Facebook Abusing Your Contact List

As if you needed more reason to despise Facebook, Kashmir Hill reports on Facebook’s truly garbage practise of violating your contacts information without disclosing that’s what they’re doing.

Facebook is not content to use the contact information you willingly put into your Facebook profile for advertising. It is also using contact information you handed over for security purposes and contact information you didn’t hand over at all, but that was collected from other people’s contact books, a hidden layer of details Facebook has about you that I’ve come to call “shadow contact information.” […]

Facebook is not upfront about this practice. In fact, when I asked its PR team last year whether it was using shadow contact information for ads, they denied it. Luckily for those of us obsessed with the uncannily accurate nature of ads on Facebook platforms, a group of academic researchers decided to do a deep dive into how Facebook custom audiences work to find out how users’ phone numbers and email addresses get sucked into the advertising ecosystem.

The researchers also found that if User A, whom we’ll call Anna, shares her contacts with Facebook, including a previously unknown phone number for User B, whom we’ll call Ben, advertisers will be able to target Ben with an ad using that phone number, which I call “shadow contact information,” about a month later. Ben can’t access his shadow contact information, because that would violate Anna’s privacy, according to Facebook, so he can’t see it or delete it, and he can’t keep advertisers from using it either.

The lead author on the paper, Giridhari Venkatadri, said this was the most surprising finding, that Facebook was targeted ads using information “that was not directly provided by the user, or even revealed to the user.”

You’ve got to read the whole Gizmodo article. As John Gruber put it, “[…] Facebook [is] a criminal enterprise. Maybe not legally, but morally.”

(via DF)

Football, dogfighting, and brain damage: The New Yorker

I just finished reading (and loving) Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Outliers, and I highly recommend it. I’ve just now had a chance to catch up with his New Yorker articles, the latest of which asks the question, what do football and dogfighting have in common? The answer: somebody’s getting hurt for somebody else.

“They cleared me for practice that Thursday. I probably shouldn’t have. I don’t know what damage I did from that, because my head was really hurting. But when you’re coming off an injury you’re frustrated. I wanted to play the next game. I was just so mad that this happened to me that I’m overdoing it. I was just going after guys in practice. I was really trying to use my head more, because I was so frustrated, and the coaches on the sidelines are, like, ‘Yeah. We’re going to win this game. He’s going to lead the team.’ That’s football. You’re told either that you’re hurt or that you’re injured. There is no middle ground. If you are hurt, you can play. If you are injured, you can’t, and the line is whether you can walk and if you can put on a helmet and pads.”

Football, dogfighting, and brain damage : The New Yorker.

Paul’s Not Dead Yet

Paul McCartney on the “Paul is dead” rumours:

Paul McCartney says rumours that he had died, which surfaced more than 40 years ago, are “ridiculous” and an “occupational hazard” for a member of one of the world’s biggest bands. “It was funny, really,” McCartney told MOJO music magazine, “people make up a story and then you find yourself having to deal with this fictitious stuff.”

Cocksure

Malcolm Gladwell’s new article, Cocksure, is about the psychology of overconfidence. In it he postulates that the brashness of experts caused the current financial crisis.

Since the beginning of the financial crisis, there have been two principal explanations for why so many banks made such disastrous decisions. The first is structural. Regulators did not regulate. Institutions failed to function as they should. Rules and guidelines were either inadequate or ignored. The second explanation is that Wall Street was incompetent, that the traders and investors didn’t know enough, that they made extravagant bets without understanding the consequences. But the first wave of postmortems on the crash suggests a third possibility: that the roots of Wall Street’s crisis were not structural or cognitive so much as they were psychological.

Is the Future Free?

Yesterday I listened to a bit of the CBC radio documentary News 2.0: The Future of News in an Age of Social Media, (The mp3 is here) about changes to our understanding of ‘journalism’ now that anyone can create, report and publish news.

Chris Anderson, editor in chief at Wired Magazine, coined the term the Long Tail to describe the niche business strategy of selling a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities. He translates this model to the news industry, invoking a new kind of reputation economics, implying that monetary rewards are not the only incentives for those reporting the news. He believes “free” is the future of business.

[Anderson] believes that low-cost digital distribution has reduced the break-even price of many products (movies, books, music) to near zero. As a result, giving your product away for free has become a viable economic model.

