Facebook Censorship And Keeping The Children Safe.

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Last week has been a pretty interesting week mostly because of the rumours about the censoring of Facebook in Sri Lanka. However now it seems that there will not be such censoring happening… well not at least in the near future.

The events that lead to such a situation is the suiciding of 2 teenage girls which involved Facebook. They’re pretty long stories I won’t go in to detail here, you can google or check my Medium blog to see more information about what happened.

In talking what to do to encourage good use of Facebook and use of other social media the situation of the country is pretty complex.

First most new users of Facebook and social media are teenagers, and unfortunately very few have good computer knowledge and knowledge in privacy settings and security settings on Facebook. Facebook is a website that changes there privacy settings all the time. It’s important for everyone to keep in track of these changes and make sure your profile’s privacy settings are upto date.

And because most of these users don’t have good knowledge in privacy and security, it’s easy for them to fall in to pitfalls on the internet.

It’s a well know fact on the internet that if your child is under 18 years parents should keep a close eye on their child’s online behaviours because they’re more prone to internet pitfalls at this age. But unfortunately internet is a new thing in the country and most parents and 30+ people in the country have very little knowledge about the internet and even little knowledge about modern day social networking like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook etc.

I saw this suggestion on the internet about educating children in good use of social media. I don’t know how practical that is because the number estimated Facebook users in the country is 3 million and majority will be in their early 20s and they’ll be pass their schooling age and it’s not easy to teach people about social media like teaching maths or science.

I think one way to improve the knowledge of good social media use is introduce computers to the lives of children as early as possible like at the age of 10-12. Here they’ll learn about good computer use and good internet behaviour before they are exposed to the real internet exposure and social networking where by then they’ll have an idea in how to protect themselves.

It’s understandable for older people calling to ban facebook. It’s mostly because they’ve never used facebook and they get a very bad impression when they think of facebook. And remember that facebook is just another website and if government censor it then kids will move to alternatives and it will forever be a cat and mouse race between censorship and alternatives.

So what’s your idea to keep children safe on Facebook?

Google Is Doing It Wrong. I Want The Google+ Username That I Want.

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Two months ago I got an email from google telling me now that I can use a username for my Google plus account. I was happy that they’ve finally started rolling out usernames for G+.

However the username they’ve suggested me to use is my full name which is like 17 characters long. Because of that I decided not to pick it and asked for a new username. But unlike Facebook and Twitter Google doesn’t allow you to pick a username there itself.

We’ve to submit a Google a request to Google where they’ll check before accepting whether the username is suitable for me. I don’t know why we need to get approval from someone whether a username that I want is suitable for me.

So I submitted a request to Google anyway with a username that closely goes with my name. Google didn’t allow me to use my first name as a username there it self for some unknown reason although it’s not associate with any brand.

It has taken two months since I made the request and I’ve almost forgotten about it. But Google replied me today saying that the username I requested cannot be given and suggested me in using the 17 char username they’ve originally suggested me. Which I don’t want to use.

For some reason Google is not doing is right. We live go a time where teens are the targeted user base everyone is after and they want things to done sticky and easily. How can users wait for 2 months to get a rejected request from Google, and long usernames that is too long for a username.

If it’s a problem with brands then they can work it out like other social networks like Twitter is doing with the usernames. And that’s not all in a previous post that was published when Google plus usernames first rolled out pointed in username policy it says although the usernames are free at the moment Google might charge for them in the future which I hope will not happen. Right now I’m sticking to the original long Google plus URL and hope for a better Google plus username in future.

Story : How De Soysa Maternity Hospital Was Founded.

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De Soysa Maternity hospital is a specialised hospital in Sri Lanka specialised in gynecology and obstetrics. It was founded by Sir Charles Henry de Soysa in the 19th century.

During the 19th century the maternal death rate in the country was very high. This is because due to poor transportation facilities mothers died before they reached the hospital. De Soysa believed that if there was a place in Colombo where mothers can come and stay before the expected date of delivery they can be quickly transported to the nearest hospital which will facilitate a safe delivery which will save mothers’ life.

Therefore he donated his mansion, the which is the now the De Soysa maternity hospital. But what made him donate his very own mansion for such a cause? That’s the story most people don’t know, so did I until I heard the story yesterday.

