Permanent Record

Update. I added the following as a comment, but am pulling it up for those that might not see it otherwise:

What was Facebook thinking?

What the F*** Was Facebook Thinking? This is the best article I’ve read on the amount and type of information any Facebook application could get:

Your name. Your location. All your friends. Your family. Your work history. Your schooling. Your birthday. Your checkins. Your events. Your hometown. Your likes, photos. Your relationships. Your religion and politics.

And not just for you, but for one and a half billion other people.

While you’re at it, also read My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data.

To be honest, I’m not even sure I know what the Facebook platform’s terms of service dictated that I do with user data acquired from Facebook. Technically, users could revoke certain app permissions later, and apps were supposed to remove any impacted data that they had stored. I doubt most apps did that, and I suspect users never knew—and still don’t know—that revoking access to an app they used eight years ago doesn’t do anything to reverse transmissions that took place years ago.

Insert pithy statement about closing the stable door after the horse has bolted here.

What did we learn new about Facebook?

I’m feeling a little stupid right now. Maybe a little history is in order.

So tell me again what’s so shocking about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica? What new thing did we learn?

Btw, if you want to keep your data on Facebook more private,5 there are steps you can take. Techlicious has a great walkthrough on Facebook’s privacy settings.


  1. I’ve been unable to determine if there is a link between Five Labs and Cambridge Analytica. Both Five Labs and Cambridge Analytica performed personality analysis using the Big 5 (OCEAN) personality traits. To my understanding, Five Labs did it first. 
  2. Actually, I still resist. That’s why I did my Facebook Experiment
  3. This was tongue in cheek when I wrote it. Haha! I still think Facebook has a way to go before it implements all of my “plans.” But the point remains—does anyone think that Facebook doesn’t survive and thrive by selling ads into target demographics? 
  4. This doesn’t bother me. When I go to Starbucks, or the mall (yeah, right…), or the airport, I don’t mind that they try to provide a comfortable place that makes me happy. If they have reading material around, I don’t assume that I’m getting a comprehensive view of everything I should know. I wouldn’t expect it from Facebook either. 
  5. If it’s on the internet, it’s not private. Regardless what settings you have, your information is no more secure than your least responsible Facebook friend on a bender early, early on a Sunday morning. 

My Facebook experiment, an update

More than two years ago, I started an experiment with Facebook: I hide the sources I don’t want to see anymore. I started with the Buzzfeed quizzes, then moved on to the radio stations and their silly news stories. I hid the parody sites, the viral meme sites, the sports teams’ sites.

But I kept some news sites. The Wall Street Journal. NPR. OPB. The Washington Post. The NY Times.1

These are reputable sources. I shouldn’t have to worry about them, right?

Wrong!

Facebook doesn’t see itself as a news media company.2 It fired its human editors and replaced them with an algorithm.

Facebook’s algorithm’s goal is not to keep us educated and informed, to show us a balanced cross-section of news. Instead, Facebook wants to keep us on Facebook. It does that by watching us closely and determining what our political views are.3 Then it feeds us news that agrees with our biases.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t blocked a news source with a different political perspective. Facebook won’t show it to me. Facebook wants to keep me happy — and as a byproduct, ignorant.

I made a decision to expand my Facebook experiment: no news on Facebook, period.4

I’ll get my news elsewhere.5


  1. Turns out, I noted this in a footnote on the previous post. ‘Course, you probably already noticed that, being the type that reads footnotes and all… ;-) 
  2. It’s an ad serving company. It sells eyeballs to advertisers. 
  3. Thanks to those Facebook “like” buttons all across the web, Facebook knows what you read on the internet. 
  4. Yeah, I know. I’ll still see news from those sources I haven’t yet blocked. But only once. It has made a huge difference in my Facebook newsfeed. I see more baby pictures, more vacation pictures, more statuses. 
  5. For those that are interested, that elsewhere is currently Twitter. I intentionally follow people with whom I disagree. They are good at finding those sources I’ll have the most difficulties with. 

My Facebook Experiment

I love my friends on Facebook. I love your status updates. I love the pictures you take. The more, the better. When you post to Instagram and share it on Facebook too, that’s really cool. If you write a clever tweet, I want to see it. If you write a blog post and share a link to it on Facebook, I want to see that, too.1

In other words, if you wrote it, created it, or photographed it — I want to see it!

