SciTechBlog
May 7, 2010

Facebook may debut 'location' feature this month

Posted: 11:43 AM ET

There's been plenty of online buzz recently about the possibility of "location" or "place" features coming to Facebook.

That sounds wonky. But the gist is interesting: You may soon be able to use a smartphone's GPS to post on Facebook about exactly where you are, in addition to what you're doing and thinking.

The latest news on this front comes from Advertising Age, which claims that Facebook will release such a feature this month. Among the first advertisers to jump on board, the site says, is McDonald's, which will let people "check in" to these fast-food chains through Facebook. McDonald's then would put ads about its food on your Facebook wall.

That might not sound entirely appetizing (especially if you're a Jamie Oliver fan), but there's plenty of excitement online about these location-based features.

Mobile phone apps like Foursquare and Gowalla have made them popular among tech's early adopters, who "check in" to their favorite stores, pubs and restaurants to earn points and merit badges. (Apparently, being a digital Boy Scout is cool.)

But Facebook could take this idea to the next level, bringing it to a user base of 400 million people.

CNN has not confirmed if or when Facebook will announce such location feature. At a recent news conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg dodged questions on the subject.

Such a feature - which could tell you where someone is almost all the time - also raises privacy concerns. And Facebook has not been having a good time of it on that front.

This week, a bug, which has since been fixed, temporarily caused private Facebook chats to be public to other friends. And Facebook's "Open Graph" system, which was announced at the f8 conference on April 21, has brought further concerns about preserving some degree of anonymity online.

More on the privacy angle from the blog Mashable, which is a CNN content partner:

"It’s clear that not all users understand the risks of public sharing or how to protect their likes, groups and updates. When they risk exposing their locations to the general populace, another layer of security precautions ... is sure to follow," the blog says.

Do you see any value in telling friends where you are? Before you judge, check out this helpful guide to using Foursquare, the service that has been paving the way for these location features.

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Filed under: Facebook


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May 5, 2010

Facebook fixes security bug in chat program

Posted: 12:13 PM ET

UPDATE 2:06 p.m. ET: A Facebook spokesperson says the security bug has been fixed; chat will be up shortly.

The blog TechCrunch posted a scary video today.

Writer Steve O'Hear shows that it's possible to eavesdrop on the private live chats of your Facebook friends by previewing your profile through the site's privacy settings.

Facebook shut down its chat function on Wednesday in response the security bug, a Facebook spokeswoman said in an e-mail to CNN.

"When we received reports of the problem, our engineers promptly diagnosed it and temporarily disabled the chat function," the e-mailed statement from Facebook says.

"We also pushed out a fix to take care of the visible friend requests which is now complete. Chat will be turned back on across the site shortly. We worked quickly to resolve this matter, ensuring that once the bug was reported to us, a solution was quickly found and implemented."

The social network's chat feature - which lets people have live conversations through instant text messages - appeared to be "down for maintenance" as of noon ET, when CNN tried to replicated the hack.

Watch the full video to understand how the flaw works.

"I know Facebook wants us to share more information and open up, but I’m not sure that this is quite what they had in mind," O'Hear writes on the blog.

He accesses a friend's supposedly private chat conversation by using a feature that lets people preview their profile through the eyes of their friends. This feature is intended to let people see if they've managed their privacy settings correctly. A person, for instance, might make some Facebook information viewable to everyone, while keeping co-workers or professional contacts in the dark about new photos or status updates.

When O'Hear previews his profile through the eyes of a friend, he pulls up that friend's private chat.

We'll keep an eye on this and let you know if we hear back from Facebook.

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Filed under: Facebook • privacy


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April 29, 2010

50,000 websites 'like' the new Facebook button

Posted: 09:39 AM ET

A week after Facebook announced that it's "Like" button would start percolating around the Internet, the powerful social network says 50,000 websites have adopted the change.

"Already, just one week since launch, more than 50,000 sites across the Web have implemented the new plugins," Sandra Liu Huang writes today on Facebook's blog for application developers.

"We are thrilled by the strong adoption so far as developers realize how easy social plugins are to use and how powerful they are in engaging users in a frictionless experience without requiring them to share any personal information."

