Category Archives: Facebook

Photo sharing services should follow Google’s path

Is there room for Tadaa in the photo-sharing wars?

Is there room for Tadaa in the photo-sharing wars?

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of taking part in CTV’s regular technology panel, wherein we discussed a number of topics. Two of them got me to thinking about the past, present and future of the internet, and how companies are born and developed on it.

The two topics in question were the latest Facebook privacy-advertising follies and Tadaa, a competitor app to Instagram. Respectively, they seem to represent the present and future of the internet.

Let’s start with Facebook. The social network on Tuesday announced it has started testing ads in its news feed, which is an effort to take advertisements out of users’ side bars and right into their main column of updates. Putting those ads front and centre not only makes them more noticeable, it also makes it possible for Facebook to display them in its mobile app, although it doesn’t appear to be doing that just yet. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Facebook, Google, Instagram


10 of the biggest tech stories in 2012

The best thing about covering technology is that it’s never dull. As an ever-changing field, the danger for journalists lies not in getting bored with the beat, but in falling behind the rapid developments.

I’d argue this is one area where year-end lists are actually vital; with so much happening on a daily basis, it’s important to step back and take stock of it all. It’s a good opportunity to digest everything that has happened, so that we can figure out what it all means.

In that vein, here are the 10 events or ongoing technology stories that I thought were important in 2012:

10. Apocalypse Not Now


This one is more of a science story than a technology trend, but since all tech is rooted in science, it seems very relevant. In 2012, the Mayan-forecasted apocalypse that was supposed to happen on Dec. 21 came and went without so much as a sneeze. That followed two predictions of the Rapture last year by religious nut Harold Camping, who this year apologized for his faulty forecasts. With the discrediting of this sort of nonsense, perhaps further nutjobs will STFU and allow the world to get on with reality. Or at least study the things that may actually wipe us out, as the new Cambridge Project for Existential Risk plans to doRead the rest of this entry »


Instagram breaks the net’s social contract

Instagram and Mark Zuckerberg: do they really understand how the internet works?

Instagram and Mark Zuckerberg: pushing the boundaries of what users are willing to stomach.

“If you’re not paying for a product, chances are good you are the product.” That’s what Maxime Gagne, a games industry lawyer, told an audience at the Montreal International Games Summit last year. Tuesday’s Instagram brouhaha couldn’t have made those words ring any truer.

In case you missed it, the photo-filter-cum-social-network announced changes to its terms of service that would allow advertisers to incorporate user-created photos. Outrage from users was predictable, with many taking to “free” social networks - including Instagram-owner Facebook - to express their frustrations and vows to never again use the service.

Taken aback by the vocal response, Instagram quickly apologized to users and said it would replace the offending language with something clearer and more palatable.

But should there have been outrage at all, given the above truism? Have internet users not yet arrived at the point where they collectively know that free stuff online isn’t really free? Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Facebook, Google


Privacy is the new currency (sorry, poor people)

Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and his new wife Priscilla: more privacy than the average Joe?

With everybody sharing every tiny little detail of their lives on social media, I’ve been wondering for some time whether people still value privacy. It’s a question I’m hoping to answer in my next book, but also one that I dipped my toes into in a story for the National Post’sDigital Life” series.

I spoke to some of Canada’s leading experts on privacy and the general consensus among them is that, yes, people do indeed still value privacy. In fact, they may value it more than ever. Head on over to the newspaper’s site for the full story.

One aspect that didn’t make it into the article (damn word-length limits!) was how privacy is a relative thing that depends on a person’s station in life. The rich, for instance, tend to have more of it, which suggests that privacy is a sort of currency.

Ian Kerr, the Canada Research Chair in ethics, law and technology at the University of Ottawa, had some intriguing thoughts about how businesses collect information about people for “social sorting.” Air Canada, for example, might gather info about people so that it knows who to offer “elite” status to, while IKEA collects postal codes so that it knows what demographics are shopping at its stores. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on June 22, 2012 in Facebook, privacy


The Virtual Self: a chat with Nora Young part 2

Today we continue our chat with CBC Spark host Nora Young about her book The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us. If you missed part one yesterday, go ahead and check that out. Otherwise, read on:

In your book, you also touch on copyright issues. Content owners are cracking down on privacy yet individuals have to accept terms of service agreements without any input. Is there an imbalance forming between corporate and individual rights?