The de Soysa family was one of the richest families in the country during that time. And young Charles had an unusual liking to eat cured milk. Not the usual cured milk that we eat but eat milk that is cured after the calf drank it from it’s mother. After a calf drink milk from it’s mother the milk is cured inside the calf’s stomach.

But to eat this the calf must be killed the cured milk has to be and Charles liked to eat this cured milk so badly during his younger days he orded his workers to kill many calves.

But after getting old Charles de Soysa regretted this act and wanted to do something that’ll help pregnant mothers in the country. So as a result he set up the De Soysa maternity hospital. That was the founding of one of the most advanced gynecology and obstetrics hospital in the country today.

But according to some Charles’ soul never found peace after death. He is said to be haunting his mansion even to this day and doctors who are working at the De Soysa Maternal hospital do not take the elevators at night because they’re said to be haunted by Charles de Soysa.

Hope you learnt some unheard story about Colombo today.

Twitter Experiments : Magic Recs and Event Parrot.

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Last post I posted about how many social networks have failed in delivering personalized content that fits the individual user. So Twitter has started two experiments of their own, one called MagicRecs (which I think stands for magic recommendations) and one called EventParrot.

If you want to participate on their two experiments, you have to follow the two accounts, @magicrecs and @eventparrot. And once they added you to their experiments you’ll stat receiving personalized content within Twitter networks to your Twitter inbox.

The @magicrecs account’s description says “This is a Twitter experiment. Follow me to receive instant, personalized recommendations for users and content via direct message.”

So I started taking part of this about one month back and as the @magicrecs description says it is sending me many kinds of personalized tweets like, hashtags my friends are tweeting, new accounts my friends started following, retweets made by my friends. The difference is that these tweets, hashtags are sorted and only the recommended once are being sent to me by Twitter which thinks they will suits me the most.

At the moment it looks pretty grumpy, I don’t like most of the recommendations that it is sending me, but there were few good recommendations as well. However, I don’t think whatever they are trying won’t be like the direct messages because it’s pretty grumpy to send these recommendations as direct messages.

But are they trying a recommendation system like in Facebook where they’ll show us tweets picked by algorithms rather than in reverse chronological order? I don’t know it’s one possibility, but the final product of this experiment is pretty uncertain.

When it comes to Event Parrot, the experiment where Twitter is supposed to be sending you event recommendations. It has only sent me 2 recommendations, one about the Pittsburgh high-school gunman and the other one about NASA’s new mars mission launch.

If you like to take part in this Twitter experiment follow @magicrecs and @eventparrot

Social Networking Problems : Delivering The Right Content To The Right Person.

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As usual today there was a post on TheNextWeb about how people are leaving Facebook for more private social networks like SnapChat and WhatsApp. Although there are some parts of the post that I don’t agree, if you take the summery the post is more accurate in what it’s saying about Facebook.

When talking about Facebook there is another unsolved problem that’s out there in social networking, which is delivering the right content to the right person.

Back in the good old days Facebook used to show every post in reverse chronological order like Twitter is doing up until now, then Facebook started using different algorithms that will decide what story they’ll show you, this is also one way Facebook is making money by asking us to pay to Facebook if we want our stories to be displayed for many users.

But although no matter how good the algorithms are there is dislike among Facebook users for the stories Facebook is picking for them to see, there are many occasions where people have missed important updates for updates that are not important for them like updates from games.

I think the problem is the algorithms are more logical than emotional and I think they are displaying results in a way that suits the majority of Facebook users than suiting individual user.

For example when it comes to my hectic college life when I’m away from college work I like to enjoy things other than my college work, so if I visit Facebook I want Facebook to show me things other than what I see or do in college (like things my college friends are doing), I’d like to see things that I don’t get to see anymore, things like what my awesome school friends are doing these day. But Facebook doesn’t think like that, so the majority of the things Facebook is showing me are things my college friends do, their posts status updates, things from people I meet 6 days a week.

Just because the people do the same course that I am doing doesn’t make me see more updates from them, it’s the complete opposite for me and makes me stressed out, which in the end finished me making a new Facebook account and not adding any college students.

When it comes to Twitter twitter displays everything without any filtering, which I prefer rather than like in Facebook where a we let an algorithm decide what we see and what we don’t. However it has its own problems too.