People use the "Like" button to recommend websites, news stories, blog posts and music to friends.

Facebook announced the change at its f8 conference on April 21. At the time, only 75 sites had signed up to use the feature, which is Facebook's way of making the entire web a more social experience.

In a keynote address at f8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said there would be 1 billion "Like" buttons scattered all over the web within 24 hours of his announcement.

Thursday's blog post makes no mention of whether that target was met.

Tech blogs largely have reacted favorably to Facebook's effort to spread itself all over the web. Some have expressed concerns about privacy and the fact that Facebook may want to be a singular, dominant force on the Internet, putting it in competition with search engine giant Google.

On the blog Mashable, which is a CNN partner, Ben Parr writes that the fact that 50,000 websites have adopted Facebook's "Like" plugin is a good sign for the social network, which already has 400 million members.

"Social plugins are just the first step in Facebook’s ambitious plan to become the central nexus of the web," he writes. "With this kind of adoption success, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where Facebook doesn’t take over the web."

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Filed under: Facebook


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April 22, 2010

Will Facebook dominate the future web?

Posted: 09:29 AM ET

It's hard to make sense of Facebook's announcement from Wednesday's f8 conference without an analogy.

Here's one of my favorites:

"I think it's going to become the plumbing of the web," Alain Chuard, co-founder of Wildfire, a promotions app and website that piggybacks on Facebook's infrastructure, told me at the conference.

Others skip the infrastructure references and go straight to tech war:

"Facebook today launched its latest missile in the war against Google for the trophy of world wide web domination," wrote Jennifer Leggio at the blog ZDNet.

I wrote that Facebook is trying to turn the web into a big cocktail party.

Pick your metaphor. But the meaning is basically the same: As Facebook stretches its tentacles into websites other than its own, adding social and friend-making functionality along the way, the company is positioning itself not just as a website but as an essential piece of the Internet itself. It's infrastructure. It's piping. In this vision, it's the social lubricant that makes the Internet chatter.

That puts the site in obvious competition with Google and others who are trying to organize the Internet and make it more socially engaging.

Some say a Facebook-led social web will make online browsing more convenient.

As the entire internet becomes more tied with a person's social network, you'll get more recommendations that can help you find web pages you'll enjoy. Plus, Facebook is making it ever-easier to share with friends. All you have to do now is click a button that says "like."

Others say the Facebook model gives one company too much power.

"They're holding all of our data. We have to trust them not to sell it to the world," said Ricky S., an app developer who works with Facebook and didn't want his full name used because he wasn't authorized to speak for his company.

And what does Facebook say about it's ambitions?

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his goal is to make the web a better place. If his site happens to make more money by selling ads on Facebook.com, then so-be it.

In closing his keynote address at f8, he used a metaphor of his own, comparing the future web, as led by Facebook's social infrastructure, to heaven.

"There's an old saying that says that when you go to heaven, all of your friends are there and everything is just the way you want it to be," he said.

"So, together let's make a world that's that good."

What do you think? Is Facebook on the way to becoming the web's plumbing? Can it compete with Google? Should any private company have so much power?

Let us know with comments on this post.

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Filed under: Facebook


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Dear Facebook: What about 'dislike' and 'go away?'

Posted: 08:28 AM ET

Is my writing that bad?

When I wrote about the fact that Facebook is scattering "like" buttons all over the Internet, several of you commented that you wish there was a "dislike" button.

Zing!

But I don't take it personally. In fact, that's a really good point.

Maybe Facebook is being too sunny in thinking the only information a person would want to share with friends is the fact that he or she "likes" something.

In a speech in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the "like" button is simple and convenient. That's one reason he's making a push to get it all over the Internet, not just on Facebook.com.

But to like or not to like? Maybe it's reductive not to give users that choice, as some of you pointed out.

Here's a look at some of my favorite "don't like" (and otherwise negative) comments on the story about Facebook's quest to sprinkle the web with cheer:

**FB has to come w/ something new, things are getting old out there. How about an " annoying" "Go away" " leave me alone" "not interested" "dislike" "no thanks" buttons. That would help... So all over the web will have this annoying feature.

