Garlik vs. Facebook – your privacy online

I recently posted “does what happens on facebook stay on facebook?”, a very nice flash video revealing some rather distressing details of Facebook’s terms and conditions, as the top link in the sidebar for this site. Then I read about garlik, an online service which says it “finds, tracks and monitors your personal information online”, and that it is “the simple and effective way to protect your privacy and identity”. Right. I’m not sure why they thought consumers who are worried about an unknown company collecting and inappropriately disclosing personal information about them would trust another company. Interestingly, one criticism raised in the facebook video – government ties – equally applies to garlik: one of their board members, Wendy Hall – otherwise an apparently distinguished computer scientist – is “a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology” (source). That said, I’m not sure how this situation can be satisfactorily addressed, that is, how to search for personal information online without using third party tools, and without accessing various resources on the web in a way that is fundamentally opaque to the user. Basically, you’d need to run such an application as a desktop app, and have a traffic monitor digest each packet for you before it’s released to any third party website, in order to be sure that it is only requesting, but never supplying, information. Nonetheless, I do feel that garlik has not undergone sufficient scrutiny, and I’m seriously worried by the CEO, Tom Ilube, stating in a lecture that he intends to sell the business within three years.

Weekly web review 1 March 2007

Let’s see if I can introduce this as a new feature.

I had another look at Zamzar, which now allows not only conversion of different image, document and audio formats, but also conversion of videos from YouTube URLs and other flash-based movie sites. The list of supported sites is here. I had a quick look at Wikia search, which, judging from the technology which is now being quoted as being contained in it – Lucene and Nutch – seems to be a far more ordinary beast than was widely claimed. ChaCha, on the other hand, really does offer search supported by live experts. This reminded me of my old friend qunu, a system for finding volunteer tech gurus to chat with live and help you sort out your problems – and be part of the revolution. And yep, qunu is still there, still apparently growing. Casting my net wider, I found kasamba, which allows people to also get paid for their services – complete with customer ratings. click4assistance has a colourful website advertising their engine for doing the same on your company website. I don’t know whether this is what Rackspace use on their website, or whether they rolled their own. As always the same technology is available from a number of other vendors, including groopz and WebsiteAlive. I’ll certainly believe the statistics that most web customers have questions beyond what most FAQs offer. A positive surprise was the website of my – admittedly pricey – broadband provider, Zen Internet. Their website seems to have an answer for everything (actually, I did ring them up with two questions before signing up, and they answered them gracefully, not to mention not keeping me in a loop on their phone system). Finally, everyone and their aunt is talking about SecondLife. I tried it and found it laggy and boring, but maybe that’s because my laptop isn’t a Core 2 Duo. In any case, I don’t buy into the hype (yes, that is a pun). Just another opportunity for us to become even more socially inept. No, thankee! No doubt Linden Labs make a lot of money out of this. And btw, Linden Lab does not have any track record before SecondLife, as everybody keeps implying. They just have a nice name. Did anyone watch Batman Forever? Or the Matrix (of course, everybody has seen that, right?) Oh, and if you liked Minority Report, you should watch The Power of Nightmares.