Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Don't Forget, Facebook

I mentioned in a recent blog about why I thought the Facebook IPO was overpriced - a personal view from a guy working full time for a modest salary and flogging a few eBooks in his spare time.  Although the blog was reasonably popular by my standards, it didn't result in an invite to sit at the top table at the next G8 to advise on fiscal policy.  Fair enough.

But the key point of that blog was that it's literally not what you know, but who you know that counts.  In a nutshell, I have a limited amount of value as an individual; we all do, and we all know how sought after that limited currency is.  But add to that information the people we associate with, who we interact with, then there is a chance that what we like, some of them will like. And vice versa.  Find a way of stitching this information together and you've got an intelligence web that John Le Carre couldn't have dreamed of during his stint as the Cold War novellist of choice.

That's what Google has built and Facebook is building.  The inflated valuation on Facebook is not related to its clever coding, fancy interface or cool keywords - it's based on the second and third generation inferences that can be drawn from what you like and do multiplied by your friend list.  Look up a Facebook contact, look at their list of friends - there will almost certainly be people there not on your list.  Follow any of these new names and look up their list - even more names, people you've never heard of, will never speak to who in some tangential way are linked to yourself.  On its own, that link is meaningless, but constructed in a web of millions of people and patterns will appear; lists of people worth targetting for specific products.

I suggested keeping your data lean, revealing as little as you could bear while reaping the benefits of the social media, and to be fair I was just looking at the obvious data people post that can compromise you, that could be used to access your online accounts.  You may recall I suggested removing any data you didn't feel was necessary, with the aim of reducing your exposure to criminal acts against your online identity.

However removing that data isn't the whole story.  If you've lodged that information with Google or Facebook and then deleted it, then the chances are, they still know it.  Sure, they'll respect your wishes and suppress the information from outside of their organisation, but it's far from certain that they'll delete it.  This has resulted in a number of people getting very worried about the retention of this data, which is why the European Union is considering a right to be forgotten - possibly the ultimate human right in a digital age.  It's also being mooted across the Atlantic as well.  If the legislators get their way then the value of Google and Facebook will be affected in a serious way - a large part of their value is based on the ability to cast this net wide and deep. 

As humans we should be pleased to know that this is taking place, as we will be a little more in charge of our data than we are now, should we choose it.  It's not universally popular though, and I'm not talking about Wall Street investors - if the right to be forgotten is made law it could hinder law enforcement and anti-terror efforts as well.  No matter what your views are on their accessing such data, it's well understood that the people they target have provided many of the leads they need through social networks, often on the way up.  That could be a serious curtailment.

I don't know if the lawmakers will succeed and I'm certain that those with vested interests will make the journey as difficult as possible.  It'll be interesting to see who makes the journey the hardest - the moneymen or the spooks.  One to watch, I guess.  But in the meantime I'm keeping as much data private - except for the list of books I've written, every blog entry that reveals my inner rambling thoughts, my Twitter account details and, if anyone fancies buying a paperback copy of  'Digital Life Form', possibly my PayPal details.  That's it, nothing else.

Or perhaps my sister's website promoting my ancestors - if you know anyone who may be related to Sullivans originating in Wales then take a look at this.


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