October 2010 – Stay N Alive

Forget Facebook and MySpace – Wall Street Journal Shares Your Information Too

It seems like every other day Wall Street Journal is talking about some other Social Networking site that is revealing all your information to 3rd party advertisers.  First they talked about Facebook and the fact that their apps like Zynga’s Farmville are revealing personal data about users to advertisers.  Next, they created, then deleted, then re-created a MySpace story about the same thing that MySpace is doing for their users.  The thing is, this is a practice any site that collects your data is doing, and their Privacy Policies protect them from doing so (You do read the Privacy Policies of the sites you visit, right?  Neither do I).  In fact, even wsj.com is doing this, despite their hypocritical claims of this being an issue for so many other sites.

In some criticism I offered on this very issue, the @wsj Twitter account responded, “@Jesse To partially answer your question, we disclosed the trackers on WSJ.com here: http://on.wsj.com/d67Z3b“.  Wait – what?  So WSJ is basically admitting to sharing your information with advertisers?  I’m not sure where they link to this on their site, but they do link to their Privacy Policy, which, in very vague terms hints at the same type of information.

According to WSJ.com’s own article, “Here is a summary of what information WSJ.com says it collects about users, what it does with the data, and how long it keeps it.”  Let’s start by going over, according to their site, what wsj.com stores about you:

Information about you

According to WSJ, they do collect your browsing information, but all browsing and search data is kept anonymous.  However, they do collect “Files and Communications”.  I assume this means the comments you make and any profile data you store on their system.  Remember, WSJ is paywalled – that means they require your personally identifying information, just like Facebook, to identify who you are, collect your profile image, etc. and all that is stored on their servers.

Information volunteered by you

According to WSJ, assuming you enter it, they do store demographic and financial data about their users.  Facebook and MySpace also do this in various capacities, also optional (gender is required on Facebook though).  Keep in mind that in order to read a lot of the site, you have to have a paid account to do so, so I’m curious how many of their users all have provided their financial information to wsj.com

What does this mean?

Sure, WSJ stores information about its users – so what?  That’s not the problem.  You store your information on Facebook and MySpace as well, but what wsj.com is complaining about is the fact that Facebook and MySpace are allowing other services to share their users’ data with others.  The thing is, WSJ goes on to share that they do exactly the same thing:

How WSJ Manages your information

According to WSJ, they do allow outside trackers, aka advertisers, to collect your data – they do provide a link to opt out of some of those trackers (note the “some”).  Specifically, WSJ even quotes, “We may combine the information that we collect from you with information that you provide to us in connection with your use of other Dow Jones products, services and web sites, or information we collect from third parties.”  So, basically, WSJ is sharing your information with their partners as well, and, according to their Privacy Policy, those sites can also take that information and share with 3rd party sites.  In fact, they state that they don’t even disclose when they delete that data!

So how is this different than Facebook and MySpace?

The fact is, it’s not.  In fact, if anything is different it’s that WSJ.com has the ability, legally, to share even more information about its users with 3rd parties than Facebook is legally obligated to.  For some trackers WSJ even admits they don’t have an opt-out.  Per Facebook’s privacy policy, Facebook is bound by the privacy settings of each user.  The very minimum amount that Facebook can share, without your permission, is your name, your city, your gender, and the same for your friends – that’s all!  It should also be noted that Facebook wasn’t even explicitly allowing developers to share this data with 3rd party advertisers.  Most of the developers were just placing the Facebook IDs in their URLs in order to identify Facebook users, and advertisers were taking the referring URL to take this information, a common practice across the entire web (albeit not able to do much with it).

So why all the hype by WSJ?  Are they looking to get us all upset and riled up to generate clicks and views?  It certainly has gotten people talking to the point that even my local TV station contacted me for an interview about it.  The fact is, everyone does this, especially WSJ, and WSJ isn’t telling the entire story.  In fact, after this hoopla, Facebook actually pulled the accounts that were doing this, and has since put out a notice that they are working to now encrypt these ids, making them even more private in what they share with 3rd parties than WSJ itself!

