Private or Public? It is all the same with Facebook.

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I am not a big Facebook user but, like almost everyone under the age of 30, I have an account. I am not exactly sure why I keep my account. I guess it is a social convention of sorts. My account now consists of only my basic information and my profile pictures; however, this was not always the case, as I once had many tagged pictures, videos and albums attached to my profile. As my interest in Facebook began to dwindle, I became increasingly concerned with the issue of privacy on the site. Each time a new update of the site came out, privacy settings became more and more difficult to adjust. Public became the default setting and the privacy center became increasingly complex to navigate. Just recently, I finally made the decision to restrict my information.

Was this enough?

No. Not at all. I am far less protected that Facebook would like me to believe I am.  All the information that was once associated with my Facebook account is still owned by Facebook. Even if I were to delete or deactivate my account completely, all the information that was once connected to my account is still out there.  Facebook states in small print at the bottom of its privacy policy that information remains after you delete your account. It is not surprising that Facebook chooses to keep this little fact quiet.

Image“Do you share your personal info with everyone on Facebook? If so, there’s a decent chance that data is now part of a file — containing information for around 100 million users of the social networking site — that’s now making its way around the Web” This frightening statement was published in The consumerist, by Chris Morran, in 2009 when Facebook reversed a change to its terms of service that could potentially reveal users information. Facebook refuted this claim saying, “People who use Facebook own their information and have the right to share only what they want, with whom they want, and when they want.”

The statement Facebook makes is true, to some extent. Information on the file is public. The problem is that users are not aware of how to control privacy settings and exactly what information is private.  Despite what some might say, this is not the users fault! Maybe I am a bit paranoid but it really seems like Facebook is on a mission to deprive us of our privacy!

Danah Boyd and Eszter Hargittai explain in their article, Facebook Privacy Settings: Who cares, that each time Facebook puts out an update or introduces new user options, user settings are automatically reset to public. For example, when the option became available to share user information with Google, the automatic setting was set to yes, share my information. The site does not inform users of the changes, leaving accounts public and vulnerable.  With a policy like this, it is not surprising that millions of users are completely unaware of how much information they are sharing and what exactly is being done with this information. I have always been concerned over privacy, yet, Facebook fooled me into leaving my settings public after one of their many updates. When I did take another look into my privacy settings, I was shocked and appalled to discover that everything had reset everything to public! How can Facebook be allowed to do this? It is a violation on my privacy rights!

In 2009, Facebook urged users to reconsider their privacy settings. To do so, the site placed mandatory prompts every time users logged in asking them to review their settings. The default setting that the prompts brought users to was, of course, public. If a user exited the screen, all information was automatically set to public. As a result, many more accounts became publically available than ever before. This data can be seen in the graph below. So, no, technically Facebook is not lying by selling or sharing private information but they are making it pretty dam hard to keep information private.

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A study by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, found that users think that the benefits of using Facebook outweighs the associated privacy risks. The problem is that users are not aware of all the risks. “Most users do not seem to realize that restricting access to their data does not sufficiently address the risks”. Take a look at the diagram below. Restricting your profile to friends only, only restricts the visible portion the iceberg. Users feed the invisible portion of the iceberg by uploading personal data on a continual basis to third party applications. This is all quite scary, especially since all this research is being done by credible scientific journals. How do users not know of all these problems and how is Facebook so good at hiding all this information?

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How to Protect Yourself: A Few Quick Tips

  • The default setting is public. If you don’t want to share your information you will have to change this.
  • The privacy center does not allow you to restrict all your information. You will have to make many changes manually. This is a time consuming process but your privacy is well worth the effort.
  • Utilize the list tool. This is one of the few functions that Facebook makes it easy to control.
  • Review your third-party applications. This is one of the main way information is spread and Facebook is increasing their support for theses applications.

I strongly urge you to reconsider your privacy settings for social networking sites. Facebook may not be sharing your private information but keeping information private is becoming quite a challenge and Facebook certainly is not helping.

Watch this great little video on Facebook privacy and what exactly data is used for.

“Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”    – Benjamin Franklin


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Internet Addiction: Symptom or Cause?

Internet Addiction Disorder (I.A.D.), if it does exist, is a greatly disputed ‘addiction’ characterized by the compulsive use of the Internet. Usage must interfere with work, sleep and personal relationships to be considered problematic. In the past decade, I.A.D. has become more generally accepted; however, the American Medical Association and the American Physiological Association still fail to recognize it as an addiction. Individuals become addicted to the Internet when dealing with depression, loneliness, anxiety and many other mental health problems. Given the correlation between these symptoms and I.A.D., is Internet addiction merely a symptom of these other mental health problems?

Dr Jerald Block, a psychiatrist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland says “about 86 percent of Internet addicts have some other form of mental illness, but that unless a therapist is looking for it, Internet addiction is likely to be missed”

Addiction and mental health specialists agree that five specific areas of the Internet can become problematic. There is little agreement if any of these troublesome behaviors should be considered addictions.

1. Cybersex and Pornography

1 in 5 ‘Internet addicts’ engage in online sexual behavior.  Those who engage in cybersex are likely to have an outside sex addiction, low self-esteem and depression. ‘Addicts’ enjoy the anonymity of the Internet, according to Dr. Young of the Center for Internet Addiction.

2. Online Affairs

Affairs occurring on the Web are the most frequently treated type of online compulsive behavior. At the Center of Internet Addiction, 60% of cases that are brought forward for treatment are online affairs.

3. Online Gaming

Video games and role-playing games are a growing problem among today’s youth.

“In a volunteer sample, 41% of online gamers acknowledged that they use gaming as an escape. In the same sample, 7% were viewed as dependent. These gamers possessed several behavioral attributes that are related to more well established forms of addiction (e.g., mood modification, tolerance, & relapse).”-International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction

4Online Gambling

Gambling online is an impulse control disorder that mostly affects those with gambling problems outside of the Web. There should not be a distinction between gambling online or in person. Gambling addicts require treatment for their underlying condition, not for their Web usage.

5. Information Overload

Also known as search engine addiction, information overload is characterized by compulsive surfing of the Web and using online databases.

The Addiction Intervention Center defines addiction as “the compulsive need for and use of something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological and physical symptoms upon withdrawal”.   This definition is intended to apply to drug, alcohol and computer related destructive behaviors. Can Internet users experience physical withdrawal symptoms in the same way that drug and alcohol abusers do? In my opinion, as well as the American Medical Association’s, it is not possible. Users may experience mental and emotional withdrawal symptoms but simply cannot experience physical withdrawal. Any symptoms that users may experience are a result of their underlying health conditions.

The Center for Internet Addiction, HelpGuide.org, Psych Central and many other similar cites have lists of symptoms and tests to diagnosis users. Below is a compiled list taken from these sites1.

  • Failed attempts to control behavior
  • Heightened sense of euphoria while involved in computer and Internet activities
  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Neglecting sleep to stay online
  • Being dishonest with others
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behavior
  • Physical changes such as weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome 
  • Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities
  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating

Now, let’s compare these symptoms to the symptoms of depression listed on the Institute for Mental Health website2.

  • Physical changes: fatigue and decreased energy; persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment; weight gain or loss
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex

Notice any similarities? Perhaps these overlaps are because Internet addiction is a symptom of preexisting mental health conditions, not a problem in itself.

So, what is the difference between checking email multiple times a day, surfing daily and watching shows online, as I, and many of you do, and full-blown addiction? This is the question that triggered me to write this blog. When does the switch from typical user to ‘addict’ occur?

To answer this question I took the questionnaire on the Center for Internet addiction website. When completing the questionnaire I over-exaggerated my responses and still scored in the normal category. According to the site, “You are an average on-line user. You may surf the Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage.”

Some of the questions really did not seem to be indicative of an addiction. What’s more, it seems that these questions can be applied to a whole list of activities including reading, listening to music, watching TV and even socializing. The questions that seemed too general are listed below.

How often do you find that you stay on-line for longer than intended?

How often do you neglect household chores to spend more time on-line?

