Facebook “Like” button: LIKE IT OR NOT

It’s hard to imagine a web without the Facebook “Like” button. When we encounter something that we feel good about on the net, reaching for the “Like” button has become something almost like a knee-jerk reaction. Last year however, a Chrome extension called Neutralike was released, and it essentially cleans out “Like” buttons on Facebook posts from friends. The extension was just one of the many ways people have tried to clean out the “Like” buttons, an expression of the dissatisfaction they have been feeling towards it.


The Unlikable “Like” Button

To understand why some people may react so strongly to the innocuous “Like” button, we have to begin to see it as something with more implications than just an expression of approval. Critics highlight its influences on the way we communicate with people we know, the way we interact with media content, and the way the advertising world and who-knows-what-other collects information about us. Let me just focus on the first aspect in this article.

According to critics of the “Like” button, such as blogger Elan Morgan, the Facebook “Like” is the “easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos.” The ease of response gives us a leeway to communicate with people we know without much thought or consideration and hence, she finds that she suffers from “a sense of disconnection within [her] online communities”. The conclusion is that “it turns out that there is more humanity and love in words than there are in the use of the Like.”


Liking the “Like” Button

This certainly sounds like a reasonable argument but take a moment to consider: are you really going to stop using the “Like” button? The thing is, such criticisms of the “Like” button are based on a few false dichotomies, which are simply not compatible with reality.

Yahoo Tech Columnist Rob Walker points out that “the existence of a Like button doesn’t prevent you from saying something more when that is called for.”  In other words, the “Like” button does not create this divide of meaningful and meaningless communication and forces us all into the latter. People still have a choice. Walker also points out that other forms of communication, such as commenting on a post, may not necessarily be meaningful as well. In other words, communication tools similarly are not divided into meaningful and meaningless ones and it’s ridiculous to say Facebook “comments” are meaningful while “Likes” are not.

Like it or not

The debate surrounding the “Like” button brings to mind the question: Why do we need web design? Walker’s argument seems to suggest the age-old adage—it’s not the tool, but the use of the tool that is the problem. If user experience cannot really be controlled by design, does that mean that discourses on web design are totally irrelevant?

I believe tools and its use are in fact intricately linked. How we might use the tool is certainly something open to many other possibilities, such that our use of tools give meaning to the tools themselves, but the design of a tool to some extent still influences how we might use it. For instance, had the “Like” button been named something more gratuitous like “Awesome” (as it was when the idea was first conceived) instead, Walker would probably have more difficulty justifying his stand.

It’s always good to remember that the criticisms of the “Like” button and other discourses on web design are valuable, not so much because they provide conclusive evaluation of web design, but because they shed light on an important portion of the whole issue.


Eveleth, Rose. The Facebook Experience Without a Like Button. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/08/what-happens-when-you-neutralize-the-like-button/378951/

Honan, Mat. I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me/

Morgan, Elan. I Quit Liking Things On Facebook for Two Weeks. Here’s How It Changed My View of Humanity. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from https://medium.com/@schmutzie/i-quit-liking-things-on-facebook-for-two-weeks-heres-how-it-changed-my-view-of-humanity-29b5102abace

Walker, Rob. Stop Hating on Facebook’s Like Button. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from https://www.yahoo.com/tech/stop-hating-on-facebooks-like-button-95464668494.html

Net Neutrality

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that a cellular, cable, or phone Internet connection should treat all websites and services the same. It prevents Internet providers from dictating the kind of content a person is able to access online. Instead, Internet providers have to treat all traffic sources equally. Even though a particular net provider might like to promote certain content over others, with net neutrality, it is not able to do so and has to provide all information, creating an even playing field among content providers large or small. Consumers are in control of what they see online, not Internet access providers. Net neutrality ensures an Open Internet. An Open Internet means consumers can go where they want, when they want without any interference.

The opposite of net neutrality is a “pay to play” approach that allows Internet providers to charge extra for a “fast lane” that bypasses other Internet traffic. For example, if Facebook pays the Internet provider to make sure that their content is displayed over their competitors content, this is the opposite of net neutrality.

