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Friday, September 29, 2006

The Dangers of Facebook and User-Generated Content in General

Reading this post over at iBegin's blog got me thinking about the dangers of user-generated content. By its nature, when you depend on content generated by your users, you have some level of trust in your users and can't expect to look over all of it for accuracy. For the most part, false information has no real impact because it's hard for anyone to stumble upon it and get the wrong idea. However, when major hubs like Facebook or smaller sites like iBegin that seek to leverage local knowledge to create databases of information contain misleading data, then there could be a real problem.

The issue of information "food fights" has already been discussed a lot in reference to Wikipedia, and there have been attempts to ruin people's lives by posting their pictures and associated false information online. For the most part, the response is simply to clamp down, at least on contentious topics, and restrict the ability of people to freely contribute to them. The example of Facebook's recent user rebellion demonstrates how much users care about being able to control how, when, and where they choose to share information. With Facebook before when you needed a university e-mail address, false identities weren't as much of an issue, but sites like MySpace and Facebook as it is now are just waiting for the next information spill.

As the iBegin post illustrates, it's very easy for your phone number to be listed as being the butcher shop's or any other store for that matter. If someone really wanted to harass you, they could just sprinkle your phone number over a broad range of sites and sit back as you try to fend off people who are trying to reach some random store or person. It's sort of like using zombie computers to do a denial of service attack except with people calling your cell phone (or even home phone I guess). Before, I really didn't think that doing this could be so effective, but given that iBegin is a small site that currently only services the city of Toronto, it looks like even a non-hub site can have a big enough impact on someone’s life to get them to complain about it.

Of course, users themselves often generate content that backfires on them when police and even employers google suspects or potential employees and find revealing information from photos and blog posts. On the bright site, maybe a spike in false user profiles and malicious information will help these unfortunates by giving them protective camouflage. They can just claim to be victims of a faceless attacker.


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Reader Comments:

Just wanted to pop in - while iBegin may not get the press attention that sites like Yelp and so forth get, it is also by design - I usually decline interviews and prefer not to be blogged about by the web 2.0 hype blogs. We are a real site, not a flash in the pan. At the same time, we have over 1000 searches performed every day (on the site itself), 80% of the feedback is positive (and remember most people give negative feedback), and we do over 200,000 unique visitors a month. Just a note that while we may not be a common name, we do generate some serious traffic :)

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