Troublesome allegations from industry insider
Blogger Melanie Nelson recently alleged that secret group updates have been spotted in a widget on an ABC news page. Her friend insists she only shared the URL in a secret group, violating the very essence of what a secret group is. Open groups can be joined by anyone, and updates are public, while closed groups can be found through search, but updates can only be seen by members, and then there are secret groups, wherein the group cannot be found by search, and all members, posts, likes, shares, and so forth can only be seen by other members and no one else.
The update in question:
Nelson is “stumped,” noting that the widget only shows users she is connected with but notes that the update was a YouTube link shared in a secret group with nothing to do with ABC. Nelson and the user examined the possibilities of an app installed that tracked their reading (like Yahoo! or HuffPo), but that wasn’t the case, nor were they both in the same secret group, nor were her privacy settings allow “ads shown by third parties” turned on, nor was the video even shared from ABC, as shown above in the shared YouTube link. You see the conundrum unfolding.
It is unclear at this time as to whether this is a Facebook issue or an ABC issue – why would ABC know in the first place about a privately shared link, and why would Facebook share it? Nelson questions, “If her public Liking of the video is what triggered the widget info (rather than her video share in a private group), then why is the widget saying she shared something she didn’t share? Is this ABC using Facebook info in any way they see as beneficial (e.g., monitoring that she Liked something, then populating with a page from their site that’s similar)? And is that ethical?”
Facebook has a history of not protecting your privacy
Privacy is a major issue here, no matter who is at fault, and if these allegations are true, a large portion of Facebook users should be extremely nervous.
Take for example one particular secret group I belong to – it’s an industry group of only a handful of influential people, and we are very, very protective over who enters because it’s our watercooler, and no one censors themselves. We share industry information, we cuss, we vent, we talk about our private businesses and lives, and we brain share in an extremely meaningful way, much of which is so sensitive that if Facebook made the secret group information public, there would be a world of hurt to contend with.
Many secret groups are used by families discussing private information about their kids’ health, whereabouts, vacation plans, and so forth that could very much make a family vulnerable. Religious teams debate in private their beliefs, as to sexual orientation groups, all struggling to privately deal with heavy issues, which if Facebook allowed to be public could lead to more than just lost jobs.
The worst case scenario is that Facebook’s secret groups are not secret, the likely scenario is that an app developer figured out how to port in secret group updates, and the best case scenario is that this was a glitch, but one thing is for certain – there should be some frayed nerves again about Facebook’s privacy, as their attitude toward such is traditionally cavalier and nonchalant.
Nelson and her readers have come up with various possibilities for why this would happen, but none have conclusively decided that secret group updates including links are 100 percent secret.
In response, a Facebook representative told AG to look to how social plugins work, but did not comment as to Nelson’s other claims, which we read between the lines as a potential social plugins issue. The bottom line is that this serves as a great reminder that no matter the social network, no matter the email service, there really is no such possibility at 100% privacy online, so if it’s too sensitive for others’ eyes, it’s best kept said in person or over the phone, as a glitch can happen any time.
DNA tests are cool, but are they worth it?
(OPINION EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?
Over the last few years, DNA testing went mainstream. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, through simple tests.
However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.
When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.
These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.
These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPPA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.
These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.
Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.
In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”
There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.
Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.
Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.
It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.
Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.
It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.
If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.
Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.
Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?
I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.
The best course of action is to take extra precaution.
Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.
Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.
How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too
(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.
Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?
A new study to be published in the next Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.
But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.
Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?
The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.
However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”
The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.
The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.
In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.
In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”
Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.
Avoid the stack, conquer busy work as it comes
(PRODUCTIVITY) It’s easy overwhelmed with emails and a stack of real mail. But tackling as it comes may help to enhance organization and productivity.
A few weeks ago, I was walking through my office (also known as my bedroom after 5 p.m.) and I noticed a stack of mail that I had tossed aside over the course of the last few months. While they were non-urgent, this collection of paperwork had been opened, read, and left unattended.
Now, this was a classic move of mine – leave a mess for Future Taylor to clean up. So, imagine my surprise when Present Taylor woke up and decided to put an end to “the stack.”
I sat down, went through everything, and took care of what needed to be done. Even though my wallet took a few hits, it felt great to have this cleared up and off my desk.
Right then and there, I made it a rule to let things only cross my desk once (unless there’s some extenuating circumstance in which it requires me to come back to it; i.e. my favorite sentence on this paperwork “This is not a final bill.”) There’s no point in drawing out the stress that “the stack” induce.
This led me to finally attacking something that’s been on my to-do list since I created my Gmail account in 2009 – create an organizational system.
I set aside some time to create folders (for individual projects, people I communicate with frequently, etc.)
While this is all stuff that you may have already implemented, my point is that this increase my productivity and lifted a weight off of my shoulders I didn’t acknowledge was there.
So, I encourage you to find one of those menial tasks that has been on your to-do list forever and tackle it.
This can include, organizing all of your electronic files into folders, updating your phone and email contacts, or going through all of your desk drawers to get rid of unneeded items. Organizing and freshening up your workspace can help increase your focus.
Once you’re organized and in gear, try the “let it cross your desk once” method. When an email comes in, respond to it or file it. When a bill comes in, pay it. You may be surprised at your rise in productivity.
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