Your Software Is Secure – Or Is It?

There’s a quote out there that goes:

If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

That’s directly applicable to any bit of “Free” software you use.  If there’s an ad being shown, if it asks you to install a different browser or tool bar, if there’s an offer to download 10 free MP3s – You Are The Product.

Fair enough.

There are exceptions to that rule.  There are a lot of excellent pieces of software out there that are free with no strings attached.  No phone home tricks, no advertising, and no other gotchas.   Those typically are called “GPL” or “GNU Software” or “FOSS“.  I do most of what I do on Windows, however off that windows machine, I live in that FOSS world of Linux.  If I want a spreadsheet, I merely download Libre Office and I’m happily counting away my beans.

I guess the fact that there is no support network provided with most of that kind of software means I’m still the product but I’ll ignore that.

Once you leave that world of Windows or Mac OSX where you pay and expect complete discretion (and you would be wrong), or Linux where the power of Open Source means you have thousands of eyes looking at the software and putting out a warning that your operating system might be spying on you (Ubuntu), it gets a bit questionable.

The assumption is that with your shiny iPad or iPhone, Apple is looking into that for you.   It’s not completely clear that that is true, and rumor has it that it isn’t.

On the other hand, Android does warn you when your phone or tablet is being asked to sign away your information.   You can still allow it, but it does warn you.   The idea is that the user is expected to be an educated Android user and actually stop and look at the warnings.   On the other hand, when is the last time you took the time to read an EULA (End User License Agreement)

Exactly, even I just skim them.   If it says it’s GPL, I assume it’s OK, otherwise, you may get one  of those programs that says that if you send an email to a specific address, you “win” 1000 dollars US.   Yes, that happened, once, and it took five years for anyone to find it and collect!

The most egregious use of the person being the product lately is the Jay Z app called “Magna Carta”.  Download and install the app and you get to join in and help to promote his CD of his latest “songs”.

Great, if you like that sort of thing.  On the other hand people did start to read what the app wanted to do to your Android phone.   It basically demanded full control, including your personal details, it wanted to start at start up time, and demanded access to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  The assumption is that it was going to go out and put postings to those accounts in your name saying how much you were enjoying his “songs”.

Rap.  Bleah.  But he’s making my point for me.   It does not say that Jay Z is doing something with all that information, it merely says that the software has access to it.  He is using people as marketing tools to build the social buzz on Facebook and Twitter.  He may never use any of it, and that access may not ever be used, but it begs the question:

Is that in your benefit?
 
When you go to your app store, look around and ask yourself do you really need it?   That app will probably slow your phone or tablet down whether it is on the iPhone or a shiny new Android Tablet because it will want to start up when you turn the thing on.

Is that in your benefit?

That app may want to know who you called today, and forever.

Is that in your benefit?

That app may want access to whatever is running at any given moment.

Is that in your benefit?

The answer to all of that is no. 

Especially that last one.  If you use a smartphone to do your banking, your banking details are POTENTIALLY exposed to any app that is running at that time.   Want to share your bank account information with me?  I didn’t think so, but would you with an app developer?  That answer should still be no.

The best thing you can do with that phone is to make calls with it and keep it clean of unneeded software.  That includes free or paid apps.  There’s too much risk these days.

Sorry to bring bad news but there are some questionable people out there.

Turn Facebook Sound Notifications Off

Ok, the little “bedoop” sound was Facebook being “cutesie”. 

Distracting little sound that fired off whenever you got a notification.  I guess you could tell I didn’t care for it. 

They’re up to stuff again, and we’re going to have a bunch of changes forced on us like the graph search and more advertiser friendly layouts to the pages.  It remains to be seen whether we can turn most of that off.  The ads, I will certainly look for a blocker for.  I run adblock plus on every browser I have on all five operating systems I run

We shall see.

But the little sound notification can be stopped.  It’s cute, but definitely not office friendly.  I do a LOT of research, probably as much as 6 hours a day and having my laptop make noises is not a good idea.