For example, a musician might decide to give recorded music away for nothing, knowing that the widespread distribution of the latest CD would give a considerable boost to ticket sales for the next concert. The profit is made in the concerts, not the music. And in case you were wondering, no, Chris Anderson will not be giving copies of his latest book away for free.

Malcolm Gladwell thinks Chris Anderson is wrong about the future of free. In his new article in The New Yorker, PRICED TO SELL, Gladwell rebuffs Anderson’s idea that free journalism is the future of news, and that despite a growing trend of technology and other goods becoming “too cheap to meter”, it’s unlikely the future cost of our commodities will actually be free.

Update: Chris Anderson Responds to Gladwell’s criticisms.

Frank Ahearn Can Help You Disappear

Frank Ahearn helps people to disappear. After 20 years as a “skip tracer” he’s reversed engineered his career and now helps people run away from their old lives.

There are three key steps to disappearing. First, destroy old information about yourself. Call your video store or electricity company and replace your old, correct phone number with a new, invented one. Introduce spelling mistakes into your utility bills. Create a PO Box for your mail. Don’t use your credit cards and the like.

Then, create bogus information to fool private investigators who might be looking for you. Go to one city and apply for an apartment. Rent a car in another one.

The next, final step is the most important one. Move from point A to point B. Create a dummy company to pay your bills. Only use prepaid mobile phones and change them every month. It is nearly impossible to find out where you are unless you make a mistake.

I don’t think I’d make a very good client, I have too many connections to people that I wouldn’t want to give up.

When Underdogs Break the Rules

Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting article, How David Beats Goliath is about how underdogs, when playing by their own strategies, can beat out the favorite much more often than one would suspect.

Eurisko was an underdog. The other gamers were people steeped in military strategy and history. They were the sort who could tell you how Wellington had outfoxed Napoleon at Waterloo, or what exactly happened at Antietam. They had been raised on Dungeons and Dragons. They were insiders. Eurisko, on the other hand, knew nothing but the rule book. It had no common sense. As Lenat points out, a human being understands the meaning of the sentences “Johnny robbed a bank. He is now serving twenty years in prison,” but Eurisko could not, because as a computer it was perfectly literal; it could not fill in the missing step-“Johnny was caught, tried, and convicted.” Eurisko was an outsider. But it was precisely that outsiderness that led to Eurisko’s victory: not knowing the conventions of the game turned out to be an advantage.

Gladwell responds to a couple of criticisms aimed at the section dealing with Rick Pitino and college basketball.

Dark Side of Dubai

In a long but fascinating story about the Arab World’s biggest tourist destination, Johann Hari reports on the Dark Side of Dubai.

I wanted to understand how the government of Dubai will react, so I decided to look at how it has dealt with an environmental problem that already exists — the pollution of its beaches. One woman — an American, working at one of the big hotels — had written in a lot of online forums arguing that it was bad and getting worse, so I called her to arrange a meeting. “I can’t talk to you,” she said sternly. Not even if it’s off the record? “I can’t talk to you.” But I don’t have to disclose your name”¦ “You’re not listening. This phone is bugged. I can’t talk to you,” she snapped, and hung up.

The next day I turned up at her office. “If you reveal my identity, I’ll be sent on the first plane out of this city,” she said, before beginning to nervously pace the shore with me. “It started like this. We began to get complaints from people using the beach. The water looked and smelled odd, and they were starting to get sick after going into it. So I wrote to the ministers of health and tourism and expected to hear back immediately — but there was nothing. Silence. I hand-delivered the letters. Still nothing.”

A few years ago I started considering a visit to the UAE, but stories like this make me reconsider. However, at least one blogger considers this report as overkill.

The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Diamond Heist

In February 2003, Leonardo Notarbartolo, was arrested in connection with a break-in to a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center. The thieves were thought to have made off with an estimated $100 million worth of diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils.

Wired News shares the incredible story:

The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can’t explain exactly how it was done.

The loot was never found, but based on circumstantial evidence, Notarbartolo was sentenced to 10 years. He has always denied having anything to do with the crime and has refused to discuss his case with journalists, preferring to remain silent for the past six years.

Until now.

The video is great, but the article delves into the captivating details.