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Fla. Court Tells Judges and Lawyers to “Unfriend” Each Other

FacebookLogoFlorida’s judges and lawyers should no longer “friend” each other on Facebook, the popular social networking site, according to a ruling from the state’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.

At least one South Florida judge warned her pals with a Facebook status update that they could be “unfriended,” and the ruling has prompted others to do the same. The committee ruled Nov. 17 that online “friendships” could create the impression that lawyers are in a special position to influence their judge friends.

The committee did conclude that a judge can post comments on another judge’s site and that during judicial elections, a judge’s campaign can have “fans” that include lawyers. And the ruling doesn’t single out Facebook.

“Although Facebook has been used as an example in this opinion, the holding of the opinion would apply to any social networking site which requires the member of the site to approve the listing of a ‘friend’ or contact on the member’s site,” the opinion said.

A few on the committee dissented, saying judges should be allowed to have Facebook friends because those relationships are more like “a contact or acquaintance.”

Although only the Florida Supreme Court can actually mandate what judges can do, most will likely follow the ruling out of an abundance of caution, said Craig Waters, spokesman for the Florida Supreme Court.

Judge Thomas McGrady, the chief of the sixth judicial circuit in Pinellas County, said he understands why the committee came to its conclusion: Judges need to appear impartial.

“We as judges can still be good judges and still have friends. Part of our job is to not let that friendship interfere in any way with our decisions,” he said. “But others in the public who see judges listing a lawyer as a friend on facebook, they may think that because they are your friend, they will be treated differently.”

McGrady, who is sending a copy of the ruling to the 69 judges in his circuit, said this potential conflict of interest is why he doesn’t have a Facebook page.

“If somebody’s my friend, I’ll call them on the phone,” he said, chuckling.

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Dena Cassella
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Haole built. O'ahu grown
Facebook users have more close friends, says Pew study

Pew Research continues to analyze the impact social networks are having on our lives and its latest study concludes the opposite of what some experts have been feeding us for years; as it turns out, sites like Facebook may actually encourage and strengthen close friendships, not diminish them and isolate users.
According to the study, the average American has 634 social ties in their overall network of friends and contacts (not just on social networks). This breaks down to about 506 ties for non-internet users and 669 ties for those who use the internet. As one might expect, the more someone uses the internet, the more social ties that person tends to have. The average person who uses the internet at home several times per day has a network of 732 ties, while someone who only goes online about once per day has an average of 616 ties. Likewise, those who have a mobile phone have an average of 664 ties, and those who have a smartphone tend to have about 717 ties.
This is all fine and dandy, but one might argue that "ties" don't necessarily equate to how many actual close friends people have. Pew addresses this, noting that Americans actually have more "close friends" than they did two years ago, due mostly to the influx of smartphones and social networking sites like Facebook. The average American has 2.16 close confidants, up from 1.93 in 2008. Concordantly, only 9 percent of Americans reported that they had no close confidants in their life, down from 12 percent two years ago.
As it turns out, the average internet user is even less likely to have no confidants (7 percent) and and has more close ties (2.27 per person) than a non-user, who has an average of 1.75 close friends and a 15-percent chance of having no close friends at all. Those who regularly use social network sites (SNS) bump this number up; only 5 percent of SNS users have no close friends and overall, they average about 2.45 close friends.
To crank it up one more notch, Pew points to Facebook, in particular, as a driving force in gaining and retaining close friendships. Regular Facebook users have 9 percent more close friendships than any other group.
MySpace is dying, Facebook thriving

As a side note, the study also shows just how unpopular MySpace is these days (as if we needed to tell you). The graph above shows how long users of each site have been around. While sites like Twitter have a very low retainment rate with only 11 percent of users sticking around for at least two years, MySpace has the opposite problem: only 3 percent of its users are new to the service. Like Japan, it has an aging population. Worse, few of its users visit the site regularly, as seen in the chart below.

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Facebook face recognition fallout: Should you be worried?