Arguments FOR net neutrality

  1. Innovations and content displayed might be affected without it. Smaller companies would not be able to compete with larger content providers that are able to afford the high costs of displaying their content faster and over their competitors. Without this advantage, it would reduce the chances of people looking at their content. With lesser viewership and support, they might not be able to survive. This could also hinder new entrepreneurs from starting their businesses because they would be afraid of not being able to pay these extra costs to get equal coverage.
  1. Internet companies would have too much power over what consumers can view. They would be able to slow down certain content and display other content quickly. This dictates what consumers see over the Internet. However, consumers should be able to decide what they would like to see on the Internet rather than having to see what is chosen for them.

Arguments AGAINST net neutrality

  1. Better and faster service for customers. If content providers pay extra to access faster lanes, they would be able to get information to consumers quickly without any delay.
  1. Better network quality. With lesser regulation and increasing competition to get content companies to buy faster lanes, network providers would have an incentive to improve their network to compete for content providers. This would greatly improve the network quality.

Certain big Internet providers do not like net neutrality because they feel that it affects their revenue potential. They want to be able to pick what people see online and charge content providers accordingly to increase their revenue. For example, the top ad links displayed on Google are from advertisers who pay Google to put their content higher. Hence, Google is able to earn some revenue from these advertisers.

In May 15 2014, FCC voted to allow broadband providers to create “fast lanes.” This gives content providers, whom are willing and able to pay, faster service. It allows content providers to negotiate for preferential treatment from Internet providers. However, Internet providers would still have to provide a basic level of service for all sites.

An example of this would be Netflix paying Comcast and Verizon for direct connection to their network. This deal does not provide Netflix preferential treatment but instead, bypasses congestion at interconnection points between Internet and transit providers. Netflix started paying for interconnection when the quality of their service reached low levels. Within a week of paying Internet providers, their viewing quality increased rapidly. Netflix also said that the current weak net neutrality rules by the FCCs did not address interconnection and hence, they were able to carry out this transaction to ensure that their consumers always received optimal service.

Another example that challenges the idea of net neutrality is Facebook. Facebook has a like button but not a dislike one. It seems to be designed to be positively biased unlike other applications such as YouTube where you can rate up and down. If one does not like a post on Facebook, the only way of expressing objection is by commenting. Facebook also only shows a few comments under a post that has many comments. Consumers are required to click to view more comments. Hence, many people might not see the negative comments because only a limited number of comments are showed. This challenges the idea of a free and open Internet because people are not allowed to show their direct objection and “dislike” something someone posts. It also restricts certain information by making it slightly more difficult on the consumers, requiring them to make additional actions to view it.

Shontell, A. (2014, January 16). EXPLAINED: ‘Net Neutrality’ For Dummies, How It Affects You, And Why It Might Cost You More – Business Insider. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.businessinsider.sg/net-neutralityfor-dummies-and-how-it-effects-you-2014-1/#.VRQ8c7rqDds

Sullivan, G. (2014, May 15). What the heck is net neutrality? Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/15/everything-you-need-to-know-about-net-neutrality/

A Guide to the Open Internet. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.theopeninter.net

Open Internet. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.fcc.gov/openinternet

Abbruzzese, J. (2014, March 21). Netflix CEO: We Paid Comcast Because of No Strong Net Neutrality. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://mashable.com/2014/03/20/netflix-ceo-net-neutrality/

Sweetland Edwards, H. (2014, May 15). FCC Votes to Move Forward on Internet ‘Fast Lane’ Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://time.com/101418/fcc-fast-lane-net-neutrality/

Brodkin, J. (2014, April 29). Netflix pays Verizon for network connection to speed up video. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/04/netflix-and-verizon-reach-interconnection-deal-to-speed-up-video/

Carter, B. (2013, November 14). The Like Effect: The Power of Positive Marketing. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.quepublishing.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2129364&seqNum=7

Net Neutrality: To kill or not to kill?


Net neutrality plays a pivotal role in determining the state of the web. Defined as treating all data and content on the Internet equally, net neutrality ensures that the web will remain as a neutral platform, for the freedom of speech of its users. This means that no user or content on the Internet is discriminated.

So the question comes: why is there a need for web design in the first place?

