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Facebook just bought Instagram and now owns you

April 9th, 2012 No comments

**** UPDATES: See Bottom of Post *******

Facebook just bought Instagram for one billion dollars. What did they buy? An iOS/Android app that lets you apply ‘very quickly get tacky’ photo filters to your cell phone snaps?

Nah…ugly, hopelessly hipster photo-effects does not a billion dollar business make.

Did they buy a tool that lets users upload images to a free service and share those pics on Facebook and Twitter from their cell phones?

Nah… it’s not that hard to do.  Facebook and Twitter phone apps already support this functionality and that’s not worth one beeeeelyon dollars.

Well if they didn’t buy these two defining features of Instragram what did they pay a billion dollars for? Facebook paid a billion dollars to own more of you. Well, dear readers, I hope not literally you because I hope you, like me, were smart enough not to sign up for Instagram in the first place but a lot of other people did. A lot of people I sincerely respect as technologists did. Even a lot of real photographers I know did and, from day one, it baffled me.

Well, now the bill for the ‘free’ they enjoyed comes due.

Now, Facebook, who many ‘digerati‘  have managed to completely avoid (or, who, like me, regret joining and now try to manage more closely) owns all the information you uploaded to and shared on Instagram. No, they don’t own the copyright to your photos. They don’t even really own the metadata but they own you in the  l337 sense of the word ‘own’ or should I say p0wn you.

They’ve now dominated, defeated, fragged you and made you their… Well you get the idea.

Cameras, your phone cameras included, store  time, technical and often (usually on a phone) location metadata. Metadata is data about data. In this case, data about your pictures. Not just data that could be extrapolated with facial recognition or some other high tech fun, it’s simple and highly revealing data attached to the digital photo. It’s metadata uploaded right alongside the retro-sepia-lomo-shot of  your latest achievement in home canning. The metadata can often be extracted, aggregated and analyzed and, if it included GPS data (and again, on a cell phone camera, it usually does), you’re ‘checking in’ every time time you upload a picture.

All the metadata from GPS data you may have allowed to have stored and uploaded with your photos to whatever contexts you’ve shared them in, to the kinds of content you’re keen to photograph, to when you tend to take pictures to share. All of it. Owned.

The metadata Instagram have uploaded from your phone with your photos. The choices you’ve made about content. The pictures you took of every craft-brewed beer you’ve drunk. All of that is now in Facebook’s hands.

If you use Facebook, if you’ve shared your Instragram pics on Twitter, that’s all correlatable into one more-disturbing-than-you-can-likely-imagine profile of who you are, who you interact with, where you go, when you go there and, given the proclivities people have for the content of cell phone photos, what you eat, drink, smoke or otherwise ingest.

Now all that information is right there in the same mine-able cache of data along with everything you told Facebook about yourself, your friends and your family. And, worse yet, right in the mix along with everything your less than cautious friends might have decided they thought was ok to share about you.

“Big deal Jon you paranoid recluse, get a life!”

Oh yeah? Read this: This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy and when you’re done and you say “But Jon, I don’t check in with Foursquare and besides, they took down that nasty stalker app.”. Bzzt… wrong answer. No Winnebago for you.  No autographed picture of Randy Mantooth either. They know more, not less than you think.

A decision or an accident by Facebook that shows this data to anyone able to access your page and a web scrape will make a “Girls Around Me” level of resolution and tracking  easy work for for any serious but average developer. By serious but average I mean the guys who work in your employer’s IT department. The PI your soon to be ex-husband’s lawyer hires. The PI his lawyer uses to build his case in effort to use custody of the kids as a cudgel. The kid who gets mad at you, teacher, for failing his plagiarized term paper. The stalker with resources. Your political opponent. Anyone with, frankly not especially hard to come by, resources who wants to do you harm or who wants to look in a general geographical area for somebody to do harm.

Never forget dear readers, we’d all be much better off if we started thinking of our personal information as currency and our opinions as monetizable content. Even if you’re not worried about any of the above, and the truth is, really most of shouldn’t. All of this makes you more the target for advertisers including charities and political campaigns. It’s more information about you that search engines can use to skew what results you get to help support your preferemces, or preconceptions.

The real lesson here is, a free service to help you share your content isn’t free. It’s costing you every time you use it. Start choosing more carefully. Start taking more control of your data.

 

***UPDATES 4.11.12***

Check out Andy Ihnatko’s piece in the Chicago Sun Times

I’m told by a reliable source that Instagram defaults location data to “off”. I didn’t remember. While I do actually think that’s good behavior, I’d guess many users turn it on because they like the ability to define place as part of what they post. I know there’s a lot of EXIF and other photo metadata to be mined all over the web.  It’s also not an Instagram-only issue. The point above is that you should know what you reveal where.  See this post on Aperture’s lookups though that post isn’t about what you post but rather how Apple looks up location info from GPS coordinates.

