Business

"Move Fast, Break Trust?"

This week’s blog post is written by fellow PhD Candidate Nicholas Gorski, who came across yet another bug in Facebook’s privacy during the latest rollout. The post germinates from a discussion about how the motto “Move Fast, Break Stuff” sounds fun for an engineer, but is this attitude apt when it comes to your relationships with your friends and family? As an explicit clarification to the engineers at Facebook: This post is intended to incite thought about attitudes towards privacy models, and not make any claims about coding abilities or the inevitability of bugs. —arnab

 

Mark Zuckerberg’s motto for Facebook, now used as company differentiator in engineering recruiting pitches, is “move fast, break stuff.” As previously reported, Facebook certainly broke things in changes pushed out Tuesday evening: By previewing the effects of your privacy settings, you were briefly able to see your profile as if you were logged in to a friend’s account, which enabled you to view your friends’ live chats as they were taking place, as well as look at pending friend requests.

Tuesday’s changes apparently also broke another privacy setting, though. By now, everyone is aware that Facebook exposes privacy settings for personal information in your profile. This includes items such as your Bio, description, Interested In and Looking For, and Religious and Political Views. However, Tuesday’s changes appear to expose this information to everyone in your network regardless of your privacy settings and even whether or not they are your friend.

[click the pictures to enlarge]
Screen shot 2010-05-06 at 2.27.40 PM

Screen shot 2010-05-06 at 2.27.49 PM

Try it out for yourself. First, set the privacy settings for some of your personal information to exclude certain friends of yours that are in your network, and then preview your profile as them. If the privacy breach hasn’t been fixed yet, your friend will still be able to see your personal information even though they shouldn’t be able to according to your privacy settings. As we mentioned, this extends beyond your friends: anyone in your network may be able to view your personal information (it may even extend beyond your network).

Screen shot 2010-05-06 at 2.27.55 PM

Screen shot 2010-05-06 at 2.28.02 PM

(Note: the privacy leak may have since been fixed… although an awful lot of people now have public quotations on their profiles.)

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this bug is going to get the attention that it deserves. Facebook is exposing a privacy policy to its users, but is broken such that it ignores this policy. Upon rolling out Buzz, Google was lambasted in the press for defaulting to a public privacy policy for your contacts – if you opted in to creating a public profile. In this case, Facebook let you set an explicit privacy policy, but then exposed that information anyway.

How could this seemingly minor privacy leak hurt anyone, you might ask? The canonical example of the danger of Buzz’s public contacts was the case of the female blogger with an abusive ex-husband. No harm actually befell this security-conscious blogger, but it certainly could have. In the case of Facebook’s privacy breach, the information that was made public was only profile information relating to your biography, religion and romantic preferences. Given the masses of Facebook users, how many people’s sexual preferences could have been inadvertently outed? How many people could have had potentially embarrassing biography information exposed to their parents, people in their network, or potential employers? The privacy safeguards are there for a reason, after all.

One might be inclined to write it off as a mistake, potentially a bug in a PHP script written by a junior software engineer — something hard to believe, given the reported talent of their employees. But Facebook’s motto, and their current agenda, makes it clear that the privacy leaks that have come to light this week are more than that. They are a product of corporate indifference to privacy; indeed, Facebook’s corporate strategy for monetizing their site depends on making as much of your information public as they can. The EFF has repeatedly sounded alarms about the erosion of privacy on Facebook, but is it too late?

Much of the information that was once personal and guarded by privacy settings has now migrated to the public portion of the site, and has been standardized in order to facilitate companies using your personal information to tie in to their marketing and advertising campaigns. The books that you like, the music that you listen to, your favorite movies: all of these are valuable data that companies will pay Facebook for, in aggregate. It will allow them to target you more specifically. When you expose this information publicly, though, are you really aware of how it will be used – not just today, but tomorrow? Information will persist forever in Facebook’s databases, long after you delete it from your profile.

In the meantime, Facebook’s corporate attitude of playing fast and loose with your profile information makes it likely that future privacy leaks will occur — that is, if any of your profile information remains private for much longer.

