Posts tagged with Privacy

New social network Unthink: First thoughts

After months of buzz and speculation, after an oh-so-trendy promo video that made the rounds on YouTube, after months of waiting for an invite, we're finally in to the beta rush for new "liberated" social network Unthink!

Well, kind of. Actually, not really. But we did get to play with the long-anticipated, much-maligned alternative social net before it collapsed under its own weight this afternoon. For about 15 minutes, much of which was spent watching Firefox spin its little "Loading" icon. And here you have it: the social network that is going to Fix Everything. Maybe.

All sarcasm aside, it's got to be said that Unthink's got a pretty messy user interface, particularly compared to the early days of Facebook. (Let's ignore the current Facebook-in-transition UI mess for the time being; if we assume that a new social network will start simple and grow in interface complexity from there, well, Unthink has some issues already.) The whole modular "portal" layout feels a lot like iGoogle, which itself never really took off but is reflected in hundreds of dashboard-style welcome screens for every web-based app imaginable. But what's this "Lifestyle Tree"? And what's with the old-school news ticker at the bottom of the screen? Oh, and apologies that the ticker in the image above is obscured by my Mac OS dock; when I went to snap another screenshot, it was too late. All I got was this:

Looks like exploring Unthink may have to wait a little while until they get some server load issues worked out. Not exactly an auspicious start.

That said, it sounds like Unthink might hold some promise. Privacy controls are out in the open - everywhere, almost to the point of repetition. Default sharing settings lean toward the private rather than the public, a contrast from Facebook's tendency toward releasing privacy updates that require manual user action to return to previous settings. And if nothing else, there are bound to be new features included in Unthink that, if they don't give Big Blue a run for their money, will at least inspire Facebook to ape something similar in a future rollout. (Google+ circles, anyone?)

We're curious to see if anyone else has played with Unthink yet. Got a screenshot you can share, or just general opinions? Let us know in the comments.


Social privacy roundtable: A recap

About a month ago, we held a community roundtable at the News Center to discuss the question of where social media and privacy intersect. It was a lively forum that provided us valuable feedback on social media use in our own newsroom, but it also held a wider-ranging purpose: The results of our meeting were summarized and sent to the Associated Press Media Editors as part of a larger study on social media and the press.

If you attended the roundtable - or if you didn't, and are curious about what we discussed - here's the summary version of what was recently sent to APME, courtesy of Jonathan Kealing. As always, we'd love to hear any comments or thoughts you may have on these findings; please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Six people joined the conversation in person and about five to seven people joined in via Twitter. Among the participants were two attorneys or law students, as well as three people who might be described as experts in social media. The rest were a mix of interested locals who use social media regularly and are interested in privacy specifically or the media in general.

We had a far-ranging discussion of several different topics (you can find the topics described here) from our newsroom and from a newsroom in Maine. We talked for nearly two hours and did not get to the final scenario. The discussion on the previous scenarios was quite good. We also discussed social media and privacy in the context of other industries in attendance, which, while educational and interesting for everyone, isn't necessarily germane to this report.

While none of these recommendations are game changers, they are worth codifying and considering whenever journalists put themselves in a position where their tweets, Facebook posts and links could invade the privacy of someone else.

• When tweeting about something that is happening in real time, do your best to make your presence known. Be up front that you're with the media, especially if the topic is potentially sensitive.

• Consider the important role that the media plays as a filter — someone who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Remember objectivity as well. Not every tweet deserves to be retweeed, not every Facebook profile deserves to be linked. Sometimes, our audience wants to know what we're talking about, and not be able to find it directly. Sometimes, we can best protect criminal suspects or others by describing what they say on their social media accounts, rather than linking to them directly.

• When possible, seek permission before reposting or sharing information that someone shared via their social media account. This may not be practical in some circumstances.

• Remember that on some occasions, sharing information may actually be the best way to help someone protect their privacy. Social media has given everyone the ability to publish — and report. When something curious has happened, people will post about it on Twitter until they can find out what happened. A discreet, well crafted post via social media can squash rumors that may otherwise be uninteresting. For example, with a suicide in a private place, there may still be a large police presence. If people are curious about it, they will remain curious and keep posting until they find out it’s a suicide.

Above all, the best advice is to always keep the privacy of producers and consumers of social media in mind — just as we always have when publishing in the analog media world. The particular elements of social media, however, may require new behavior.


Wanted: your thoughts on privacy and social media

Social media and privacy: Are the two mutually exclusive, or is it still possible to keep areas of your life private online? And what happens when law enforcement, the media or both get involved?

That's what we examined last night at a community roundtable here at the News Center, and the discussion was lively. And while we're of course interested in this issue on a local level for its own sake (the discussion continues next Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the weekly Social Media Club of Lawrence breakfast), our roundtable served a national purpose, too. The summit was part of a credibility study by the Associated Press Media Editors (newly renamed) that will cover several facets of social media. and the Lawrence Journal-World, as well as and the Knoxville News-Sentinel, are the two newsrooms in this study looking at the intersection of social media and privacy.

