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back to article Assange: Facebook a ‘spying machine’

Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, media tart and controversialist, has leveled his hyperbole gun at Facebook, calling it “the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented.” In an interview with Russia Today that’s bound to provide aid and comfort to tinfoil-hatters around the world, he complained that the Facebook …

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Big Brother

Not just your weaknesses, but your strengths

I'm not surprised that Assange realizes how dangerous this kind of stuff is. Let me throw two scenarios:

1. Someone asks to be your friend. Not someone you know well, but maybe someone who went to your school and whose name you recognize, so you 'friend' him. Turns out he's actually an investigator who got one of your school yearbooks and checked to find out who wasn't already on Facebook, registered for that person, and voila. Now he has access to your so-called friends, many of whom actually are friends going back many years. Maybe he has to play the game a couple of times to get the correct contacts networked in, but can you imagine the dossier that can eventually be compiled if someone is serious about going after you.

2. Someone wants to manipulate you. From Facebook they may be able to recognize your weaknesses, possibly even find something embarrassing or illegal that can be used for blackmail, either directly or by nudging you into a position of greater vulnerability, but that isn't all. Even your tastes and strengths can be used against you. My own pet theory is that Assange himself was set up based on information about the kind of women he liked. Maybe I need a tin hat, but I don't like coincidences and I can certainly see where certain powerful people would have been getting increasingly uncomfortable about Assange's activities.

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Big Brother

Facebook is Watching

Lat year I came to the same conclusion. I advise everyone not to use Facebook. Facebook is taken too lightly.

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WTF?

@Shannon Jacobs

"Maybe I need a tin hat, but I don't like coincidences"

Well you live in the wrong universe and are the wrong species then. You exist due to a series of coincidences and are primarily programmed to function by looking for coincidences, its how humans evolved.

Assuming that all coincidences must be a conspiracy does give you a bit of a necessity for a new hat. It's a coincidence that the sun rises each morning I suppose...

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Sir

I will never use facebook, but my wife does - so I banned her from mentioning me or including any photo's that I might be in :)

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Anonymous Coward

I'm sure that ..

she obeys you in all things, but the problem with people is that they do things inadvertently.

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And your first mistake...

Is (be)friending someone on facebook, whom you don't know.

Or possibly it's making the kind of enemies who would do that!

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Anonymous Coward

Sir

Sir Runcible,

If your wife uses the sobriquet Lady Felatia Spoon, then I must tell you with sadness and regret that she avails herself rather wider than simply facebook, and that her photographs show a degree of flexibility and exhibition unbecoming of a lady of the realm.

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Sir

@AC

Ahem, whilst I endeavour to ensure that my good Lady does not, in fact, inform the world of her Yoga skills in pictoral form, I cannot ignore the revenue that my wife provides the estate - without which we would soon be living with the oiks.

As I said before, as long as I'm not in them :P

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Thumb Up

Well said sir!

The reason I refuse to use FB, it's just too easy to drop a bombshell and let loose some nasty secret you'd rather keep to yourself.

My Missus uses it to keep in touch with some colleagues and some family, but she's extremely careful how she uses it and what she puts up, she's aware of the risks and often advises others that the least amount of info you put up the better.

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Coat

@Spoon

"I will never use facebook, but my wife does - so I banned her from mentioning me or including any photo's that I might be in :)"

Even though you put a :), I'm still inclined to believe you truly think you're shielding yourself. All you need to have done is a family member or friend of yours, that happens to have taken a picture of you, uploads said picture to Facebook, and then "tags" you and types in your name. You don't have to be a Facebook member to be manually tagged. If you are a member of Facebook, you at least get a courtesy notification that you have been tagged in a photo so you can delete said tag. As a non-member, you don't get such a privilege. Then the CIA could somehow *wink wink* get a hold of such tagged images and process you into some facial recognition database.

Welcome to the computer age. 1984 may not have been nearly accurate enough.

