We’ve all learned that there are spies on Facebook, but despite this, the company has recently admitted that it secretly hired Burson-Marsteller, a PR firm whose clients include Microsoft, to generate stories critical of the privacy mistakes being made by its rival Google, as they fight over internet users’ time and advertisers’ budgets (both Both Facebook and Google have faced criticism for the amount of personal data they collect and retain online). When the agency sent these press releases to newspapers and magazines, it did not inform them that it was acting on behalf of Facebook. How can they get away with this?

After being caught in the act, they’ve now backpedaled and say they are no longer working for Facebook. One reason for Facebook backing down is probably that the company is getting ready for a stock market listing next year. In the May 13th edition of the Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw quotes a spokesperson for Burson-Marsteller as saying, "Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined."

No matter how much companies protest that they didn’t know this kind of thing was going on, it’s very handy for them, so the media–especially business media–will tend to downplay this. The Economist, a pro-business weekly news magazine, says that we’re all becoming too agitated about cell phone spying. They write that "Mobile devices need to know where they are to make calls and receive them–as well as to do clever tricks like display maps of the immediate surroundings, pinpointing stores, restaurants and entertainment of potential interest. The phone finds where it is by listening for the whispers from cell towers and WiFi hotspots in the neighborhood, as well as from GPS satellites in orbit."(In other words, it’s NECESSARY for companies to do this!)

"Like a web browser that caches data on a personal computer about websites visited so the pages can be pulled up promptly the next time the user returns to them, having the coordinates of local towers or hotspots already in the cache makes it easier for the phone to triangulate its own location. That way, the device responds quicker than it would if it had to download the data for triangulation each time from Apple, or wait a minute or so for the faint signal from a passing GPS satellite. By reducing the amount of computation done on board the device, caching speeds things up and saves battery life in the process."

But they admit that customers aren’t always happy about having their personal data collected and say, "What upsets (most users), though, is the way Apple has been secretly caching up to a year’s worth of comings and goings on owners’ devices–and reporting the information back to its location database. More damning still is the way the company keeps collecting such data when users deliberately turn the location services off." Alas, there are spies everywhere, especially in the UFO world (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show).

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