date /
Tuesday 1 May 2012

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In the beginning, there were only good guys.

The World Wide Web was created in a spirit of co-operation and collaboration. A consortium was formed at the highest level. A generation of W3C idealists have determined open standards and this has resulted in cross-browser compatibility – a massive achievement in the circumstances.

And an Open Source movement of .php volunteer geeks successfully challenged the might of the Microsoft empire – again an amazing win for the “good guys”.

And despite all the hackers, viruses, phishers, spammers and scammers, the web is generally an open, free and a safe place to be.

But the advent of apps is changing all that – a situation that people are generally unaware of. While the web is open and transparent, apps can be closed and they can be very dangerous – particularly when used within an intrusive private network like Facebook.

Facebook users generally think that the network belongs to them. While they are cautious about who their “friends” are, they feel pretty secure using the network. They may actually trust Facebook not to misuse their personal information and could even hold a measure of admiration and even appreciation that Facebook makes money by selling very targeted advertising to them.

But do they trust the owners of apps like Socialcam who, with the apparent blessing of Facebook, brazenly push the privacy boundaries beyond comprehension?

Recently I have been invited by Facebook “friends” to view videos submitted via Socialcam. Am I naïve to assume that these videos were taken by my “friends”? And that the invitation extended was to merely watch and enjoy the experience? I never did watch the videos, but I am pretty sure they were not taken or posted by my “friends”.

I didn’t get past the first screen (See .pdf document linked here with annotations) which, when carefully analysed, explains that my “friends” have passed to Socialcam the right to “post” on their behalf.

By indulging in the simple act of watching a video, which they assumed was sent to them by someone they knew, my “friends” have passed their identities to the owners of Socialcam.

You trust your friend don't you?  So why bother reading the fine-print? And the “Facebook-like” design of the screen via which users are asked to pass on their identities to Socialcam would result in many users accepting the consequences without any consideration.

“Okay, watch video” says the button via which Facebook users are enticed to hand over to complete strangers their “name, profile, picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends and any other information they have ever made public”.

“This app may post on your behalf”, the screen says. What the? Can they be serious? Yes they are serious. This is a new world – a world where people not only want to know everything about you, they want you to allow them to BE you!

Apple has got a lot to answer for really. It started this app phenomena and, in the process, became the world’s largest corporation.

But, hang on, weren’t they the good guys from the 1980s who first developed computer operating systems that ordinary people could use?

Yes, and you could argue that they are doing nothing different now. They still develop operating systems. It’s just that they manage to control and make 30 per cent of all revenue generated via the software developed for the iOS. No one could argue that this is not good business.

But, in the process, it seems they have created a monster. This monster is unleashed when apps like Socialcam are combined with closed systems like Facebook on an open and free network like the World Wide Web.

I have been a cautious and sceptical social network user. I have no profile and don’t even use my normal email address. This is probably an “old person” thing. You become distrustful over the years. But I despair for those trusting, wide-eyed people who live their lives revealing everything online.

It’s not only their innocence that will be taken, they stand to lose everything.


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