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ABC logoEarlier this morning I spoke about Facebook’s disturbing new “Big Cat” technology on ABC 702 Sydney, and here’s the audio.

Big Cat is the codename for an algorithm that can apparently detect with a high reliability whether your partner is having an extramarital affair, by analysing such things as their pattern of friend formation and communication, comparing their smartphone location with what they’ve said in posts — such as whether they’re really shopping or at the gym or on a work trip — as well as language cues, such as a tendency to avoid answering direct questions.

In a way, it’s a natural extension of MIT research from 2009, which showed that a young man’s pattern of friend formation could reveal whether he was gay — often before he even knew himself. Or Target (US) being able to determine when a woman had become pregnant from her shopping list — at least with 87% accuracy.

It’s the kind of stuff I talk about in my guest lecture to UTS students — which, as it happens, I’ll be updating and presenting this coming Monday 7 April.

As I discuss with breakfast presenter Robbie Buck, however, this is a little more serious than sending someone some discount coupons on a likely hunch. Facebook had better get this right, given that confronting a partner about an alleged affair is a serious issue.

I’m hearing that the Australia test locations will be the Brisbane / Gold Coast nexus or, more likely, Adelaide, for reasons that I explain.

One thing we forgot to mention in the interview is the reason for Facebook’s codename: “Big Cat” is for catching cheaters. Oh dear.


The audio is of course ©2014 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Here’s the complete audio recording of last weekend’s panel discussion iSpy at the Sydney Writer’s Festival with Tommy Tudehope, me and moderator Marc Fennell.

Even before Google controversially demolished the privacy walls between its various products, we were already living in the total surveillance society. With every keystroke we are voluntarily telling companies, governments and heaven knows who else an awful lot about ourselves. Should we be worried about the uses to which this information could be put?

The panel was originally inspired by my Sydney Morning Herald op-ed You are what you surf, buy or tweet, and I thought we’d also talk about some of the issues I raised in my more recent ZDNet Australia story The Facebook experiment.

But we covered a lot more, including research by Sophos that showed around 50% of people would automatically befriend anyone on Facebook, the progress of the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill and the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, the fact that The Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlam seems to be the only Australian politician paying attention to this stuff, using TOR to help make your web browsing anonymous, the surveillance policy split between the NSA and FBI, anonymous currencies like Bitcoin and Canada’s MintChip, Electronic Frontiers Australia, the Pirate Party Australia, Georgie Guy’s blog, and data mining company Acxiom — which in the recording you’ll hear me misspell as “Axxiom”.


The recording was made using my Zoom H4n sitting mid-way between me and Mr Tudehope, so Mr Fennell is off in the distance somewhat. But at least we have a recording.

If there are any issues you’d like to follow up, well, please post a comment.

[This is a slightly edited version of the article written for “Stories: from The Local Government Web Network”, issue 3, August 2011, which was distributed at the LGWN’s conference in Sydney on 18 August. Some material in this article also appears in Tweeting your way out of Paranoia, the closing keynote presentation I delivered.]

If you’re not yet at least experimenting with Twitter, the real-time social messaging service, you should be.

Suppress the corporate paranoia. It’s a lot easier than you might think. And while Twitter does get far more attention than its relatively small size might suggest — truly active Twitter users number perhaps 20 million globally compared with Facebook’s 750 million active users and counting — it punches well above its weight in terms of connecting with influential community members.

Twitter may not ever become the core real-time service used by the masses. Or if it does, it may only be for a few years. You only have to look at the last decade to see the then-leading MySpace surpassed by Facebook in 2008, just four years after Facebook was founded. Google’s launch of Google+ in June this year has generated plenty of speculation that the search and advertising giant’s foray into social networking will in turn wipe Facebook off the planet. Who knows?

There will always be some real-time social messaging service, however. Whether that’s Twitter as a stand-alone service, or whether we all end up using a real-time component of Facebook or Google+ or something that has yet to be deployed — none of that matters. The principles and practices of real-time messaging will doubtless end up being much the same.

Anything you might do with Twitter will be easy to migrate to any other real-time messaging system. The lessons you learn will carry across too.

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LinkedIn has responded to criticism over their opting-in of everyone to their “social advertising” program with a self-serving blog post. I’m less than impressed.

I wrote two articles yesterday. For Crikey, Sorry too hard a word for LinkedIn over privacy faux pas, in which I describe LinkedIn’s response as bullshit. And for CSO Online, Five lessons from LinkedIn’s opt-out stupidity, which reminds people to keep an eye on social networking services for unannounced changes to the rules of engagement.

Paul Ducklin from security vendor Sophos gives them an easier time, praising them for a quick response. He’s nicer than I am.

In the cold, clear light of Saturday morning, what depresses me most about this whole episode is not that a supposedly-professional service would pull a trick like this and, when caught out, just smear PR bull over the top. It’s that they’ll probably get away with it, and imagine they handled it well.

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“Social advertising”. It sounds so innocuous. But it isn’t. It means that simply by “liking” something on LinkedIn, or if you “take other actions”, they can use your name and photo in third-party advertising. Pricks.

I’ve written about this in Crikey today, LinkedIn pulls a Facebook-like swifty on ‘social advertising’. I called them “exploitative”. I compared them to the “consumer-grade arseholes at Facebook”. I stand by all of that, and more.

I asked how LinkedIn could be so stupid. But it’s more than that.

Just what sort of mindset do LinkedIn’s executives have if they reckon this is an acceptable way to do business with people?

To me it indicates that they have no idea how people might react to discovering their face in someone else’s advertising. Or, if they do realise that, a disturbingly callous disregard for others, putting their business profits before their basic responsibilities as human beings.