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Macworld|iWorld thoughts and reminiscences

February 1st, 2012 No comments

Macworld|iWorld thoughts and reminiscences

There are several great articles reviewing last week’s Macworld|iWorld and I would urge you to read these two in particular:

Christopher Breen of Macworld.com’s “Macworld Expo is dead, long live Macworld | iWorld

And Ted Landau, of The MacObsserver’s “Macworld | iWorld Reinvents Itself

To those, I’d like to add this:

This year’s Macworld|iWorld was, and will be marvelous to me because it reminded me of QuickTime Live!

QuickTime Live! was managed by Paul Kent, the same person who’s been in charge of Macworld content for IDG for several years. QuickTime Live! was the drop-dead-best trade show experience I have ever had.

QuickTime Live! was a small event held, if I recall correctly, for three years before it was merged into and ultimately digested by WWWDC.

Sure, there were ‘vendor-driven’ how-to sessions (and some good ones too!) and there was an exposition hall with products and tools you could see, touch and discuss with their makers but the ‘expo’ was hardly the main thrust. The expo portion was sort of a ‘visual aid’ and a ‘chance to do some business’ but it was the sessions, the content and the social interaction that defined the show.

Sessions were great. Yes, some were WWDC-like in that they were ‘how-to’ sessions run by a tool-maker (including Apple). Sessions like those are important and happened and I think will continue to happen at Macworld|iWorld. But, and probably in part by dint of Apple’s QuickTime Team being smaller than Apple as a whole and, frankly, exceptionally kind and smart folk, there was a looseness, a comfort level in those sessions you rarely see at WWDC (except from Sal Soghoian  who always manages an epic, enlightening and endearing WWDC presentation)

WWWDC, is an Apple Developer Relations event. The conference is toeing the corporate line and has a *necessary* agenda about not just what but how. Apple isn’t typically inclined to get into matters of content and entertainment goals. They are there to teach and evangelize ways of working that advance the platform in specific ways. They are there to sell and teach at the same time. Apple’s WWDC audience is overtly the developer community and covertly the press and Wall Street. That’s not to say WWDC doesn’t have ‘fun’ but it’s always a managed sort of fun.

QuickTime Live! was special to me because the general thrust of the sessions was much more self-critical, self-effacing and, in many cases, driven by the theme of ‘project post mortem’. “Here was a project I worked on and here’s what I learned that might spare you some heartache” was the undercurrent of most of the sessions (and all of mine). People were honest about their experimentation. Presenters were keen to teach *and* learn.

QuickTime Live! (at its best) happened at The Beverly Hilton in LA and combination of Paul’s brilliant management setting the above general tone of the sessions and a quirk of architecture led to what I have called the “lobby bar phenomenon”.

The ‘lobby bar’ was just a bar with an adjacent ‘conversation pit’ where attendees used to informally convene share projects, ask advice, boast of success or admit failure. It was located in a way that, like Moscone West’s floor lobbies, all traffic had to flow past it.

The interaction in the lobby bar was social and it encouraged people to engage as peers. Yes there were parties. Yes there were Krispy Kreme Donuts in in the mornings but what happened there was an almost continuous collaborative conference session with fluid topics driven by what was just presented in a formal session moments before and what the community shared enthusiasm and interest in as it happened to just pop up. The communities and conversations formed around shared areas of interest and experience and they happened across industry, national and cultural boundaries.

QuickTime Live! was a profoundly special experience for me because it fostered meaningful community, knowledge sharing and a deep sense of camaraderie in the attendees. People I met taught me things, introduced me to people I later hired to consult on projects I was working on and, I hope, learned from the sessions I presented.

The QuickTime Developer community didn’t just go to see the latest toys and tools. We didn’t just go to take or teach a class in a technology or tool. We went to move relationships from virtual spaces (list-servs and web sites) to real face to face interaction. We went to spend time with like-minded people we liked and respected. We went to teach, learn and collaborate and have fun working. I do mean working. While there were parties at QuickTime Live!, they were hardly the main point.

We went with questions and came home with ideas.

The Macworld|iWorld I enjoyed this year embodied that spirit. You could feel it in the sessions, at the tables in each floor’s lobby at Moscone West. You could feel it at the musical performances, the art exhitions and at the sessions.

I saw people seated around tables in the lobbies really talking to each other. Saw them not just resting their pounding trade-show-feet or post Cirq Du Mac hangovers but talking, sharing, introducing each other . I ran into old friends, was introduced to new ones, connected with the faces to match the Twitter handles. I saw small companies showing their products. I was able to make designers and developers of those products smile genuinely when I told them what I loved about their products or react to what they demonstrated with feedback and ideas. I was able to ‘do some business’ on the show floor. I was able to discover new things. I wasn’t getting yelled at by Power Computing. I wasn’t getting ‘spun’ by Apple.