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Sir @ Ammaross

You make a good point. I'm under no illusions that I am 'under the radar' so to speak, but at least I try to reduce my profile - a bit like the stealth fighers. They can still be seen on radar, just not as well and you need a good radar. At least that's the principle.

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Coat

@ Sir Spoon

Even with a reduced presence, all they need is one correctly identified marker to shoot you down (both stealth and personal profile).

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Black Helicopters

St Julian may be batshit...

...but he's probably right about Facebook. Just remember, kids, friends don't let friends use Facebook!

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exactly what I was thinking.

like the old saying goes 'just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you"

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well said

see title

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Black Helicopters

d'oh

The only reason I joined Facebook was to spy on my kids. Works pretty well for that.

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Anonymous Coward

Overreaction

Well, he's right... but it's also optional, which kind of makes it a little less threatening. There's nothing I put on there that I'm not comfortable being public knowledge.

My biggest concern would be being linked to someone through circumstancial evidence because of Facebook. I don't know some of those people all that well.

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Thing is

whilst you say its optional, Facebook pretty much encourages you to provide it with information.

Personally though, Im less worried about government agencies and more worried about just how useful the information might be for identity theft.

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Anonymous Coward

@ AC 04:08

Not to be seen to be supporting Assange but one of the main problems with facebook (and similar sites) is that it is used largely by children. Children are generally not that savvy (or paranoid) when it comes to posting information online - not just about themselves but about their friends, family, acquaintances and so on.

If young people (and some older ones as well) were educated to the realities of posting shit on line (nothing is truly anonymous, people often aren't quite who they say they are, nothing ever gets deleted & the biggie - what looks and sounds really funny/cool/maverick/special now may well come back to bite you once you get older) then they may change their behaviour - but knowing what I was like as a teenager I suspect not.

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Young

children are easily taken care of on Facebook, at least those under 13.

Just report them and Facebook will ban their account.

Of course, Facebook doesnt help it self by making things fairly open by default, rather than totally closed requiring the user to allow rather than deny.

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Grenade

Yeah but...

If Facebook "encouraged" you to jump off a cliff...

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Sadly

Some people probably would.

The difference is, most people know what jumping off a cliff is, at the very least, dangerous.

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Under 13?

You just brought up a very interesting point.

Minors should definitely not even be allowed on these sorts of places. 18 and above, imho.

Although when *exactly* one stops becoming a minor and is considered an adult is a matter of considerable debate. After all we have all seen the 30 year old behaving like a 5.

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Black Helicopters

Yawn...

The Onion already broke this news months ago...

http://www.theonion.com/video/cias-facebook-program-dramatically-cut-agencys-cos,19753/

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Good one!

You almost got me there for a moment. While we all know that this is not far from the truth.

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Black Helicopters

Someone's been watching The Onion

The Onion had this vid on the story some time ago:

- http://www.theonion.com/video/cias-facebook-program-dramatically-cut-agencys-cos,19753/

And that's not to say it isn't true. Sometimes it's best to hide the truth in plain sight. (Eh, Osama?)

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"free work for intelligence agencies"?

Hardly. Any Intelligence Agency that wallows in Facebook will find itself neck-deep in crap. Sorting out the valuable intel from the junk would tend to be a full time job. Who, of interest to them, would really expose anything worthwhile via this medium? Twitter might be a better source of up-to-the-minute intel.

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Gold badge

Wrong..

Agencies already have the ability to filter to wads of crap. Their problem is getting the source data, a problem which Farcebook has neatly solved because it exploits the stupidity of people.

Farcebook also contributes to much of the spam you get. Every time a "Friend" plays a Farcebook game, they give permission to access their Friends profiles. Let me translate that for you: the fact that YOU have set privacy for your account is not a barrier if someone else can grant access to your data. All legal, of course.

If you don't believe me I suggest you start reading through the T&Cs of games like Cafe World. It ought to be an eye opener.