How often do your grades or schoolwork suffer because of the amount of time you spend on-line?

How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you need to do?

How often do you lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?

How often do you try to cut down the amount of time you spend on-line and fail?

What makes the Internet addictive but watching television and reading not? If symptoms of addiction are simply excessive time spent doing an activity while other parts of your life suffer, couldn’t any behavior be considered an addiction? A study done by Stanford University, asked this very question with respect to television. The results showed that there is nothing special about the Internet that creates addiction, when compared to similar behaviours.

The Economist quotes Joseph Walther, a communications professor at Michigan State University, who completed a similar study, saying, “No scientific evidence has emerged to suggest that Internet use is a cause rather than a consequence of some other sort of issue. Focusing on and treating people for internet addiction, rather than looking for underlying clinical issues, is unwise”. He argues that the criteria developed for Internet addiction can be applied to anything. For example, professors can be addicted to academia.  Below are a few of the questions from the Internet addiction quiz applied to academia. As you can see, it could easily be argued using this criteria that anything can be additive.

How often do you find that you reading and researching for longer than intended?

How often do you neglect household chores to spend more time reading and researching?

How often do you lose sleep due to late-night reading and research?

In my opinion, defining Internet usage an addiction diminishes the severity of true addictions. Compulsive Internet use that has severe social consequences on the user is a symptom of other underlying metal health conditions.

In 2010, the center for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders decided that Internet use cannot be an addiction. Let’s listen to the professionals and help so-called Internet addicts address their true problems.

Notes:

1Symptoms for Internet addiction come from The Center for Internet Addiction, Dr. Young, 1995, http://www.netaddiction.com/ and Help Guide Dr. Segal, 2012, http://www.helpguide.org/

2Symptoms for Depression come from the National Institute for Mental Health, 2012, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml

3All survey questions come from The Center for Internet Addiction, Dr. Young, 1995, http://www.netaddiction.com/

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The Digital Photography Revolution

Today’s world is increasingly digital. The digital revolution has brought about sweeping changes across the world that has marked the beginning of the information age. Digital technologies of all kinds, including digital music and videos, have become increasingly prevalent in our everyday lives. Included in this technological whirlwind is the switch from film to digital photography.  Digital cameras became publicly available in the early 1990’s. Since then, with the fall in camera prices and the increase in their speed and power, digital cameras have become all the rage. Digital cameras are perhaps the largest change to the lives of everyday consumers. In this blog I am going to talk about how the switch from film photography to digital photography has changed the world and the implications that this switch has.

I started taking photography classes in high school. At this time I was introduced to film photography. I immediately fell in love with the grainy quality of film and dynamic range of black and white’s. While time not spent in the dark room is considered one of the advantages of digital, I find that developing prints and the manipulations done manually is an important part of the process. The debate of digital versus film photography is not a new one. Each has their pros and con’s and many photographers have switched to using both for a combination of versatility and quality.

Advantages of Digital:           

  • Wider latitude
  • Obtain images in less light
  • Speed
  • Affordability of taking pictures (no cost of film or prints)
  • Versatility
  •  Photographs do not fade
  • Photographs can be modified easily

Advantages of Film:           

  • Better special resolution
  • Better black and white photographs
  • Cheaper cameras that last for longer
  • Better dynamic range
  • No shutter delay
  • Camera turns on instantly

Evidently, both mediums have benefits with digital photography’s ease and speed toping its list. In absolute terms, it is not possible to make a decision between the two that is not based in personal opinion. I think that the quality of film photographs is still better than digital but that is quickly changing. It is the speed and versatility of digital cameras that have lead to the digital photography revolution. I think that digital photography has changed the world in three main ways.