Tapbots goes fulltime

The Tapbots duo are quitting their day jobs to work fulltime on their iPhone app company:

Longer term we aren’t looking to get any VC funding, grow to 100s of employees or get bought out by some big corporation. We may get help with support, testing and/or marketing, but development and design is going to just be us two for the foreseeable future. We think that’s the best way to keep the quality of our applications at the level that everyone expects. Our goal is to produce about 4 applications a year. We aren’t going to shovel out crap-ware to cash-in on our names. We aren’t going to write the next Office or Filemaker. We are going to write simple but incredibly polished applications that are created specifically for the iPhone/Touch devices. Two guys, lot’s of passion and a lot of hard work, that’s the Tapbots way.




Two guys, two popular iphone apps (“Weightbot sold 100k copies in its first 100 days, Convertbot is selling at about twice that rate.”), one mission to make quality apps. Good luck, guys!

|

Obama vs McCain : A management perspective

There has been a lot of debate and noise about the 2008 US election. Politics, ethics and opinions aside, let’s think about this from a simple facts-and-numbers perspective. Ignore all the controversy of popular vote vs electoral college, etc etc. Let’s consider the contest in the way it’s defined right now.

You have finite resources, and you need to win the election. It costs a fixed amount of effort to convince each person. What’s the most optimal way to win an election?

So you run an optimized campaign. You strategize and make a campaign that gives you a much better “bang for buck”. In a perfect world, you should spend enough time to convince as little over 50% of each constituency and then move on, since you’ve won there and you should spend your resources elsewhere. This should be the primary objective function to measure a campaign’s efficacy.

Using numbers from the Wikipedia :
Obama : 66,495,308 votes, 365 electoral votes. 365/66 = 5.5
McCain : 58,123,419 votes, 162 electoral votes. 162/58= 2.79

Hence, we can see that Obama’s campaign was TWICE more efficient than McCain’s.

If the ability to lead a campaign is any reflection of leadership of the country, this does seem like a decisive victory in leadership skills.

Now, in case someone argues that Obama had more money, let’s look at spending reports from Opensecrets.org:
Obama : 640M$ = 1.75M$ per electoral vote
McCain : 370M$ = 2.28M$ per electoral vote

Again, Obama was 1.3 times more efficient with his donation money.

So overall, 2x efficiency in campaign effort, and 1.3x efficiency in use of money. What I see is a great contest in management, with a clear winner.

|

lyricist

so i
walked around
the crowded conclave of
these markets and people
and i
was so lost
about where those notes
were coming from and
who made that music
that had touched and then frozen
my sense of direction
in a
moment of perfection
i was so lost
when i saw
your fingers
strumming so gently
six strings in those patterns
that made me stand still
for a moment or two
or a million, i would never know
for i
was so lost.

here i was
spending my time seeking spirit
lending my life towards yearning
for a reason to breathe
looking for a hunger to appease

and there you were
sitting
with a calm up on your face
lips, silent
fingers, manipulating
strings of lonely hearts
tearing them apart
one by one.

i’m sure there is a reason
for each day in every season
to be spent in the hope of
some goal that
i can only wish
that one day you will find
but for now
i hope you do not mind, if
i could sit with you all day long
writing lyrics to your songs
like this one.

| |

reaching out

  • Russel Davies painted his laptop to work as a blackboard. I think the acrylic casing for the iBook makes an excellent whiteboard too.
  • Friend and mentor Cong Yu just got an honorable mention in the SIGMOD Dissertation Award:
    …Two other nominees receive Honorable Mention recognizing their outstanding work on theoretical foundations and development of algorithms with great impact on important practical problems: Cong Yu, for his dissertation on “Managing Complex Databases in a Schema Management Framework” at the University of Michigan, and, Nilesh Dalvi, for his dissertation on “Managing Uncertainty Using Probabilistic Databases” at the University of Washington.

    It’s interesting to see the hiring trends : the Award was won by now-MSR researcher Ariel Fuxman. Nilesh and Cong are both Yahoo! Researchers.

  • Natalie Du Toit’s “wonderful story of courage, determination, discipline, hopes and dreams”, becoming the first amputee to qualify for the Olympics.
  • It’s not every day that the White House asks you to become a Vampire Slayer.

appu ghar is closing down

India’s first amusement park, Appu Ghar is closing down. This is sad. I admit that many of the rides there were either broken or dated the last time I visited it, but it’s still a big part of my memories, just like every other Delhiite. The land will apparently be used to extend the Supreme Court and Metro Rail facilities. I don’t care for the court, but if the metro folks could just implement a loop) in their train tracks through the place, I would be very happy.

|

how many computers does google have?

