TIME Internet

Facebook Isn’t the Only Website Running Experiments on Human Beings

OKCupid proudly cops to the trend

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It was the Facebook study heard ’round the world. In June, the social network revealed that it had briefly tweaked its algorithm for a lucky (or unlucky) 698,003 users to make them feel happier (or sadder) based on what they see on their Newsfeed. The reaction to human experimentation—creepy emotional manipulation! mind control!—came out so strong, that Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked the FTC to investigate.

Christian Rudder, the co-founder of dating site OKCupid, was shocked by the internet’s shock. “It’s just a fact of life online,” he says. “There’s no website that doesn’t run experiments online.”

And so, Rudder posted OKTrends’ first blog post in three years Monday to announce to the world, “We experiment on human beings!”

Rudder relaunched the site with the revelation that “OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing,” which is why it uses human guinea pigs. And to be honest, “If you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site.”

For example, OkCupid decided to run an experiment in which it told people who were bad matches (30%) that they actually had a compatibility score of 90%. And the result was that they were far more likely to exchange four messages — aka an actual “conversation” — with a bad match they thought was good than with a bad match they knew was subpar.

OkTrends

Luckily, OKC investigated further and found that all online daters aren’t just sheep. Matches were far more likely to have conversations with people they were actually matches with as opposed to people they were told they were good matches with.

OkTrends

Other experiments can be found in the OkTrends blog post.

Rudder argues that some online experiments can lead to offline life changes, like when Facebook tests out a new layout on a small percent of users to see if it’s more effective. “My wife’s Facebook was ordered differently than mine,” he says. “You know, I’m not saying that we are now totally different people, but she saw some news that I didn’t see and she reacted to it and whatever.”

Or the changes can be bigger, Rudder says. “On OkCupid, when we make a change, even a mundane one, that changes who people talk to, who they flirt with, who they go on dates with, and I’m sure in some cases who they get married to.”

At the end of the day, Rudder thinks, “If you like Facebook or think that Reddit is a good thing or OKCupid is a good thing, then almost by definition experiments can be good. That’s the only way you get from Facemash, which Mark Zuckerberg made in his dorm room, to Facebook.”

TIME apps

For a Few Hours, Uber Riders Could Learn Their Client Rating

An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2013.
An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2013. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

The app's software team quickly repaired the glitch, and passenger rankings were once again controversially private

Uber, as Valleywag’s Sam Biddle writes, “doesn’t care about being hated.” After all, the taxi service application earned a cool $18.2 billion valuation last month, in spite of a gallery of controversial corporate practices that has prompted critics of Silicon Valley to make a litany of accusations. Uber incommensurately raises prices during peak hours, holidays and weather emergencies. Uber sabotages its competition. Uber ranks its customers.

It ranks its customers, yes. At the end of a ride, the application asks the passenger to give his or her driver a ranking on a five star system; the drivers, as the internet has only recently learned, are asked the same of their clients. The underlying logic is obvious and not really anything new — if your credit score is bad, a bank is going to hesitate before doing business with you — but users were nonetheless kind of perturbed, given the secrecy surrounding the passenger rankings. (“Uber Anxiety,” New York Magazine calls it.)

On Sunday, however, a software engineer named Aaron Landy posted to Medium step-by-step instructions on how a client can find his or her aggregate score, via some very simple skullduggery on the app’s mobile website. Uber’s programming team naturally caught wind of this and quickly swooped in to patch things up, but not before a number of Uber riders sought revelation.

By early Monday morning, one user’s attempts to learn his worth in the eyes of the benevolent transit god proved futile.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 2.39.06 PM

Uber is, however, exploring ways of sharing passenger ratings in future versions of the app, or so they say. Meanwhile, the company expands — they celebrated the launch of service in Hong Kong and mainland China in the last few weeks — with the habit of incurring the wrath of local taxi drivers in each new territory.

TIME privacy

How to Manage Your Online Reputation

There’s plenty you can do to make sure the best parts of your virtual self pop up on that first page of search results.

When was the last time you Googled your name? If you haven’t, it’s a good habit to get into, because it’s exactly what a potential employer is likely to do when they’re sifting through a pile of resumes. “The stuff people care most about is what they find when they Google you,” says Michael Fertik, CEO and founder of online reputation-management firm Reputation.com.

