Facebook and the Inevitable End

Facebook is again in the press, this time about its proposed sale, or if you like the sale of the data it has collected about you and me, but Christopher addressed this issue in a post a couple of weeks ago, and I would like to raise another issue involving the mighty corporation.

Facebook state that they have over 800 million registered users, and that more than half of them use their account on any single day. Incredible stuff, it seems they have a lot to sell, but here in the US several states are trying to tackle a serious ethical and moral issue, what happens to their data when users die?

What happens when users die?

In the world about one person in every 113 will die in a year, obviously Facebook is generally used by young people who are relatively rich in that they have access to a computer, so this rate would be much lower, but even taking that into account thousands of Facebook users must die every year.

And that leads me on to the point of this, one of my more morbid posts. If these people haven’t made a will or named a benefactor for their account, what happens to the data? The current legal state of play is this; in the event of a user’s death their next of kin does not have the right to alter or take down their Facebook page. Obviously if they were in possession of the deceased person’s password they could do it (although it might be illegal to do so), but without this information they have no way of removing the data.

This is not only a question of privacy, but also of tact. Many families suffering bereavement do not like to see the deceased’s Facebook page open to the world, or even worse see the photo of their loved one in their ‘friends’ every time they open their own Facebook account. The issue is being addressed in the US with several politicians pushing for legislation that would allow family members access to deceased people’s pages, and Facebook do have a policy on freezing the accounts of dead people but it is a painfully slow process. They require death certificates and other documentation all of which takes time and is probably a very unpleasant experience.

The NC Times and Wall Street Journal both carried articles this week about a young man who posted a picture of himself with a gun in his mouth before commiting suicide and the problems his family had getting the photo removed. It remained for some time and caused a great deal of distress to many people.

On a slightly lighter note you might like the idea of life after death, and fortunately now you can have it, with the new ‘digital afterlife Facebook application’ called If I Die.

Yes you can post on your wall directly from the grave (preparation required while still in life) and communicate with your friends here back on Earth.

I have written about Facebook on a couple of other occasions regarding what I see as far from clear privacy rules, and you can read them here and here if you are interested, and you can download a free will and testament here if you feel you need it.

Here is a short report on the BBC website reporting on the problem.

Jonny’s 7 Links Challenge Response

Well first a big thanks to Christopher for nominating me for this 7 links challenge post, and I will get straight into it. I should say that a couple of my choices are more like web articles than blog posts because there is no way of commenting, but as this is how I got into blogging and because the vast majority of my posts have historically been in this format I include them nevertheless (apologies if this is bending the rules). Now at last anyone can comment upon them here and I am all ears.

The Lucky 7 strikes again

Most beautiful

My most beautiful post involved an interview with a member of the US Congress, Michael Capuano. Congressman Capuano represents Boston and Cambridge, home of MIT, Harvard University, Boston University and 30 other research institutions, and the ward once held by President Kennedy. I was interested in the politics that lie behind technological development, and as he represents more scientists and global research organizations than anyone else on the planet I wanted to speak to him.

My wife thought I had lost the plot as I started sending e mails to Congress, but as you can see I did get in touch with him, he granted me an interview and I posted the transcription in its entirety and wholly unedited on the Bassetti Foundation website (with his clearance).

Most popular

Without doubt my most popular posts are within the series I wrote here on Technology Bloggers about the environment. Some of the posts created a lot of discussion and all in all the series got more than 50 comments. Within the series I would have to say that ‘Engineering a Solution to Global Warming’ was the most popular, and it certainly stirred some debate.

Most controversial

Although it passed by relatively unnoticed (a bit off target for Technology Bloggers but posted anyway) I would say that my most controversial post was that about US immigration. The post talked about the fact that technology has allowed US borders to move overseas and many travelers now enter US jurisdiction in a foreign airport before even boarding the aircraft. The ethical and political implications seem to have gone unnoticed however by the general public.

