Facebook Change Ensures Tracking by Preventing URL Stripping

At least with a business you have the option to go somewhere else. But I’ve noticed a trend for public agencies to use Facebook (or sometimes Twitter) as their sole means of communicating time-critical information. For example, my kids’ school now routinely sends urgent information about closures (from floods, Covid, etc.) via Facebook only. And during our recent devastating floods in the area of Australia where I live, our state government emergency rescue service gave updates via Facebook and Twitter only. There’s something very troubling about government agencies requiring individuals to sign up with a toxic private company in order to receive crucial information.

Whatever happened to RSS - that used to be a great way to receive time-critical updates without being tied to a specific platform?

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Agreed—that is even more troubling, especially since then it’s up to the Facebook algorithm to decide whether some piece of urgent information should actually be shared with a user or not.

Where I live, we have an emergency notification system that lets you choose how you want to get the notifications, email, text, or phone. It works well and lets you choose what sorts of notifications you want as well, though it can still warn more often than one might want.

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I agree with all of the above. At least you can look at Twitter without singing in (that might be for just a specific post, I can’t recall). The most disturbing example of this I’ve come across is Facebook’s commenting system. If you want to leave a comment on a post, that whole system is implemented/hosted by Facebook. Duck Duck Go security won’t even display it, since it’s a privacy risk. In this case (and others) there’s no place else to go. No alternative.

The most alarming example I’ve seen of this on Consumer Reports’ website. Their commenting system is Facebook’s. I contacted CR about it, and actually did get responses from them, but they don’t acknowledge that it’s a security risk. Or that it gives the impression that they’re in bed with Facebook.

My faith in everything dropped even lower that day.

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“ You may think you’re safe from Twitter’s constant snooping if you never use it. Unfortunately, this is not true and Twitter can collect information about you even if you’ve never created an account on the platform. The company has agreements with other websites that embed tweets and use Twitter in other ways. Through these agreements, Twitter can track activity, even of those who don’t use their service.

When you visit a website that has an agreement with Twitter, the company receives a treasure trove of information about you. For instance, using your IP address, Twitter can gain an accurate idea of where you are located, which may reveal where you live or work.

Twitter will also know the website you came from before landing on the referring website. When you leave the site, Twitter might know where you went. If you allow cookies in your browser, your web activity may be tracked well beyond the next website. Twitter uses your inferred identity to personalize your experience in terms of the content and ads you see on its platform.”

And there is the chance that if Elon Musk does end up buying Twitter, their policies will change. Maybe not for the better:

Twitter to Pay $150 Million Privacy Fine as Elon Musk Deal Looms:

There are many companies that pay people to post good and bad reviews on websites. Good for their own products and services, bad for competitors.

And Amazon has Vine, its own in-house service. It looks like it’s not quite as terribly creepy, but creepy still

I always take online reviews with a big grain of salt. I stick with the Wirecutter, Consumer Reports, as well as TidBITS and this forum.

All this is true.The problem is often that the person sending out those updates isn’t very technically proficient, but they do know how to use Facebook, so that’s what they gravitate toward. They also may not have access to the technical resources to do anything else, like start an organizational status blog. Similarly, a lot of the consumers of that information will only consume it via Facebook.

Yes, I also participate on Facebook and LinkedIn for the “network effect,” i.e, because that’s where other people are.

What’s the alternative?

It’s a good question…I think the major services are so intertwined with so much else (as others here have bemoaned) that there isn’t really an alternative that works as well for that base functionality. I mean there are plenty of alternative platforms but, as you said, the majority of folks aren’t there so theiris effectiveness is limited.

I guess everyone has a different optimal solution to the same problem. The sense I get from the discussion above is that everyone benefits from social media differently; it may make sense for one to use social media, and not for another person.

My thoughts were influenced by Cal Newport’s work Digital Minimalism. I am one of those people he described who left social media platforms and never returned. For those who still value social media, he suggested techniques such as:

  • having a “terms of reference” for the platforms one uses - specifying clearly what one wants to achieve by using social media - and limit one’s activities accordingly
  • not get involved in addictions to approval e.g. constantly giving and seeking likes; and
  • structure one’s time so that one can have a break and surf on social media, but not to the extent that it disrupts one’s life.

I find my optimal outcome by forgoing social media and focus on one-on-one communication (messaging, emails), “traditional media” e.g. email newsletters, and direct engagement in healthy online communities e.g. TidBITS whose interests and incentives align with mine.

I mentioned in a post above that I have not become less employable. I find that the (actual, in-person) human networks work much better than platforms such as LinkedIn. Some jobs are not advertised; some companies can create posts for you if they want you badly or have plans for you; attending conferences, giving goodwill/pro-bono consulting and hosting workshops/clinics work much better in forming networks and cultivating professional relationships. Of course, social media can be included as part of the process, but it is a means to an end, not the end itself; I just happened not to use social media.

I think it is more rewarding (psychologically and perhaps financially) to pursue such opportunities than ‘connecting’ on social media platforms, which has an ephemeral feel to it.

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 have a long, complex, and unique password for their Facebook account and that such password is stored 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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