That’s why it’s important that you own what you look like online. Depending on what you (or others) post on social networks or personal sites, what a search engine turns up may not reflect the accurate or professional picture you want it to.

But there’s plenty you can do to make sure the best parts of your virtual self pop up on that first page of a Google search. Here, we’ll walk you through how to do everything from maintaining current social media profiles to ensuring that your professional information appears first.

Decide What You Want Out There

While Facebook posts and photos might be for the eyes of friends and family only, privacy settings on more-public networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter can be more beneficial when relaxed. After all, you don’t want to be completely invisible on the Internet. “It’s weird for people in this day and age not to have an online profile,” Fertik says.

But if you haven’t been refining your Internet footprint over the years, your online profile may also include nuggets like ancient MySpace photos, an out-of-date company staff page, even out-of-context rants on old blogs — all of which can give someone the wrong impression.

Deleting these may not necessarily clear the Internet of the detritus. In an age of retweets, shares, and linkbacks, the same photo can exist on many sites across the web. So instead of wasting time and energy cleaning up a digital backlog, focus on strengthening existing profiles, which will help them beat the less-flattering stuff to the top of the search page.

Improve Your LinkedIn Profile

Surveys indicate that anywhere from 88% to 97% of recruiters go to LinkedIn to find candidates. LinkedIn profiles also turn up very high in Google search results, most likely due to the site’s high traffic, how often it’s linked to, and the amount of content users post everyday. So it’s not only a good idea to have a public LinkedIn profile, but to also ensure that it’s accurate, current, and grabby.

LinkedIn trainer and speaker Viveka von Rosen says that the Headline field (the line beneath your name) is the easiest — and most-often overlooked — place to grab attention when building a profile. “Rather than going with the default (your title at your current company) take the opportunity to say what it is that you do. Something like, ‘graphic artist working with startups in the Sudan,’” Von Rosen suggests.

Using keywords related to your field when describing yourself in the Summary and Experience sections can also help your profile turn up on Google if someone is searching for particular skills.

Once your profile is spruced up, you want to make sure it’s visible on the web. Head into Settings and select Edit Your Public Profile. Then check that reads “Make my public profile visible to everyone.” You can then reveal (or conceal) specific information within your public profile.

Von Rosen suggests allowing your Name, Photo, Headline and Summary to be open, while remaining cautious about revealing too much. “With identity theft, I limit what’s visible publicly – for example, in a page of Google search results,” she says.

Get Active on Twitter

If you’re on Twitter, regular posts relevant to your field can help build up your online profile for prospective employers. Like LinkedIn, Twitter profiles often turn up on the first page of Google search due to the site’s traffic and content flow.

Reputation.com’s Fertik suggests picking a Twitter username as close to your real name as possible. That way when someone searches for your name, it’s your Twitter and LinkedIn profiles that pop up alongside your personal website and company blog.

Changing your username is simple: Head to Account and enter the new name. If it’s available, it’s yours.

If your Twitter page is very personal — say, intended for friends and home to some off-color opinions — it might make more sense to limit access to only followers you approve.

Being cautious in that way can do a lot to boost your chances. A CareerBuilder survey found that two in five employers check social-media during the hiring process. Forty-three percent of employers rejected candidates based on inappropriate or discriminatory content on their profiles. On the flipside, 19% of recruiters who scanned social-media profiles hired candidates based on positives they found within.

To stop your off-color Twitter feed from showing up on Google, head to Settings, then Security and Privacy, and select Protect. Bonus: This also prevents the Library of Congress from archiving your tweets.

Dial Up the Facebook Privacy Settings

“Recruiters use Twitter to post jobs, LinkedIn to source candidates, and Facebook to eliminate candidates,” von Rosen says.

Many employers take Facebook profiles into account, even if they shouldn’t. A North Carolina State University study mapped Facebook behavior against personality traits. The researchers found that there’s often little correlation between a person’s real-life personality and how they portray themselves on Facebook, so employers could likely misjudge a candidate based on his or her profile alone.

To keep your Facebook profile out of search engine results, head into Settings, Privacy and select “No” in response to “Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?” question.

