Its official: Saudi Arabia bans BlackBerries

Its official: Saudi Arabia bans BlackBerries.

So the government of Saudi Arabia is banning Blackberry devices in their country on the grounds that they are too secure and the government cannot read everyone’s email.

This follows in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates who did the same thing a week or so ago.

Call me crazy, but if I’m a company looking to secure my communications, isn’t this a good thing?  Maybe it’s a RIM marketing stunt =)


Apparently, it’s not that our own government is comfortable with not being able to read Blackberry emails, it’s just that they’re better at breaking the encryption?

Stars & Stripes Forever

In the spirit of Independence Day and in honor of my favorite muppet ever (Beaker), I give you something totally new to the Internet: “culture, morality, and patriotism”.

Facebook Is Not Your Friend, Your Friends Are Your Friends

facebookFacebook is not run by philanthropists intent on providing a valuable service to the world by helping them keep in contact with people they know (or don’t know as the case may be).  It is run by businessmen who are making money in various ways that include selling advertising and personalization.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with making money (I like to do that myself), but it does have an impact on how Facebook runs, and you should be aware of the ramifications.  Facebook was initially built on the foundation of privacy and a small group of your friends.  Overtime as the number of users grew, Facebook realized the power of what they’d built (they are now the most visited website on the Internet), they began to leverage their size in ways that required people’s profile information and activity to be more public.  If you haven’t looked at your privacy settings lately, you’re probably sharing with a much larger crowd than you anticipated.  See here for a vivid little demonstration of how Facebook has become more public over time.

Example #1

Every time you update your status, the contents are piped straight to all the major search engines, where search engines do what they do best: they index it and make it findable for anyone who types in related keywords.  In other words, the whole world can see what you write on Facebook, unless you’ve explicitly set your privacy settings to disallow this.  Explicit is the key word here, you can control all these settings, but now you have to set them manually to keep your information private, whereas before it was the default setting.

Example #2

You know all that information you put into your public profile?  Your name, hometown, likes, interests, musical preferences, favorite movies, favorite TV shows, etc?  Yeah, all that information is used to construct a demographic picture of you so that Facebook can target advertisements to you (I’m fine with that), but if you’re signed into Facebook and visit another site while still signed in, that site can also potentially see all the information in your profile.  This allows the site to personalize it’s interface to you which is powerful and actually pretty neat, but it allows a lot of other things to, and you should consciously be making the decision about whether the risk is worth the reward.

What’s Happening?

Keep in mind this is serious enough stuff that members of the US Senate are writing letters to Facebook’s leadership warning that the FTC may get involved if certain concerns aren’t addressed satisfactorily.

So for those who don’t follow tech news, if you don’t know what I mean when I talk about the Open Graph API or Instant Personalization (these are both Facebook “features”), I’ll almost gaurantee that you are sharing much more publicly than you thought you were.  Maybe that’s OK with you, but you should be aware of what you’re doing.  “Knowledge is power” and all that.

So What?

I’m not advocating a Facebook boycott like many in the tech world are doing.  Facebook provides a valuable service that I enjoy.  I am, however, advocating that you know the cost of the service that Facebook provides, even though that cost is not measured in dollars.

If you decide that you don’t want to share your details with the world and the rest of the web, Business Insider put together a handy little guide for putting Facebook on a “Privacy Lockdown”.  The guide will tell you to put everything to “Only Friends”.  You can choose your on level of comfort, I have most of mine set at “Friends of Friends”.

Fishing for Favors

A bit of advice for those who are seeking help from someone else, but first a little story.  A few weeks ago, I was out of the office, when I received a phone call that had forwarded from my desk phone.  The following dialog ensued between myself and Phone Girl, who’s name I’ve forgotten, from some company who’s name escapes me.

Phone Girl: Hi my name is [Phone Girl] calling from [Some Company].  For the last several months we’ve been getting these letters in the mail from your company and we don’t like them, and we never do anything with them except for throw them away, and we want you to stop sending them to us.

Me: I think you’ve got the wrong person.

Phone Girl: Is this Ben?

Me: Yes.

Phone Girl: Well, then you need to take us off your list.

Me: I’m sorry, I don’t have a list.  I am not familiar with this letter, and I don’t have anything to do with the letters that the company sends out.

Phone Girl: Do you work for XYZ Company (I’ve changed the name here).

Me: I work for ABC Corp (another name change).  ABC Corp purchased XYZ Company a long time ago, but I didn’t have anything to do with that, and again, I don’t know anything about these letters or this list.

Phone Girl: Well I need you to take us off your list.

Me: (getting a little annoyed) Well, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.  Perhaps you should try someone in marketing?

Phone Girl: Can you transfer me over there?

Me: I cannot, I’m out of the office today on my cell phone.  You could probably dial back in again and talk to the operator at the front desk.

Phone Girl: Boy, none of you guys know what you’re doing over there do you?

Me: (angry now, and realizing I need to get off the phone before I say something really rude) Well, if that’s true, then I definitely can’t help you.

And then I hung up.  I stared at my phone in amazement for a moment, wondering about the manners of Phone Girl on the other end.  Did she expect me to help her after she said that?  Did she think that was going to get her closer to her goal?

The reality is that even if I had been in the office, with access to the company directory, my company has over 5,000 employees.  I have no idea how many of those employees are in marketing, nor do I know if it is marketing that maintains whatever list she happens to be on.  I’m a generally amiable person.  If I can help you I will, but my desire to help wanes quickly in the face of rude treatment and insults.

Here’s the advice: if you find yourself in a position where you need someone else to help you out or do a favor for you, treat them with respect when you go asking for their help.  If you’re fishing for one person in a sea of 5,000+ recognize that you probably won’t catch the right fish on the first bite, and being friendly might help you get what you want.