The Internet is the first of its kind – designed as the first global communication network that allows us to communicate not only with individuals, but also with the world. Our increased reliance on it makes it even more vital to protect the safety and fairness of it for all users. In the recent years, there has been an ongoing debate, on whether to allow access to the Internet as a human right or not. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States of America calls for an open Internet (no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritisation), whereby users are allowed to go where they want, however they want it.

Of course, some are not in favour of net neutrality, citing that large companies will not have the motivation to improve, and definitely, the government will have more control over the Internet. This is especially in the case of developing countries, whereby companies and telcos need to transform, improve and upgrade in order to increase efficiency.

That said, I personally feel that we should not kill net neutrality.

It would obviously be unfair if a large multinational company (MNC) pay Internet Service Providers a sum of money so that they are able to deliver content faster to their users as compared to a small start-up company that doesn’t have the financial capabilities to do the same thing. With faster content delivery and easier access to websites like the former, users will obviously be turned off by sites with poor service. Thus, this unfair advantage that huge companies like MNCs have, to “bribe” ISPs, will result in an uneven playing field.

Net neutrality also allows for everyone, regardless of status, race or background, to create and spread new ideas that they have freely, on the web. This not only allows for more innovation, but this free-for-all platform provides an opportunity for users to tap on their creativity, and share their ideas with the world. With this, it also creates a more competitive environment for ISPs to further upgrade themselves as well.

In short, maintaining net neutrality will provide a better surfing experience for users, providing them with an “almost ideal” environment, fair for use for anyone and everyone.










Importance of Fold(ing)

Importance of Fold(ing)

I should have brought this up a lot sooner, but since you’ve still got a while left before you’re done with your projects, here it goes:

When designing your pages, Laubheimer (https://www.newfangled.com/using-the-fold-ux-asset/) points out that it’s always important to be mindful of what goes into the “fold” of your web page. That is to say, it’s important to know what occupies your users’ screens when they first load your web page.

Laubheimer points out several resources that you can draw on when explaining how important keeping content in the fold is (tl;dr: Important, but not that important), and what should and should not go into the fold. If in doubt, always return to NN’s 10 Usability Heuristics that were brought up in the Dark Design Patterns e-learning session.


The Privacy Issues behind QR Codes

QR codes can be found on flyers, on packaging and even on products themselves; they are everywhere. A small square box containing a maze-like pattern, a QR code is a “Quick Response code” that acts as a barcode to access information online. Usually, QR codes lead to URLs that prompt further action, such as receiving discount off a product from a certain shop. A simple Google search will lead you to multiple websites that can generate QR codes for you – regardless of size and colour – at no cost. Mobile apps that can capture QR codes and bring you to the content are just as common. The ease at which it can be created and understood has resulted in it becoming an ubiquitous sight.

A QR code can be classified as direct or indirect. A direct QR code refers to one that allows you straight route to gain the content embedded. Therefore, an indirect QR code requires other supporting equipment. Indirect QR codes need an internet connection, a specific scanner belonging to the company behind the QR code and may even incur costs.

Privacy Concerns

Alas, the benefits of a QR code are also the risks it carries. Since a QR code takes you to a URL, it could possibly lead you to malware. Such malicious software may be embedded in the website you have been brought to and secretly downloaded onto your device. All this invasion happens when we conveniently use a mobile app to capture a QR code without considering its source. One way in which such malicious QR codes are distributed is through a security compromise of marketing firms. The marketing firms in this case are those which offer the service of generating QR codes. Criminal hackers could access the QR codes meant for the clients and change them to malicious codes before they are published. Therefore when someone scans the malicious QR code to access information about the business, a Trojan virus is being downloaded as well. This Trojan virus can carry out tasks on the user’s device without his permission, such as obtaining data stored on a mobile device.

Cross-site scripting vulnerability is another security loophole by which attackers can go into legitimate websites and replace their QR codes with malicious ones. Malicious QR codes are scary indeed – they can steal sensitive information (e.g. passwords, locations), they can manipulate mobile devices to eavesdrop on conversations and even use its camera!

Example of an Attack

In 2011, Russian consumers gained first-hand experience of the threat of a malicious QR code. Disguised as a QR code leading to an Android app called Jim, the consumers had no idea they were downloading a malware at the same time. Once downloaded, the malware sent SMS codes to premium phone numbers. Each message costed the consumer 6 USD. Compared to other forms of privacy invasion, cases of QR code infections are still relatively low. However, we should still take precautions instead of scanning every QR code that we find without a second thought.