Helpful

The most helpful post is about buying spyware on the net, again on the Bassetti Foundation website. I did not buy anything I might add, but used the post lots of times to provoke debate in the various Italian secondary schools I worked in as an English teacher. Among other more obvious products the post is about mobile phone technology that allows a person to listen in to another person’s conversation and receive copies of their texts. All you need is the box or serial number from your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband’s or anyone else’s phone.  You order the software over the Internet and it is downloaded directly into the phone (any smart phone will do) without the owner’s knowledge when they go online, and you spy. Some even allow you to listen to the surrounding area when the target phone is turned off using the inbuilt microphone. Not legal to use in most countries but legal to buy.

Surprisingly successful

My most surprisingly successful post involves an interview with Marta Milani, one of my ex students, also on the Bassetti Foundation site. Marta took up athletics while at school, and after leaving she became a member of the Italian Army athletics squad. I followed her career until one day I saw that she was competing in an international meeting where Oscar Pistorius (a South African athlete who races with 2 carbon fibre legs) was competing. I have an interest in prosthetics as one of my other posts here shows, one day having a new body part might seem a good idea, harder wearing, does not burn, stronger etc, it’s only like having a crown on a tooth or a new hip or knee after all. I tracked Marta down and interviewed her about the place of technology in sports. A couple of years later Marta managed to qualify for the World Championships and in an incredible result got to the semi-final. She will also be competing in the Olympics this year as current Italian champion over 400mtrs, and as a result my post gets a lot more readers than I ever imagined. Unfortunately the interview was conducted in Italian although the introduction and summary of the conversation is in English.

Underrated

Probably my first foray into blogging was and remains the most underrated post. Posted on the Bassetti Foundation website it did not receive any comments. The post is entitled ‘Drugs for People, Not for Profit’ and is a report on changes in how drugs companies conduct their business, the ethics and marketing involved in the production of new medicines and the falling rates of new patents.  It was is a complex post and took a lot of research (and reading) so I was rather disappointed, but I learnt from the process.

Excellent

Well I would have to say that I think my most excellent article appeared on the Innovation Excellence website in their blog entitled ‘Responsibility in the Processes of Innovation’. Although it didn’t receive any comments it was widely circulated, and I think that it is my best written to date. The article really looks like it could be published anywhere, it doesn’t look like a blog or even an online publication but resembles old school academia, and in fact I took the base from an entry in the Dictionary of Social Sciences about Responsible Innovation that refers to the foundation that employs me. I cannot take all the credit though as the piece is very much a joint effort, I translated the base article from Italian and expanded upon it.

Writing about your own work creates a strange sensation, particularly if you want to talk about it in glowing terms as required by some of the categories above, but it makes you think about your public voice. As I don’t know 5 other bloggers I am open to volunteers for nomination on my part, applications below.

A review of the environment and power series

Here I would like to review the series and look at the way people commented the individual posts, before concluding with a few lines about the experience.

Renewable energy renewing the Earth

In my first post I introduced the idea of environmental cost. This was the measurement that I wanted to use to address the issue of pollution, and more specifically that produced through energy use.

I tried to avoid the term ‘clean energy’, as I feel this overlooks certain aspects of all forms of production. Modern solar panels for example may provide clean energy from the sun but they themselves present issues during their manufacturing and disposal phases.

Another point I hoped to raise is that the problem needs to be viewed from a realistic standpoint. We are not all going to convert to a zero emissions life overnight any more than we are going to return to being a hunter and collector society that lives in caves. The world will continue to operate more or less as it does now, and it is through this framework that the problem should be addressed.

The first comment I received contained the following line from Vicky, and it really is worthy of note:

“I believe that each of us can help a lot in improving the health of our planet, the only problem is that we have great vision but no action. Why don’t we act first and through that action we start making some vision?” This is echoed by the quote from Gandhi that I used to open the first post, and could really be a manifesto for the series.

