This does not seem to be playing entirely fair
June 4, 2013
By Roger Thompson

One of the nice things about FaceBook is that you get to see that which is important to your friends, and by association therefore, important to you, but which might not make the mainstream news.

For example, the beautiful Vitava River which flows through Prague, in the Czech Republic, is in flood, and is threatening Prague’s wonderful historic centre. Seemingly, this is not important enough to make it to CNN or Fox, but my friend, Siobhan MacDermott, posted about it on FaceBook, saying something to the effect that we hoped our friends in Prague were all safe.

Some hours later, she posted an update with a link from none less than Reuters, and, unbeknown to her, this is how the post showed on FaceBook...

Somehow an ad for Viagra magically appeared over her post. Now, fortunately, Siobhan has a sense of humor, and the great majority of her friends are sophisticated enough to know that wasn’t supposed to happen, but it begs the question... actually, it begs two questions. The first is...  where the heck did that come from? The Reuters link, when I looked, looked about like this...

I see no stinkin’ Viagra ads there.

The really interesting thing, however, is that when I pinged Siobhan a few hours later, the post had gone completely from her wall.

She made a legitimate post, with the expectation that the thumbnail would point at the Reuters page, and had no idea that she got a Viagra ad instead, but somehow FaceBook knew, and had deleted the whole post by the time she looked for it.

It’s all very interesting, and mysterious, and I don’t much like mysteries.

The second begged-question is ... what if it had happened to someone less sophisticated, and with less sophisticated friends? Or what if it had been something even more embarrassing? In these days where some employers are requiring access to a prospective employee’s Facebook page, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to consider that such a mistake could be career limiting.

One of the things I always try to do is to tell people how to protect themselves from ‘Things That Go Bump In The Net,’ but in this case there is really nothing you can do, other than get off Facebook, something unlikely to be acceptable to most of its 800 million users.

I’m glad that Facebook figured out the thumbnail was dodgy, and I’m glad they removed it, but it provides an interesting insight into the Facebook backend. They are watching, which is good, but ... who else is watching? In terms of privacy, we are enduring a societal revolution on the scale of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and it’s a dangerous and tricky world.



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