1) Aurnou, S. (2013). QR Codes Can Pose a Security Risk. Yes, Really… | The Security

Advocate.Thesecurityadvocate.com. Retrieved 19 March 2015, from

QR Codes Can Pose a Security Risk. Yes, Really…

2) Geer, D. (2013). The dangers of QR codes for security. CSO Online. Retrieved 19 March 2015,

from http://www.csoonline.com/article/2133890/mobile-security/the-dangers-of-qr-codes-for-


3) Hoffman, C. (2013). QR Codes Explained: Why You See Those Square Barcodes

Everywhere.Howtogeek.com. Retrieved 19 March 2015, from



4) Kaspersky Lab United States,. Kaspersky Personal & Family Security Software. Retrieved 19

March 2015, from http://usa.kaspersky.com/internet-security-


5) Kinnear, A. (2011). Andrew Kinnear | Digital Marketing Toronto. Blog.andrewkinnear.com.

Retrieved 19 March 2015, from http://blog.andrewkinnear.com/2011/01/direct-vs-indirect-qr-


6) Roger,. (2011). Infected QR Codes Or Mashable Hype?. 2d-code.co.uk. Retrieved 19 March 2015,

from http://2d-code.co.uk/qr-code-virus/

7) Suggett, P. QR Codes – The What, Why, How and When.. About.com Money. Retrieved 19 March

2015, from http://advertising.about.com/od/successstrategies/a/Qr-Codes-The-What-Why-


8) Waters, J. Security Risks that Come with Use of QR Codes – For Dummies. Dummies.com.

Retrieved 19 March 2015, from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/security-risks-that-


Cyberstalking, Cyberbullying and Social Media

Some people believe that social media is a platform to express themselves and to connect with people. It explains why some people update their profile pictures and upload photos periodically. They might even put up their contact details and personal information so that their friends could easily contact them.

When personal information is exposed to public, it opens chances for abuse and cybercrimes. One example of abuse is that marketer can use your preferences and personal information and send you dozens of advertisements that suit your preferences. And the worse is that information opens up a chance for cybercrime.

Cybercrime is a crime done using a computer and Internet, and targeted to its users. For example; hate crimes, telemarketing and Internet fraud, identity theft, and credit card account thefts. Even hidden personal information can be retrieved by the cybercriminals, so can the personal information that we expose to public.

There are numerous ways to commit a crime using computer and Internet. There are notably ways of cybercrime that could be done using social media. Social media users are indeed vulnerable, as they do not feel, or deny, the presence of potential harm in those networking platform, such as cyberstalking and cyberbullying.

Cyberstalking is a kind of online harassment by monitoring one’s activity in real time. Cyberstalking becomes a crime because of the repeated threatening, harassing, or monitoring someone with whom the stalker has, or no longer has, a relationship. Cyberstalking usually harass the victim by obtaining and using victim’s financial information, or sometimes use it to threaten them. Moreover, cyberstalking may include identity theft, false accusations, abuse, and gathering information in order to harass.

Source: http://www.toonpool.com/user/1631/files/cybercrime_1585255.jpg

Identity theft is basically stealing someone’s personal information and pretending to be that person. Identity theft will harm those who use Internet to do transactions online the most. A criminal can access data about a person’s bank account, credit card, debit card, and other sensitive information to buy things online under the victim’s name. It may result in major financial losses for the victim. The stolen information can be used to obtain new credit cards, obtain a driver’s license, or use your details to engage in e-commerce transactions. For example, the criminal can use all your details for his driver’s license but the photo!

False accusation is closely related to identity theft. The criminal uses the victim’s identity and other personal information and commits a crime. The victim might be accused since the crime has been done under his/her name. Similarly to identity theft, the victim’s identity is used for the benefit of the criminal and it leaves burdens to the victim instead, just like in the case of credit cards explained above.

Abuses, scams and solicitation may also take place along with the use of social media by minors. Young users, or the minors, are vulnerable target of child soliciting and abuse. In often cases, adults can also be the victims of this type of cybercrime. It is usually conducted through personal chat room, where people can talk to each other more freely without the intervention from anyone.

