Facebook Change Ensures Tracking by Preventing URL Stripping

Yes, this is a major reason that I use Facebook. In addition to these announcements, I also scrape the pages for contact information, birthdates, anniversaries, as well as names of (linked and tagged) extended family members and maiden names.

I’d think that posting one’s birthday and a link to one’s mother (who posts her maiden name) would be a huge risk for identity theft. I’d think that posting links to relatives and friends would be great information for phishing attacks. But until people wise up, I’m very happy to scrape all this information for my own (legal and ethical) personal purposes.

It really depends on who you choose to share this information with.

When I was using FB (many years ago), you could choose the amount of sharing, one of:

  • With nobody (for yourself only)
  • With your friends
  • With friends of your friends
  • With everybody

I think you could also prepare sub-lists of your friends and restrict items to a specific such list. (I know you could do that with messages you posted, but I don’t know about profile information.)

I made a point of restricting anything significant (e.g. relationships to others, birthdays, etc.) to only “with your friends”. People further away got information not usable for identity theft. For example “is married” instead of “is married to …”, and “xxx years old” instead of “birthday is month/day/year”.

I don’t know what the current system does, but I’d like to think that this hasn’t changed a whole lot.

Of course, FB itself has access to everything, whether or not you publish it to others. If you think they will abuse their access (e.g. giving the raw, non-aggregated data to data mining customers or government agencies), then you shouldn’t put the data up at all. I personally don’t trust them anymore, although I did many years ago when the site was still fun to use.

Unfortunately, such restrictions are meaningless for friends who do not (1) have a long, complex, and unique password for their Facebook account and (2) store such a password securely.

In my experience, I’m not confident that all my Facebook friends practice good password hygiene.

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Not participating? Was life really so bereft in the days of personal email and telephone calls? Sure, maybe you knew fewer details about the lives of people you don’t know well enough to actually converse with on a regular basis, but was that so bad?

I know lots of people whose regular activities (and even major life events) I don’t follow, and if I do have an opportunity to talk to them directly, catching up is a great way to fuel the conversation.

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Yes? I mean they’re both good for small-scale one on one interactions, but both fail at scaling up much beyond that. One of the nice senses I get with Facebook is of a community of friends to interact with (and who interact with each other) and keep in touch with on a daily basis, at varying levels. Some of it can be surface and intermittent, some of it can be more intensive. It’s like being in a neighborhood, where you interact with some people very closely and some people more sporadically, and also often as larger group.

You’re telling attendees at a neighborhood block party to go home and call each other on the phone.

And yes, there are a fair number of people in my life who I don’t know well enough for regular phone calls & emails, but who I get to “bump into” on Facebook every day. I think my life is richer for that.

I get that it doesn’t work for you, but it does for me – and apparently a fair number of other people.

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Different technologies for different purposes. I read (many years ago) about the four categories of communication that people use:

  • One-to-one (or small well-defined group to small well-defined group), short messages.

    For example, SMS text messages, iMessage, and quite a lot of other kinds of chat apps. I think you can include voice mail in this category as well.

  • One-to-one, large messages

    For example, e-mail and phone calls.

  • Large group, short messages

    This would include Twitter, Mastodon and many other similar systems.

  • Large group, large messages

    This include blogs, and public forums. Facebook belongs in this category as well.

    The most extreme example is probably Usenet, a distributed messaging system featuring thousands of “newsgroups”. Although not as popular as it once was, it still generates overr 170M posts per day and over 100TB per day of traffic.

Unfortunately, by their nature, “large group” services work best when they are popular enough that most people can be assumed to have an account. Presently, these are only Twitter and Facebook - other services aren’t big enough where users can expect all their acquaintances to also be on the service.

My proof is actual practice. I run a personal blog where I share stuff that interests me. Occasional long articles, but mostly links to articles I’ve found on-line shared with or without commentary. I think the blog has fewer than 10 subscribers and most articles don’t get more than 20-30 hits (with a few exceptional articles that got thousands of hits via search results). I’ve invited my friends and family to read it, but I think only two actually follow it.

I subscribe to many friends’ blogs (via their RSS feeds), and I see the same thing. A small group of 5-10 people who comment on posts and little more than that.