First, Log into Facebook.
Click on the little gear for your account menu.
Click Account Settings in the little dropdown that shows up.
Click Notifications on the settings in the left hand column.
In Notifications Settings, Select the first “View” for “How You Get Notifications”.  This is the “On Facebook” line.
You can turn off the little sound by ticking the box for “Play A Sound When Each Notification is Received”. 
Click Save Changes and then go back to being social.

After all, you may like the sound, and you can turn it back on by leaving that box checked.

It’s up to you.

For now…

Is Facebook Releasing Your Phone Number To Advertisers?

Actually from what I am reading, “Premium Advertisers” with Facebook are going to be granted access to your Phone Number and Email Addresses.  This is planned to happen by way of a program called Power Editor.  Pay them money and FB is giving access to your supposedly private information.

How do you combat this?

Dropping off of Facebook won’t stop that, the information will still be there.
Deleting your account may but will they actually delete the information?

What I did was to mess with the information.

Go into what I call the Steaming Pile of Slop called Timeline.

(Who on earth thought two columns was a good way to portray variable information should be horsewhipped with a book of Fonts and the Chicago Book Of Style.)

Find the button that says “Update Info”.

Page down until you find “Contact Info” and click on the Edit Button.

Change your phone number to Your Area Code 555-1212.  Such as 609-555-1212.  That will put you in contact with the information.  You know ‘411’?

Click on the button on the right with a down pointing triangle.  That is where you control who can see the information.  Change it to Only Me.

I did this to my email accounts too.  They don’t need all that either.

At this point the article that I saw on Gizmodo says it will be granted your name and phone number as well as your email.  Any advertiser who calls me will get a lecture to put it mildly.

No matter whether this program becomes real or if it is a rumor, now is a good time for you to go in to your settings and see if you really do want to be sharing something.  My personal opinion is that if you want to know something about me, ask.  I may actually tell you.

Of course the safest way to protect your privacy is to simply not put it online.  I’d say if you’re on Facebook, that ship had sailed a long time ago.

Facebook Changes Default Emails to @facebook

Sure, it’s annoying.  I’ll never use it.

Yeah I know, “Never Say Never” especially since that is the way “it works”.

Facebook is the social media 800 pound gorilla that you love to hate.   It makes arbitrary changes that you don’t like, that aren’t in your interests, and are downright scary from a security and privacy standpoint.

On the other hand, it makes some aspects of life easier and it really is not a requirement in life.

I tend to use Facebook to go out and gather my news items.  I make a random comment here and there, but not more than 10 a day on average.  Oh and those ads are blocked.

So if you’re like me and don’t intend (remember, never say never?) to use their email system “ever”, here are the instructions to check whether you have been changed.  I wasn’t but I also don’t have Timeline yet.  I never opted in, and it is probably one of the most ugly designs for a display of information that I have ever seen, and yes I do web project management professionally.  

Really Facebook, put away your crayons and get your designers back to work.

Anyway – sign into Facebook and follow these steps for “Old Facebook“:

  • Click About to get into your Account Settings
  • Under General Settings, Click the button beside the appropriate email account to set your primary email account.

Mind you, this looks totally different under the “old” facebook.   Timeline settings are different.  I’ve been lucky to fly under that butt-ugly Timeline for now… Lets hope …

For Timeline,

  • Click About to show settings.
  • Next to “Contact Info” click Edit to show your current status.
  • Set personal information to “Shown on Timeline”.
  • Set the Privacy option on Email to what you would like it:  At this point you can show to only you, or anyone else at four different levels including Public and Friends.  If you want nobody emailing you, set it to Only Me.

Remember if you aren’t the customer, you’re the product being sold.  If you don’t want Facebook sharing it, Don’t put it on Facebook.   That basically sums up their terms of service.  If you understand where you are in that particular “game”, you can act accordingly.

This particular information is all over the web and the blogs but if you can’t fathom my information above, there is an article on Tech Crunch that gives you all the pictures you can possibly want to help you along.