**All of a sudden the drive to add a "dislike" button has become much more important.

**I just dropped facebook this morning. this is the definition of 'TMI'

**Only a 10-year-old or a complete fool would ever use Facebook again.

**The internet default will be social? And what if I don't want to socialize?

Others have had similar thoughts. If you use the web browser Firefox, you can  download a plug-in that gives you access to a "dislike" button.

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Filed under: Facebook • social-networking sites


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April 21, 2010

What will Facebook announce today?

Posted: 10:48 AM ET
World Record holder
World Record holder

CNN.com will be reporting today from Facebook's annual f8 conference in San Francisco, California, where the social network is expected to announce changes to its site.

The changes may integrate Facebook further into the Web at large, and make mobile phone applications for Facebook more useful.

Here's what bloggers and tech writers are looking for:

Universal "like" button: Facebook's "like" feature lets users show their interest in Facebook photos and status updates. The site may push that feature all over the Web, helping it aggregate data about its users' preferences outside Facebook.

"Place" feature: Right now, you can tell Facebook friends what you're doing, but there's no easy way to tell them where you are, based on our phone's GPS location. That may change if Facebook adds a "place" feature. It might look like Foursquare, the app that lets users "check in" to bars, restaurants and the like, alerting friends to their whereabouts.

Competition with Google, others: On Monday, Facebook announced a new feature called "Community Pages," which, as CNET writes, is part Google and part Wikipedia. These pages let Facebookers congregate around certain interests, like cooking, for example, instead of only around brands and products, as is currently possible. The Community Pages are editable, kind of like Wikipedia, and they could become hubs for topic-specific info, kind of like Google.

I'll be at the Facebook event today, which begins at 10 a.m. PT. Check our Twitter feed, @cnntech, for the latest, and watch CNN.com/tech for all of the details.

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Filed under: Facebook


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April 19, 2010

Facebook 'likes' the whole Web

Posted: 12:29 PM ET
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Facebook's "like" button is about to get more prevalent on the Web, according to news reports.

The Financial Times and The New York Times report that the social networking giant - with 400 million users worldwide - will push its "like" feature onto other Web sites, enabling users to share preferences for news stories, Web sites and products more easily.

Currently, Facebook users click the "like" button on Facebook.com to alert their online friends that they find a certain status update, photo or other Facebook item interesting. The reported change would put that functionality on many other Web sites, too, linking a person's preferences for all kinds of things into the Facebook social network.

That's similar to another branch-out feature called Facebook Connect, which lets people sign into other Web sites by using their Facebook name and password.

The announcement is expected to come at Facebook's annual developer conference, called f8, which will be held in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The Financial Times wrote that the "like" functionality would let Facebook "use data from these interactions to target them with related adverts once they return to Facebook.com." In a response sent to the newspaper, Facebook says it will make no changes to its ad policies at f8.

“All the products we are launching at f8 are focused on giving developers and entrepreneurs ways to make the Web more social,” the Facebook spokesperson told The Financial Times. “We have no announcements or changes planned to our ad offering and policies.”

Nytimes.com says Facebook's "like" feature will compete with a social media toolbar promoted by a group of Web companies, including Google and Meebo.

The move is part of an effort by Facebook to dominate the social Web by being everywhere - kind of like Starbucks - instead of just in one place, writes the tech blog Mashable, in a post titled "Facebook 'likes' world domination."

The discussion comes amid controversy about Facebook's proposed changes to its privacy settings. Sophos, a security company, says 95 percent of Facebook users are dissatisfied with the proposed changes, according to a 680-person survey of the company's online readers.

Sophos describes the proposed privacy-setting changes in this way:

… if you're logged into Facebook and then visit a third party website, that site will be able to access the following:
• your name
• your profile picture
• your gender
• your friends and connections
• your user ID
• any content shared using the "Everyone" privacy setting

Other observers expect Facebook to release details on a new feature called "place," which could let Facebook users tell their online friends where they are in addition to what they're doing. Such "location-based" features have been popularized by other sites, like Gowalla and Foursquare.

You can find all the details about Facebook's proposed changes here. Take a read and let us know what you think. Also, check back on this site and on our Twitter feed for updates from the f8 conference on Wednesday.

