Geek Rockstars and the Somewhat United States of Facebook

This, right here, is why you don’t invite engineers to parties.  For the past six months, Pete Warden has been data mining your Facebook account.   We’ll get to why this is creepy in a second.  Word on the street is he currently has 215 million public profile pages, which are then updated once a month.  Apparently Warden, an ex-Apple-engineer turned entrepreneur, started this “social graph analysis” effort after being frustrated with the maze of personnel at Apple.  Apparently,  like any large company, working through the maze of people to find the expertise or contacts you need can be a challenge.  Warden set out to build a company to solve that specific problem.  His analysis of user profiles suggests that Facebook can be divided into seven (mostly) distinct regions according to how connected the users are (or aren’t) with their friend networks.  Read the full story here.

Warden makes interesting observations with his data, mostly harmless stuff like people in Seattle are fans of Starbucks.  Well, golly.  Ain’t technology amazing?  But here’s where it gets creepy:  does it bother anyone besides me that this guy is crawling on our social network sites, gathering data for purposes entirely unrelated to what we thought we were posting it for?  When I said he had 215 million profiles, that means he has your name, location, fan lists, and friend lists.  Times 215,000,000.  Picture the cross-reference.  And guess what, he’s in the process of posting about 100 GB of this info for “academics” to use in “research.”  Yeah, no chance that this will be misused by the unscrupulous in our midst, is there?  It strikes me as ironic that Warden, one of the current “saviors” of the open source realm, and a man described as “well-respected among a fringe group of bleeding-edge geeks” is searching for industries interested in purchasing this type of info on him.  He says he’s now focused on “working on ways of presenting all this information in a form that answers questions for people willing to pay.”   Oh, and Facebook recently asked him to remove “instructions he’d posted that exposed a security hole that made harvesting peoples’ email addresses easy.”   Thanks Pete, you’re really “stickin-it-to-the-man!”  So the next time someone tells you about the righteousness of the open source community, remember these two axioms:

1.  Never, ever, accept a friend invitation from Pete Warden. 

2.  Everybody has an agenda.  Except me.

Now go update your status.  Tell the world I said hello.

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~ by grounded eagle on February 16, 2010.

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