User Experience or Why Websites Fail

Facebook is a study of User Experience

There are many people who are paid strictly to improve the User Experience of a website.  So many that they’re just abbreviated to UX and UI.  UI stands for User Interface.  Both are quite tightly coupled. 

Every time you change something, you will annoy someone.  The idea is that if you don’t change your system/website/front garden you will find that the world will have passed you by. 

Just as a garden is never a static thing, especially in South Florida where if you blink you have weird exotics overtaking your prized Podocarpus, a Static Website will get overtaken quickly.

There is a balance toward adding new flowers to a garden so that it will be appealing to the eye, or just add new plants to make it fill out better, and doing too much and making it overgrown.

The corollary is that software problem you find in things like Microsoft Word where 95% of the people use just 5% of the features.

So why add the complexity?  You just may use it some time, but you can always ignore it.

Another corollary is the Automobile.  If they didn’t improve things, we’d still be driving the Model T.  Beautiful machine that evolved over its years to be faster and more efficiently built but would not work on the roads of this day.

After all, you really do want a stereo and automatic delay wipers and cushy seats and the ability to be comfortable in 90 Degree Heat as well as 9 Degree Cold.

Applying all this blather to a website such as Facebook you find yourself asking why did they do this?  Part of the problem is that changes just “happen” and you’re left confused.  Get off my lawn, young’un I want my grass to grow!  Sometimes the changes do work, but usually those changes are only after people make many complaints.  Simplification of Privacy Options on Facebook are a good example.

Today I was presented with this new and shiny feature in the news feed on Facebook.  Sure, it’s their right to use things the way they like and develop new features so we all don’t move back to My Space (yeah, right) or some other site.  After all they make their money by being the biggest thing on the block.  If we didn’t change, we’d all be using dial up modems on AOL

This New! and! Shiny! Feature! was that of the Top Stories.  For me it’s not an improvement, in fact it causes problems with the way I personally use the site.

I use Facebook as a scrolling surf board.  I’ve liked tech blogs, news sites, and other sites that I tend to hit frequently and it may be the first time I read about something important.  I read about Fukushima’s Tsunami on Facebook first after I caught a BBC article slip past.  Things like the Top Stories interfere with that by merging articles in because they were voted more important by your friends.  Now instead of having the most recent articles at the top and merely refreshing from time to time to see if I missed anything important, I’m afflicted with the Facebook Obsessive Compulsive Refresh Disease – FOCR.  Yes, they’ve turned me into a real FOCR as I hit F5 because there’s something in the way that I can’t suppress. 

The only benefit I see of this new layout is that everyone else will have the same pain as the flying bird of Facebook lets fly with some new top story only to splat itself on the windshield of your browser.  Spraying Bug Juice over it won’t get rid of this new “feature” at least yet.  Hopefully it can be turned off.   Briefly it was only for US users, but it has been spread over the pond to UK English users as well.

Sorry I haven’t found the fix for this one. 

Their User Experience Folks need to go back to the drawing board.

Search Observations and Facebook’s New Country

I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re in the middle of a change. 

Ok, so that would be a very basic point and admittedly an obvious comment.

I may also be called “Captain Obvious” but that is neither here nor there.

If you want to know what someone is most interested in, observe them.  Specifically, follow them and watch what they are watching.  Looking for ideas for a present?  Ask them, or be more subtle about it and follow them through a mall.  If they want something they will be drawn to it and look at it.  It may be even more obvious when they say about the “new shiny object” that they would like to have it, or pick up a large heavy object and commit a “Smash and Grab” crime and tell you to run away fast.

I prefer simply asking someone.

We have gone from just asking someone to going to a web page and seeing what they are asking for.  In specific, when someone goes to a web search page, they type in some words in the box and then the enter key.  The web page goes back to the search engine behind the scenes and returns a list of other web pages.  Typically these are ranked in some sort of esoteric order that roughly predicts how important that search is.

Some of the web services will actually tell you broadly what the top 10 or so searches are and you can drill down to more specific criteria like geographic areas or dates.