When the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images in purpose of hurting or embarrassing another person, cyberbullying has taken place; especially when the action is done repeatedly and in a hostile manner.  Cyberbullying that we know happens among children that mock a particular child through embarrassing posts and comments about him/her. However, cyberbullying also happens among adults where it is usually directed on the basis of sex.

So, we have to beware of what we put on social media and what we do through it. Putting sensitive and personal information may lead to cyberstalking and cyberbullying, and any other kind of abuses. Beware of what you post and comment on social media, make sure that it is not offending any particular individual or specific race, religion, or any group. Beside of keeping ourselves away from cyberstalking and cyberbullying, we are also responsible for not cyberstalking and cyberbullying others, because the effects of cyberbullying are not simple; it may lead to death.



Janssen, C. (2015). Cybercrime. Retrieved 19 March 2015, from http://www.techopedia.com/definition/2387/cybercrime

Beal, V. (2015). Cyber Crime. Retrieved 19 March 2015, from http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/C/cyber_crime.html

Symantec. (2015). What is Cybercrime?. Retrieved 19 March 2015, from http://sg.norton.com/cybercrime-definition/

Cross Domain Solutions. (2015). Cyber Crime. Retrieved 19 March 2015, from http://www.crossdomainsolutions.com/cyber-crime/

Taylor, J. (2015). What is Cyber Crime? Definition, Types, and Examples. Retrieved 19 March 2015, from http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-cyber-crime-definition-types-examples.html

Calling Off Cyber Crime. (2015). Main Types of Cyber Crime. Retrieved 19 March 2015, from https://sites.google.com/site/callingoffcybercrime/types-of-cyber-crime

Facial Recognition and Privacy

Have you seen someone familiar, but you just cannot remember who he is? Well, the technology for that is available here and now. Face recognition technology has come a long way since its invention. How does it work? Based on a mathematical and programming core, facial recognition uses complex algorithms to work out precise data such as pixel values. The data is then used to predict corresponding features of a human face. For example on Facebook, each tag that you make of someone’s face contributes to all the data being used to generate a unique algorithm for that person.

Face recognition is definitely a goldmine, with its plethora of uses. The most commonly known use is probably that of security reasons. On the flipside, the choice to remain anonymous and do as we please (with ethics, of course) is slowly slipping through our fingers. One such example is NameTag, an app that allows you to trawl social media and dating websites for the identity of someone based on their photograph. In US, the photograph will also be run through a publicly available list of sex offenders. Building on the invention the Google Glass, NameTag allows you to obtain that information the moment you talk to someone, with the help of the camera.

On the other hand, CreepShield is a website that tells you if the potential date that you just met online was a sexual offender in the past. It seems like a good idea, unless your own photo is mistakenly matched. While the convenience of getting to know someone is greatly increased, privacy concerns are beginning to emerge. A person using NameTag could genuinely want to make friends in the fastest way possible; or he could be a serial killer looking for a victim to stalk. As US senator Al Franken puts it, “Unlike other biometric identifiers such as iris scans and fingerprints, facial recognition is designed to operate at a distance, without the knowledge or consent of the person being identified,” he wrote. “Individuals cannot reasonably prevent themselves from being identified by cameras that could be anywhere – on a lamp post, attached to an unmanned aerial vehicle or, now, integrated into the eyewear of a stranger.”

Criminal implications aside, facial recognition technologies could be used by political parties for their agendas. NameTag’s website says, “Don’t be a stranger.”, but what if you want to? In countries with more conservative political systems and laws, a protestor would hesitate to join in a public rally if they know the possibility of being profiled simply by being present. For activists or bloggers in those countries, the fear for their lives is real, such as the case of blogger Sattar Beheshti, an Iranian blogger allegedly tortured to death.

When Facebook silently introduced the feature of automatically tagging people in photos, it almost got itself into a lawsuit with the state data protection authority in Hamburg. In a statement released by the organization – “This requires storing a comprehensive database of the biometric features of all users.” The problem was that “Facebook has introduced this feature in Europe, without informing the user and without obtaining the required consent. Unequivocal consent of the parties is required by both European and national data protection law.” One other issue raised was that Facebook could have amassed sensitive data from its 600 million users, by using this facial recognition technology. An independent non-profit research center in Washington – EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) was one of the groups who lodged a complaint against Facebook for collection and use of biometric data collection without user consent.  Moreover, there seems to be no option for users to stop this collection.