I have no doubt that if I shared the same articles on FB, they would be seen by 100x more people, simply because the site is big, friends there will be shown the messages without any special setup on their part, and they have a robust search/suggestion mechanism that will let strangers see the articles that I choose to share with the entire world. But I don’t get this kind of coverage because I don’t want to be involved with FB.

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Sure. All I’m saying is that there is no requirement for, as @Shamino’s next post notes, large group communications. Until the Internet, there were very few channels for such communications—things like alumni newsletters come to mind, along with letters in professional publications in particular fields. So if someone is wondering what the alternative is, one is simply not to play, at least when it comes to companies whose business practices and downstream effects damage society, like Facebook.

It turns out that I don’t feel as though my life is poorer for ignoring Facebook, so I have no problem reconciling my opinions about the company with my behavior. For those who either have no issues with Facebook’s effects on society or who feel the benefits outweigh the harms—at least for them personally—so be it. I may disagree with your choice and use my position to advocate for mine, but it’s always your choice to make.

The concept that I’m working on in my head is what I call “community media,” where the difference from standard social media is that the communications are intentionally limited to particular communities. Hence our encouragement of things like Slack for family discussions, Discourse for clubs and groups (like this one), and so on. I’ve also come to believe that for many communities, online communication should ideally be in the service of enabling and encouraging real-world engagement. That’s not possible with TidBITS Talk, obviously, though it was something we used to try to do at Macworld Expos. (And I just randomly met a TidBITS reader at a parkrun in Vancouver on Saturday!)

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Not really. There is quite a requirement for this. And you are running two such services.

TidBITS is a “large group large messages” service, with a few content creators publishing for a large number of readers.

TidBITS Talk is another such service, but with a large number of people publishing for each other.

Facebook has two key advantages that make people want to use it:

  • They are not specific to any subject or demographic. So everybody can find something of interest on the service.
  • They are the biggest. Having the most users, means that there is a very high likelihood that you will be able to communicate with people you know in real life as well as people you only know on-line.

There are other services that fit the first category, and anybody can start a competing service, should they choose to do so.

As for being the biggest, this makes them formidable but not unstoppable. There are other web sites that used to also be really big, that have fallen by the wayside over the years. Sites like MySpace, LiveJournal and GeoCities were all big, but became unpopular over time and either faded into obscurity or closed up shop altogether.

I don’t think FB/Meta is going to close up shop, because they have many business ventures beyond the Facebook web site (e.g. IoT, home automation, VR, and the Telecom Infra Project). But the FB web site absolutely depends on popularity in order to remain relevant. The younger generation has already moved on to other social media services and people in our generation have either already left or are getting increasingly disgruntled with them. Fading into obscurity is something I can easily see happening in a few years, especially if something new comes along, and there are always entrepreneurs who will be willing to jump in if an opening presents itself.

Likewise for Twitter. It became very popular because of the sheer number of businesses, politicians and celebrities who established a presence. But their recent policies of censoring opinions that the company disagrees with is driving many high profile users (especially the politically conservative, but not just them) to alternate platforms, which are growing rapidly. Will one of those platforms end up supplanting Twitter? Probably. Nothing lasts forever. If none of their current competitors take the lead, someone else will, eventually.

Facebook succeeds because of its pervasive use of algorithms that drive its users to use it more and more, in order to effectively monetize its base via advertising, etc. If some algorithms appeal to some users’ baser instincts, so be it–Zuckerberg don’t care.

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Here’s another example of services and content that thrives on Facebook:

Right—what I meant was that there’s no requirement that any particular individual participate in large group communication services. I have no problem with them existing in general. :slight_smile:

As I noted above, my bias is to limit the scope of a communication service to keep it bounded. That’s why we don’t talk about growing succulents or nutrition for masters athletes or cooking with cast iron here on TidBITS Talk, despite the fact that I’m interested in all three.

IIRC, MySpace and GeoCities did not allow members to use their real identities or to form or join groups, including groups of people around the world. Facebook evolved from FaceSmash because it has been has been all about building direct connections and collecting member data to the nth degree. Once FaceSmash morphed into Facebook and opened up membership to the world, members were, and are, able to locate and screen people they want to be Friends with anywhere in the world, and each member can decide who they want to connect and share information with or not. Facebook users can even do parties, play games, listen to concerts, etc. with Friends. It was not just living alone and blabbing in a vacuum in a City or in a MySpace where you might not ever even know any of the members.