One of the first things I did outside of work at Google was to find out how many computers the company has. It’s a fairly secret number; it’s not quite a topic that people in the Googz like to talk about.

It took me a week to piece together the answer; and a few months to come to terms with my discovery. It’s hard to talk to people outside of the big G about the kind of stuff they pull off there, and I’m not talking about making ball pits out of director’s offices.

I can finally talk about this, now that this information is explicitly public, published in an article by MapReduce Gods Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat (bloggy synopsis here). In the paper, they talk of 11,081 machine years of computation used in Sept 2007 alone, for a subset of their MapReduce work. That’s 132972 machine months of CPU used in one month. Assuming all the computers were running at 100% capacity, without failure, without any break for the entire month, that’s almost a hundred and fifty thousand machines worth of computing used in September Oh Seven.

In other words, Google has about one hundred and fifty thousand computers that are reported here.

But does that account for ALL the computers at Google?

To find out, go ask a Google employee to violate his NDA today!

for your information, this may not be the right number. it should be obvious why. for example, they never said anything about not using hamsters. hamsters are 10x faster than computers, which would mean they could just have 10,000 hamsters and it would be fine.

zune tagged

While I haven’t been able to get my hands on one yet(I’m waiting on Rhode to donate hers when she gets it), this whole Microsoft Zune thing seems like as if it was designed to be unspectacular and mediocre. Microsoft usually has a way about spewing awe, even if it’s for vaporware. For example, this Longhorn concept video, makes me want to run out and buy a copy. Why don’t I feel like that for the Zune? MacObserver is running an article with similar thoughts, and I agree that Microsoft isn’t really trying to compete here. There’s no way they can catch up with Apple’s 6-year lead instantly, so they’ve decided that they’ll simply launch a product that will dilute the market. Since the Zune looks(atleast from a distance) just like an iPod, it’s prevalence is going to take the “ooh, look he has an iPod” perception to “meh, it’s a Zune like thing; and that Zune is lame. What a loser.”. One may argue that millions of other mp3 players have not diluted iPod’s branding, but the difference is that this is Microsoft.

The next year is going to be a fun one for handheld devices. I’m saying handheld devices because I’m waiting for the real video iPod — a 9-inch UMPC tablet running a lightweight OSX — The Rebirth of the The Newton, I guess!

Update: After spending 2 minutes with Rhode’s Zune, I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t really suck. It’s basically a fat iPod, a successor to the Portable Windows Media Players. The perfect analogy would be the characters from the “Hi, I’m a Mac” campaign — while the iPod is slim and suave, the Zune is quirky, plump and primitive; but definitely quite likable.

|

chewing gum flavor song

Chanced upon this gem of a song in my collection. It’s called Does your chewing gum lose it’s flavor, by Lonnie Donegan:

Oh-me, oh-my, oh-you
Whatever shall I do
Hallelujah, the question is peculiar
I’d give a lot of dough
If only I could know
The answer to my question
Is it yes or is it no

Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight
If your mother says don’t chew it
Do you swallow it in spite
Can you catch it on your tonsils
Can you heave it left and right
Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight

Now the nation rise as one
To send their honoured son
To the White House
The nation’s only White House
To voice their discontent
Unto the Pres-I-dent
To ask this burning question
That has swept this continent

Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight
If you pull it out like rubber
Will it snap right back and bite
If you paste on the left side
Will you find it on the right?
Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight

Here comes a blushing bride
The groom is by her side
Up to the altar
As steady as Gibraltar
The groom has got the ring
It’s such a pretty thing
As he slips it on her finger
The choir begins to sing

Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight
Would you use it on your collar
When your button’s not in sight?
Put your hand beneath your seat
And you will find it there all right!
Does your chewing gum lose its flavour
On the bedpost overnight

google is building the metaverse

Here’s a set of comparisons between the big G and things from the book Snow Crash:

What next? Take a look at Second Life, and the talk they gave at Google NY — I’m not quite sure of the implementation itself, but this does seem like the next piece in the Snow crash puzzle.

… and then we’ll soon have Google merging with the Library of Congress, and Yahoo, Amazon, MS, and eBay merging with the mafia, and the picture will be complete.

|