The above mentioned lawsuits are just two amongst many others. Facial recognition software certainly has the potential to be of great help, but with current laws have yet to catch up with the rapid advances in technology. Meanwhile, whether you recognize the threat of facial recognition or not, you might want to think twice about tagging faces.


A. Fowler, G., & Lawton, C. (2011). Facebook Again in Spotlight on Privacy. WSJ. Retrieved 13 March 2015, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304778304576373730948200592

Chayka, K. (2014). The facial recognition databases are coming. Why aren’t the privacy laws? | Kyle Chayka. the Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/30/facial-recognition-databases-privacy-laws

Dormehl, L. (2014). Facial recognition: is the technology taking away your identity?. the Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/04/facial-recognition-technology-identity-tesco-ethical-issues

Epic.org,. (2015). EPIC – About EPIC. Retrieved 13 March 2015, from https://epic.org/epic/about.html

Epic.org,. EPIC – In re Facebook and the Facial Identification of Users. Retrieved 13 March 2015, from https://epic.org/privacy/facebook/facebook_and_facial_recognitio.html

Musil, S. (2011). Facebook faces lawsuit over facial-recognition feature – CNET. CNET. Retrieved 13 March 2015, from http://www.cnet.com/news/facebook-faces-lawsuit-over-facial-recognition-feature/

Nametag.ws,. (2015). NameTag App | Your Photo Shares You | Powered by the FacialNetwork.com. Retrieved 12 March 2015, from http://www.nametag.ws/

Peters, L. (2015). Bustle. Bustle.com. Retrieved 13 March 2015, from http://www.bustle.com/articles/22240-creepshield-can-tell-you-if-your-tinder-hookup-is-a-sex-offender

Web Privacy: I Know What You Clicked Last Summer

You might want to be careful the next time you “like” or comment on a post on Facebook, because you never know who is going to see that information.

With the advent of the web, privacy concerns have taken on new dimensions. Your personal information is no longer confined to the four walls of your home or your network of friends. In the age of the internet, such information can be made available to a much wider audience than you think, and this has gotten privacy advocates riled up about the places that it can potentially go[1].

How and where this information becomes commercially valuable is in the intersection between internet companies such as Facebook and Google and advertisers. Whereas marketing in the past took place through traditional mediums of communication such as television and radio that carried advertisements to a mass audience, the internet now allows advertisers to refine this technique by targeting only users that are most suited for their products or services, in a process known as targeted advertising.[2]

For instance, anything that you post on Facebook, any “likes” that you give, comments that you make, photos that you post, doesn’t end at your newsfeed; that information is analysed by Facebook employees who will then match you with marketers that have paid huge sums of cash to reach specific individuals like yourself with their advertisements.

Just how far targeted advertising can go can occasionally be unsettling. In 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that internet companies such as Facebook and MySpace were sending advertisers information that could be used to track down a user’s profile, including their real name, age, address and occupation.[3] More recently in 2013, it was found that even private messages on Facebook were being scanned for keywords for advertising purposes, a revelation that earned the social networking giant its share of controversy.[4]

It’s in instances such as these that have gotten consumers worried. What part of our personal information can internet companies use for their own commercial purposes and what should be kept from them? At what point does it become necessary to draw the line?

In 2012, that line became apparent when Facebook proposed $20 million to settle a class action lawsuit, accusing it of violating the rights of its users through an advertising initiative known as “Sponsored Program”.[5]  Under this initiative, advertisers are allowed to advertise your “likes” of their posts to your friends, in the belief that peer influence can induce your friends to take a similar interest in their products. Imagine if your “like” of some potentially embarrassing product or service (everybody has them) is broadcast to your closest friends or family. Not everyone relishes the idea of such blatant and open disclosure.

