thinglets: A Broken Letter to Mark Zuckerberg

A broken letter to Mark Zuckerberg:

Maestro Marky Zee,

You've been getting a lot of flack recently from tech pundits about the liberties that Facebook has taken with regards to user privacy. And you've responded without apology, but with indications of placating the mouthpieces.

Good for you, but if you ask me, I'd say don't apologize whatsoever.

In fact, if I were you, I'd completely rape any and all personal user privacy on the Facebook site and serve it up for all to see. Out of the 400 million users you have now, only a couple of million would even notice or give shit. What do you care?

People have a choice: use Facebook or don't.

There's a very clear way to simplify the privacy process instead of asking users to micromanage each subset of their information - eliminate the choice. Like any website, if it's on the FB, anyone can see it, you can hold it, advertisers can scrape it and your users will go their merry way, playing Farmville or starting up slacktivist groups that people can join to assuage their social guilt.

You're offering a free service. While the moral pundit minority may express their outrage, you should choose to ignore them.

I publish several podcasts and blogs which include social networking content, and as much as I don't like the fact you've been arbitrarily switching privacy settings, I don't blame you for it. Hell, you can make a boatload of money by serving up all this data to advertisers, so why wouldn't you?

I honestly believe that by forcing all the tech pundits to run from the site, you won't have to worry about them anymore. Most people are stuck using FB because their neo-Luddite family members have finally crawled up out of the Web 1.0 ooze to sign up and become their "friends". Those in the know can't afford to ditch FB now because Uncle Mort and Aunt Gertrude will feel slighted and not come over for holiday dinner next year.

Just lay it all out on the initial sign up page. Be blunt. Something like:

If you click YES, realize that EVERYTHING you share, even the crap you think might be private, is going to be stored on a hard drive somewhere and advertisers will use the information to try and sell you shit.

Do you accept?


You'll still get 95% of anyone who hits this point, because people love to share pictures of themselves in Las Vegas, or spend hours tilling virtual cabbage, or ROTFL while sharing clips of Glee with each other. When the pundits abandon you for some other service, you will be able to reap in the rewards of the people who either don't know or don't care, and either generates the same amount of data for the advertisers.

Whichever way you choose to go, good luck. I hope you gain respectability with your upcoming starring role in Zombieland 2: Harvard Headshots.


Anthony Marco 

thinglets: How The Word "Official" Became Dead to Me

The word "Official" became dead to me today.

In an envelope that came marked "Official Consumer Product Survey of Ontario", in a recycled beige envelope reminiscent of actual government mailings, with an image of the province of Ontario, marked inauspiciously with an official-looking bar code stripe that looks like it wraps from the front to the back, but actually stops as far to the back as on the front. With an official-looking red stamp warning "DO NOT BEND" on the front, and an upper corner greeting from Diane Simon of the Consumer Research Centre, I felt it was almost my civic duty for me to complete anything that might be inside. Surely it was easily as important as the census or an election.

I hastily opened the envelope and was presented with a document that looked like federal tax forms, or voter registration. I started feeling patriotic and considered how special I must be to be one of the #138 people to receive such a request in my local constabulary. Surely I must be a trend setter, an influencer of markets, or, as the Spanish as a Second Language people say: El Grando Consumerino Importanto!

And then, to bastardize a Yeats pearl, "things fell apart."

I took a quick look back at the envelope and discovered it was sent to Main Grocery Shopper. Well, I am the main grocery shopper, so perhaps a proper name wasn't required. I then scanned the bottom of the envelope and found out I could win prizes... prizes... I don't remember my government ever offering me prizes for filling out my taxes. I remember them offering to send me to jail if I didn't do my taxes. Maybe my government was getting nicer? Maybe this was a public works project to help me during this depression. I was somewhat relieved that the envelope and all subsequent survey information was lovingly inscribed by Diane... but perhaps this was just to lull me into a sense of false security.

Upon closer perusal of the "survey" itself, I was prepared to see complicated legislative questions and room for anecdotal commentary on tax reform. Instead, the first bold category that popped up in front of was the inauspicious "LAUNDRY DETERGENT". Scattered over the first few pages of survey were similarly inspiring categories like Adult Nutritional Beverages, Yogurt, Seasonings and Marinades, Shredded Cheeses, Feminine Hygiene. And then I discovered some categories that seemed buried amidst the innocuous like personal medical information: Pain Relievers, Denture Care, Vision Care, Severe Allergies, Snoring, Bedwetting, a long list of check boxes asking about Family Health. In fact almost two full pages of personal medical information requests that further included Diabetes, Athlete's Foot, Multiple Sclerosis, Psoriasis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

The last page included Vehicle Ownership, Insurance, Banking, Mortgages and General Information. 

General Information!?!

You already know what makes up my stool whenever I go to the bathroom and when I'm going to have the bank foreclose on my house. You already can surmise why fills my nightmares and when I'll probably die from congestive heart failure. Your character sketch of me has more detail than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and you want General Information?

