Quick Hits: Advertisers Turn to “Supercookies” for Online Tracking

In today’s Quick Hits, we talk about new online tracking technology that is nearly impossible to disable, why one mom thinks friending one’s children online is a bad idea, and how more and more people are using privacy controls on social networking websites.

Web Trackers Turn to Stealthy “Supercookies”

The Wall Street Journal reports that several major websites “have been tracking people’s online activities using powerful new methods that are almost impossible for computer users to detect.” These so-called “supercookies” are “capable of re-creating users’ profiles after people deleted regular cookies, according to researchers at Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley.” As more people become aware of the privacy ramifications of online tracking, the advertising industry is looking for ways to continue accessing valuable consumer information online. Currently, “supercookies” are legal, but that might change depending on whether Congress takes up anti-tracking legislation.

Florida Teacher Suspended for Anti-Gay Marriage Facebook Remarks

A Florida teacher, who was once named Teacher of the Year, has been suspended from the classroom after he compared gay marriage to a “cesspool” in a post on his Facebook page. The veteran educator is arguing that his suspension is unmerited because he made the comments on his personal page during his personal time. A school district investigation will determine whether to take additional action against the teacher.

Why You Shouldn’t Friend Your Teens Online

In an interesting article for The Daily Mail, Rachel Halliwell argues that parents shouldn’t friend their children on websites like Facebook, because, in her experience, it’s better to not know all of the things teens talk about online. Halliwell, who says she checked up on her daughter obsessively for a time, writes that “In the end I got so sick of worrying myself stupid about what they were up to that I deleted them all from my Facebook account — my own daughter included.”

Despite her decision to disconnect from her daughter online, Halliwell does acknowledge that social media has made adolescence much different. Quoting the article, “Our kids are the first generation of teens to have grown up with instant communication. They have no recollection of life before it. And however uncomfortable we adults feel with this set-up, there is no way to turn back the clock.”

Anonymous Facebook Attack Not Happening

Earlier in the month, a small faction of the hacker group Anonymous made headlines by declaring plans to take down Facebook on November 5th. Immediately, several representatives from Anonymous distanced the group from the operation, as tech writers questioned how a small group of hackers could take down Facebook in the first place. On Monday, someone managing the @Op_Facebook account tied to the operation posted a message saying “We Can’t Take Facebook Down…Yet” and calling the operation an awareness campaign. In other words, the operation is currently dead, but may return in the future.

More People Using Privacy Settings on Social Networks

According to a survey from Webroot security, people are becoming much more privacy-aware. Quoting TechCrunch, “between 2009 and 2011, Webroot says, the number of US social network users who have never viewed or changed their privacy settings plummeted from 37 percent in 2009 to 8 percent in 2011.” TechCrunch attributes the increase in privacy awareness to widespread publicity around privacy issues.

Quick Hits: Groupon Explains “Always On” Location Tracking

In today’s Quick Hits, we talk about Groupon’s privacy policies, why one German official has a problem with Facebook, and a political candidate’s Facebook faux-pas.

Groupon Explains Location Privacy Policies

In response to Congressional inquiries about the company’s recently privacy policy changes, Groupon has issued a statement clarifying its stance on location tracking. Kashmir Hill at Forbes writes that Groupon “wants to start collecting location information from phones — even when the Groupon app is not on — in order to tell people about deals in their vicinity.” According to Groupon, this can only happen with a customer’s consent, but Congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton still warned the company not to violate user privacy.

German Privacy Watchdog Orders State Institutions to Shut Down Facebook Pages and “Like” Buttons

Claiming a violation of German and European Union data privacy laws, Thilo Weichert, Data Protection Commissioner for Schleswig-Holstein, “ordered state institutions to shut down [Facebook] fan pages…and remove the [Facebook] ‘Like’ button from their websites.” Facebook disputes Weicher’s allegations that the company tracks and stores user data for two years, but did admit that it accesses technical information about the user, such as an IP address. Weichert’s order demonstrates how Germany and the United States treat the subject of privacy.

Facebook Records Which Profiles You Visit the Most

Facebook collects a wide range of data on its users, but one of the more interesting things Facebook records is which profiles you visit the most. Zack Whittaker at ZDNet explains how this works, writing “Facebook uses a server-side script, loaded when you use the site, called first_degree.php. This acts as a ranking algorithm, likely to be based on those who you interact with, the profiles you visit, who you chat and communicate with and those who you have recently become acquainted with.  The higher the negative number, the more likely the person attached to it will display in Facebook’s autocomplete search — at the top of the window.”