The war between privacy advocates and internet companies is far from over. Targeted advertising shows no signs of abating due to its demonstrated effectiveness.[6] And as online privacy regulations evolve to keep up with the concerns of consumers, advertisers and internet companies are similarly coming up with new and more innovative ways to get their advertisements to the right audiences.[7]

One example of targeted advertising by Facebook: Analysing your pictures to match you with similar products.
One example of targeted advertising: Analysing your pictures to match you with similar products. Source: http://mashable.com/2014/08/13/passive-hashtags/


[1] http://news.yahoo.com/study-finds-online-privacy-concerns-rise-040211677.html

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targeted_advertising

[3] http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704513104575256701215465596

[4] http://www.ibtimes.com/judge-facebook-scan-users-private-messages-targeted-advertising-prepare-class-action-1767234

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/facebook-sponsored-stories-settlement_n_1949307.html

[6] http://hiplab.mc.vanderbilt.edu/~zhangw/p261.pdf

[7] http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-to-give-advertisers-data-about-users-web-browsing-1402561120

Gamergate and Web Privacy

What is Gamergate?

Gamergate is an online controversy about various problems in the gaming industry. It began as a protest against the perceived falling standards of video game journalism. As Gamergate grew in popularity amongst online communities and mainstream media, issues such as sexism in gaming communities, and censorship, were associated with the movement.

Origins of Gamergate – The Quinnspiracy

Gamergate’s origins are linked to an indie video game developer, Zoe Quinn. Quinn is best known for her award-winning game; “Depression Quest”. In August 2014, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, blogged about, and posted on various forums accusations of Quinn cheating on him with various men in the gaming industry (the alleged acts were committed prior to their breakup). One of these men was Nathan Grayson, a part-time writer for the gaming news site, Kotaku.

Anonymous bodies (e.g. 4chan) interpreted the accusations as falling standards of video game journalism. The Quinnspiracy movement was born, containing speculations about how Quinn had slept with various persons in the gaming industry to manipulate reviews and distribution of awards to her favour. The Gamergate hashtag emerged when actor Adam Baldwin tweeted videos which criticised Quinn under Gamergate hashtag. Since then, Gamergate has been used to encapsulate all sorts of grievances online communities have with the video game industry (for a full list, visit: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/gamergate/).

Gamergate and Web Privacy

In the early days of Gamergate, Zoe Quinn was constantly harassed by Anonymous bodies. She had her personal information sprawled all over the net (doxxing), her personal accounts were hacked, and was constantly bombarded with death and rape threats.


Doxxing involves revealing and spreading the personal information of a person online. A local example would be how the errant retailer, Jover Chew, had his address, photos, and NRIC sprawled all over Facebook and alternative media sites (e.g. The Real Singapore).

In Gamergate, Quinn, and anyone suspected to be connected to her, had their addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information sprawled over the net. Anonymous users on forums, such as 4chan and 8chan, created threads sharing information on Quinn as well as tips on how to dig up more dirt on her. Anonymous combed through Quinn’s social media pages, looking for possible family and friends whom they could harass and any information they could dredge up. According to Quinn, her Tumblr account was hacked and personal information was stolen from it (a claim which some have refuted).

The ability for other online users to dox a person is dependent on the amount of information which he or she consciously and unconsciously leaves online. Setting one’s privacy settings to the maximum is a modest attempt, but only shields information from those not on our friends list. Friends (on Facebook) and mutual friends can easily access photos and posts. In addition, a person might have information online which he or she is unaware of. Data brokers, such as Spokeo, collate information from online and offline records. Anyone who is willing to pay a fee for the information can access it. Other sites, such as Whois.net, allow anyone to identify information used to sign up for domain names (addresses are easily found through such sites). Finally, a person might have signed up for sites which he or she has accessed only once. He or she might have left personal information on the account and forgotten all about it.

Have one’s personal information made public is bad enough, but there are other consequences to doxxing.

Prank Calls, Swatting, Threats, & Real Life

Doxxing tends to lead to other acts of harassment which have a profound impact on the target’s life. In Quinn’s case, she was constantly bombarded with death threats online and as a result, she did not dare to return home.

Quinn was not the only one to suffer from the fallout of Gamergate. Her father was bombarded with calls during the saga, informing him that his daughter was a whore. Friends and anyone who expressed support for her soon found themselves doxxed. For example, former indie game developer, Phil Fish, had his company’s website hacked and personal documents leaked online. Because of Gamergate, Fish was forced to wind up his company and leave the industry.