Photojournalism and Citizen Journalism:

“There will never be another still-only photographer job in Canada anywhere. It’s dead…A lot of traditional photographers are seeing this kind of as the death of photojournalism but, in fact, it’s never been better.”-Moe Doiron, Deputy Managing Editor for Photography, The Globe and Mail

The journalism area of photography is for a practical purpose rather than for the purpose of art. It seeks to capture images as they appear, to broadcast current events. This area of photography has been completely transformed. Moe Doiron, of The Globe and Mail, explains that the paper expects all photojournalist to be working with multimedia film. “They could be the best still photographer in the world but if they’re not embracing this new technology, there’s no place for them in the next five years.” Multimedia film includes works slide shows, voice over’s and animation. Taking good pictures is no longer enough to become a photojournalist. In the age of digital photography anyone can be a good photographer. Digital cameras do not have to be adjusted or developed and the camera helps the photographer frame the shot.

The ease of taking good pictures has brought about a new field: citizen journalism. Due to the growing presence of Smartphone’s, citizens everywhere always have a camera. Whether planned or by accident, citizens are now able to capture all newsworthy and not so newsworthy events. Instead of employing photojournalist, newspapers buy photographs from citizens who happened to be at an event. The decline of print media also adversely affects the field of photojournalism.

Professional photographers: End of an era?

More and more people are taking up photography as a hobby. The sheer number of photos that each person can take with a digital camera naturally results in better photos. It is not that we are becoming better photographers, rather it is that with thousands of attempts it is easier to capture the perfect shot. With a few basic lessons in composition, lighting, aperture and shutter speed anyone can become a photographer. In the days of film photography, a photographer would never attempt an image without the perfect setting for fear of wasting film. Now, amateur photographers can take countless photographs and fiddle with them until they are satisfied

So, what does this mean for professionals?

I don’t think that lucky shots can replace what a professional photographer can do but that is just my opinion. There are fewer and fewer jobs for photographers, all due to the digital revolution.  Jobs are decreasing because of the number of new photographers entering the field, drawn by the falling prices of digital equipment. Today, just about anyone can take good picture with a camera that costs less than $200. To put this in perspective, the first affordable DSLR camera released in 1999 cost $5500 and this camera was extremely cheap compared to anything else of the time.

“Photography is based upon an emotional response to something we see which triggers a feeling for the moment. When one captures the moment, the moment is printed and it becomes a document of a time, in one’s life” – Ric Cisson, Photography, Photofinishing, and Digital Imaging Professions

Social Media and Photo sharing:

Digital images can be saved on any computer, uploaded to the Internet and printed in any newspaper. Social media sites, like Facebook and Flikr, allow users to photo share. One can even share photos on ones phone with networks like Instagram and Path.

Is there really a purpose to photo sharing?

Personally, I am not a big user of social media sites in general, let alone photo sharing. Before joining the CIS class Flikr group, I had never been on a site like that. It is not a big surprise then that I do not see the point of photo sharing. Websites that host photo sharing make profits though fees or adverting. In short, the purpose is for exposure.  By posting photos on a site like Flikr, photographers can get public attention from large audiences.  Social networking sites not only enable communication but also provide an audience for photo posters. Beyond this there is no real point, in my opinion. While photo sharing does provide exposure for amateur photographers, I do not see this form of exposure as an asset for professional photographers and photojournalists. Overall, the social media aspect of the digital age has little to contribute to the traditional medium of photography. This being said, it does have a significant role to play in the new era of digital cameras and camera phones. A major reason for individual’s use of these devices is for photo sharing.

The cover of Life Magazine featuring an article on the impacts of camera-phones.

The future of photography

To be perfectly honest with you, I still prefer film to digital photography for the richness of the black and white photographs and for the fast response time. This being said, the digital revolution is here to stay. I am not saying that film is a dying art but the changes that digital photography has to offer including ease of use, large memory capacity and low prices have changed the field forever. Increasing numbers of professional photographers, photojournalists and armatures are making the switch to digital. Even smartphones come equipped with 5-8 mega pickle cameras. Digital technology has dramatically changed the way society interacts with photography. While these changes have had some negative impacts on photographers, the overall impact on society has been positive.

Here is a YouTube clip of photographer Adam Lerner discussion the topic of film vs. digital. While my advantages list sums up these points, I like this clip, as it is nice to hear the differences demonstrated with the two shown portraits shown.

“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” –Eve Arnold

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