Canadian Politician Apologizes for Facebook Jokes

A Canadian politician recently apologized for several off-color jokes on his Facebook profile, saying “If I could do it again, I probably wouldn’t have posted it.” The jokes, which were made prior to his decision to run for office, tried to shrug off the Facebook posts saying they represented his “taste in humor,” but acknowledged that they may have offended some. The candidate’s efforts to distance himself from his Facebook profile represent a new reality for politicians seeking election in the digital age.

Facebook Issues Security Guide for Teachers, Students, and Parents

In an effort to address concerns over security, privacy, and bullying, Facebook has published a free, 20-page guide titled “A Guide to Facebook Security.” PCWorld writes that “the pamphlet is available on the site and was co-written by security experts Linda McCarthy and Keith Watson, and editor and teacher Denise Weldon-Siviy.”

Quick Hits: Google+ is an “Identity Service”

In today’s Quick Hits, Eric Schmidt uses interesting language to describe Google+, Dan Tynan criticizes Facebook’s new privacy settings, and ZDNet tests your ability to weed out phishing scams.

Eric Schmidt Calls Google+ an “Identity System”

You might think of Google+ as a social networking site, but according to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, it’s an “identity system.” Schmidt made the statement while defending Google’s policy of requiring real names, which many have criticized for being overly aggressive. As BusinessInsider explains, this approach is useful for Google because having a single trusted identity “could ease their interactions offline and online,” making Internet advertising, the core of Google’s business model, more effective.

Juror Sentenced to Community Service for “Friending” Defendant

A Texas juror was sentenced to two days of community service after he pleaded guilty to contempt of court following his attempts to “friend” the defendant in the case on Facebook. The juror also attempted to talk about the case with the defendant, in clear violation of the court’s orders to not discuss the case online. This isn’t the first time that a juror has gotten in trouble for social networking, not will it be the last, as social media has become a staple of everyday life.

Legitimate Facebook E-mails vs. Phishing E-mails

Could you tell the difference between a legitimate Facebook e-mail and a phishing scam? It’s not as easy as it seems. This article from ZDNet gives three examples and asks the reader to pick whether the e-mail is legit or a scam. The level of sophistication around online scams may surprise you.

Dan Tynan: Facebook Privacy Controls Stil Broken

Despite Facebook’s recent efforts to make privacy controls more accessible, the company is still missing the point when it comes to user privacy, according to tech journalist Dan Tynan. In his ITWorld column, Tynan singles out Facebook’s new tagging controls, which he says allow users to post negative information about a Facebook user without them knowing.

Quoting Tynan, “Using Facebook’s new “improved” privacy controls, you can tag someone else in photo and then keep them from seeing it. It’s pretty simple; just change the sharing option so they don’t see what you posted. So if you want to tag a picture of a jackass with your friend’s name on it and make it Public, everyone on Facebook will be able to see it except one – the person whose name is on it.”

Christopher Wolf of Future of Privacy Forum Questions Law Focused on Erasing Privacy Data

Attorney Christopher Wolf, who is co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, recently appeared on Bloomberg Law where he questioned the efficacy of new privacy laws that promise to give consumers the power to erase their private data on demand. Wolf specifically discussed the “Do-Not-Track Kids Act of 2011,” which he said could be unwieldy and difficult for companies to enforce.

Quick Hits: Missouri Judge Blocks Social Media Ban for Teachers

In today’s Quick Hits, we share a new development in Missouri’s hotly-debated law that prohibited teachers from friending students online, opinions on Facebook’s new privacy controls, and guidelines from the National Labor Relations Board on proper Facebook firing etiquette.

Missouri Judge Blocks Facebook Ban for Teachers

FOX News reports that, “a Missouri judge has blocked a law restricting Internet communications between teachers and students from taking effect Sunday,” confirming criticism from some legal experts that criticized the law as overly broad and unconstitutional. The law was ostensibly created to limit sexual contact between teachers and students, but could also be interpreted to forbid teachers from having any presence on social networking websites.

Social Media Responsible for Increase in Online Libel Cases

The number of libel cases citing social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter more than doubled in the UK in the last year. According to the Telegraph, “the rise has been disclosed as social networking websites become the new front line in the debate over Britain’s libel laws” In the UK, strong privacy laws have generally prevented the rich and wealthy from having secrets exposed in the media, but the prevalence and anonymous nature of social networking websites has made these laws ineffectual.

Security Experts Mixed Over New Facebook Privacy Controls

This week, Facebook began rolling out an extensive overhaul of its privacy controls, leading to much debate in the online security and privacy community. ZDNet reports that while the “overall consensus is that this is a step forward” some security experts “still have mixed feelings” about the change. The security company Sophos articulated the general concern, writing in a statement that Facebook “missed an opportunity to lead the way on privacy” and should “become truly opt-in” if it wants to enact meaningful change for consumers.

