January 2004

January 28, 2004

Friendster Secretly Shares Member Information with Government

For the good of national security, the firm says

San Helifino, CA /DenounceNewswire/ -- 28 January 2004 -- Friendster gave information on members to the federal government for a secret cyber-security project, the company said Saturday.

Friendster is the second social network to be identified as secretly passing member records to the government. In September, LinkedIn said it turned over membership records to a defense contractor, later apologizing to its users.

Friendster said in a statement Friday that it participated in a Pentagon program to help the government's search for technology to improve national security.

"Friendster had a duty and an obligation to cooperate with the federal government for national security reasons," the company said.

A Friendster spokesman told The Associated Press late Saturday that the social network participated in the program but had no further comment.

Friendster, based in Silicon Valley, had said earlier it was not involved in the program.

"We do not provide that type of information to anyone," Friendster spokesman Forrester Phinster told the New York Times on Sept. 23.

Other social networks had said they would not cooperate in developing a government social-network-screening program because of privacy concerns.

Friendster declined to say how many member records were shared with the Pentagon from the period offered, October to December 2002. More than 10.9 million members have joined the Friendster service during that time, according to the Ministry of Truth.

Pentagon documents show that it kept Friendster's member name records until September 2003, when it sold them at a hefty profit to an undisclosed agency for further study.

Such records typically include names, addresses, personal interests, favorite books, favorite movies, favorite music, dating preferences, marital status, political leanings, religious preferences, race, color, car VIN, driver's license numbers, and telephone numbers. The Department of Defense said it used the information to investigate whether "data mining" of the records could improve assessments of threats posed by internet users, according to the agency's written responses to questions.

The Pentagon said no other social networks were involved in the project and it did not share its data with other parties. The agency said it did not pay for the data.

Friendster said it did not inform any of its members that it shared data with the Pentagon. It also said it did not believe that the data sharing violated its privacy policy.

"Our privacy policy commits Friendster not to sell member information to third parties for marketing purposes," the company said in its statement to the Post. "This situation was entirely different, as we were providing the data to a government agency to conduct scientific research related to national security and we were confident that the privacy of member information would be maintained."

LinkedIn admitted in September that it was involved in a secret security project conducted by the Defense Department. LinkedIn conceded it violated its privacy policy when it turned over records on 1.1 million users. LinkedIn is being sued by users in class-action lawsuits.

The Friendster and Pentagon documents were released in response to a Perceived Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Electronic Privacy History Center, a nonprofit organization that researches the days when privacy rights and open government meant something.

The organization, which posted the documents on its Web site, said it plans to take legal action in an effort to force the government to disclose more information about the Pentagon's secret security project and to investigate Friendster's actions.

Posted by denounce at 08:44 AM

January 27, 2004

Amazon Launches New Social Network Called "Pricekut"

Customers Can Now See and Comment on the Contents of Other Customers' Shopping Carts

Seattle, WA /DenounceNewswire/ -- 27 January 2004 -- Amazon.com announced today the launch its own "social network", called Pricekut, allowing its customers to meet old friends and make new ones while shopping for products on the site. The catch? A customer can only enter the social network by first making a purchase on the site, or by having a friend buy an item on his or her wish list. Like its name suggests, Pricekut members may buy items for less than non-members: typically they'll save 10 to 25 percent on top of any existing discounts.

"This is by far the coolest feature we've ever released," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO. "We wanted to make shopping at Amazon more fun and even more social than it is already, and I think our millions of customers are going to be amazed how much fun and addictive this new feature is."

Once a customer is a member of Pricekut, they can begin adding friends to their network. Unlike with other social network services like Friendster, Orkut, and LinkedIn, members of Amazon's Pricekut all have one activity and interest in common: they like to buy things at Amazon.com. Now they can save money buying even more things while discovering new friends in their network.

How Pricekut Works
"We've opened up two things to make Pricekut work," announced Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO. "First, for members of Pricekut, the recommendation engine will now tell you who among your network of friends actually bought or simply looked at an item in our store. Second, we've opened up shopping carts to all, enabling people to send instant-messaging-style comments on the contents of others' carts or, if they feel like it, buying one or more items in the cart as gifts!"

New Pricekut members are invited to fill out an extensive profile before they can begin participating in the network. The profile includes information such as first name, last name, home address, work address, social security number, race, skin color, hair color, dental records, identifying birthmarks, arrest record, political party affiliations, birth date, gender, sexual orientation, mother's maiden name, father's mother's maiden name, grandmother's maiden name, full medical history, current health insurance provider and all previous providers and their addresses and phone numbers, favorite music, favorite television shows, favorite books, least favorite music, least favorite televsion shows, least favorite books, favorite and least favorite movies, religious affiliation, gradeschool, high school, and college transcripts, car make, model, VIN, and license plate number, and driver's license number. Once users have filled out the form and read and agreed to the 93-page-long terms of service agreement, they can begin participating in the network.

Beta Testers React Positively
The Pricekut service had been in "beta test" for several months before its public unveiling today. Amazon reported today that beta testers especially enjoyed the new open shopping cart experience. Anna M., 36, of Spokane, said: "I couldn't believe it. I was minding my own business when all of a sudden this very nice man sent me a message saying, 'Here, I'd like to buy that for you.' That was a month ago. Now we're married!" Todd Z. of Brooklyn was equally ecstatic: "I'm finding it more fun to buy items in other people's shopping carts than the stuff in my own! Sooner or later I know somebody will come along and buy my stuff!"

Researchers at MIT's Center for Deconstructing Social Software were invited to study the beta testers over the past two months, and issued their preliminary findings today. Among the more significant findings is that despite a rich new infusion of valuable data collected from field studies and direct observation in beta testers' homes, they are still not able to exactly identify what "social software" means or what kinds of software is "social" and what isn't.

Future Plans
Bezos said the best is yet to come with Pricekut, which, by the way, is protected by sixty-two patents pending, including the ability to reach out with one's hand and hold a mouse to click on it. Later this year, Pricekut 2.0 will be released, offering the ability for members to not only see, comment on, and buy items that appear in their friends' shopping carts, but also to take the items out of others' carts and put them in their own. "This should drive people crazy!" said an excited Bezos.

Posted by denounce at 07:27 AM

January 16, 2004

Hubble to be Re-Aimed at Earth

New Mission for Famed Telescope: Homeland Security

Washington, DC /DenounceNewswire/ -- 16 January 2004 -- NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced today that the Space Hubble Telescope, the pride of astronomers everywhere, will be re-tasked with a new mission: homeland security. In order to carry out its new mission, the next shuttle team will fly up to the satellite and turn it around so it can face the earth.

"While a sad day for science, it is a great day for our nation's security," O'Keefe said. "With Hubble, we'll not only be able to track the license plates of terrorist cars, but be able to count the hairs on terrorists heads, and read the second hand on terrorists' watches. We'll be able to zoom in in real time to observe the movements of any man, woman, child, dog, cat, or flea anywhere on the earth. With luck we may even be able to finally locate those pesky weapons of mass destruction!"

O'Keefe also added that after conferring with President Bush yesterday, NASA will be renamed the NSEA, the National Spacial Entrepreneurship Administration, effective immediately.

Posted by denounce at 04:04 PM

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