As much as Facebook and Zuckerberg totally creep me out, it was a totally brilliant strategy that quickly enabled them to destroy the competition by collecting data that enabled THE most effective precision targeting for advertisers of all shapes and sizes across the globe. Recent young college dropout Zuckerberg, who had no publishing or advertising experience quickly aced MySpace that Rupert Murdoch and his publishing minions paid $580,000,000 for:

GeoCities never turned a profit and was sold to Yahoo for less than chicken feed. Yahoo put it out of its misery not long after.

And don’t forget AOL, who bought Bebo for a fortune to try and save itself from the onslaught of Facebook:

And that’s a perfectly reasonable approach — but it eliminates various kinds of social interactions where the conversation isn’t bounded like that. You might have limits on topics at a Mac users meeting, but something like that would never fly at a barbecue or a party or a meal with some friends.

There’s also fairly strong evidence that it’s not social media that is the prime driver of polarization, but television, specifically cable tv.

None of that is mutually exclusive. People can stop watching cable news at the same time as they’re deleting their FB accounts. I haven’t watched any of that garbage in well over a decade. Don’t think I’ve missed much.

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Sure, but, as the study points out, stopping the watching of cable news will actually have some effect as opposed to getting off social media, participating in which doesn’t seem to cause much political polarization.

Part of my problem is that many people do NOT have or use email. Good luck contacting someone in China by email; they live on WeChat.

Young people migrated to a combination of text messaging, Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok. (Yes, they left Facebook but they are still congregating at a social media water hole.)

Older people have disconnected their land line number and I don’t know their mobile number. Yes, I could ask them for their phone number using Facebook Messenger but it’s not easy. No one is really sure whether the user name contacting them is genuine or an imposter trying to phish or establish a social graph. People are understandably hesitant to respond to requests for personal information.

And, without a common (social media) water hole, it takes a lot of time and effort to make an equivalent number—dozens?—of one-on-one connections every day.

Recently I wrote an AppleScript application to automate birthday and anniversary greetings in part to lessen my reliance on Facebook. But even this automation takes a lot of time each morning to clean up email addresses that bounce and track down a new way of contacting people.

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Facebook is proactively preventing URL stripping, but they were OK with hosting content such as this until the police interceded:

“A Pennsylvania man was arrested on Thursday after police found multiple 5-gallon buckets of human remains in his basement and an investigation revealed that he was allegedly buying stolen body parts over Facebook, the East Pennsboro Township Police Department announced.”

I have tried to stay out of Facebook. When it first launched, I got a lot of invites which I declined. Gradually, I was lured into it, anyway. My school class anniversary, discussion and info from the flyfishers in my home river. Support from various companies.
Just today I capitulated and joined the Norwegian Facebook club for owners of Toyota HiLux. I had a technical question which I have tried searching the internet for an answer to for 10 years or more. Is the diesel “Power Heater” turned off by a thermostat or do I have to remember to turn it off and on? It took 5 minutes and I got the answer. It turns off at 60 C.
The problem is that I live in a country where the majority is naïve. Just this week it was discovered that our minister of justice is using TikTok!

Not to say that your particular question and answer actually exist in any of these sites, but a quick search in Brave turned up quite a few dedicated Toyota HiLux forums where you could have asked that question in the past and almost certainly received an answer. So while someone happened to ask/answer it on the Facebook group, that doesn’t speak to Facebook offering a general service that’s unique.

https://search.brave.com/search?q=Toyota+HiLux+diesel+“Power+Heater”+turned+off+by+a+thermostat&source=desktop

I have searched all those forums for years and also last week, before turning to Facebook. I even found answers to my question on several, but based on my knowledge in practical use found the answers to be wrong. This made me think maybe the model here up in the north, have a different solution. I have not found any Norwegian forum.

The decision to enter Facebook does not come lightly.

I even got the same wrong answer on the Norwegian Facebook group, but luckily also a good one, with the technology also explained by a second member of the group.

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