NLRB Clarifies When You Can and Can’t Fire Employees

In a well-written and well-researched article for Forbes, Kashmir Hill discusses the National Labor Relations Board’s recent recommendations regarding when companies can and can’t fire employees for negative online content. As Kashmir explains, “all private employers must respect their workers’ right to ‘protected concerted activity.’” In other words, if an employee is complaining about his or her working conditions, the speech is protected.

Identifying Influencers in Social Media

Brands are increasingly using social media to connect with customers, but what they’re really interested in is connecting with influencers. As this article from the Telegraph explains, “social media are changing at such a pace that attracting vast numbers of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ are no longer enough to help brands stand out from the crowd. Now it is all about tapping in to people’s digital status and identifying key ‘influencers.’” As a part of this shift in marketing thinking, many start-ups are attempting to assign reputation and influences scores to individuals to help brands target the right social media users.

Quick Hits: College Men’s Golf Team Suspended Over Naked Facebook Photo

In today’s Quick Hits, we share the fallout from a college golf team’s provocative Facebook photo, the story of a gangster’s Facebook undoing, and information on a new privacy lawsuit against the tracking firm comScore.

College Golf Team Suspended Over Nude Facebook Photo

The Bethany College men’s golf team thought it would be a pretty good gag to take a team picture in the nude, with only golf equipment covering their (ahem) putters. When they posted the picture on Facebook, however, they quickly earned the wrath of their coach and school officials who suspended the team from playing in three upcoming tournaments. The team’s captain is appealing the decision.

Facebook Job Recruiting May Be the Wave of the Future

Many Facebook users go out of their way to keep their profiles hidden from job recruiters, but this Reuters article suggests that Facebook recruiting may be the wave of the future for hiring managers. Thanks to Facebook’s extensive built-in social networks, making referrals for jobs would be much easier, just one of the many reasons why hiring managers might find Facebook recruiting useful.

Mobster Arrested After Girlfriend’s Facebook Photo Reveals His Location

An Italian mobster was tracked down and arrested in Spain after his girlfriend posted pictures to Facebook that gave away the pair’s precise location. According to The Daily Mail, the woman “published several photos on Facebook of her outside upmarket Marbella nightspot Nikki Beach Club where the couple were staying” allowing police to swoop in and arrest the individual with no resistance. The mobster had been on the run for nearly a decade when he was discovered.

Tracking Website comScore Sued Over Privacy Violations

The online tracking company comScore has been charged with “surreptitiously collecting Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords and other data from consumer systems” according to a new lawsuit filed in federal court. According to ComputerWorld, “the lawsuit characterized comScore’s software as intrusive surveillance tools that allowed the company to monitor every keystroke and every action taken by a user on the Internet.” A comScore spokesman has called the lawsuit meritless and pledged that the company would fight it.

Privacy Commissioner Wants Canadians to Be Smarter About Mobile Phone Security

Canadian privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart is asking Canadian citizens to be more careful with their mobile phones following a survey which revealed that “just four in 10 [respondents] use password locks on their mobile devices or adjust their settings to limit access to personal information stored on such gadgets.” Stoddart has been one of the world’s foremost personal privacy advocates and has helped Canada lead the charge in forcing companies to improve online privacy protections for consumers.

Quick Hits: Google Shells Out $500 Million Settlement Over Illegal Pharmaceutical Ads

In today’s Quick Hits, we talk about Google’s historic settlement over illegal ads, how social media use is linked to higher levels of substance abuse in teens, and what Facebook’s new privacy settings mean for users.

Google Pays 0 Million in Settlement Over Illegal Pharmaceutical Ads

In one of the largest settlements in U.S. history, Google has agreed to pay 0 million in damages after a Department of Justice investigation determined that the company violated U.S. laws by allowing Canadian pharmacies to advertise and sell drugs to U.S. consumers. Google has suspended this practice and apologized for the advertisements.

Social Media Use Linked to Higher Rates of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Teens

According to a new survey commissioned by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teenaged social network users were “five times more likely to report using tobacco (10 percent versus 2 percent), three times more likely to say they used alcohol (26 percent versus 9 percent) and twice as likely to admit using marijuana (13 percent versus 7 percent).” It’s important to note that the survey doesn’t show a causal link between social media and substance abuse, but that certain elements of social networking can contribute to relaxed attitudes about alcohol and drug use.