In summary, as much as I hate to admit it, Assange is actually right here. If people listen he may be good for something after all. But I still want to see what happens in Sweden..

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Anonymous Coward

cutting through the crap.

I think Assange suggested that Facebook has built in interfaces for intelligence agencies for sorting through the crap. Hell, sorting through all the crap on my own facebook page is a full time job. It would be counter-productive to look at all the quizes that some people do, but you can build up a picture of people from their actions on Facebook, e.g. people who take quizes versus people who play games. Listing all the things people like would also help build up a picture. The frequency of people's posts to their wall, the counting of common wording among their posts.

Some of my 'friends' say "good night" to their other 'friends'. There is a number of things we can deduce from this, apart from the fact they are sad. One being, assuming they retire not long after the post, we can find out when they go to bed, and from that when they get up, and from there how their day is organised. As an intelligence gathering tool it is immensely useful.

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Silver badge

"...the ability to filter to wads of crap..."

I'm sure they do have abilities, but do they really have the ability to process millions/billions of daily entries and dig out the semantic meaning of what is there and then normalise the data and then pass it through filtering and then pattern recognition and then come up with something of use that justifies the effort? I don't think so - not on this scale. I'd rather they spent their efforts on targeted intelligence gathering - which I suppose facebook would aid, if only the bad guys were kind enough to post their lives on it.

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Anonymous Coward

Actually, yes they do.

"do they really have the ability to process millions/billions of daily entries and dig out the semantic meaning of what is there and then normalise the data and then pass it through filtering and then pattern recognition and then come up with something of use that justifies the effort"

Yes, they do. The concept is called "semantic web" and took a good 16 man years to develop. It's basically building on what Sir Berners-Lee was going to suggest as the next step of the URL.

I've seen it at work, on mass data sets. It's positively scary how quickly you can find data correlations. The problem is that most people working with such sets never were told that correlations are PROBABILITIES, not absolutes. If 100 out of 500 people that buy BMWs also have red hair, you have a probability that the next red haired guy will buy a BMW too. But it's not the certainty that government and law enforcement treat it as.

This is why FB and Google worry the crap out of me - there is enough data there to come to completely stupid conclusions.

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Badgers

Not using Arsebooke at all....

... but my wife does.

Personally I am not willing to drop my pants in front of the whole internet community. Especially not as long as I don't trust Arsebook's security policy. That company is totally incompetent to develop decent code, and I don't trust it's integrity either.

Your privacy against a good standing with the authorities? Take a guess.

But that's just little tinfoil hatter me. There is basically nothing wrong with sharing your whole life on the internet- as long as you censor it a bit ;-) Everyone has full control over what they share and what not, and if you think that your life is really that interesting to the rest of the world, be my guest. What people fail to see is that there is:

NO SUCH THING AS PRIVACY ON THE INTERNET

Never was, never will be! Once you have understood this, go ahead and share whatever you like!

I am aware that there is a wealth of information about me all over the internet, indirectly through my wife's Facebook account, in this forum, and in many other places. Its inevitable if you work in IT and have public appearances over many years.

If "the powers that be" want to frame you on something they will succeed anyways. If a government goes rogue your Facebook account is your least concern.

This whole paranoia thing is like jealousy in marriage. As long as there is no reason the whole thing is ridiculous, immature and unfair to the other side. If there is a reason its too late to worry, and its time to take consequences. But apart from staying decent and not causing a situation yourself there is very little you can do to avoid it. You will have to cross that bridge once you reach it, so you might as well ditch irrational paranoia and just live your life.

P.S: This is not an appeal to neglect ones social and political responsibilities! But in my experience the biggest conspiracy theorists and other paranoia addicts are the least active where it matters and don't even try to make a constructive change to anything.

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"don't even try to make a constructive change to anything."

They donate heavily to local Pizza establishments everywhere.

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And he's(tm) back

Oh, hello Julian(tm), slipped down the news ratings again, have we?

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Gold badge
Joke

Asanges facebook page.