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Filed under: Facebook


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April 13, 2010

Facebook launches new Safety Center

Posted: 11:29 AM ET

What should you do if your teen is being cyber-bullied on Facebook? How does the site work with law enforcers to investigate criminal activity? And what can you do if someone has posted a photo of you on Facebook that you don’t like?

These questions, among others, are addressed in Facebook’s newly redesigned Safety Center aimed at parents, educators, law enforcement officials and teens.

The Safety Center, which launched Tuesday, was created to make sure the site’s 400 million users are networking safely, according to Facebook’s official press release.

The site is more efficient now, Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan wrote in a blog post. By including frequently asked questions with detailed answers, information is easier to find, he says.

“Safety is Facebook's top priority,” Sullivan wrote. “We've created cleaner, more navigable interfaces to help you find answers to safety questions fast.”

Privacy settings are also explained in detail on the new page, as well as how to block users, remove unwanted content from a profile page and anonymously report abusive behavior.

The online center is a result of Facebook’s collaboration with its Safety Advisory Board.

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Filed under: Facebook • Internet


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April 8, 2010

Report: British boy racks up $1,400 tab on Farmville

Posted: 10:48 AM ET

Fake crops on Farmville - the "free" social game that's become a huge hit on Facebook - cost a British mother some real cash after her 12-year-old son racked up $1,400 in charges on the game.

The Guardian reports that the pre-teen needed only about two weeks to empty his own savings account then start using his mom's credit card.

"When I asked him why he did it he said that they had brought out 'good stuff that I wanted,' " the mother, who asked not to be named, told the newspaper.

Farmville, which last month reported having more than 75 million monthly players, is free to play. But players can spend money on extras, like virtual crops, tools and barns.

Zynga, the company behind Farmville, Mafia Wars and other popular social games, says the games are designed to appeal to a wide cross-section of players, not just the typical young, male video game crowd.

The mother said the son's bills came to 905 British pounds - the equivalent of $1,373.

The British mother, whose hometown was not listed in the story, said she doesn't blame Zynga, Facebook or her credit card company, although she tried to get the money back.

But she said she wished there was extra security to prevent such spending.

"I do think they need to shoulder some responsibility in this business and put systems in place to stop this happening again," she told The Guardian. "The fact that he was using a card in a different name should bring up some sort of security and the online secure payment filter seems to be bypassed for Facebook payments."

She said her son was unable to make mobile phone payments - because his older brother had lost credit buying a ringtone a couple of years earlier.

"We sound terribly technologically unaware don't we?" she said.

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Filed under: Facebook • Gaming • video games


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April 6, 2010

Whole Foods 'giveaway' on Facebook is a scam

Posted: 10:04 AM ET

Whole Foods Market and Facebook are warning users that a fan page claiming to offer $500 in free groceries at the health food chain is a scam.

Austin, Texas-based Whole foods said on its official Facebook page that the scam first cropped up on Thursday, and is an effort to steal people’s personal data.

The page offers fans a sign-up sheet for the supposed giveaway, which both installs malware on the user’s computer and fishes for credit and other financial information.

“Dear Fans, Please be wary of Facebook Pages offering you $500 Whole Foods Gift Cards. We only run giveaways and promotions on this Facebook Page and our stores' Pages,” read the post, dated April 2. “We have reported these to Facebook, and you can report these fraudulent Pages by clicking the "Report Page" link on the bottom of the left column on the left column of the Wall view.”

A page that was used in the Whole Foods scam appeared to be gone Tuesday morning. A search for “Whole Foods” and “$500” only revealed a small group warning people about the scam.

But Whole Foods said the pages were first noticed on Thursday and that new ones have been popping up as soon as old pages were taken down.

A spokesperson for Facebook said the social-networking site takes such scams seriously.

“Protecting the people who use Facebook from spam and scams is a top priority for us,” the spokesperson said Tuesday in a written statement. “Groups and Pages that attempt to trick people into taking a certain action or spamming their friends with invites violate our policies, and we have a large team of professional investigators who quickly remove these when we detect them or they're reported to us by our users.

By becoming a fan of Facebook’s security page, which has nearly 1.7 million fans, users can get updates on the threats that inevitably will pop up from time to time on a site with more than 400 million users.

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Filed under: Facebook • Hoaxes • Security • virus


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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