Conversely, your links to news, your links to politics, your quiz results, your game invites — I’m not so interested.2 But if you post all those things, don’t worry. I’m not asking you to change.3

Instead, I’m taking charge of my own Facebook news feed.4 When someone shares a link to something they didn’t create,5 I click the “V” at the upper right and then select the “Hide all from this website” on the drop-down that appears. I won’t see links on Facebook from that source again. Ever!6

I started this experiment by hiding one of Buzzfeed’s quizzes. Since then, I’ve hidden scores of viral story sites, radio stations, news organizations, sports sites, recipe sites, etc. The effect on my news feed has been dramatic. I see more of my friends and less “stuff.”7

And the satisfaction from hiding stuff? That just can’t be beat! :-)


  1. Actually, that’s my biggest complaint about Facebook: it doesn’t show me everything you post. 
  2. I get news, politics, and religion from Twitter and some RSS feeds I read. 
  3. In return, please don’t ask me to be consistent. I won’t be. 
  4. This was inspired by Mat Honan who “liked” everything he saw on Facebook for two days straight. His experiment made Facebook an ugly mess. My experiment does the opposite. YMMV. 
  5. I have a few exceptions. There are some organizations I’ve liked. I actually want to see their stuff. There are also a couple of news orgs that I haven’t (yet) hidden. Time will tell whether I hide them, too. 
  6. Yeah, this does appear to be irreversible. Not that I’m complaining. At some time in the future I expect to accidentally hide a source I might want to see from in the future. At that point, I’ll get more serious about learning how to undo this. In the meantime, should I recognize my error immediately, there is a handy undo link. 
  7. Sure, my friends continue to link to places I haven’t yet hidden. But it feels like there’s less of it. 

My Five Labs Personality Analysis Using Facebook

Five Labs characterized my personality1 by analyzing the words in my Facebook posts:2

Brent is restless, inventive, and reserved.3

If that’s all it did, Five Lab’s analysis would be interesting.4 However, what makes it cool is Five Labs showing me which of my friends’ and selected public figures’ personalities are closest to mine. Turns out, Bill Gates and I could be twins.5 ;-)

Five Labs also lets me analyze my friends’ personalities, even those who apparently haven’t yet specifically authorized Five Labs to see their walls like I did. I bet they didn’t know they were authorizing that when they friended me. I didn’t either.6

Maybe you’d like to let Five Labs analyze your personality. Or maybe you already have. Did you agree with the results?


  1. Personalities are analyzed according to the Big Five personality traits
  2. Five Labs examined the linguistic content using a method “based on a study published by H. Andrew Schwartz and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania’s World Well-Being Project. 
  3. I’m tempted to disagree, but maybe that would just prove its validity. I do question its validity for everyone, though. One person I analyzed showed very different traits than in real life. Maybe all that proves is that we can be very different people on social media than in person. 
  4. Some may question why I’d post personal results on a public blog. I have a couple responses: (1) if the results are accurate, those who know me aren’t surprised; those who don’t, don’t know whether they are or not. (2) I have a ton of public postings here on my blog. Not posting the results doesn’t prevent anyone from doing a similar analysis with an even larger data source. 
  5. I wonder if he’d agree. ;-) All the same, notice the similarity in poses for our profile pictures. Also, Bill’s personality traits matched closer than any of my friends’ traits did. Update. It appears that last assertion is no longer true. As more of my friends have done this analysis, it turns out that one of my friends is an 88% match. Sorry, Bill… ;-)
    bb 
  6. It’s amazing how much information we leak on the Internet, even on Facebook. Or maybe, this is just what it means when we authorize apps our friends use to see our data. Makes sense… 

Friends’ Friends

MIT Technology Review mentioned the Friendship Paradox, in which, due to outliers and “the topology of networks,” your friends on average have more friends than you do. The article goes on to suggest that your friends probably are more wealthy and happy, too.

I was curious to see how my Facebook friends’ friend counts measured up. My Facebook friends average 434 friends.1 Only 67% of my FB friends have less than that many friends, so the article could be false for 33% of my FB friends (including me).

This also explains my two previous posts.


  1. My data isn’t perfect, because 24 of my friends prevent me from seeing their entire friend list; I can only see mutual friends. Thus I have no idea how many Facebook friends those friends have. 

W|A Personal Analytics of My Facebook Friends

WolframAlpha has analyzed the personal analytics of those who donated their Facebook data to W|A. Today, they posted some of the results on their blog.

Curious to see how I compare, here are a selected few results from my analytics.

Friend Clusters

My friend cluster shows five tight clusters for:

  • High school
  • Family
  • College
  • Church
  • In laws

Scattered around are pockets of Intel people, Portland people, and those from a previous job. Notably absent are friends from law school. I’d like to say I have them on LinkedIn, but my mom taught me not to lie. ;-)

Friends’ Ages

Again, my Facebook friends’ ages match typical for the sample data, exhibiting the double humps centered around my age and my kids’ ages. It’s nice to see some friends to the far right.

Word Cloud

Yeah, I’m generally upbeat. But you already  knew that. :-)

Mark Cuban on Facebook

Doesn’t FB realize that is far easier for a user to opt-out of a feed by unliking a brand/person/page that has done a poor job of communication than it is to mess with all the account settings or for them to try to tweak their algorithm all the time to try to guess what people want?

Mark Cuban

Apparently not. :-(