Status Being watched.

Location. MYOB

Friends See above.

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FAIL

Wow, surprising news!

I'd never realised that the NSA and co had access into social networks!! What a mind altering amazing fact that is, Intelligence agencies doing their jobs!!

And now for some news...

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Pint

Title, telltail! Tittle tattle!

You know this, I know this, 99% of those on here know it. The problem starts out there with the other 99.999999% of the internet users who don't have a fucking clue that even posting your real name can be a bad idea, let alone those dodgy snaps you and you mates posted of you and that hunky Greek waiter you befriended last year in Kos!

If a few people listen to Assange and think just a little bit more before using FB, then it's helped to make the world a little better.

Now save the sarcasm for a more deserving cause!

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Joke

Venn

I've put together a Venn diagram showing overlap between the "Hate Assange" and "Hate Facebook" social groupings.

Where they intersect a hole in space/time has been created by the power of sheer, illogical confusion and conflict.

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Coat

spacetime holes?

Intersection of Hate Assange & Hate Facebook ?

Sounds like a little island of calm sanity to me...

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Venn......

"Where they intersect a hole in space/time has been created by the power of sheer, illogical confusion and conflict."

Thats where IMG and Scorchio live, that is.

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Big Brother

Blah blah blah Assange blah blah....

.....hang on, he's got a point.

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Coat

As the old saying goes:

'Even a broken clock is right twice a day.'

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Good luck with that.

I'm sure the intelligence services will get lots of crucial data to use against me. My holiday snaps. Those pictures which include me with a mildly silly expression. Those invites to a BBQ. Dun dun duuuuun!

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Anonymous Coward

And your friends? Your friend's friends? Their friends?

Odds that you are connected in some way to someone that has done something to catch the attention of someone that can make life very annoying indeed for you? Very good actually.

See story about college student that found FBI tracking device under his car and his friend that got a visit by the FBI for no other reason that he had the person on his FB page.

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FAIL

Big deal

Is that really the very worst actual scenario you've got for the case against Facebook?

When we were kids our house was raided by armed police all because a drug dealer had befriended my parents on holiday so he could slip through customs more easily tagging on to a family. He'd kept my parents address in a notebook and that was found by police looking for him. Maybe we should ban biros and paper before moaning about Facebook?

A student got a tracking device and one got visited by the FBI. Big deal. And not nearly as exciting for a kid as a bunch of armed coppers either.

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Big deal?

So it's not a big deal for someone to suddenly become a 'terrorist suspect' because of a 'friend' connection on a website. Not even when suspicion of terrorism can result in 6 month detention with no charges (US) or a month (UK), not to mention loss of job, having 'terrorist suspect' on your permanent record and so on. No big deal eh?

/sarcasm

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No not a big deal

But my dad became a suspected armed drug dealer on account of his name and address being found on a piece of paper in a bad guy's house. It could have turned out that the bloke was a terrorist (we didn't choose him) so I don't see how Facebook is any different from anything else, eg a bit of paper. At least on Facebook my dad could have un-friended him.

The trick seemed to be for my dad to politely explain to the armed policemen that he wasn't actually an armed drug dealer.

And has anyone actually become a terrorist suspect purely because they have a friend connection in FB and they've spent 6 months (US) or 1 month (UK) in jail and lost their job? Or are you just hoping that someone does eventually so you can say that your tin foil hat theories were right?

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How Facebook is different than the situation with your dad

is that on Facebook the drug dealer can have hundreds and hundreds of friends whereas in the case of your father, there were probably only a handful. Therefore the Facebook leads are worth considerably less than the one to your father, wven though that one was erroneous. Of course, if one of those Facebook leads does pan out, they'll also have him on wire fraud or mail fraud or some such.

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Odd one out

Unlike the rest of you obviously I am of no importance or interest to anyone outside of my group of friends. I'm therefore perfectly happy to share select bits of info about myself with that group (the shocking fact that I like Cheap Trick for example)

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