Is that antisocial personality disorder? That seems to be what we call being a psychopath these days.

If you’re a LinkedIn user and want to opt out of all this, go to where your name is displayed on the top right of your LinkedIn screen and click on “Settings”. Click on “Account” at the bottom left of screen, then “Manage Social Advertising”.

[Disclosure: I receive a free LinkedIn Pro account as part of their media outreach program.]

In 2005 Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace, as the orthography went, for USD 580 million. Yesterday he sold the operation, now branded Myspace or even just My_____, depending where you look, for a mere USD 35 million. Not exactly a profit.

The buyer was Specific Media, an advertising targeting company. One of the investors is musician and actor Justin Timberlake, although the size of his stake has not been revealed.

There’s now plenty of speculation about whether Myspace will build on its recent music focus, and how it’ll shape up against the monster that is Facebook and the new contender, Google+.

Yesterday I chatted about all this stuff with Lindy Burns on ABC 774 Melbourne. This time she got my name right.


The audio is ©2011 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but it hasn’t been posted on their website so here it is. In return, I reckon you might choose to listen to Lindy Burns’ drive program next week.

I continue to be fascinated by what I get asked to talk about on the radio. Today it was news about Google, with an amused emphasis on the product names.

The station was ABC Gold Coast, the presenter was Bernadette Young, and producer Nicole Gundi had chosen two specific stories. The Australian’s coverage of the launch of Google+, the competitor to Facebook, and the Herald Sun’s story on the smartphone operating system wars.

Speaking live from the pub at fairly short notice, I managed to wrap a few facts and opinions into the 10-minute interview. And here’s a recording.


This material is ©2011 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, presented here as always because the ABC doesn’t post it and it’s a decent plug for them.

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets. This week was mostly about the AusCERT information security conference on the Gold Coast, although a few things relating to the previous week dribbled through.


  • Patch Monday episode 88, “Social business + cloud != revolution”, based on material recorded at NetSuite’s SuiteWorld conference the previous week.


What a lot of articles we have this week! I was covering AusCERT as part of the ZDNet Australia team, and the Technology Spectator article was actually written the week before. There’ll be more AusCERT articles next week.

Media Appearances

  • I was asked to do a bit of trickery before Bennett Arron’s keynote at AusCERT. It didn’t go quite as planned. When Munir Kotadia produced the Day 1 Highlights video, he made sure that no-one forgot.

Corporate Largesse

  • I travelled to the Gold Coast for the AusCERT Conference on information security. My air fares, accommodation and breakfast were covered by CBS Interactive, ZDNet Australia’s parent company, as is normal for freelancers so that doesn’t count as largesse. AusCERT provided free conference entry, as is normal for any media attending, and that included meals and drinks at the social events. In the goodie bag was: webroot Personal Security and Mobile Security for Android from, erm, webroot; notebooks from webroot and Juniper Networks; PostIt-style thingies from Symantec; pens from RSM Bird Cameron, Citrix, Netgear and M86 Security; a Rubik’s Cube from WatchGuard; 3D glasses from SecurityLab; a yoyo from McAfee; and, via a voucher, an AusCERT conference t-shirt. I’ll have more to say about this later. I was also given a t-shirt by Sophos and a stubbie holder from Splunk.


Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream. The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags.

[Photo: Sunrise over the Pacific, Surfer’s Paradise, taken from my room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in 17 May. I didn’t really bother trying to take a good photo, it’s just a snapshot from my phone. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.]

[Update 3 May 2013: Edited to fix broken link to Patch Monday podcast.]

Thanks to my recent posts about my confusion about the point of LinkedIn and coming to the conclusion that LinkedIn is a giant Rolodex, I was treated by their PR firm to a briefing session. Here’s what I learned.

On Monday Shiva Kumar, an associate director at Edelman, spent 90 minutes over coffee running through the advanced features, mostly following the sequence of items in How Journalists Use LinkedIn.

The key lesson for me was that while LinkedIn is certainly useful for recruiters and job-hunters, it’s even more powerful when you think of it as a global database of professionals and their skills, experiences and connections, and use it for smart data mining — and by that I mean data mining that’s aware of the structure of people’s working relationships.

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The other day I expressed my confusion over the point to LinkedIn. I now have the answer, thanks to an overwhelming number of comments. It’s a giant self-updating Rolodex. And it’s main use is recruitment — employees or freelancers finding work, or recruiters looking for staff.

That explains why it wasn’t making sense to me: I’m not in any of those categories. And when I am looking for work, well, I do media stuff. The people I’d want to contact are very public and easy to find. And I’m not wanting to “grow my business”. Fuck I hate that phrase.

That said, I can see that LinkedIn might be a useful tool for keeping track of the various people I interview for my media projects. Provided that LinkedIn allows me to add my own private notes to contacts — does it? — I’ll give it a go for a couple months and report back.

What also intrigued me is that having my comments posted on Hacker News led to a 2300% spike in traffic overnight — as well as a few people pimping their own internet start-ups. A different culture. Personally, I find the idea of drive-by commenting on a stranger’s website to promote your business to be… tasteless.

I agree with several people’s point that as a social network there isn’t much social in LinkedIn. People only checked back infrequently — such as when they were looking for jobs. I can see that LinkedIn is trying to encourage you to use the site more often, what with groups and stuff, but I got the feeling that this isn’t the way most people use the site. Am I right there?

Finally, as one person put it on Twitter, LinkedIn seems most useful for people who use “network” as a verb. Harsh, but fair.

[Update 30 March 2011: I’ve received a briefing session on LinkedIn, which I’ve now written about in Getting to grips with LinkedIn. I’ll close comments here and you can continue the conversation over there.]

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