What was telling was that in this time of great uncertainty, in this time of financial upheaval, and this time of natural disasters (Someone please set that chair back up in Richmond Virginia?) most of the top ten searches are quite mundane.

If the larger view is taken, since search engines became a requirement instead of a nice to have in life, the top ten searches reflect where we are in as a society.

What I’d like to know is don’t we have more important things to look at than Facebook, YouTube, and various Email accounts?  Those along with a few others round out the top ten.

The point is that you can argue that it really is more important to society that Facebook exists than some of the other things you can ponder.

Why is that? Simply put that in doing a search of searches, Facebook was in the top ten since 2004.  Looking at Google Insight for Searches for Worldwide Searches for 2004 through Present, Facebook was number 1.  Specifically it was listed as a “breakout” search for the Rising Search List.

It remained there for the year 2010, however for 2011 through present it dropped out of the top ten.  Obviously since it wasn’t around in 2004 that more than proves my point.

So why is it so important? 

It is easy to look at a web page of people telling jokes about cats, trading recipes, and acting silly and say that it does not matter. 

I look at Facebook from another angle.  How many times have you witnessed the expansion of a market? 

When I was a child, I watched people flow out of Philadelphia and move into the New Jersey Suburbs.  They started in the western edges of New Jersey and built out until they reached the edges of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  This happened on all sides of Philadelphia.   People left the cities for their own 1/2 acres of 3 Bedrooms and 1.5 Bathrooms of paradise wrapped in Fescue Grass and Latex paint.  As soon as one area was deemed built up, the farm next door would be bought, building would start and homes moved into.

Businesses would start and people would begin to make a life for themselves.

Compare that to what happened with Facebook, and the other Social Media websites before them.  Facebook started as Harvard Students Only, then was expanded to anyone with an Education connection, and finally the great unwashed masses got on there and begun to talk about pictures of Lol Cats.

In the middle of all of that chatter, the businesses joined.  Businesses have found that it is an easy way to get free advertising.  After all, if you ‘like’ something, you’re opting in to their message and it will show up helpfully on your daily news feed.  I am involved in all of that by posting links to this blog, as well as assisting 3 organizations directly in getting their own messages out.

Personally, if I find someone is trying too obviously to use my account for advertising and not give me anything back, my patience is short and I hide them.  This is especially in view of that I understand what they are trying to do with all of this verbiage.

I’ve also found that I don’t need to web surf my technology blogs as often since I liked the websites and blogs that I read each day.  I get a scroll of the topics that they post, and click on those articles to read as I need them. 

It has become a requirement that someone in an organization hire a person to manage that sort of technology to make certain that the message that they intend to get out is useful and that the people don’t lose interest.  That can be a delicate balancing act as well, so that you’re not hitting your audience over the head with a sledge hammer.

I have seen badly managed businesses with duplicated messages and political campaigns mishandle things with chirpy and useless comments.  I’ve also seen some very useful information, such as that from Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders using Facebook to inform those out there about the problems they have had with Hurricane Irene as well as his independent views on what is happening in this country. 

Why isn’t Senator Bernie Sanders President?

All of this is happening on something that could be seen as a 21st century CB Radio or a new country.  You be the judge.  For now, I have to add a link to this on Facebook.

SimplyHired.com and User Experience

Wait, this isn’t going to be as technical as it sounds, trust me! 

Oh well, now that I have scared most folks off…

I’ve mentioned before that I am looking for a Permanent Position in Project Management in South Florida.  I also have mentioned how I go through 170 web pages a day in order to apply to likely positions.  Mostly I do that through www.dice.com, www.monster.com, and www.careerbuilder.com, but there are others.

I also have a weekly sweep of specific cities, counties, and companies that I do on the weekend that is another 170 pages.

Roughly.

Anything that slows down the way I use the browser effects how efficiently I can do this.

I’ve noticed a nasty habit creeping in the way many web pages are doing things. 

First some really basic instruction on what happens when you click on a link – VERY basic.

See a link.  Click on a link.  The link will take you to the next web page.

