Sunday, December 15, 2013

Facebook keeps track of your aborted and unpublished posts

Privacy is a big deal in this age of social networking: online posts can potentially be a source of privacy leaks, even aborted or cancelled posts can be tracked, especially by Facebook.

Facebook is in the practice of collecting data about its users, even when it comes to posts that are cancelled or aborted. In a method that involves collecting metadata, Facebook collects this so-called un-published data and actually studies so-called “self-censorship” behavior among users.

The method is similar to how modern webmail providers like Gmail or blogging software WordPress work with text entry fields. With these applications, the content in text entry fields is automatically saved both locally and on the server, in order to easily retrieve them when needed, such as during sudden disconnections, browser crashes or similar incidents.

With Facebook, however, users don’t even know that the information they have entered into text fields is automatically cached by the server. Any metadata is actually reported back to Facebook, and this is actually agreed upon by the user as part of the social network’s privacy policy.

According to the self-censorship report (PDF copy here), the practice of choosing not to publish an update might actually bad in terms of communication and information exchange. “[Facebook] loses value from the lack of content generation,” it reports. For users, information asymmetry might mean someone else is not accessing the information that someone else could have shared.

The main difference between services like Gmail and Facebook, of course, is that with the former, a user benefits from metadata being automatically saved. Auto-saving of drafts is also a part of WordPress, so users don’t lose their work when the browser crashes or when connectivity is suddenly lost. With Facebook, however, the benefit is clearly only on Facebook’s side.

In the Facebook self-censorship study, authors Sauvik Das and Adam Kramer claim that the social network only collects information on whether a user self-censors, and not necessarily the content of the un-published updates or comments. However, given that auto-save functionality is easily implemented in text-entry fields, it is likely that Facebook is also interested in knowing the contents of unsaved text entry. “[W]e have arrived at a better understanding of how and where self-censorship manifests on social media; next, we will need to better understand what and why,” the study goes, after all.

With knowledge that Facebook is order to monitor even unsaved and unpublished updates, will users be paranoid about entering text in the first place?

Source: Slate

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