02 June 2010

Friend or foe?

By Latif Yahia

How much we have progressed in the last century, the technological breakthroughs have been endless. Most of it in thanks to Military research, believe it or not. Of all the wonders that military funding has brought us, the world wide web is probably the best, but more than likely, the one that they rue the most. Why? Because the day that the www went live was the day that they lost control of it, and since that day they have been fighting to get it back.

Of course, that is impossible, no one can control the internet, it is as varied and rich in information as it’s users. Anything you want to find out you can do with a good search engine, catch up with old school chums? Tick! Meet interesting singles? Tick again! Want to watch a TV show, you betcha’! But the most popular thing to do is ‘make friends’, there are many social sites MySpace, Bebo, Hi5 and probably the most well known and in some cases loved, is Facebook.

I started using Facebook about a year ago, I was a myspace user and had a good amount of friends and was happy enough there. Then my friends from myspace started to migrate over to Facebook, I started hearing all this ‘buzz’ on the TV and online from people, Facebook this and Facebook that. Suddenly, it came to a point where if I wanted to keep in touch with anyone I had to have a Facebook account, in some ways I felt I was forced, like some ultimate peer pressure, you weren’t “cool” if you weren’t on Facebook. I’ve never had a problem with being “cool” I don’t know if I am “cool” have been “cool” or even want to be, but I was swept along with the tide and I opened my Facebook account.

Immediately I was bombarded with friend requests, some had been friends on other sites, some were friends of friends and others were people that had an interest in my story and finally had a point of contact with me. It took up a lot of time. It’s hard to make 2,000+ friends! Well, it’s not as hard to make that amount of friends as it is to answer everyone, send gifts, playfarmville, answer friend requests and do all the other things that you are encouraged to do, it really is no wonder that companies were finding they were losing working hours to people logging into their Facebook accounts.

It was designed that way.

Facebook was designed to be addictive, even the way it was marketed by word of mouth was designed to make you believe that it must be fantastic if people were getting fired from their jobs for the amount of time they spent on their page.

But all is not as it seems, let’s all take a step back here, let’s pretend we are just sitting on a park bench watching the world go by…. Relaxed? Ok.

As we sit here people watching, what do we see? A man jogging, a woman walking her dog, kids playing, people sitting chatting, sharing a joke. But what do we really know about these people? Nothing, we see their height, approx weight, hair colour and we can make assumptions about other factors, age, occupation etc. But what if we can get all these people who are in the same place to start giving us this information? If you walked up to any one of these people and started asking them ten different personal questions, they would immediately become suspicious, and if you told them that they needed to give you this information so that they could use the park that they are already in, what do you think their answer would be? What would your answer be?

So why then is it that we so freely hand over this information to websites like Facebook? Do we really know what it does with this information and have any of us really read the terms and conditions? All 26 pages? I have tried to set up my own version of these sites, one that is more dedicated to debate and freedom of speech, it is one of the most difficult things that I have ever tried to do, you need to be powered by one of the big search engines and basically have their backing, so what makes one idea better than the other? Or maybe I should ask what was the other site willing to trade that I wasn’t? Access to your information and your computer, so effectively, access to your life. Imagine you were an intelligence agency, what better way of harvesting information, it’s given freely, nobody feels threatened so there is a less likely chance that the information is lies, especially when you make the site about finding people and being found.

I was sent an email a few months ago by a friend on Facebook, he sent the same mail to all his friends, it said that his computer had been scanned completely by Facebook and all his personal files copied, and as a result he would be closing his account immediately, he was a Zionist, not Arab, not Middle-eastern or what we might consider to be “Terrorist” material. Not a Facist or white supremacist but someone who believed in the God given right of Israel to have lands, proving that you can have friends and not necessarily agree with every word that they say.

He did indeed close his account, and shortly after I started to delve into his accusations, then, BANG! I came down one morning to find I no longer had a Facebook account! I received a message when I tried to log in telling me that my account had been disabled but nothing more. I tried contacting Facebook to ask for a reason, no reply, I tried to look on the help pages for reasons, that didn’t work either. I put “actions that will disable Facebook account” and other variations of the same into google, NOTHING! I have no comeback, no right of reply, no answers.

What I do have is 2,000+ Facebook friends that have no idea what has happened to me, some have sent me messages through my private email (which had also been hacked and my computer files infected I might add), or another site, many were upset as they thought that I had removed them from my friends list, definitely not the case. So to any of my former Facebook friends that may be reading this, my apologies, it was out of my control.

Having said that I am glad that it happened, after these events could you really call it coincidence? There are of course people that will say “Oh, there he goes with his conspiracy fairytales again!” All that I have to say to that is, my “fairytales” have never been as good as your government’s.