Simple, right?  That is how it is supposed to work.  If it happens that way, success.  Happy user and the “User Experience” is enhanced so that you are more likely to come back.  That “User Experience” is a very important field, many people are working on that sort of thing so that you really do come back.  After all they have ads and that is how you pay the web page – by your clicks.

Next Helpful Hint.  Control Click.  Also known as “Ctrl Click”. 

See a link.  Hold Ctrl and Click on that link.  The link will open in a new tab on modern browsers.  The old page stays there so you can refer to it.

Shift and Click work the same way except that it opens that page in a new browser window.

Go ahead and try either, I should still be here waiting for you.

See?  Wasn’t that helpful? 

I think so because that is the basis for my opening 170 web pages in 6 browser windows.   My little Core 2 Duo 12 inch convertible tablet is not going to open them all at once.   Too much for Firefox to do, so I broke it all up into roughly 30 tabs per browser window.

For example, I have a set of tabs that open up automatically.  That set goes to Dice.com and says “give me the first 10 pages that show any ‘project manager’ position within 25 miles of my current zip, and exclude the following companies”.  It will happily do that and more. 

The result is one browser window with those 10 dice searches, one page after another, loading in background for me.   Next I can go through those tabs, one at a time and look at the links. 

Remember that “ctrl-click”?

The next step is Ctrl-Clicking the links so they all happily open up in the next tabs.  All the other web pages stay there, it just creates a new one for the next click.

This works well for any list of links like the ones you find on a search engine like www.google.com or www.bing.com for example.  Find a recipe site with 10 recipes all of which include your favorite food?  Just Ctrl-Click and they will all open in tabs as you click them.  It’s really handy and it’s built in to the browsers.

Ok, so now you say what’s the problem?

Simply put, there is a nasty habit many web pages are doing that work fine if all you are doing is one thing at a time.  Who has time for that any more? 

Click on a link on some web sites, and they will put up an overlay on top of your web page that obscures what you had, and presents new information.  This is usually called a Light Box.  Here is why that can be a nasty problem.

www.simplyhired.com does this when you click on a link.  They’re so anxious to get you to log into their site that they put up a light box asking for login information when you click.  Then you have to stop what you were doing and click on the close “X” up at the top right corner of the light box so it will process your link.  Completely in conflict with opening up a bunch of links in tabs and working with these at your own time.

The way around that is to right click on that link and select “Open Link In New Tab”.  Yes, it is another step, and it is usually done after the second or third try.  

www.simplyhired.com is an aggregator of other people’s content.  They try to be a search engine of other job boards and achieve enough success that I have been coming back.  Major annoyance to go through that click-and-shock every time you find a link for this one site that is so different from normal.

A Better Solution is to use www.indeed.com as an aggregator for job postings.  They work “normally” when you click or ctrl-click on them, they don’t get in your way with weird light boxes and unnecessary web clicks.  I have even tricked the website to give me my 50 links in one tab which I do with Dice and Monster.  They’re completely configurable that way if you choose to monkey around with searches.

Another website that is guilty of this nonsense is www.facebook.com in the way they handle pictures.  Their User Interface at this moment is putting up a lightbox that covers up everything you look at with the picture that you were clicking on.  It also puts you back up at the top of the page you were looking at to begin with when you clicked on that picture.   At least links are being opened the correct way – the way you want them. 

Again, this sort of thing seems kind of small and inconsequential but there are many people working on this sort of detail.  When you change the way someone else’s browser works, there has to be a concrete reason for the change and it has to be done so that there is a concrete benefit.

Rarely if ever does that happen.

After clicking on one too many friend’s links in Facebook, and one too many links on Simply Hired, I noticed a review box in lime green with white text.  Lime Green?  White Text?  What were they thinking?   At any rate, I gave them my opinion above, in a condensed format.  I may as well give them feedback.  After all, I told them I would under no circumstances recommend them since there were too many sites that do it right.  I’ll probably keep using the site because I have some searches that once in a blue moon show what I am looking for that are not shown on the big boards, but I really wouldn’t miss them if I could get to the rest.