At the bottom of this post are a few examples of where someone’s life was changed — or they felt it was changed — because of information shared via social media. During our roundtable, we examined the examples and discussed what we or another news organization might have done right or wrong under the circumstances, and what could have gone differently. We had some fantastic feedback from those in attendance both in person and via Twitter; thanks to everyone who came to the News Center last night, or joined @WorldCoSocial in a Twitter chat on hashtag #socialprivacy. (Click the link to search the hashtag for items discussed, or watch this space for a more definitive summary soon.)

If you didn't make it to our roundtable, we'd still like to hear your thoughts on social media and privacy, particularly regarding the situations outlined below. Or, if you'd prefer to make your opinions known in a more private forum, send an email to Jonathan Kealing (via Gmail at, not his old address); he'll be helping wrap up this project from his new post in Minnesota). If you have any other examples of ethical dilemmas in the intersection of social media and reporting, we'd like to hear them as well.

Once everyone's opinions are gathered in the same place, we'll share a summary here in this blog. Thanks for weighing in!

Here are the discussion items:

1) Over the police scanner, a reporter hears a report of a “Code Black” (dead body) at a home in the area. A quick phone call to emergency dispatchers advises it’s being treated as a medical — an unattended death. A quick tweet is put out saying that an ambulance and police are investigating an unattended death, but it’s believed to be a medical. No other action is taken by the reporter, but a competing news organization goes to the house later and bangs on the door, disturbing a grieving spouse. The spouse calls the original news organization and complains.

2) A father kills his estranged wife and two children before killing himself. The man's Facebook page is public. It includes numerous pictures of himself with his children and wife, and frequent wall posts on how much he misses his children and the fun they used to have together, with other posts from friends and relatives trying to console him. He does not mention that he is legally barred from seeing his children because he had been charged with holding the family at gunpoint as he threatened to kill his wife. The wife has a Facebook page, but hers is restricted to only be viewable by her friends, so there's no way to see what, if anything, she was saying.

3) Two reporters are covering a public forum where community members are speaking with elected officials about the closure of the local social services office. Many speakers are identifying themselves by name and as the reporters are tweeting about the meeting, they are identifying the speakers. There are numerous cameras and hundreds of people in the room. A few days later, one of the speakers calls the newsroom and is upset that her name was listed in the tweet.

4) A man is arrested and charged with killing his wife. We find the Facebook page of the woman's daughter, who is about 14. On her profile, which is public, she expresses her grief and shock and says repeatedly that she is sure that her stepfather killed her mom and makes allegations that he had previously abused her mother.


Apple taking a bite out of iPhone privacy?

Update (April 27, 2011): Apple released today an official statement regarding what Twitter's been calling "Locationgate." Have a look for how they plan to address the issue.

Fresh on the heels of national coverage of location-based "stalker app" Creepy, there's been a lot of buzz this week about iPhoneTracker, an open-source Mac application that literally maps out where your iPhone or cellular-enabled iPad has been. What's causing such a stir, though, is that the program isn't just sniffing out your social media check-ins - apparently, that's so last week. What iPhoneTracker does is aggregate your iPhone's cell tower check-in data, which isn't stored by your mobile provider (as is the case with most phones, and that data is hidden behind legal protection) but rather in a database file both on your iPhone and on the computer with which you sync that phone.

An unencrypted database file. Which, if your computer isn't password-protected, your spouse, co-workers or kids could dig into.

Is this scary? CNN certainly thinks so. But before you ditch the iPhone for an Android - which as far as folks know at present doesn't pull any such shenanigans - you may want to think through what this data actually means. (Correction: A Wall Street Journal article published April 22 states that the Android does, in fact, regularly transmit user location data back to Google.) Also, there are a few other things to note: First, Apple has only been storing this data on your phone since the release of iOS 4 last June. Also, since the data comes from cell tower triangulation, this only applies to working iPhones and cell-enabled iPads - so, if your iPad only supports wi-fi or you're using your friend's old no-plan iPhone as a glorified iPod Touch, none of this applies to you.

For the sake of science - and maybe a tiny bit of paranoia - I ran iPhone Tracker on my personal laptop, the one I use for syncing my phone. And here's what I got:

So now what? For starters, if you were a PI or angry spouse poring through all those dots on the maps, it actually wouldn't reveal much more than you could figure out about me via a thorough Internet search - even excluding location-based stuff like my Foursquare check-ins, which give away a lot more info. Sure, you can zoom in on Lawrence, see the density of dots over the east part of town and conclude that I probably live somewhere around there. Or you could just read my blog, backtrack through my Twitter stream or see the sort of comments I post on community Web sites and gather pretty much the same thing.

Then there's the part about cell towers being less accurate than GPS when it comes to pinpointing your true location - sometimes considerably less accurate. For example, I haven't been anywhere in New Mexico in at least 10 years, even though the map has me there for a whole cluster of dots.

So what do you think - evil conspiracy on the part of Big Brother Apple, really no big deal or somewhere in between? Let us know in the comments.