Private Messages on Facebook? Why, Politico will count you, of course

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Facebook is like a minefield. And an active one as well. As soon as you relax a bit and don’t try to trawl the net about their new “initiatives” and something is already beeping and blinking under your foot, ready to explore.
This time it’s the “sentiment analysis” that is being sold to Politico for the sake of figuring out what “general public” thinks about GOP candidates.

Aside of standard amount of fluff, designed to convince everyone that the general public is the Facebook audience, there’s one giant problem in this story that makes me disgusted with Politico (and the Facebook). Your private messages are counted. Said something nice about Ron Paul? Index knows that now. Mentioned some bad words along with Newt? Counted. Users understand quite well, that things they post in the open on Facebook are not private. But private messages? Really, Politico? I thought higher of you.

What’s going to be next? Commissioning sentiment analysis of SMS messages by all carriers, or automatically recognized voicemails? It’s “anonymized”, right, so no worries? Just remember one fact — anonymization of large scale data sets is hard. Most people (87% per one paper though the estimations are crude) can be uniquely identified by simply combining gender, zip code and the full date of birth. So yeah, very anonymous…

If Politico is interested in users’ opinion, it should stick to polls. And not perlustrate private messages, via software or not. And, of course, at the moments like these, I would really enjoy another sharp ping from FTC to Facebook’s behind. They just settled last set of privacy allegations. Time for a new investigation? Or will Facebook smart up and add “Don’t analyze private messages for 3rd parties” checkbox, hidden somewhere deep in the settings?

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