HR Magazine: Why Facebook Searches on Job Hunters Should Be Banned

In an article for HR Magazine, Paul Deakin argues that screening job applicants based on their social media profiles causes hiring managers to prejudge candidates unfairly and should be banned. Quoting Deakin, “By their very nature, social networking sites are not naturally respectful of privacy, reputation and control which is something both HR professionals and job applicants should take into account.”

Microsoft Deletes “Supercookie”

According to The Register, “Microsoft has deleted code on its MSN website that secretly logged visitors’ browsing histories across multiple web properties, even when the users deleted browser cookies to elude tracking.” These so-called “supercookies” are practically impossible to opt out from and have drawn considerable criticism from privacy advocates.

Wall Street Journal: What Facebook’s new Privacy Settings Mean For You

The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog has a good report on Facebook’s new privacy controls and how they will affect Facebook users. Reputation.com shared a first look at Facebook’s new privacy controls in a blog post yesterday.

Quick Hits: One-Third of Young Adults Feel ‘Cyber Shame’ Over Drunk Facebook Photos

In today’s Quick Hits, we talk about “Cyber Shame,” one photographer’s stand against cyberbullying, and the White House’s consumer privacy protection plans.

Over a Third of Young People Experience “Cyber Shame” from Social Media

“More than a third of young people admit to feeling ‘cyber shame’ after posting embarrassing photos or posts online while drunk” according to a survey commissioned by the alcohol education charity Drinkaware. In addition to the physical dangers of excessive drinking, Chris Sorek, CEO of Drinkaware, notes that there are also reputation consequences to posting drunk photos online. Sorek explains that living in the digital world “means that people who have been drinking to excess can have their actions come back to haunt them online,” particularly when it comes to getting a new job and other important life transactions.

Photographer’s Refusal to Serve “Ugly” People Wins Support from Anti-Bullying Advocates

A Pennsylvania photographer has become an unlikely spokesperson in the country’s growing crusade against bullying after she refused to photograph several high school girls whom she observed on a Facebook page bullying other students. In a note on Facebook, Jennifer McKendrick wrote that she didn’t want to make people who were ugly on the inside look beautiful on the outside. Since making her stand, McKendrick has received broad support from anti-bullying advocates across the country.

Consumers Turn to Twitter to Complain About Businesses

The Sydney Morning Herald writes, “consumers are increasingly turning to Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustrations at having their complaints ignored as online activism becomes a powerful tool forcing businesses to fix unresolved issues.” Citing several examples where online activism has forced company’s to change their operating procedures, the Herald article highlights an important new reality for businesses of all sizes. In a world where customers can talk directly to brands, it’s important that brands listen and talk back.

Criticism of Google+ Real Name Policy

In an article for InformationWeek, Thomas Claburn argues that Google’s real name policy for its new social network Google+ is a mistake, offering five reasons why it hurts users. Claburn’s argument echos other complaints from tech writers who view Google’s name policy as a mistake and argue that it stifles open discourse online.

White House Pushes Consumer Privacy Protection Plan

Danny Weitzner, associate administrator at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently outlined the White House’s plans for improving consumer privacy without stifling innovation in the economy. During comments at a Technology Policy Institute conference, Weitzner said, “You can have stronger privacy law, clearer rules, clearer principles established in law, without the costs and downsides of a traditional regulatory structure.” How privacy rules would be regulated without a traditional regulatory structure remains to be seen, but the notion of a broad “Privacy Bill of Rights” still seems to be popular in Washington, D.C.

Feeling Pressure from Google+, Facebook Changes Privacy Controls

Facebook Privacy

Only a few months after Google rolled out its highly-praised new social network Google+, which put privacy and controlled sharing at the forefront, Facebook has made sweeping changes to its own privacy controls.

Taking a cue from Google+, Facebook has redesigned its privacy controls to be much clearer and easier to use. As Facebook explains in a blog post, “Your profile should feel like your home on the web – you should never feel like stuff appears there that you don’t want, and you should never wonder who sees what’s there.”

To this end, Facebook has moved all privacy controls from a separate page (which was hard to locate for many Facebook users) to being inline, next to your posts, photos, and other Facebook updates. Essentially, you’ll be able to choose who sees your posts every time you create something new.

As shown in the picture below, Facebook offers three sharing options by default (Public, Friends, and Custom). Once you choose a setting, it will become your default setting for all posts until you choose to switch it. If you want to switch a post from one setting to another after you’ve posted it, you can make that change.

In addition to moving privacy controls inline, Facebook has also made it so that users must approve when they are tagged in photographs. Previously, if another user tagged you in a photo, it appeared on your profile without your consent. Now, you must consent to having the picture posted to your profile. If you don’t consent, the picture may still appear on your friend’s profile, but Facebook has built an automatic mechanism to ask your friend to remove the picture.