Facebook no longer allows users to hide their profiles from the website’s own search, but you can control how much of your profile will show up. For example, changing who can see your posts and photos to “Friends Only” means that a potential boss would see only your cover photo, profile photo, plus any About info — where you live, work, or went to school — that you’ve allowed to be public.

If a potential boss is in your extended Facebook network, you might want to change who can see future and past posts. We recommend setting updates as viewable to Friends Only — at least during the application process.

You can also clean up your feed post-by-post. Under Settings, Timeline and Tagging, there’s an option to check how your timeline looks to the public (note that this includes anyone logged into their Facebook account). If the photos and statuses displayed aren’t career-friendly, you can change individual visibility by selecting the photo or status, clicking edit, then changing “Public” to “Friends” or “Only Me” from the drop down menu.

If you have a fan page or are the administrator for a group with a lot of fans, allowing these pages to hit the search engines is good for boosting your online profile. For these pages, head to Settings, General, and make sure that “post targeting and privacy” is turned off. You can also lift any country or age restrictions (the page default settings are open and public).

For more on Facebook privacy settings, including how to limit what’s shown to the Facebook public, check out our comprehensive guide.

Pull Up the Positive, Push Down the Negative

Outside your own profiles, there’s content on the web that’s out of your immediate control. Things like rants from ex-employees, customer complaints, or unwanted photos from a past flame can paint a negative picture.

If you find an unflattering photo or inaccurate info on someone else’s site, the best first step is to contact the site owner and request it be removed or updated. In most cases, the site owner will comply.

However, negative reviews and undesired content that has been posted on sites like newspapers, Yelp, Amazon, or Angie’s List might be harder to take down. These larger companies are unlikely to grant a request unless you can prove the content is defamatory or inaccurate.

If they won’t budge, you can try what services like Reputation.com do: publish more content to push the offending article out of the first page of search results. For example, publish a blog post, put up a photo set on Flickr, or add information to a public social profile, such as LinkedIn or Google+. “Make sure your latest and greatest resume info is posted in short narrative and bullet format on a variety of resume sites,” Fertik says.

For bigger cleanup jobs, Reputation.com (and agencies like it) can take on the task for a fee (from $100 depending on the scale of virtual damage). Reputation.com uses patented algorithms to publish search engine optimized content. For example, the service might write and publish your professional details and biography at a selection of websites they say are picked especially for your field. By publishing lots of high-quality content with good keywords, the negative content should be pushed further down the search results list.

Depending on the industry you want to work in, other social network accounts on less popular portals, such as Google+, Pinterest and Tumblr, can help build an even more rounded online profile. If you work in fashion or design, for instance, a Pinterest profile can both show off your work and help you engage with fashion and design followers (i.e., potential customers).

Increasing the right kind of visibility — and diminishing what’s less appealing — is key to putting your best face forward online. “If you’re not findable by your subject matter and name,” says Fertik, “people aren’t going to be able to give you the opportunities.”

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

TIME privacy

Italy Gives Google Deadline to Change Data-Use Policies

Google must present a game plan in September

An Italian data-regulation official told Google it has 18 months to change how it stores users’ information.

Italy is one of several European countries that have been jointly investigating Google’s consolidation of 60 different privacy policies into one last year, Reuters reports. The Italian watchdog said in a statement that Google’s disclosures about data use were insufficient, despite the company’s efforts efforts to abide by local laws.

A spokesperson for Google said the tech company has consistently cooperated with the inquiry and will continue to do so after it reviews the watchdog’s latest decision.

Google has a year and a half to, among other demands, start asking for users’ consent to profile them based off their data for commercial purposes. The official also asked Google to follow through on users’ requests to delete their personal data within two months.

In addition to the 18-month deadline, Google must also present in September a detailed plan for how it intends to meet the regulator’s demands. If Google ultimately does not comply with the regulator, it could face fines.

France and Spain have already fined the company for violating local data-protection laws. A Dutch regulator is still deciding whether to take steps to enforce changes following similar legal breaches in the Netherlands.

[Reuters]

TIME Law

U.S. Judge Grants Investigators Access to Gmail Accounts in Criminal Probes

The judge says the law already supports giving investigators access to documents simply to determine whether they're warrantable or not.