In terms of service agreements in particular, I spoke to Ian Kerr at the University of Ottawa about some of the issues that come out of this and it’s mostly his observation that we have this standard form contract where you click “I agree.” Obviously it’s not practical for you to negotiate your own separate contract between you and Facebook, there’s a reason for why we have these things, and yet when we’re dealing with our data, this is really quite new.

If we had been born digital and none of those external things like terms of service agreements were in existence, we probably wouldn’t be thinking about negotiating those relationships in the way that we currently do. Again, one of the things that people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do (lawyers and so forth) are thinking about whether we need something like a data bill of rights or whether we need to think in terms of ownership of data and be more rigorous in the governance of who can do what with it.

Obviously in Canada we’re lucky enough to have organizations such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner who are writing those questions. It seems pretty clear that if we’re going into a situation where theoretically it’s starting to look like our lives are being captured, do we really want to be relying just on these individual terms of service agreements or maybe what we want to say is that we’re the people who have the data, the data belongs to us and we decide when we want to lend it out and make it available to other third parties.

I consider it a completely fair exchange to be on Facebook for free and the quid pro quo is that they get to use my preferences and so on to sell me advertising. That might be a completely legitimate decision for me to make. But right now, what seems to be happening is that we have all of this personal data that we’re creating that’s kind of separated into all these different companies with which we have a relationship, which are governed by these terms of service agreements that are difficult to understand. They don’t really give us the power to control our data or bring it all together in one place. As we start thinking about whether this information has value, maybe we need to recalibrate that relationship. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in blogging, books, cbc, copyright, Facebook, privacy, spark


The Virtual Self: a chat with Nora Young

Have you ever wondered why people share so much information about themselves on things like Facebook and Twitter? Have you ever thought about how all of that data might be used in the bigger picture? Have you ever wondered whether all of that stuff might actually be worth more than just free access to a site that lets you share photos?

Nora Young, host of the CBC radio program Spark (which I sometimes contribute to), tackles all of these topics and more in her new book The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us. It’s a great read that provides a good deal of food for thought in regards to why we engage in all this self-tracking, and what it all might mean as it develops further.

I had a long chat last week with Nora about her book and thought I’d present that conversation here in two parts. Here’s part one, with part two coming tomorrow:

What’s your back-of-the-book pitch? What’s it all about?

It’s really about the accumulation of what I’m calling the statistical minutiae of every-day life. I’m not talking about oversharing on Facebook, I’m talking about the way we’re starting to pump out enormous amounts of data about where we’re going, what we’re doing, how we’re reacting to the world around us, the pictures that we’re taking of all the stuff that we do in our daily life. That’s everything from wearing a Nike Plus when you do your runs to checking in on Foursquare to registering a status update on Facebook or Twitter or posting innumerable photos from your cellphone camera.

So it’s thinking about both why it is we’re doing this thing that’s sort of odd on a personal level, but also looking at, on a collective level, how this information can be used for beneficial ends and also what the red flags are as we go forward. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in books, cbc, Facebook, interview, spark


Facebook’s populism versus the online intelligentsia

There’s been a lot written about Facebook lately, what with its big initial public offering and everything, and the overwhelming majority of it has been negative. Even my own post running up to the IPO focused on all the bad things that have dogged the site during its crazy climb over the past few years, from users’ privacy concerns to advertisers’ doubts about the site’s usefulness.

My Macleans‘ comrade Jesse Brown also wrote a post last week in which he proclaimed that Facebook’s stock has never been lower (for him). He’s just not getting much use out of the site anymore, if he ever did, a sentiment shared by many.

Yet, when faced with so much negativity, I can’t help but start to feel contrarian. In the case of Facebook, if everyone hates it so much, how has it grown to nearly a billion users? And how did it become the most anticipated IPO since Google?

The answer, I think, is that like all things online, Facebook is at the center of its own negativity echo chamber. And in the website’s case, it’s a rather odd one.

The reality is this: despite what we so-called technology pundits may think and often write, the vast majority of Facebook’s 900-million-plus users probably really like using the site. For every curmudgeon like me or Jesse who is on it begrudgingly, there are a couple of dozen (or hundreds) of people who love it and are constantly on it. Indeed, that’s what the numbers show - people spend more time on Facebook than any other website, by far. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Facebook


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