I share around 600 people and news sources on Twitter, I use twitter to get more information like news and current happenings and less interested in hash-tags that people made up for fun and events that I do not attend. However, when a minority of the 600 people I follow on Twitter start tweeting same hash tagged tweets which I don’t like at a rapid rate (which they do), it will fill up my time line and buries the important tweets that I might interest me. Which I can’t allow, a minority tweeting at a higher rate occupying over majority of other tweets. But I’m sure there are people those who likes these hash-tags and tweets, so there should be a way people to follow their own interests.

(This has brought me to a point where I might seriously unfollow some people on Twitter. I wish Twitter has a system where I can stop displaying tweets with curtain hashtags completely on my timeline)

Anyway this brings us to the question that gets people talking from time to time in the recent past. A way to deliver right content to the right person. Up until now no social network has succeeded in doing this. We might not get a 100% accurate system until there is a good artificial intelligence program that can do this it, but still with all the data that these social networks have on us like our preferences surely things can be much better.

At the moment the algorithm style Facebook is using to deliver us content and Twitter’s style of delivering us content in reverse chronological order has failed.

Do you have an idea to solve this problem? A system that detect our preferences and deliver us near to perfect content? A system that delivers gossip for gossip lovers, cat photos for cat photo lovers, information to information lovers. Then start working now this might be an answer to a $64 million question.

Is Sri Lanka Too Seeing A Swing From Facebook To Mobile?

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whatsappFor the past 2 months every week I’m reading different posts on HackerNews about how teens and youngsters are leaving Facebook in other countries and towards mobile chat apps like WhatsApp, Viber, Line, SnapChat and many others and to other social networks like Instagram and Twitter.

However when it comes to Sri Lanka I thought it might take sometime for people to start leaving Facebook and into mobile apps like WhatsApp. Because Facebook is so popular and still the defacto thing in this country if you want to keep in touch with friends. And no matter how much we hate Facebook we have to be there because everyone else is in there. Twitter for the past year is having high growth rate in the country, unlike in the past there are now so many active twitter users and most of them are teenagers and youngsters.

However mobile chat apps are still something new for the country. However apps like eBuddy, Nimbuzz was there for sometime they are actually mobile clients that help you to communicate via Facebook, or Google etc. But WhatsApp, Viber are direct IM apps, and it’s something relatively new. A friend of mine who’s living in another country first introduced me to WhatsApp around 2011 but I never used it because there was Facebook and Google to chat back then and no one I know was using it, and also with no one else using it I didn’t want to pay $0.99 either.

However I made the switched to WhatsApp one year ago, and back then there were only 20+ people who were using one WhatsApp. One year later the number of people in my contact list using WhatsApp has tripled. And specially for the past few week the number of friends joining WhatsApp has increased rapidly with nearly 5 joining in the last week alone. Although most of my tech friends were using WhatsApp from the start these people who are joining WhatsApp recently are people who rarely keep in touch with tech happenings and has gotten to know WhatsApp from someone they know not like from reading a post about it on a tech blog.

So I think we just might, just might be starting to see the trend in Sri Lanka too where people are starting to leave Facebook to more private spaces like WhatsApp, and Viber (which I think are the current popular IM apps in the country). And don’t forget we live in a country where there are more mobile connection than the actual number of people in the country, and with an ever-increasing market for smart phones.

According to many we might be living in a transitional period where people are switching from the web 2.0 to a mobile era and most of the new startups that are coming up are mobile first, where they develop the mobile app first before moving to the web, not like the other way around few years back. So if we are starting to see a trend within the country toward being more mobile than web centric, should local startups too start thinking of being mobile first?

Further reading,

Who Created The CHOGM Website?

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People were talking for the last 2 weeks about the CHOGM website that was built for a cost of 15 million rupees, which should be the highest paid website in this country. Even more some have found out that the website was built on top of a $15 WordPress theme that is available on the internet. Which made people to believe that the website is a fraud and a waste of public money.

Even making things worse was the fact that there is no information about the developer of the website. Which can be found in any other website. I tired reverse looking the Google analytic ID of the website ‘UA-41030276‘ but the only website using that Google analytic id happens to be the CHOGM website.