A New York federal judge ruled on Friday that prosecutors have a legal right to access Gmail-based emails in criminal probes that involve money laundering, a sharp turnaround from previous rulings in comparable cases and an alarm bell for privacy advocates.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein said that his decision was based on a law already on the books that allows investigators to seize documents–which Gorenstein interpreted as including emails–to determine whether data should be subject to a warrant, Reuters reports.

The big question is what happens if a user’s email account doesn’t yield any information that would justify a legal warrant, and how much public support lies behind the idea of privileging high profile investigations over personal privacy.

[Reuters]

TIME Web

Netflix Is Testing a ‘Privacy Mode’ So Nobody Can See Your Bad Movie Habits

Netflix Ends Messages Blaming Verizon
The logo of Netflix, the biggest driver of Internet bandwidth, is displayed on an iPhone. Bloomberg—Getty Images

Soon you may not have to worry about your friends who share your logon making fun of you

Netflix is reportedly testing a feature that will allow you to conceal your viewing activity so you can hide your more embarrassing binge watches.

Cliff Edwards, director of corporate communications and technology, told Gigaom that the company is testing a “Privacy Mode” option that will keep what you’re viewing from appearing in your activity log and ensure that Netflix doesn’t use it to recommend future titles you you or anyone else who shares your account.

The Netflix rep told Gigaom that the feature is being testing in all markets, but not all users will have access. It’s still unclear if the feature will be released for everyone to use after testing.

[Gigaom]

TIME technology

Amazon Wants to Test-Fly Its New Delivery Drones

The online retail giant is moving toward its planned “Prime Air” drone delivery system

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Amazon has formally asked regulators permission to test its controversial and much-hyped delivery drones in outdoor areas near Seattle. The move, made in a letter posted to the Federal Aviation Administration’s website Thursday, escalates an ongoing debate about the safety of commercial drones and privacy concerns associated with the technology. In its July 9 letter from Amazon’s head of global public policy Paul Misener, the company said drone delivery will one day be “as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” Reuters reports. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the company’s still-in-development “Prime Air” drone delivery service on the 60 Minutes television program last year but said it was still about five years away from actual implementation. The company has been conducting delivery drone test flights indoors and in other countries, but now Bezos wants to conduct tests in the open air, according to the letter. “Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States,” the company said in its letter. The U.S. government has designated six sites where tests can be conducted for commercial drone applications—in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia—but such tests are currently prohibited in the Seattle area, where Amazon is based.

[Reuters]

TIME How-To

Video: How to Properly Delete Your Android Phone or Tablet Data

Here's an extra step to ensure it's safe to get rid of your old Android device.

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TIME Religion

What the NSA Can Learn From Prophet Muhammad

Islam places immense emphasis on privacy in ways that Western governments today have only begun to match with privacy laws.

Whether it’s a legal scholar or a 7-year-old child that’s bullied on the playground, it’s hard to argue with this Harvard Law Review definition of privacy from 1890: “The right to be left alone.” Add to this simple concept a detailed U.S. Constitution and separation of powers to prevent abuse, and it seems like a no-brainer that we would leave alone those who have done nothing wrong.

Unfortunately, that simple concept seems lost on the NSA, as recent revelations indicate they invaded the privacy rights of prominent American Muslim lawyers for at least six years. As an American Muslim lawyer myself, who knows who else is reading my emails?

In spying on innocent American Muslim lawyers, the NSA likely violated the U.S. Constitution, and definitely violated the Qur’an’s powerful teachings on privacy.

Not only did the Qur’an champion privacy rights centuries before any modern constitution, but also, perhaps no law in history preserves the right to privacy as thoroughly and emphatically as does the Qur’an. Chapter 24:28-29 declares:

“O ye who believe! Enter not houses other than your own until you have asked leave and saluted the inmates thereof. That is better for you, that you may be heedful. And if you find no one therein, do not enter them until you are given permission. And if it be said to you, ‘Go back’ then go back; that is purer for you. And God knows well what you do.

In our era of NSA surveillance and warrantless wiretaps, this Qur’anic teaching’s immense value should become crystal clear. The Qur’an forbids entering any home of another person, inhabited or uninhabited, without the owner’s permission. The Qur’an further commands people to retreat immediately when they’re told to retreat from the home in question—all in the name of protecting a person’s privacy. The Qur’an makes no exceptions, but specifically commands, “enter not houses other than your own until you have asked leave.”

