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.
Thanks,
Will
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.

Are You Putting Your WordPress Site at Risk?

WordPress as a platform has been a solid, secure application over the years. The few times a vulnerability has been found, the WP team has been super-fast to patch it, publicize it, and take care of business.

That said, there are two major areas where WordPress lacks in security:

1. Plugins

2. Administrators

There are so many plugins for WordPress, which is part of what makes it so great. However, those plugins can also present attack vectors, and we see evidence of this almost every day.

It was just revealed that most WP users have very little understanding of the risk they are lending to their own websites. Not updating plugins, not updating WP itself, and not doing backups, are the most easily fixed things that people tend to not do.

This puts WP websites at risk, lets them get hacked, and gives WordPress as a whole a bad wrap.

The survey of 503 WordPress users, which took place online during February this year, revealed that WordPress users are more exposed to security problems than expected. In total, 54 percent of respondents said they updated WordPress between once a week and every few weeks, and yet only 24 percent back their websites up — and only 23 percent have received training in the use of tools such as backup plugins.

ZDNet

On that note, I thought I’d mention that the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress, Yoast’s WP SEO, has a new, major vulnerability in it. GO UPDATE!