Doxxing can even lead to even more severe consequences, such as swatting. Swatting occurs when emergency services are dialed up and false reports are made to frame a target for being involved in an emergency. For example, Twitch streamer Joshua Peters’s home was stormed by SWAT members in February this year after his personal details had been posted online.

In a Nutshell

Unfortunately, Doxxing and hacking campaigns in Gamergate are not particularly rare. Online communities have launched campaigns in the past in the name of social justice. For example, in 2010, an 11-year-old Jessica Leonhardt and her family were doxxed, hacked, and harassed, and threatened after she had posted Youtube videos critical of 4chan.

Gamergate is an example of how a breach of privacy online can easily spill over into real life. The wealth of information Anonymous was capable of getting their hands on was partially due to Qinn’s the size of the digital footprint she left online (however this by no means justifies the attacks made on her). The lesson here is to be cautious about the information we divulge online. Such personal information could return and bite us in the behind.


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Fire my Wall

When discussing web security and privacy, an important aspect to consider would be the systems in place to protect users from security breaches. One of the key components to safety today would be firewalls.

Firewalls are used to protected a trusted network from an untrusted one, regulating the transmission of information between the two.

Despite the fact that there are many anti-virus softwares, thee are limitations. A safer way to ensure protection would be to include a firewall in the setting up of the network. This could be in the form of your own personal network at home, or an organization network like local area network, like Local Area Networks (LAN).

Firewalls are thus important to help prevent the intrusion of unwanted or malicious software into your system. At the same time, it prevents the transmission of confidential information.

Types of Firewall
Firewalls can be a hardware, or software. Both of them work on filters based on IP Addresses, Domain Names and Ports.

Hardwares are devices like routers. Using packet filtering, the firewall will screen all data (that are transmitted in packets) with preset rules determined by the administrator. During which, it will decide if it will drop or forward the packet to the user.

Softwares are common network protection tools. These softwares usually have defined controls to allow for safe file sharing and block unsafe applications from running.

Firewall application methods
There are different operation mechanisms for firewalls – packet filtering, proxy servers and stageful inspection.

Packet Filtering is one of the earlier forms of firewall, which has explicit rules on what to do with the packets of information that passes through it, based on a list of acceptable or blocked sources and destinations, also known as an Access Control List (ACL).

Network protocols like TCP, IP and UDP carry control information which can be used to restrict access to host within the organisational network. For example, the IP packet header contains network addresses of both sender and recipient of the information packet. Rules could therefore be set to block access to particular ports from IP addresses.

However, packet filtering offers an issue, as hackers could craft packets and disguise them under well-known or established port numbers, that could fit under the ACL rules.

Proxy Service is available when devices act like the proxy, becoming the intermediary between the user and the source. Requests for information are therefore sent to the proxy firewall, which then establishes a connection with the source content, which is then transmitted to the user. The proxy acts as a buffer between the two, which also causes it to be slower than packet filtering. Proxies prevents the remote computer hosting the web page from coming into direct contact with the private networks.

Operation Mechanism of Proxy Servers. Image Source: http://dirtcheapproxies.com/Bypass_proxy.jpg

Stateful inspection does not analyse the contents in each packet. It compares key aspects of each packet to a list of trusted sources. If the content and the sources yield a reasonable match, it is transmitted to the user or host.

Operation Mechanism of Stageful Inspection & Packet Filtering. Image Source:https://cs2024.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/992d3-8-6firewall1.gif

Developments in Firewall
The current developments mostly look at next-generation firewalls(NGFW), which is able to detect and block viruses with security at application, port and protocol level. These applications will feature intrusion prevention system and application control. Using Packet Filtering, Network Address Translation, URL Blocking and VPN. Other than the intrusion prevention ability, the firewall also has increased application awareness, controlling the content flow even in web-based applications.

The ability to have application, port and protocol level control is significant for NGFW, due to the prevalence of web based applications as well as mobile phone

Other uses
Of course, other than the usual protection and regulation, firewall has also been used for other purposes, most notably, the Great Firewall of China.


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Tyson, J. (n.d.). How Firewalls Work: Lots More Information – HowStuffWorks. Retrieved February 26, 2015, from http://computer.howstuffworks.com/firewall5.htm

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