As far as “the right to be left alone,” how astutely the Qur’an declared thirteen-hundred years before Harvard Law, “if it be said to you ‘Go back’ then go back.”

In fact, Prophet Muhammad’s hadith, or teachings, detail how important privacy is in Islam:

“A man peeped through a hole in the door of God’s Apostle’s house, and at that time, God’s Apostle had a Midri (an iron comb or bar) with which he was rubbing his head. So when God’s Apostle saw him, he said (to him), “If I had been sure that you were looking at me (through the door), I would have poked your eye with this (sharp iron bar).” God’s Apostle added, “The asking for permission to enter has been enjoined so that one may not look unlawfully (at what there is in the house without the permission of its people).” –Bukhari

Some might allege that poking an eye is a cruel punishment. On the contrary, this hadith further emphasizes Islam’s ardent protection of an individual’s privacy. Privacy, particularly for women and minors—two classes that are most victim to sexual abuse—cannot be emphasized enough.

First, consider the ease with which a person can simply not take the unauthorized liberty of peering into another’s home without permission. Contrast that with the massive potential and actual harm that exists for those who are victim to such voyeurism. Based on the ease of compliance and the potentially devastating harm to a victim of privacy violations, an active deterrent is necessary to ensure that privacy—for all people—remains protected.

Thus, Islam places immense emphasis on privacy in ways that Western governments today have only begun to match with privacy laws. And with these NSA spying revelations, it seems that even Western government efforts in the modern era pale in comparison to the unmatched privacy laws Prophet Muhammad established fourteen-hundred years ago.

So NSA, stop spying on American Muslims and stop referring to your victims with derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad. Instead, if you wish to uphold the U.S. Constitution, learn about Muhammad’s ardent protection of human rights and privacy rights.

And hopefully then, we can finally be left alone.

Qasim Rashid is an attorney and national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. The above is an excerpt from Qasim’s Amazon #1 Best Selling book on Islam, EXTREMIST. Find Qasim on Twitter @MuslimIQ.

TIME intelligence

Privacy Advocates Call for FISA Court Reform

NSA Surveillance-Privacy Report
This Thursday, June 6, 2013, file photo, shows a sign outside the National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. Patrick Semansky—AP

The Senate version of the USA Freedom Act would reform the process that led to NSA surveillance of five prominent Americans

Privacy advocates renewed their calls for reforms at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday, after a new report revealed documents leaked by Edward Snowden that detail secret intelligence warrants against five American Muslims.

The targeted individuals, found on a list of thousands of mostly foreign targets for court-reviewed surveillance, include a professor at Rutgers University, a former Bush administration official and the executive director of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group. Because the Justice Dept. and the FBI refused to comment, it is unknown on what grounds the men were targeted for surveillance, nor is it clear under what precise legal authority the surveillance was conducted.

Civil libertarians say the report shows why the U.S. Congress should introducing a special advocate on the court, whose job it would be to represent civil liberties interests in court proceedings, and establishing a process for declassifying the court’s orders. Those reforms are included in a Senate version of an intelligence reform bill, but not the House version now under consideration.

“It’s been one of the core issues lacking in the debate,” said Mark Jaycox, a legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, about the process by which secret warrants can be obtained from the secret court. To get a FISA warrant, the NSA does have to explain to the court who it wants to spy on and why, as well as what they hope to get from the surveillance, but the bar is significantly lower than in a civilian courtroom. “I would call it a Probable Cause Warrant Light,” Jaycox said. “It’s not the high standard of a probably cause warrant.”

The version of the USA FREEDOM Act that passed in the House in May—which stirred controversy after civil liberties groups dropped support for the watered down legislation in droves—largely eliminated the special advocate position, replacing it instead with an official to consult in case of novel legal situations. The version of the bill championed by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and under consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee, includes a special advocate who would permanently represent privacy interests on the court.

The secrecy of proceedings in the highly-classified FISC and the question of declassification has been another major point of contention. “The House-passed version of the bill has enormous loopholes to that requirement,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani.

Whereas the Senate bill establishes a timeline and a process for making FISC decisions public in redacted form, the House version removed that requirement, allowing the FISC to instead declassify decisions “when practical” and to publish only a summary of their legal reasoning, Guliani said.

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