Facebook’s latest news feed change is just too creepy

On Friday, Facebook announced that it is changing the algorithm that determines what it shows on your news feed to “to factor in a new signal—how much time you spend viewing a story in your News Feed.”

iStock_000045129604_SmallYou read that right. Facebook is constantly watching what is on your screen. Not just what you actively click on. But what is displayed on your screen.

Up until now, the Facebook algorithm selected content that it would display to you based on active factors like whether you had shared or commented on or favourited a post. In other words, you knew that if you did something active, Facebook would know that.

But this new announcement suggests that Facebook is always aware of what is displaying on your screen – even if you don’t do anything active to it.

It feels to me that Facebook is violating my privacy. It is doing something that we see portrayed on crime shows or hear about in urban tales of hacking. It’s watching the screen on my computer. It’s watching what I see – even if I don’t do anything active with that content.

I don’t want to be watched this way. Facebook, I do NOT give you my permission to watch what is on the screen of my computer. Please leave me this bit of privacy. Please back away from using this power. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.

Facebook provides an example of why they are making this change that raises the hairs on the back of my next. According to Facebook,

For example, you may scroll quickly through your News Feed and like a photo of your friend’s graduation, followed by sharing a funny post from your sister. You keep scrolling and happen upon a post your cousin shared detailing everything she did and saw on her recent trip. Her post even includes a photo. You spend time reading her post and the interesting discussion about the best places to eat that had broken out in the comments on this post, but you don’t feel inclined to like or comment on it yourself. Based on the fact that you didn’t scroll straight past this post and it was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, we infer that it was something you found interesting and we may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future.”

Did you get that. Facebook acknowledges that we may choose not to make a public gesture – a like, a share, a favourite – about a piece of content we see. And you’d think that if we see something but keep our comments to ourselves that we have protected our privacy. But not in the world of Facebook. It apparently is watching every word and image that scrolls down our screens, including how long we linger over a particular item. Now that’s creepy. And that’s overly intrusive.

You might say, “If you don’t like it, don’t use Facebook.” Well the simple fact is that Facebook has been so successful in working its way onto so many cellphones and computers that not using it carries a significant social cost. To not use Facebook is equivalent to not going for a walk in your neighbourhood or not using the phone. It has become a utility that we cannot do without.

I would argue that, thanks to its success in becoming ubiquitous and essential to our social lives, it carries an increased responsibility to us. And that responsibility is to behave in a way that we feel comfortable with. That means there are some things that Facebook should not do – like watch us constantly, even when we are not actively interacting with it. Facebook may be able to do it. But that doesn’t mean it should. We all learned early that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do it.

Facebook is saying that it will limit the use of this information. According to HuffPost, “A spokeswoman for Facebook told The Huffington Post that the amount of time spent looking at content would not be made available to publishers or advertisers, and that it is purely used to determine how content is surfaced on the News Feed.”

For now, Facebook is not sharing this data. But let’s remember that Facebook makes its money selling advertising. We the users are the product. And it has changed its practices whenever it felt that it would be beneficial to Facebook. So, the fact that it says it is not doing something now should not be taken as any comfort that it won’t change that policy tomorrow.

The only defence against this possibility is to stop Facebook from starting down this path.

So, how can we stop this? Well a first step is for Facebook users to voice our disapproval over this move and to call on Facebook to stop this practice. That’s what I’m doing here. And I encourage you to do it as well. On your Facebook feed. On Twitter. On Reddit. On every social network you use.

But do I think that will change Facebook’s mind? Not likely.

This may be one of those instances when we have to turn to government to protect our rights. And the right to privacy is one right that we should be vigilant to preserve. We’ve seen a heightened scrutiny of Facebook’s privacy practices in Europe. I think this latest move is something that privacy commissioners across jurisdictions should examine. In the past, the Privacy Commissioner in Canada has been willing to challenge Facebook’s practices in the past. This is a perfect opportunity for privacy commissioners everywhere to engage with Facebook.

Attack on the Spirit of Social Media

When I first started to use the Internet, it was a place for people who had some basic coding skill to share their thoughts, their experiences, their interests, with others. It was a distinctly Uncommercial place. In fact, I remember the first time I saw someone try to promote a product on the Web. He was quickly flamed by others and branded as a bad actor.

But as we look at the Web and what grew into social media today, that version of the Internet as a community coming together to freely and generously share with one another is a distant memory. (In fact, I was reminded of this the other day and wrote a post remarking on the value of community-created, freely shared content.)