I think WSJ owes Facebook an apology here.  They’re hiding behind their own ignorance and someone needs to be talking about this.

What do you think?  What other information is WSJ sharing that readers need to be aware of?

Paypal Launches "Embedded Payments" Platform for Easy Integration Onto Any Website

Today at the Paypal X Innovate 2010 Conference Paypal, in a demo with the social shopping cart payments provider, Payvment, announced in a live demo their new “Embedded Payments” platform.  The platform, at least according to the demo, allows developers, by just copying and pasting, to place a simple “Pay with Paypal” button into any app or website.

Paypal also demoed an integration with GigaOm, allowing premium content to the readers of the site, enabling GigaOm to charge for premium content.  The demo implied the integration was very simple and easy to implement.

We are in a new era of APIs.  We’ve gone beyond the era of backend, REST-based APIs that you have to write communications code to pull the data and then formulate the front-end to look the way you want.  We’ve now moved into an era where implementing someone else’s platform is as simple as “copy” and “paste”, and nothing more.

Facebook has done something similar with their “Social Plugins” platform, launched earlier this year at their F8 conference, and that was preceded with Twitter‘s “@Anywhere” platform, each one allowing simple copy and paste into the view of any website or application.  I’ve talked about the Building Block Web – Paypal has just entered the View component of the Building Block web.  This is a very useful move by Paypal and I can’t wait to start playing with it!

Paypal Innovate 2010 – Expect Mobile, Personal

If there’s one thing Paypal does well it’s put on a great Conference.  This year at their annual Paypal Innovate Developers Conference, Paypal is ramping up for some big announcements, great training, and amazing guests.  Greeted at the Conference is a multitude of Paypal employees inviting guests to the next generation of payments platform.  The one thing that seems evident at this conference – we’re going to see a lot of “personal” and “mobile” in the era of personalized, simplified payments.

The first thing attendees got as they attended the conference is a new serviced offered by Bling Nation, allowing guests to pay wirelessly at participating vendors with a pre-populated $20 given to each attendee in their Paypal account.  The service offers attendees a sticker they can attach to their phones that seems to send an RFID signal to the payment processors participating in the service.

Also launched last night was a new version of Paypal’s iPhone app, offering push notifications and other ways to pay on a cell phone.  Paypal has really been pushing to improve their mobile payments solutions.

Whatever they announce, there’s no doubt that the future is here.  Paypal will no doubt be entering further and further towards removing the cash from your wallet and into an era of mobile, and personalized payments with your Paypal account.

You Don’t Own My Family History – I Do

I think I’ve rebuilt my Family Tree about 20 or 30 different times throughout my lifetime.  The process usually starts with me entering in the names I know on sites like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org or OneGreatFamily.com.  I usually hit a stopping point where I can’t remember any more, then I start doing searches.  I’ll usually start on FamilySearch.org and get everything I can.  Then I’ll move over to Ancestry.com, getting a 7 day free trial so I can get the data I need (do I really need to pay to get my family’s information?), then I’ll try other sources, like the auto-matched data on OneGreatFamily.com.  Then I’ll ask family members for the family trees they have, import that as much as I can (merging many duplicates in the process), and then hopefully have as complete a family tree as possible.  I’ll feel proud of myself for completing it, move on to other things, then several years later, start over again because I forgot my accounts from before.  Maybe I’m unique in this, but this is the story of my life.  I just did it again tonight, in fact – this shouldn’t be the case for someone who has most of his genealogy already done for generations.

The internet is too silo’d when it comes to Genealogy and Family History!  It is comprised of numerous, private databases of people all linked together as one, but each in its own separate database.  The problem is one database will have some information while another will have other information, and they all want your money to get at the information you are missing, which, in reality, belongs to you and your family in the first place!  Sure, they often provide an option to export your family history and import it into another service, but then you have just one more database, this one lying on your own computer, and any updates to the other databases never update the one that lies on your computer.  Let’s face it – GEDCOM just creates more databases – it does not unify.

