Not okay, Facebook

Facebook wants to once again screw with everyone’s personal information.

Facebook announced today in a letter to Congress that the social-media platform is moving forward with plans to give third parties access to user information, such as phone numbers and home addresses.

In a letter to Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who both expressed concerns over Facebook’s plan to make such data available, company officials reiterated their now-familiar pledge to leave it up to users to decide whether they want their personal contact information to go out to app developers and outside websites. Markey has previously said that “Facebook needs to protect the personal information of its users to ensure that Facebook doesn’t become Phonebook.”

I discovered a few weeks ago that my number was actually posted on my profile. Presumably it happened when I got a BlackBerry and added the Facebook app. I’ve looked and seen that other friends with smart phones also have their numbers available; I doubt most of them know. And now Facebook wants to take advantage of this fact. It’s horseshit. I’ve removed my number, and I never had my address up there in the first place, but this is much too far. Facebook needs to pull itself back. It has 500 million users – there’s plenty of ad revenue to be had. There is no need to give seedy companies access to this sort of information.

The police fear of being recorded

There are a lot of ways police can legally screw people over.

It’s called civil asset forfeiture. You probably already have heard of something like this, where the police get to seize the car and house of some drug kingpin and stick the money in the department’s budget (that’s criminal forfeiture).

But then there’s this loophole where the police can seize anything they suspect has been used in a crime, even if it doesn’t belong to the criminal, and even if there hasn’t been a conviction.

Then if you, as the actual owner of the goods, try to challenge it, the burden of proof is on you to prove you didn’t know it was going to be used in a crime. That’s civil forfeiture.

For the police, there is no legal requirement to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that, say, your TV set was once used by a ring of Dutch pedophiles to view kiddie porn. They can simply take it, without ever giving it back, even if they never formally charge anyone for a crime.

This is obviously bullshit. The police do not deserve this much power. Ever. The average citizens needs all the tools available at his disposal to fight this legal abuse. Unfortunately, police have the ability to take away at least one of those tools.

In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states [Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland], it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.

Police are routinely convicted thanks to video evidence. They’re human. They make errors, stupid decisions, and can be just as criminal as anyone else. They are not special. To take away the ability to catch them when they royally fuck up poses a serious danger to society.

A recent arrest in Maryland is both typical and disturbing.

On March 5, 24-year-old Anthony John Graber III’s motorcycle was pulled over for speeding. He is currently facing criminal charges for a video he recorded on his helmet-mounted camera during the traffic stop.

The case is disturbing because:

1) Graber was not arrested immediately. Ten days after the encounter, he posted some of he material to YouTube, and it embarrassed Trooper J. D. Uhler. The trooper, who was in plainclothes and an unmarked car, jumped out waving a gun and screaming. Only later did Uhler identify himself as a police officer. When the YouTube video was discovered the police got a warrant against Graber, searched his parents’ house (where he presumably lives), seized equipment, and charged him with a violation of wiretapping law.

2) Baltimore criminal defense attorney Steven D. Silverman said he had never heard of the Maryland wiretap law being used in this manner. In other words, Maryland has joined the expanding trend of criminalizing the act of recording police abuse. Silverman surmises, “It’s more [about] ‘contempt of cop’ than the violation of the wiretapping law.”

3) Police spokesman Gregory M. Shipley is defending the pursuit of charges against Graber, denying that it is “some capricious retribution” and citing as justification the particularly egregious nature of Graber’s traffic offenses. Oddly, however, the offenses were not so egregious as to cause his arrest before the video appeared.

Take a look at the video. Graber was horribly speeding and acting entirely irresponsible on the road, but that’s all he was doing. He deserves a severe ticket and probably a temporary suspension of his license. Nothing more.

The cop, J.D. Uhler, ought to receive a reprimand for pulling his gun like an utter toolbag right after the charges are dismissed against Graber. I don’t foresee such justice.

But it isn’t all bad news.

Happily, even as the practice of arresting “shooters” expands, there are signs of effective backlash. At least one Pennsylvania jurisdiction has reaffirmed the right to video in public places. As part of a settlement with ACLU attorneys who represented an arrested “shooter,” the police in Spring City and East Vincent Township adopted a written policy allowing the recording of on-duty policemen.

As journalist Radley Balko declares, “State legislatures should consider passing laws explicitly making it legal to record on-duty law enforcement officials.”

I hope these laws and interpretations of existing laws make their way to the Supreme Court. Scalia would probably make his usual political ruling in favor of police, but there’s hope enough justices would see just how wrong this all is.

Be sure to check out Photography is Not a Crime for more.

More Facebook lies

Facebook’s failed privacy policies are an ongoing problem for the company. Now that blogs and other media have helped to bring attention to them, Facebook has taken to lying.

In an open letter published Monday in the Washington Post (whose chairman, Donald E. Graham, just so happens to sit on Facebook’s board of directors), Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook has been “growing quickly” and admitted that “sometimes we move too fast.”

“Many of you thought our controls were too complex,” Zuckerberg’s letter reads. “Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls” — uh, you can say that again — “but that may not have been what many of you wanted. We just missed the mark.”

Zuckerberg promised, in “coming weeks,” privacy controls that will be “much simpler to use” — including an “easy way to turn off all third-party services” that can access your account.

The concern is false. It’s a lie. The company is pretending like they’re going to vastly improve things – because any change sounds nice – but they’re going to make slight modifications which still favor the invasion of privacy by default. It may become easier to say “No, don’t take my private info”, but it’s going to remain necessary for people to go out of their way and do it. And that’s the complaint; Facebook just doesn’t get that people are mad because most users sign up with the presumption of default privacy.

Not that the owner, Zuckerberg, cares:

But Zuckerberg is also being dogged by an embarrassing IM thread from when he was a 19-year-old Harvard student, bragging that he’d gathered personal information from thousands of users for the nascent “People just submitted it,” Zuckerberg messaged, “I don’t know why. They ‘trust me.’ Dumb [expletive].” (This comes via Silicon Alley Insider.)


Facebook’s continued failed privacy policies

It’s long been known that Facebook is really bad with its privacy policies. Apparently they’ve forgotten about all the issues MySpace had with sex offenders finding whoever they wanted.

If you don’t spend your days glued to tech blogs, you might not know about the latest trend among hipster techies: quitting Facebook. These folks, including a bunch of Google engineers, are bailing out because Facebook just changed its rules so that much of your personal profile information, including where you work, what music you like, and where you went to school, now gets made public by default. Some info is even shared with companies that are special partners of Facebook, like Yelp, Pandora, and Microsoft. And while there are ways to dial back on some of this by tinkering with your privacy settings, it’s tricky to figure out—intentionally so, according to cynics.

The big-wigs are scampering to lie their asses off – to no one’s surprise – but this is all so obvious. Facebook wants to make more money, fuck its users, and fellate all the companies that are willing to give them money. They have no concern over privacy or the safety of its users. They want more money. That is it.