So, I found my head nodding as I watched Jay Baer express his distress over recent moves by Twitter and LinkedIn that undermined the maker spirit of the early Internet and further pushed us toward a totally commercialized environment of walled gardens.

Jay is a smart guy. And I feel his pain over these developments. Especially since I’m one of those people toiling to develop an application, 76insights, that relies on the APIs of the social networks.

I worry about where we may be going. And so does Jay. But as always, he says it particularly well. So, watch his video.

If you are interested in more thoughts from a leader in the digital marketing space, subscribe to Jay’s Jay Today podcast. It’s always interesting and thought provoking.

How do I get started editing my podcast with GarageBand?

Last year I bought a Mac. It came with GarageBand preinstalled. I’ve used Audacity for years to edit the Inside PR podcast. However, I think it’s time to bite the bullet and give GarageBand a shot.

Audacity is great. But I want to learn a new tool. So that I’m not dependent on a single tool. Because so many other podcasters tell me they use GarageBand, and I want to understand why they like it. And so that I can reassure myself that Audacity has kept up with the times.

So I open up GarageBand and go to the Help files to learn how to use it. Where’s the tutorial? There’s no tutorial! What the heck, Apple?!?!

Yes, there are Help text files and pictures. But they seem to be geared to people who want to produce music. Nothing I can find in the help files really guides me in creating a podcast.

Time to turn to Google and search for “GarageBand tutorials.” Long story short – the Google results are led by Lynda.com tutorials. They’re good. But I don’t really want to purchase a subscription to Lynda.com.

Where else can I turn? YouTube, of course. A quick search on YouTube turns up several tutorials posted by enthusiasts, people who love to create things and publish them to help others.

I find exactly what I’m looking for – thanks to Ryan Palmer. His video, embedded in this post, shows me how to create my audio track, add a musical intro and outro, and export my finished file as an MP3. These are exactly the basics I’m looking for, the things that any podcaster needs to get going.

Ryan helped me with his video – offered freely to me and others. So, what could I do to thank him? Well, this post with the embed to his video is one small way I can say thanks. At the time that I viewed Ryan’s video, it had 11,184 views and 111 recommendations. If you discover this post and watch Ryan’s video and give it a thumbs up – if it gets even one more view, I’ll feel that I’ve given back to him the best kind of thanks I can offer.

So, if you are a podcaster wondering how to get started editing your podcast in GarageBand, watch Ryan’s video. I’m sure you’ll find it useful.

And if you do, think about recommending it to someone else.

Thanks Ryan. Your video was exactly what I needed to get me started in GarageBand. :)

Native Advertising: When it’s good, it’s very very good

I’m not a big fan of native advertising. But I have to admit that this video worked for me. It made me miss my own King Charles Spaniel. It made me want to rush out and bring home a puppy. And it made me think positively about Puppy Chow. A content marketing and native advertising trifecta. Emotion tapped. Intent formed. Positive connection (with the brand) established.

Marketers take note: Make video for mobile users

New research from Google and Ipsos MediaCT provides further evidence that the future belongs to mobile and the future of mobile is video.

According to Google,

  • “people who view videos on their phones are 1.4X as likely to watch ads as those who view videos on desktop computers or televisions.
  • “Smartphone viewers are 1.6X as likely as TV viewers to turn to their peers in person and talk about the video content they’re watching.”
  • “smartphone video viewers were nearly 2X as likely as TV viewers to feel a sense of personal connection to brands that show video content or ads on their devices and 1.3X as likely as desktop viewers.”
  • More than 50% of the smartphone video viewers we surveyed said they used video to help them make product decisions in stores or on company websites…” and
  • one in three shoppers actually prefers to use a smartphone to find additional information rather than ask a store employee for help….”

Video has an impact on our online behaviour and our in-person behaviour. So, if it hasn’t already, it’s time for marketers to adopt a new perspective on video.

Are you thinking about your mobile audience when you produce video? Are you producing video that works best on the smaller screen? Or are you still producing video with the desktop in mind?

The world is going mobile. Are you?

 

A welcome improvement: WordPress 4.2 “Powell”

Today, WordPress got even better with the introduction of an update to its “Press This” extension. I use the Press This extension in my browser to quickly post notes like this to my blog directly from my browser. Quick and easy.

This video provides an overview of the most important upgrades in today’s release of WordPress 4.2 “Powell.” (And you don’t have to be a jazz fan to enjoy the benefits.)

