Security and the Social Web

Let’s be completely frank here, security and privacy to those in the know in regards to online behavior simply doesn’t exist. That said, it doesn’t mean that we as bloggers, web developers and the like need to aide in the dance more-so than absolutely necessary, and yesterday’s flub-up with Facebook was an all-too-painful reminder as such.

In case you hadn’t been paying attention or hadn’t heard, Facebook introduced a bug into their “Like” button tracking system yesterday that caused massive site redirects from a lot of websites. A lot of things can be said about Facebook, and I’m sure you’ve heard about some of them… the In-Q-Tel and CIA links, the privacy concerns, psychological effects on users, and their latest charming Graph Search amongst a rafter-full of other complaints and concerns. For anyone willing to notice, there’s a very troubling pattern folding out. Personally, I was troubled by the outfit from the beginning, and declined to participate much to the frustration of many friends and family members a few years back.

For those keeping score? Yes, I declined to participate out of a privacy concern, but ones of a more pragmatic nature. I know that true online privacy is an illusion, and have known for years, but it doesn’t mean I have to make it easy for the mega-conglomerates and advertisers to aggregate databases regarding my habits online for their personal profit… basically, I make them work for their data from me. Work is healthy for the spirit and body alike, after all. I’d be thoroughly unsurprised if Facebook had a shadow profile of me – after all, several friends and family members sent multiple Facebook invites to me across various e-mail addresses over the years with my real name attached to every one of ’em – but I’m sure it’s a pretty hole-filled profile compared to those who’ve gone out of their way signing up accounts linking their CVS cards to their profiles and posting pictures of their friends throwing up during weekend keggers, and frankly, I prefer it that way. I’m the sort of person who likes being private and low-key as I’m not an attention hound. I try to keep my ego in check and frequently remind myself that I’m not doing this for myself, but for the sake of others and for the glory of haShem. When I Google my real name, it’s to make sure that the guy selling insurance out in California and the other guy playing college sports keep their search ranks higher than my own, but I’ve digressed….

Yesterday’s incident with Facebook reminded me of a personal hypocrisy with this very site’s mission statement and feelings about social media, which brings us to this post. I may not have a large readership, but assessing the metrics and access logs of my site’s readership has reminded me of how little sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and their ilk are really driving any reader traffic. The share buttons are an uber-convenient tool of uselessness that isn’t helping myself or my readers share links so much as large corporations to more easily add to their privacy-raping datamining habits and bad guys who exploit security vulnerabilities to increase their ability to socially engineer themselves into your life. If you want to share a link to an article I wrote here on one of those services? Go for it… but from today forward, you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way with copy-pasting the URL as I’ve disabled all “social” sharing tools on the Technical Meshugana. These buttons are not acting as technological tools that are actually enriching this site’s readership, and if anything, it just becomes an annoyance for folks who use browser plugins like NoScript and Ghosterly. If you’d like the return of an e-mail or print button on these pages, please leave a comment saying as much, but for now we’re officially Social Web 2.0 buzzword utility free.

Anyway, consider this post my pledge to you in keeping true to my mission statement: If a technological tool becomes a liability (as Facebook truly became yesterday), then it shall be cast away. I’ll be making changes to the template going forward as well to decrease dependence on Google for font embedding, though I have no ETA on when I’ll complete this particular change. In the end, out of respect to my readers, I will reduce my dependence upon needless third parties for scripts to deliver content and track readership. My goal is to eliminate all usage outside of Delicious (for this site’s news feed), Amazon (for monetization of tools and equipment in an effort to keep from begging too much for money to try and maintain and provide the resources here that desperately needs my time and love), and Paypal. Note that my selections fall in line with very real tools that help with the true usefulness of this site.

In addition to dispensing of the social media sharing buttons, I’ve also disabled Gravatar and removed Jetpack entirely, replacing it specifically with WP SlimStat, which appears to be a far more third-party privacy-friendly statistics tool. Having metrics on who’s reading what and from where is handy for me to track, but I don’t need to share that with outside parties. After all, it would be hypocritical of me to continue utilizing these tools given my own approach to online privacy and making the vultures work for their data… and honestly, these things just slow down page loads anyway.

I’m also using this opportunity to throw down the gauntlet so to speak with other bloggers and webdevs out there. How many of you are utilizing and sticking code in from other companies that aren’t actually helping your website on the off-chance it might while ignoring the risks that come with in regards to XSS vulnerabilities and your readership’s overall general “privacy” and security?

Is that Like or Tweet button really contributing to your readership? Perhaps you should start looking at the technologies used, how much they’re actually contributing to the distribution of your content, and weigh whether they’re worth keeping around or not instead of just going along with general conventional herd wisdom of “I need this because everyone uses it”. If you have any interest beyond pure monetization and linkspamming the internet with your posts, you might discover how little these tools are actually helping and how much you might actually be risking in regard to your own site’s integrity by trusting these third parties to help get more readership. Relax… if you’re good, the readership will come. Spend your time being awesome.


Illustration entitled “Social Graph” by Wikimedia Commons user Festys and licensed for use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).

4 thoughts on “Security and the Social Web

  1. I’ll use your rss as I can’t find your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly permit me to just subscribe. Thanks.

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