If you’ve been online within the past year, which we know you are right now, you’ve probably noticed that Facebook is connected to, well, just about everything. We can’t help but wondering what else Facebook will expand its reach to. You Can’t Escape It There are very few ways to get online without being inundated with requests from Facebook. Download an app on your smartphone and you’ll likely be prompted to login through your Facebook account. Facebook even owns two of the most downloaded apps, Instagram and WhatsApp, and is connected to dating services like Tinder. In terms of online advertising, the network earned an estimated $3.2 billion in revenue last year. They’ve even begun offering to host publishers’ pages on the social media site to cut out the middleman. Facebook has also successfully fended off competition from Google+ and recently ended its partnership with Bing in order to design it’s own search engine. In addition, they’ve been steadily working on introducing Facebook into different forms of online media through Facebook Messenger and Facebook Video, an alternative to YouTube. The company acquired platform developer Parse and is even working on virtual reality with the Oculus Rift. Internet.org and Net Neutrality One of the biggest concerns arising recently is the introduction of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative. The program, designed to bring Internet access to citizens around the world, has been met with serious backlash in recent weeks over claims of violating net neutrality rules. The main complaint is, while Facebook might be delivering the Internet to areas that otherwise wouldn’t have it, all of the traffic will be routed through the company’s servers. Normally, web traffic is routed through local or national telecommunications networks regulated by laws that protect net neutrality. Internet.org is what’s known as a “Zero Rating” service in which users can surf a group of sites for free because the sites pay the operator for the bandwidth. It’s a way to ensure users visit their sites instead of the competition. Essentially, users of Internet.org will only be able to view sites approved, and likely owned, by Facebook or its partners. Net neutrality requires equal and open access to all sites. Competitors like Mozilla say Internet.org will stifle competition and prevent technological innovation in areas without any other access to the Internet. Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is arguing giving these areas some connectivity, even if it’s not entirely open, is better than them having no access at all. Facebook also won’t allow sites to use security protocols like SSL or TLS and has been reticent when asked to provide details on its policies for Internet.org, including how user data is maintained and protected and well as who its partners are. Does the Good Outweigh the Bad? While there are probably few who would argue getting Internet access to more people is a bad thing, the question is do the ends justify the means? Is an Internet with only minimal access to sites controlled by Facebook better than no Internet at all? Critics worry it might impact other companies’ ability to expand the Internet further into these territories, effectively hampering locals’ Internet access down the road rather than expanding it. Net Neutrality laws have been effective in preventing Facebook from completely dominating the landscape here in the U.S., but they might not be as effective in doing so in third-world countries where it’s harder to regulate them. So, this might be one area where its time for people to put their foot down and demand Facebook loosens the reigns. Photo Credit: Bhupinder Nayyar/Flikr There are an estimated five billion people without Internet access in the world. It’s possible that a fleet of Wi-Fi drones are what could reduce that number. At least that’s what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is hoping. This March, the Facebook team announced these solar-powered drones, which they’ve named Aquila, at its F8 conference. “The idea of this is to loiter across an area at very high altitude – 60,000 to 90,000 feet in the air – stand on station for months at a time and beam down backbone Internet access,” Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said. Aerial Wi-Fi For Everyone The drones will utilize low-orbit satellites that transmit data through laser beams between the drones and antennas and beam signals down to communities. The drones are reportedly the length of a Boeing 747, but weigh significantly less. They are reported to stay in the air for up to three months at a time. Facebook is working on partnering with mobile companies like Samsung to help distribute their Wi-Fi. If successful, the company might be the first to get a reliable means of delivering Wi-Fi off the ground in the next few years. The World Needs Wi-Fi To make access more widespread, the drones will enable Wi-Fi connection where building cable infrastructure on the ground is too costly or unfeasible. Wireless Internet access currently requires a cable tower, but many parts of Africa and Latin America lack these towers, so Facebook and other companies want to devise other ways to distribute Internet without them. A Race to the Skies The increased revenue wider access to the Internet would generate is a driving point for many companies, which is why Facebook has some competition. Quarkson, a Portuguese startup, began testing its own SkyOrbiter Wi-Fi drones, which they hope to show in Las Vegas on May 5. Quarkson designed both low-altitude and high-altitude drones for commercial and government use. The low-altitude drones, which operate on fossil fuels, can reach 93,000 miles and last for seven weeks. The high-altitude commercial drone, the HA75, currently reaches 3 million miles and lasts five years. Much like Facebook, Quarkson wants to distribute Wi-Fi and LTE on an unlicensed spectrum, while also offering both those and 3G and 2G transmissions through a carrier. Both plans are similar to Google’s Project Loon, where the company plans to distribute Internet though the use of giant balloons. It remains to be seen which is the more viable option, but recent tests by Google indicate the balloons are only operational for about 100 days. The spread of Wi-Fi access could, theoretically, lead to increased rates of education across the world and better communication. Not only that, but it might also make access to the Internet more accessible for those living in rural areas here in the U.S. The race to have the first commercially viable means of distributing Wi-Fi is on, and we should expect to see it hit the air within the next few years. Photo Credit: David Rodriguez Martin/Flikr In January, you may have noticed many of your Facebook friends posting a notice claiming to add copyright protection to their updates, photos, and other Facebook content. This wasn’t the first time many users posted the notice; it first popped up in 2012. The problem is that there was no truth to the notice then and there isn’t any now. It was a hoax, and lots of people fell for it. One of the most common falsehoods spread over social media is news of a celebrity death. In a way, it’s probably not a bad thing that people are willing to express their sympathy to the