These changes should be rolling out to Facebook users in the next few days. Reputation.com will have a more thorough report on them at that time. In general, however, it is safe to say that these privacy controls are a big improvement over Facebook’s previous efforts and give users much more explicit control over what they post online.

Of course, users still must realize that the information they share online can become public by a variety of means — accidental, malicious, or otherwise. That’s why Reputation.com recommends uProtect.it, the only application that protects your information on Facebook from Facebook.

For a more detailed look at Facebook’s new privacy controls, check out this excellent slideshow from Business Insider.

Quick Hits: Missouri Teachers Fight Social Networking Ban

In today’s Quick Hits, we talk about a lawsuit intended to overturn a new law preventing teachers from “friending” students online and why Facebook and dating don’t always mix.

Missouri Teachers File Lawsuit Against Social Networking Ban

The Missouri State Teacher’s Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new law preventing teachers from interacting with students on Facebook and other social media websites. The law, which has been described as unconstitutional by Internet law expert Daniel Solove, was created to discourage teachers and students form having inappropriate sexual relationships, but has been criticized as overly broad by teachers’ groups. The law is set to go into effect on August 28th.

Preteens and Teens Embrace Raunchy Online Culture

This article from The Campbell Reporter discusses how young teens are embracing “the raunchy, rude lingo of cyberspace” and what teachers are doing to help students exercise more responsibility online. Quoting the article, “Educators increasingly are joining in to challenge the crude culture of social networks, which they fear unleashes cyberbullying and sexting, heightens the social drama of puberty and teaches the wrong values.” Citing a number of examples from the San Francisco Bay Area, the article shares how digital literacy and education programs, along with anti-bullying legislation, have been proposed to help kids stay safe on the Web.

Facebook Comments Improve Websites

People might say and do stupid things on Facebook, but when they’re using Facebook to leave a comment on a website, they smarten up. According to Jimmy Orr at the Los Angeles Times, whose paper has been using Facebook comments and traditional anonymous comments side-by-side, the difference in the quality of discourse from Facebook commenters was “stunning.” Orr owes the improved comments to the fact that Facebook requires users to provide their real name. When individuals know that their real name and reputation is tied to their comments, they are more careful and less combative online.

Ask Michael Cohen: Why You Shouldn’t Mix Dating and Facebook

Huffington Post advice columnist Michael Cohen answers three questions about the often confusing intersection of Facebook and relationships. For the most part, Cohen’s advice is to keep Facebook out of relationships, especially when dating, so as not to show off your entire life before you can even get to know your would-be date.

How Parents Help Their Kids Get Around Age Limits Online

This interesting article from TIME explores how parents help their kids access Internet websites by lying about their age. Because of the federal law COPPA, children under the age of 13 aren’t allowed to access certain websites. However, some parents believe that there is value in giving their kids access to social networking websites like Facebook and Google+. The TIME piece discusses how Google’s efforts to keep a 10-year-old from accessing his Google+ profile led to his father setting up the boy’s account in his name.

Google Sitelinks Update Means Changes for SEO and Reputation Management Professionals

This week, Google rolled out a significant expansion of sitelinks, capping years of experimentation on the search feature. The changes have kicked off a big debate in the SEO community about how companies may be helped or hurt by the expanded sitelinks.

For those unfamiliar with sitelinks, they are links that appear underneath a search result that link to a sub-section of a website. As its “Inside Search” blog reveals, Google has been tweaking sitelinks since 2006, going from a small single line of sitelinks to the most recent version, which gives each sitelink its own full-size search result.

If you can’t see the expanded sitelinks yet, here are some illustrations using popular websites as examples.

Some people, like Marketing Pilgrim’s Frank Reed, think that the new sitelinks are overkill. Others, like some of the commenters at Search Engine Land, argue that the sitelinks are fine, if only Google would allow site owners to change sitelinks via Google’s Webmaster Tools.  The one thing everyone agrees on, however, is that the new-look sitelinks make it even more important for brands (and personal brands) to secure the number one spot in Google search results and maintain interesting, content-rich websites.

What Google’s sitelinks change represents more than anything else is that the Web is constantly in flux. People will always turn to the Internet to find information — about the weather, about a new restaurant, or even about you. The way that people access that information, however, will change. In order to stay on top of your online reputation, it is important to stay current on the way search engines and social networks index and share information.

That’s what we’ve been doing at Reputation.com since 2006, and it’s what we’ll continue to do now and in the future.