technology, this technology is morally neutral, but it can be used for a bad purpose,” he says. “For example, knowledge of psychological traits can help me exert influence over you.” The risk, he says, is that people will lose trust in cellphones and online environments, which is why he believes people should be given control over their own data and the authority to decide whether it will be shared with certain companies.

What you “Like” is only one aspect of the data that Facebook collects about you. It’s easy to overlook the fact that Facebook is watching and learning about you when you are not even using Facebook. Considering that millions of people don’t even know that Facebook is part of the Internet, this is quite profound.


Photo by JeepersMedia

NordVPN’s Bait and Switch

The old bait and switch: promise you one thing and sell you another. That’s what happened when I signed up for a year of VPN service through NordVPN. Their website said:

Easiest VPN Ever. To get on NordVPN, just click and go. NordVPN’s secure VPN software takes care of all the hard stuff so you can focus on fun stuff. And work stuff, if you have to.”

Their imagery showed multiple devices running their software, including phones and laptops.

I had read about their service and took the plunge. After I had paid, I found out they do not have an app for Mac OS X or Android. Those apps are supposedly coming soon, but not yet. For now, you have to download a third-party app for each device, download a bunch of configuration files, install said configuration files, configure a bunch of things, remember your username and password for each configuration file, and then figure out what is going on and whether or not you are actually connected.

To be fair, they do have instructions on how to do all of this, but it is far from “Easiest VPN Ever.” Every other VPN app I have used is a simple app you download and click a button to get going with.

I chatted with NordVPN’s technical support guy, “Dave,” who informed me that of their refund policy, which states that unless their product did not work for a fault of their own, I could not get a refund for my money. All he could do was extend my subscription by 3 months.

(01:30:40) David: if the service does not work we will issue a refund.
(01:31:17) Visitor 34392357: that is my point – it doesn’t work as you advertise it. it only works through a lengthy process of installing other software.

I would argue that their product does not work as advertised and I am entitled to a refund. In fact, it’s not even their product I am using — I am using something called “Tunnelblick” on my Mac, and an app called OpenVPN on my Android phone to connect to the NordVPN servers.

In summary, the bait was the promise of an easy to use VPN app. The switch was not even having an app for me to use.

Spies Like Us

We have one network in the world today. Either we build our communications infrastructure for surveillance, or we build it for security. Either everyone gets to spy, or no one gets to spy. That’s our choice, with the Internet, with cell phone networks, with everything.

How true.

TrueCar.com Violates the CAN-SPAM Act

Update 4.23.15: I received a promotional email (spam) from TrueCar.com today, even after I was assured that they had unsubscribed me! I let them know by responding to their tweet from 3.31. They asked me to DM them about it, and they requested me to forward the email I received so that they could investigate an apparent “bug” in their system. The person on the other end of the twitterator said they I was indeed unsubscribed, so they weren’t sure what was going on. I’ll keep you all posted!

Update 3.31.15: TrueCar tweeted me today, saying that the issue I describe below is a display issue of some sort. They assured me that I was in fact unsubscribed from their email communications.

Thanks for looking into the matter, TrueCar.com!


I run across this sort of thing all the time: companies that violate the rules of the US CAN-SPAM act, the law that is intended to protect consumers from unwanted email. If I have time, I stop to email companies I find violating the law to kindly point out what they are doing wrong. Call it some sort of self-satisfaction, Robin Hood vigilantism, or pure geekish annoyance, but I can’t help myself sometimes. Here’s one I sent today to TrueCar.com.

To: feedback@truecar.com
Subject: True Care website feedback

Hi, I noticed that when I go to “Subscriptions” in my profile, there is an issue with unsubscribing from emails.

If I uncheck all subscription options, then check “Unsubscribe from all,” then click the Save Changes button, it says my options have been saved.
However, if I go to another page and return to “Subscriptions,” the “In-stock offers from your dealers” button is checked again. How is that “Unsubscribing from all?”
You guys might want to fix that, as it violates the US CAN-SPAM act.
Sneakily re-subscribing me to a category of emails, after I have specifically opted not to be a part of it anymore, is blatantly in violation of the CAN-SPAM act. Particularly, the part that says, “You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you.”
Yes, they include that option, but it doesn’t seem to fully work.
I will let y’all know if I hear anything back.

Why I Left Facebook For Good

I have quit Facebook for good, in case you came here trying to find out what’s up. Why have I done this?

Facebook made changes to their user agreement on January 30, and I don’t feel OK about them at all. This article, Get Your Loved Ones Off Facebook, factually sums up everything Facebook can do, and does do, with the information it collects about you, and it might give you the same uneasy feeling it gave me.

The information grabbing and sharing Facebook does reaches far and deep, and it’s not limited to what you do while on Facebook itself. Anything you do anywhere on the Internet where a Facebook Like button is present reports your activity back to Facebook. And that means just about everywhere.

“I have nothing to hide”, you say?

The issue here isn’t what we have to hide, it’s maintaining an important right to our freedom — which is the right to privacy, and the right to have a say in how information about us is used. We’ve giving up those rights forever by using Facebook.

I want to quote the part of that article that gave me the biggest heebie-jeebies, because I know most of you won’t actually go read it yourselves. As of 3 days ago:

Facebook is demanding to track what you buy, and your financial information like bank account and credit card numbers. It’s already started sharing data with Mastercard. They’ll use the fact that you stayed on Facebook as “permission” to make deals with all kinds of banks and financial institutions to get your data from them. They’ll call it anonymous, but like they trick your friends to reveal your data to the third-parties with apps, they’ll create loopholes here too.

Facebook is also insisting to track your location via your phone’s GPS, everywhere and all the time. It’ll know extactly who you spend your time with. They’ll know your habits, they’ll know when you call in sick at work, but are really out bowling. “Sal likes 2pm Bowling at Secret Lanes.” They’ll know if you join an addict support group, or go to a psychiatrist, or a psychic, or a mistress. They’ll know how many times you’ve been to the doctor or hospital, and be able to share that with prospective insurers or employers. They’ll know when you’re secretly job hunting, and will sell your endorsement for job sites to your friends and colleagues — you’ll be revealed.

They’ll know everything that can be revealed by your location, and they’ll use it however they want to make a buck.

And — it’ll all be done retrospectively. If you stay on Facebook past January 30th, there’s nothing stopping all of your past location and financial data to get used. They’ll get your past location data from when your friends checked-in with you, and the GPS data stored in photos of you. They’ll pull your old financial records – that embarrasing medicine you bought with your credit card 5 years ago will be added to your profile to be used as Facebook chooses. It will be sold again and again, and likely used against you. It will be shared with governments and be freely available from loads of “third-party” companies who do nothing but sell personal data, and irreversibly eliminate your privacy.

There you have it. You can still find me here and on G+. For now.