family of the deceased, but, many times, the celebrity in question is just as much alive as Abe Vigoda. One reason we may be so quick to believe these stories without real corroboration is that sometimes social media does break stories before mainstream media. Facebook now offers a way to help its users report, and maybe even cut down on, hoaxes and scams. When multiple users report a news feed story as false, offensive, or otherwise inappropriate, Facebook may add a warning message to the story indicating what others are saying about it. However, the problem isn’t limited to malicious hoaxes. That is Literally Unbelievable At some point, anyone who’s been on social media has seen a friend or contact with a poor sarcasm detector post a link to a story from the satirical publication “The Onion” without realizing the story was satire. In fact, that problem is so widespread that there’s a website devoted to collecting examples of people getting duped by these articles. And once one person posts it to social media, it’s inevitable that someone else will read and believe it, no matter how unbelievable that article might be. The problem gets worse when politics are involved, as perhaps otherwise rational people will apparently believe anything about whichever politicians they don’t like. This got to be so widespread that, last year, Facebook added a “satire” tag to them, and spoiling some of the fun for those of us with more common sense than moral outrage. I Want to Believe Information from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future’s 2014 Digital Future Report suggests that we’re smarter than this, or at least we claim to be. In 2013, only 14 percent of Internet users said that most or all information posted on social media sites was accurate and trustworthy. For the sake of comparison, 31 percent of respondents said that most or all of the information across the web as a whole was reliable; 71 percent trusted most or all of the information on government websites, and 69 percent believed most or all information posted by established online media. So if we trust our social media friends less than the Internet as a whole, why do we keep falling for these hoaxes? Some genuinely kind souls probably can’t imagine why anyone would spread malicious lies, so they aren’t as skeptical as they should be. Maybe we want to believe these stories because we choose our social media contacts, and we don’t want to think that our “friends” would lie to us, or that we’d choose liars as friends. Maybe we know our friends better than we care to admit, and we shake our heads and say “bless their hearts” under our breath when we see them get fooled. Or maybe—and we really won’t want to admit this—we’re the ones buying and spreading the hoaxes. Image by Sean Macentee/Flikr Facebook is forcing mobile device users to download its separate messaging app, Facebook Messenger, if they want to chat with friends using the social network. This caused a lot of controversy, not only because of the change, but because of the extensive list of privacy permissions, which many people claim is Facebook overstepping its boundaries. The controversy started when a “Huffington Post” article made claims that the app gave the social network “direct control over your mobile device” but this myth was soon debunked. The app, in fact, isn’t really any more invasive than any of the others you likely have on your phone right now. The Privacy Permissions Facebook’s Messenger requires the same permissions as their Facebook app itself, including access to your phone’s microphone and camera. Some of the permissions it requires, like for sending text messages and reading information on your Facebook profile, are to help the app fulfill its capabilities. Regardless of the specific purpose for each permission, there are two things about these permissions that contribute to the anxiety people feel about the Messenger app. These concerns, however, are more grounded in paranoia than fact. 1. Access Requires your Control The permissions do not indicate Facebook will access contacts or use your camera without your control. The app needs to be able to access audio on your phone to use audio commands and the camera to take and send pictures. While, in theory, the app could access these functions without your control, the likelihood of it happening is minimal. “If Facebook wanted to write code to when the device is dormant, to flip on the camera and observe, technically, it’s possible,” Jodi Caffin, CEO of the Apps Pros, said. “Would Facebook do that? I mean, if anyone ever found out Facebook had done that, it would be over.” 2. Messenger’s Privacy Policy is Pretty Standard As we mentioned, many applications ask for the same permissions as Facebook Messenger is asking for. But most of these apps don’t make headlines for their permissions, which most of us just accept without reading. Our blind acceptance of apps’ Terms of Service comes, largely, from a lack of time. A 2008 study found that it would take the average person 250 working hours to read the entire privacy polices that we receive every day. However, if we were to read the average privacy policy for most applications, we would see that their permission requests resemble that of Messenger’s. Permissions on Different Devices Because Messenger can do so many different things, its list of permission requests is longer than that of other applications. With Apple phones, Messenger can be set up so that the app only asks permission when the user requests to do something. For example, if a user never tries to send a photo, Messenger will not ask for permission to access the camera. This gives users more control over what functions Messenger has access to. For Android products, the entire list of permissions must be approved once the app is downloaded. Android also has specific wording required of privacy permissions that Facebook claims doesn’t necessarily reflect how each feature is being used. The daunting list of permissions combined with the required language made the Messenger permissions seem far more invasive than they are. Messenger is Nothing to Fear A lot of misunderstanding and over analyzing has gone into the hysteria about Facebook’s Messenger app. However, once the facts are laid out, Messenger is not much different from many of the other applications on our phones, including popular chat WhatsApp, Viber and MessageMe. If you look at the original privacy permissions for the Facebook app before Messenger, you’re not giving up a significant amount of privacy by making the switch. For the truly paranoid, Facebook’s message capabilities are still available on the web version of the app. Users can log on through a browser to read and send messages if they don’t want to do this on their mobile devices. While you’ll lose out on some perks, like voice commands and push notifications, the web version gets the job done. The strike against Messenger isn’t a battle worth fighting, especially if you regularly use Facebook’s messaging features. We’ve been giving applications permission to access our devices for years. It simply comes with the smartphone territory. The only thing you stand to lose is a little more storage space on your device. [zipfinder]
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