The second post was about cutting fuel emissions from transport systems, and it received a couple of interesting comments. Darci commented that even cutting emission by 30% (referring to the commercial use of Kites on ships) would be a great improvement, and I must agree with her. Neil’s comment included the following lines that are worth thinking about:

“It seems to me that over the past decade the builders of internal combustion engines have made some great breakthroughs in generating more energy from their engines with the same amount of input and we have seen the KW output of many engines jump significantly. It would be good to see these same producers working backwards to produce smaller engines that produce an adequate amount of power from a minimal amount of fuel.” An extremely astute comment I would say.

Post 3 entitled Cleaner Energy Production was one of the most commented of the series. I think this is because the technology described is on the verge of becoming commercially available, and because solar panels are now an every day piece of urban furniture.

The article also provoked a series of comments lead by the following from Custom Items:

“These are a great bunch of suggestions. It’s really sad that we all what we need and what is right but can’t do anything about it. I’ve always felt that the government was taking sides with the big corporations. In this world of ours, money and power talks.”

This obviously provoked discussion with the other commenters in agreement with the sentiment, some seeming to suggest that development is hindered by large corporations and governments and that although the people recognize the need for change they may be incapable of achieving it.

Not all doom and gloom though and I for one am optimistic and agree with some of the brighter outlooks expressed.

Post 4 was all about a report published by the Royal Society for Engineering in which they looked at possible ways of artificially cooling the planet. Again many comments were left, a couple of which raise issues that should be addressed.

The post involves the problematic debate around global warming. Two comments really show the diversity of belief that surrounds the issue, even though not taking radical standpoints. The following comment was made by Shane Ryans:

“In my opinion the earth has gone through many different cycles, throughout its lifetime. The earth has gone through ice ages so why would there not have been, for lack of a better word, “hot” ages. What makes today so different from the past. We are just going into yet another cycle. Now that being said, I am sure that we as a race have made the circumstances different and added to the problem and sped up the process, with all the different chemicals and air pollutants we have introduced into our environment. I do hope that scientists can come up with a viable solution”.

Although Shane does not make the line that humans do not contribute to the problem, many people do, and go on to argue that the greenhouse effect does not exist. From their point of view any change is merely a product of nature. People that espouse this line have powerful lobbies, and invest large sums of money to promote their line to the point that the debate has become a business, and dirty tricks and smear campaigns abound. See this page on Wikipedia for plenty of information and links to further reading

Returning to the post a second comment made by Virtual Stock Trading runs as follows, the edit is mine but you can see the original comment where it was left:

“I don’t think there is any doubt on global warning…….. But the process is very gradual and will not significantly affect anyone living today.”

I cannot agree with the final line. Global warming is affecting communities all over the world as we speak. Sea levels are rising and threatening the very survival of some of theMaldivesIslands, flooding is rife in low-lying countries and London has to thank the Thames Barrier to avoid Joe Strummer’s classic prediction. And a simple look at its use tells a story, it was closed four times in the 1980s, 35 times in the 1990s, and 80 times since 2000.

Post 5 was a review of inventions and power generating machines that profess to generate free or pollution free energy. It did not generate the number of comments that the previous posts managed, but Samantha returned to the non support from governments and big business argument once more:

“Actually, there are so many inventions nowadays that can actually lessen our cost and pollution as well. However, they are having problems of getting support from our government. Of course, this body is after of money from businesses like big petroleum companies.”

From a personal point of view writing the series gave me great satisfaction. I have all the articles on a single file and it looks like a small book! I wrote 2 of the articles before posting the first, as Christopher suggested, and it was a very good idea. I wanted to reply to each comment and that took a lot of time, so I found it quite a strain researching while the series was running (each post took about 6-8 hours to research and write).

I found all of the comments interesting, and thank everyone who took the time to post. I did not have the problem that I sometimes have of people missing the point. I do not like to express my arguments too openly and rely on a bit of intuition, and sometimes this is lacking and I find comments that express the opposite of what I wanted to convey. This was not the case during the series, and that pleases me.

I can definitely recommend the experience, and will undoubtedly write another.

UPDATE: Jonny has compiled a fantastic PDF publication of his series which contains every article in the series, and the responses each article got. You can view it on the blog here Can We Improve the Health of the Planet? A series by Jonny Hankins.