With my background in Social Networking I feel I have a place to say in this.  Many Social Networks have had the same problems to get through.  Facebook, for instance, stores your social graph (in this case your friends) in one database – sure, they provide an API to share those friends and let you store them in your own database and retrieve updates via a real-time interface, but the central repository is still on Facebook’s servers.  They did just create the ability to export your data, but that presents the same problem as GEDCOM – it creates more databases.  It does not solve the problem, but I know they have desires to get around this, hopefully eventually (and I truly believe they will).

Google seems to be doing this right, although it’s proving difficult to compete by doing so.  They’ve established a set of standards, FOAF, XFN, and Google Profiles to link relationships on the web together via open means.  Then any service that wants to (right now the company with the biggest capability to do this is, to no surprise, Google) can index these relationships by following the FOAF data and XFN links back to each individual, bringing in all kinds of meta data along the way.  In this way the web is the database, not any single company.  The problem is Google is the only one capable of indexing all this effectively at the moment, but at least they make it available to the public via their Social Graph API.  It’s no surprise Facebook wants to remain private as they try to build their own index through people.

Family History needs to emulate the Google way.  Currently there is no “Google” of the Family History world.  Everyone’s private!  It’s time Family History makes the web its database and not any one single source.  In fact, there are already standards, such as XFN and FOAF that could make this possible.  We just need to be attaching these to our data.  This can very much be a reality if we work for it and make it priority.

I should be able to upload my records to Ancestry.com and any other service that wants to index that data should be able to pull that data from Ancestry and render it for me based on the relationships around the web they have indexed.  The records should be stored on the web.  The relationships should be stored on the web.  The entire family tree should come from the web, not any single database or repository.

I understand there are hurdles to jump – it’s not an easy problem to tackle.  There are privacy concerns to get around.  There is competition to get over.  There is technology that needs to be built.

I’m calling for a change in outlook though.  It’s time we stop thinking about single organizations owning and storing our data for us.  It’s time we start, instead, thinking about the user owning their data.  Anything we store should belong to that user, and that user should be able to access that information on any service they visit on the web, and there should be absolutely no limits preventing that user from getting at that data.  We need standards.  We need organization.  We need to unify.  New players need to step up and make this a reality. (I’m talking to you Google and Facebook, or any entrepreneur that thinks they can do it)

How can we make this happen?

Disclaimer: These comments are my own opinions and do not represent the organization I work for in any way. I have worked for or with most of the organizations mentioned in this article, so I feel I have a say in this matter, but these are simply my opinions, and hope that we can start a conversation.

Free Tickets to Come See the Will it Blend Guy (oh, and me)

Need I say more?  This Thursday (that’s tomorrow), I’ll be speaking at the Small Business Tech Tour here in Salt Lake at the Miller Business Resource Center.  I’ll be speaking on making your Small Business Big with Social Media – it’s one that can’t be missed!

Here’s why I’m coming though (who cares if I speak, right?) – Tom Dickson, founder of BlendTec, and Kels Goodman, Producer of the “Will it Blend” videos will be there talking about the success of their amazingly viral video campaigns.  These guys, more than anyone in Utah I know, know video, and are known throughout the world now as a result for their amusing “Will it Blend” series.  I highly recommend, if you come for anything, you come to see them speak.

In addition, some of my favorite other Utahns, Jeremy Hanks of Doba, Kelly Anderson of Startup Princess, Jyl Pattee of Mom it Forward (she started the #gno movement that happens every Tuesday on Twitter), Brandt Page of Launch Sales & Marketing, along with Jordan Guernsey and Brock Blake of Funding Universe, as well as myself will all be speaking.  It’s a great group of speakers and should be well worth your money – which, if you’re one of the first 20 from this blog, is, well, free!

If you do choose to come to my presentation be prepared for some great stats on Social Media and how it has improved business after business for little to no cost.  I’ll also be covering, hands on, some very small things you can do to your website that will make it instantly social, just by a simple copy and paste into your HTML.  Overall it should be very worth your time, and well worth the gas money you spend to come out here (and if you’re not one of the first 20, it will definitely be worth the price of admission).

So why aren’t you coming?  The first 20 that enter JESSESTAY at registration get in free.  Click here to register!

In the meantime, you can decide – will it blend?