Oh sure, I could elect not to share all of the medical information with your member companies, but then my odds would probably go down to win the $2,500 dollar "Lucky Early Bird" prize or $5,000 Grand Prize which I plan on using to buy all of the awesome product on the survey. I have to. The interior note tells me to "Fill it out NOW - while it's in your hands." The opposite side of this note includes an inspirational quote by Diane Simon: "Please don't throw this survey away! It's really more important than you may realize!"

I soon realized my hands were shaking. Could my brain's protestation win over the patriotism of my heart and soul calling me to do my civic and perhaps legal duty to complete these important document?

Upon scanning the last document in the envelope which included stirring endorsements from C.P of Kensington, PEI, S.F. of Toronto, ON, D.S. of Medicine Hat, AB, and P.J. of Sechelt, BC, I start to wonder who the hell endorses a survey? And I suppose what really made up my mind was when kindly Diane pointed me (via Post Script) to the company's privacy policy. Via the website I read:

Legal Requests: In addition to the disclosure of your personal information noted above, we may use and disclose any information about you to law enforcement, other government officials or other third parties as we in our sole discretion believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose us to legal liability.

We may also disclose such information to third parties as we believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with any merger or consolidation with, or sale of substantially all of our assets or the assets of a line of our business to, a third party, provided that such a third party agrees to comply with the privacy policy that applies to your personal information and that appropriate notices are provided to you.

And so I had the proof I finally needed. If my so-called friend, Diane, was going to send my information to the government - THEY COULDN'T BE THE GOVERNMENT! It was all a ruse. I felt betrayed by Diane and her deceptive attempts at getting my to fork over my innocuous spending habits and serious medical conditions. I don't think I can ever trust the word "official" again - foul temptress.

lovehate: how we hide

When Aaron Sorkin's oft-imitated Colonel Jessop storms "You can't handle the truth!", most of us sit in eager anticipation for Tom Cruise to work his manipulative magic and rip the truth from the smug colonel's countenance.

Some of the most common themes in literature arise around the tug of war topic between appearance and reality. Fiction, however, does not hold eminent domain over such a struggle. Most people spend their waking hours delving into all aspects of trying to hide reality from others and themselves while, at the same time, demanding transparency from everyone around them.

Whether it's the "flattering" clothes we choose, or the cosmetic alterations, or the airs of grandeur we adopt, we do our very best to conceal and hide what we consider a flawed reality from everyone else. We work to fulfill expectations that aren't our own by wearing certain styles. While most people admit a fondness for being able to lounge around in a t-shirt and sweats on a weekend, we are quite willing to adorn ourselves according to expectations. We will don the business suit and tie and carry the cow hide portfolio. We will gather around the water cooler or surreptitiously open chat windows to compare notes on the previous night's reality television escapades or try to derive gossip from who's spending too long in each other's office. We would be horrified to find ourselves on the speculative end of rumor, but are quite willing to exercise, with reckless abandon, character dissections of others based on the most miniscule tidbits of information. It's a small wonder we take such pains to hide in public.

We decorate our houses in the acceptable fashions, buying furniture endorsed by television homemakers if over 35 and Swedish box store consortia if under. We hang posters and prints and pictures and paintings to microcast the inner-workings of our sensitive minds to those that walk by and ponder. We allow clutter to happily gather around us for a week and will relish basking in its fort-like structures until an hour before company comes and it all must vanish in an effort to convince friends and acquaintances that we foster pristine, perfect living spaces. We have collections of place settings that remain in cloistered velvet-lined boxes or on display in glass-doored cabinets that we only use with a special brand of event or assembly. We spend hours, days and sometimes weeks on crafting our yards into elaborate Home and Garden pictorials in an effort to send a message. If the medium is the message, and our front lawns are the medium, we need to learn new languages.

We create online personas that seek to enhance our best qualities and obliterate our worst. We try to impart wisdom in 140 characters or less. We post links to oddly-interesting websites that we think other people will also like, but, more importantly, will create a perception of cutting-edge cool in whichever milieu we choose to categorize ourselves. We social network with people we met one night at a bar and will never see again. We've seen pictures of their family and friends in our feeds and, for the time being, seem to know more about them than some of our own family members. We reduce our 3D reality down to 2D profiles. We use Facebook as a verb. We twitter, plurk, friendfeed, ping, and google each other to derive snippets of information that will further feed our eternal quest to think we "know" about someone better that they think we do.

We speak less than honestly, but rarely completely dishonest. We know how to spin a message yet get infuriated upon discovering the media has. We want to divulge enough to stay relevant but not enough to make us obsolete. We obfuscate better than any press secretary. We politic better than any politician. We can manipulate as well as any cult leader, though sometimes our guilt gets in the way. We find ways to avoid conversations when the topic seems too tedious. We find ways to push conversations when our comfort zones allow for insight. We can cut to the quick to make a statement, to make a point, to make an enemy, to make an ally. We throw up shields. We duck and cover. We block emails, unlist our numbers, disassociate and move to new streets, cities and countries all in the effort to avoid truth.

Colonel Jessop was right. We can't handle the truth. Because while it sits out there like the Grail, the Fountain of Youth, or the Pot of Gold, the quest is always more important than the prize itself. What do you do when you find the Holy Grail? Have a pint?