Yesterday Facebook announced the international rollout of its face recognition feature for tagging photos. The tool was implemented for North American users way back in December, at which point people went through the obligatory Facebook-privacy scare phase. Compared to some of the site’s other updates, however, the fallout was mild. But now that Facebook face recognition has made its way overseas, it’s time for a renewed round of outrage.
Why people are worried
Face recognition was rolled out to a group of Facebook users stateside earlier this year, but the increased attention has caused new user worries and insights from security experts. As with every new Facebook update, some of the concern can be blamed on hype and over-zealous speculation.
Just last week at the D9 Conference, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt talked about the consequences of how quickly this technology is moving. “We actually built that technology and we withheld it. As far as I know it’s the only technology Google built and after looking at it we decided to stop.” He also commented that it has the potential to be used in “very bad way[s] as well as [in] a very good way.”
It’s also sparked renewed Facebook privacy concern because of the recent attention the site has been receiving. Some government authorities believe all Facebook settings and applications should be opt-in, meaning they are turned off until users say otherwise. Now, it functions the other way around. This high-profile new feature will become something of a soap box for privacy proponents to stand on.
The good
Facebook is the most popular platform for photo sharing, and was recently granted a patent for its tagging system. The method in which you are notified of newly tagged images of yourself and how you respond to them is specifically what Facebook originated, and it’s a system that has changed the way we interact with and use photos online. There are useful qualities to tagging: It’s an easy way to share photos with the people in them, and adds an organizational element. In some cases, being able to match a name and face have proved useful (we know, this also lends itself to some stalker tendencies, but we’re still on the good for now). In a blog post about the new feature, Facebook explained that while users love using tags, actually going through photos and tagging them is a chore. Called “Suggested Tags,” Facebook uses software (that it notes is “similar to that used in many photo editing tools”) to match new photos to ones you’ve previously taken.  And as usual, anyone can disable the feature – if you really want to, you can set your account so tagged photos are visible to you only.
The bad
The social network already has a strong grip over millions of people’s personal information, and this seems like a final step toward knowing everything there is to know about us – what we look like. The feature means that the more we tag people the more Facebook’s technology learns about our appearance, and even if you opt-out the system will still recognize you. It might not be broadcast to your friends, but the data about your image will still be in Facebook’s hands and it will have a searchable collection of all its users’ photos.
What’s also unfortunate is you have no idea if this software has been used for your image. Unless you keep up on Facebook news (which it’s actually quite hard not to) or religiously read the site’s blog, you may have missed this boat altogether. If you see that you’ve been tagged in a photo, there’s nothing that alerts you saying “this photo was tagged using face recognition software” or “this photo was tagged by your friend manually.” Of course, there is a way to opt-out, but it stands to reason that quite a few users are just finding that out now.
Enabling tagging in general comes with some obvious strings attached: It gives the world access to anything anyone (depending on your privacy settings) tags of you. And if you have any less than discreet contacts or activities, this can be dangerous. But at the very least, you are (in nearly every situation) being identified by people you know who took a photo of you. This update means you’re being identified by Facebook, which can be a scary thing.
EU privacy probe
The EU has not looked kindly on Facebook’s privacy, or lack thereof. BusinessWeek reports that Gerard Lommel, a member of the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party says “Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default…[this] can bear a lot of risks for users.” Authorities want to “clarify to Facebook that this can’t happen like this.” The new recognition software isn’t the only problem: Investigators want to challenge Facebook’s tagging system altogether. Would it be nice to approve photos tagged of you before they hit your profile? Yes. Is that going to happen? Probably not. Facebook hasn’t required your preapproval to tagged photos from day one, and that was awhile ago. Sure, it didn’t have 500 million people’s pictures in 2005, but it would be challenging to reverse this policy.
Questions
There are a few things that are still unclear. For instance, if someone uses the new software to tag a photo of you that you then untag, does Facebook un-recognize your likeness? Or is that information still stored, and it realizes you simply untagged the photo for preference's sake and not because it wasn’t you?
And what’s the end game here? This question seems to be what’s most upsetting privacy proponents. If Facebook is able to create a searchable database of its users’ images, wouldn’t that mean it’s possible to search for someone with nothing more than a photo? That means a stranger could take your picture, upload it to Facebook, and find you. Of course, enabling user image search could be the furthest thing from Facebook’s mind – but the fact that it would be possible is a little chilling.
Just to take this to conspiracy theory levels, were the feature to become said database and a widely accepted technology on Facebook, misidentification could pose a problem. All sorts of issues could arise by having your likeness swapped with someone else’s.

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Teenagers love digital possessions, researchers find

Teenagers are quite at ease with photos and media becoming digital, online entities rather than physical objects. In fact, virtual objects may be more important to them than some physical artifacts, according to a new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. Nine girls and 12 boys ages 12-17, from middle and upper-middle-class families who have access to the Internet and a good amount of technology, were questioned about their physical and virtual possessions.

While hardly definitive due to its small sample size, the study found that digital objects like e-books, music files, and pictures can have just as much meaning to kids as the real thing, and sometimes more. In the case of pictures, many kids valued their digital collections more because of the comments their friends had attached to the digital objects.

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