MediaFile

from Paul Smalera:

The piracy of online privacy

Online privacy doesn’t exist. It was lost years ago. And not only was it taken, we’ve all already gotten used to it. Loss of privacy is a fundamental tradeoff at the very core of social networking. Our privacy has been taken in service of the social tools we so crave and suddenly cannot live without. If not for the piracy of privacy, Facebook wouldn’t exist. Nor would Twitter. Nor even would Gmail, Foursquare, Groupon, Zynga, etc.

And yet people keep fretting about losing what’s already gone. This week, like most others of the past decade, has brought fresh new outrages for privacy advocates. Google, which a few weeks ago changed its privacy policy to allow the company to share your personal data across as many as 60 of its products, was again castigated this week for the changes. Except this time, the shouts came in the form of a lawsuit. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the FTC to compel it to block Google’s changes, saying they violated a privacy agreement Google signed less than a year ago.

Elsewhere, social photography app Path was caught storing users’ entire iPhone address books on their servers and have issued a red-faced apology. (The lesser-known app Hipster committed the same sin and also offered a mea culpa.) And Facebook’s IPO has brought fresh concerns that Mark Zuckerberg will find creative new ways to leverage user data into ever more desirable revenue-generating products.

This is the way we’re private now. It’s ludicrous for anyone who loves the Internet to expect otherwise. How else are these services supposed to exist -- let alone make any money? Theft or misuse of private user data is a crime, certainly. But no social web app -- not one -- can work without intense analytics performed on the huge data sets that users provide to them voluntarily (you did read the terms of service agreement...right?).

And the issue compounds when people connect one site to another. By linking their Twitter to their Facebook to their Google+ to their Foursquare to their Zynga to their Instagram to their iOS, users are consolidating their lives, and in the process making them more attractive to marketers. While Facebook, Twitter and other services have made attempts to warn users about hitting the “connect” button, many of us hit that button with reckless abandon, without a thought of who’s slavering on the other side.

Is Facebook building a Gmail killer?

By Kevin Kelleher

Facebook is hosting one of its increasingly common “events” Monday to announce a new feature for its site. Along with Apple, Facebook is probably the only company at this point that could collect a large audience on short notice with only the vaguest of descriptions.

The invitation only said that the announcement would reveal what CEO Mark Zuckerberg would talk about on Tuesday at the annual Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco – in other words, it was an event to discuss a conversation that would happen somewhere else on a later day. But there were tantalizing hints in it that suggested Facebook would announce an e-mail service along the lines of Gmail and Yahoo Mail: The invitation had the red-and-blue stripes along the border that were once commonly seen on envelopes, and it bore Facebook’s email inbox icon from its iPhone app.

That gave blogs the weekend to speculate on what a Facebook email service would mean to the web. The most common analysis was that this could be a Gmail killer, a shot across the bow of one of Google’s most popular services. But I don’t see that happening—at least right away.

Yahoo revamps email with social sheen

Social networking services like Facebook have become a key form of communication, but Yahoo believes there’s plenty of room left to improve good old email.

On Tuesday, Yahoo Inc <YHOO.O> began to roll out a new version of its Web-based Yahoo mail product that boasts faster performance, new capabilities, and yes, even more social networking features.

Yahoo had provided a sneak peek at its improved email product at the company’s “Product Runway” event last month. Beginning on Tuesday, you can try out a beta YHOOMailNewtest version of the new Yahoo Mail for yourself.

PluggedIn: Struggling to ride Google Wave

google wave 2

What will Google do about China? Can Google’s Android defeat the iPhone? Important questions all, but I’m still curious about Google Wave, and wondering: do I want to use it?

Now undergoing testing with a limited number of users, the web-based email/word processing software was introduced last year, but it should begin open access later this year.

At its heart, Google Wave is a document living on the Internet, that can be edited by anyone collaboratively. What that means is a person can be working on one part of a document while his co-worker is changing another.

Google walks into privacy Buzz-saw

Google touted its 176 million Gmail users as a key advantage in its latest attempt to break into the red-hot social networking market, dominated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter. But email may turn out to be Google’s Achilles heel.

Less than four days after introducing Google Buzz, a social networking service that is built-in to Gmail, the company is already moving to address a growing privacy backlash.

GoogBuzzAt issue is the network of contacts that Buzz automatically creates for new users based on their existing email contacts, saving people the laborious chore of manually building a social graph from scratch.

Google: Don’t Fear the Cloud

Google doesn’t want you to be afraid of the cloud.

The company announced a new feature on Thursday that lets people view all the personal information they’ve entered into Google’s sundry Web-based products over the years.

The information in Google’s new Dashboard covers everything from your personal account information for email and other Google services, to your viewing history on YouTube and the photos you’ve uploaded to Picasa. It’s information that was always accessible in the past, but Google is now making it viewable in one, all-inclusive snapshot.

Privacy advocates have long warned that Google is accumulating too much information about people through its broad menu of Web-based services and not providing enough insight into how the information is being used.

Wave: Who gets Google’s ticket to ride?

It may be the hottest ticket in cyberspace.

On Wednesday, Google will invite more than 100,000 people to begin using Wave, its new hybrid messaging-social networking-online collaboration tool.

The version that will be available on Wednesday is a preview version that Google acknowledges is still not ready for prime time.

But scarcity is a powerful marketing tool (remember the prized Gmail invitations a few years ago?)

Google: Gmail outage a “big deal”

By Laura Isensee

A majority of Google users from California to Taiwan found themselves without access to Google’s popular email service on Tuesday.

Google has a diagnosis: The outage, which lasted more than an hour and a half, was a “Big Deal.”

The company outlined what went wrong on its blog.

“We took a small fraction of Gmail’s servers offline to perform routine upgrades,” Ben Treynor, vice president of engineering and site reliability czar, wrote.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s expected underwear

Even at a difficult moment, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone managed to be witty.

It fell to Stone to write about the hacker who broke in to the company’s computers and stole sensitive business information. His blog on the matter — the official statement from Twitter — was dubbed “Twitter, even more open than we wanted.”

Someone sent a trove of the Twitter documents to the Silicon Valley website TechCrunch. Stone’s blog clarified puzzling statements on TechCrunch that seemed to point toward Google Docs as the problem.  Said Stone: “This has nothing to do with any vulnerability in Google Apps which we continue to use.”

That must have come as a welcome relief at Google, which had been trying to explain the robustness of its security even as press agents for obscure security experts sent emails to suggest otherwise, so their clients would get a mention.

Google’s Gmail says bye-bye beta

The test is finally over.

Five years after Google released Gmail, its Web email product, the company said the product is officially out of beta.

The change is part of a broader move that Google announced on Tuesday involving Google Apps, the company’s suite of online software products that includes Google Docs and Google Calendar, among others.

While many people are familiar with the free, consumer version of Gmail, Google also sells an enterprise-grade version of Gmail and the other applications to businesses for $50 per user.