My session, though more sparsely attended than I liked,  had people with great questions.

I was there too briefly. I wanted more.

The way I see Macworld|iWorld evolving based on what I saw this year will move even more toward my QuickTime Live! ideal. I am really looking forward to next year!

Disclosure: I have been an attendee and usually speaker at Macworld Expo every year but one for close to twenty years. I was a speaker at all but the first QuickTime Live! and even did a ‘day keynote’. I’ve watched Macworld Expo show go from happening twice a year on the left and right coasts (and Japan and UK) to just once a year in San Francisco. I was there for the move from Boston to New York and back to Boston. I have been involved through at least two different management entities being in charge. I have had the good fortune to work pretty closely with Paul in the past and even served on his Macworld Expo Customer Advisory Board. I have ‘skin in this game’ and I care but I mean it… Macworld|iWorld was and will be something special.

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Why YouTube’s ‘adoption’ of CC licensing is self serving Bull$#!^

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

YouTube, for those who haven’t noticed is a Google owned and operated service wherein users can upload and share video and Google can sell advertising against it.

Now, beyond the obvious problems wherein Google can’t (and shouldn’t actually be forced to) police the uploaded content to ensure the rights exist for the user to upload it , the core issue is Google makes money off the ads and the content creators don’t.

(Yes there are limited ways a content creator can make some ad revenue by embedding the YouTube hosted video in their own page and other methods but YouTube’s purpose is to get ad impressions for Google, not the content creator. Arguing about the option to embed etc. is arguing a distinction without a difference.  People who want their video to be seen as a YouTube Phenom will give up the all or most of the financial benefit of ad impressions. Period.)

For essentially all cases Google is the collector and reporter of the usage data. Google chooses the ‘relevant’ advertisers. Google makes the money.

So, now, in an act of empty magnanimity, Google is enabling users to flag the content users upload as licensed under ‘Creative Commons’ but only under this specific license: Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0). which I’ll summarize as: Share it, change it, adapt it, remix it, do as you please commercial or not as long as you give the source(s) credit.

If you’re a creator and you see content an uploader has flagged CC on YouTube, don’t be silly and assume you’re indemnified from liability if you intercut that content with other things and try to sell it. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV (though I have been a technical consultant to a few on these kinds of issues) but indemnified means you can’t be sued because the other guy, the uploader will take the heat. They won’t.

If you mash up Happy Birthday and Steamboat Willy with some Casey Kasem Dialog intercut with U2 concert footage and dollop of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord I think you should expect to be in some deep yogurt lawsuit-wise.

Beyond that, though, is the simple fact that not only is Google going to sell ads against your original or remixed work but the second you click that button you are giving Google and anyone else the right to sell it, rent it, bend, fold, spindle or mutilate your work for money and money you’ll never get any of.

Now, I am a huge fan of freely sharing my creative work but I think any reasonable person would say I have the right to set conditions for how what I choose to share is used. Conditions like “use this however you like except to resell it (or usage of it) to make money if I don’t get a piece of the action”.

Several Creative Commons licenses actually help ensure this (and other things) but Google chose the one that requires the creator/remixer to give up the most rights.

There’s a reason most creators choose other more restrictive CC licenses. They either want to get paid if anyone else does or they want to insist that their contributions to the world are matched and equally shared by others.  And you can even expect this mutual sharing and still let everyone still be free to make money:  http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/copyleft.html There’s a company listed on the NASDAQ doing a VERY nice job of just that:   and even cooler is the NYSE actually runs the exchange on this ‘free’ product.

So, as I have said countless times before….

Want to watch great cat videos? Enjoy YouTube!

Want to watch pirated content with a thin veneer of protection because it’s not Limewire? Look for it on YouTube before it’s taken down. Enjoy YouTube!

If you make actual content. Material with intrinsic value? Put up a trailer on YouTube if you must but host the actual content yourself and sell your own ads against it.

Needless to say, I disagree with Janko Roettger’s impressions of Google’s CC support as written in gigaom.

Google’s implemention of Creative Commons licensing is entirely self serving. You decide if that’s OK with you. Meanwhile, remember, if you do have the rights to what you upload, you can still put a title card in the video and a copyright notice with any license terms you like. Heck, you could even have a license that says “Use of this video is conditional on your agreement to switch to Bing as your default search engine.” it’d probably be legal if unenforceable and it sure would be funny. The CC feature Google’s implemented is only meaningful to users if they use the YouTube Video Editor and that, well let’s say  iMovie’s better and leave it at that for now…

 

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