Source: WordPress › WordPress 4.2 “Powell”

Google+ and the lesson of Owned vs Rented Spaces

Screenshot 2014-07-28 10.42.54

The pending breakup of Google+ holds a lesson that we should keep in mind: Social networks serve the business interests of their owners first. It’s as simple as owned vs rented spaces.

The terms, conditions and even basic operations of social networks can and do change at the whim of the owners if they see business advantage in this. If you don’t own it, if you’re just a renter, don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning to find the place has been sold out from under you.

Google gave us a stunning illustration of this on Sunday night when, with a Google+ post, Bradley Horowitz signalled the demise of Google+ as we know it.

The changes at Google+ underline something that savvy social media users should remember: Use your owned spaces to post your valuable content and then use social networks to promote it. Your owned spaces are as permanent as you want them to be. Social networks are as ephemeral as the owners want them to be.

Best Practice: Disclosure by a Journalist

In the world of native advertising, sponsored content, journalists supplementing their income with paid speaking gigs and the freelance economy, it’s hard sometimes to know where “news” content is coming from and what has influenced it. The personal disclosure statement is a helpful tool in identifying potential sources of influence and conflict of interest.

Trust matters

David Akin

David Akin

David Akin is a capable journalist who found himself, along with 200 others, out of a job when the Sun News Network ceased broadcasting last week. I’ve followed his Twitter feed, Facebook profile  and online writing for several years. So, when news broke that Sun News Network, where he hosted a nightly news program, had abruptly shut down, I wondered how this would affect him. Yesterday morning, he posted a piece on the Maclean’s site about Sun News and its controversial programming. And at the bottom of the post, he included a link to DavidAkin.com. I clicked on it out of curiosity to see what is there. Basically, it’s an online business card site. But with one very important distinguisher. One of the clearest disclosure statements I’ve seen from a journalist. Here’s Akin’s disclosure in full:

DISCLOSURE: I am a freelance journalist and, as result, the journalism I do is paid for by the news organizations that purchase it. I receive no fees, considerations, etc. for organizations or individuals I write about or speak about. I may, from time to time, accept speaking engagements from non-news organizations. I will endeavour to keep a list of those here. I am not, nor have I ever been during my 30 years as a professional journalist, a member of any political party. No member of my immediate family is a member of or campaigns on behalf of any political party. Neither I nor anyone in my immediate family own shares or equity in any corporation or business. Any investments I have are in widely-held mutual funds. If you think other disclosures are appropriate in this space, I’d like to hear from you. All of my contact details are always at www.davidakin.com.

Pretty clear. No equivocation. Akin clearly draws a line about what he does and doesn’t do. The man’s not for sale to corporate interests. In this era of equivocation about journalistic standards, David Akin’s disclosure stands out like a breath of fresh air. I wish every journalist could be this straightforward in their disclosure.

Context

Jay Rosen has taken a diary approach to his disclosure.

Jeff Jarvis discloses business and media ties, investments and a wide variety of potential sources of influence on his views.

Richard Gingras and Sally Lehrman wrote about the steps that might be taken to earn trust in journalism.

Target’s messy end in Canada

Target Canada got itself into big business trouble in Canada. And it got itself into even bigger reputation trouble with the way it is leaving the country.

It has become commonplace for companies to care about being seen to be responsible corporate citizens. And this involves both doing and being seen to exercise their corporate social responsibility. To make the communities in which they operate better places. To give back as well as to receive.

We expect that corporations will want to be seen to be doing more than the bare minimum they can get away with. And perhaps that’s why Target Canada has garnered so much bad media in the wake of their decision to pull out of the Canadian market. They were perceived as doing as little as the law required them to do in order to get out of the country.

Whether this was justified or not, the company seemed almost to be playing rope a dope, absorbing the blows without attempting to fight back.

Did Target give its employees, its suppliers and its partners a raw deal? Were they inept or calculating in their communications? Will this affect their reputation in the United States?

Gini DietrichMartin Waxman and I explore these questions on this week’s Inside PR podcast. Give it a listen and make up your own mind. Does Target deserve the target on its back?

Context

Here is a selection of the media coverage and commentary around Target’s retreat from Canada.

Target closes all 133 stores in Canada; Seeks creditor protection

Target Canada owes more than 5 billion to creditors

Target Canada owes advertising, marketing and PR partners

Top Target Canada Managers get big cash payouts as stores close

More must be done to help laid off target employees 

Target closure causing crisis for independent pharmacies, owners say

Target Canada patient records sold

Ontario pharmacists fighting Target Canada

Target Canada liquidation sales draw crowds and mockery

 

This is a cross post from the Inside PR podcast blog. Listen to the complete podcast.