However the developer of the website might very well be found within the website. Under the delegation registration page of the CHOGM website, there is a button called “DAO Zone Login” which leads to a login page of a company website called “Centium Software” (link https://chogm2013.centiumsoftware.com/ei/cm.esp?id=13&start=eiscript&cd=69415&pageid=DAOLOGIN), which might be the creator of the CHOGM website.

There is another login page on Centium Software that is associated with registration of media personnel for CHOGM 2013 (link https://chogm2013.centiumsoftware.com/ei/cm.esp?id=13&start=eiscript&cd=70755&pageid=MEDLOGIN&type=int).

chogm2013

By checking out the centiumsoftware website it seems they’re a company from Australia, checking the company website they have a history associated with CHOGM by providing software solutions for COHGM 2001, 2002 and 2011.

Also their company website shows more software solutions they provide for event organizing, which they might be providing software solutions for all these processes at CHOGM at a cost of 15 million other than the CHOGM website.

However few questions remain unanswered.

  • Why didn’t they include their information as the developers of the website?
  • If they are a professional software company why did they use a $15 template available on the internet?

Any other information that you got are welcome to be posted in the comments.

Story of a Twitter Counter

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Today I received a tweet from @bugztweet asking form the number Sri Lankan twitter users, it’s because of a small PHP script that I wrote one and a half years back that indexed the SL Twitter users with some additional details. If you want the data set from the final release skip to the bottom of the post, if you are interested in reading the story behind it keep reading this post.

Exactly over one year ago I’ve just started learning PHP and I needed an idea to make a program using the knowledge I had that time, although I’m still learning PHP to this day, with medicine there is very little extra time for you to do anything other than medicine.

So I got this idea to make this program that’ll count the number of twitter users from Sri Lanka. My first idea was to make an app that user’s will run so it’ll count SL twitter users one by one, after the person opted in for the app it’ll count that twitter user and make a tweet behalf of the user to his followers so they can also take part.

However I’m an outspoken person when it comes to SL Twitter users, so the app didn’t make in to the crowd and I couldn’t get at least 10 twitter users to take part on it. So I said screw it we can do it automatically and it would be even more cool. It was one of the very first programs I’ve made using PHP and looking back at it now it was pretty basic but I enjoyed doing it every step of the way.

So after some thinking I finally figures out how to do it, and because I didn’t have access to firehorse I had to do it within the Twitter API limits, so the calculations gave a figure that the program will be able to index 100,000 twitter user accounts per hour. And because there were no 100,000 Twitter users from Sri Lanka the program can index all the twitter users from SL in one go.

Anyway after running the program it gave some pretty neat results like SL twitter users,

  • with most number of Tweets.
  • who first joined twitter.
  • twitter users who’re posting most tweets in a given time.
  • finally number of SL twitter accounts which came around 14,000.

And many more results, which i posted via a twitter account Zrbot

After I posted the results I was contacted by many asking for the whole data set which I happily shared, and I thought of updating the list every month. However I don’t think the program indexed every Sri Lankan twitter user, because that’s an impossible thing to do. (Even Google can’t index the whole internet). But I think it’s 70 – 80% accurate. And although the total number of Twitter users (indexed) from SL was around 1.4k I think the number of active twitter users were much low, around 5k.

But after few releases few unfortunate things happened, first

Twitter changed it’s api, making it difficult for apps to interact with twitter, like dividing the rate limit to 15 minute windows than whole 1 hour. Which made me gave up on making things on Twitter, but I don’t think it’s impossible to make such an app using the new Twitter API.

second,

At that time I was hosting the code on my college server and web the college decided to change their website they’ve selected a new server and has stopped paying the bill for the old server which cancelled their subscription taking all the code I’ve hosted on it. So the program that I made to index the SL twitter users was lost forever.

However like I said it’s not something impossible to make a similar program under the new Twitter API and I’ve received few requests to make a similar program which I didn’t give it a try because I was feeling lazy to do the same thing again. But I might give it a try someday, but until then if someone is interested in taking the challenge here is the chance, because people have started talking more about the number of Twitter users from SL and associated data, after I’ve given up on the project. I think if people had similar interest about it when I first started the program I might have made a new improved program using the new Twitter APi.

Looking one year in to the future, I think the number of Twitter accounts from Sri Lanka should be around approximately 30K. I’m happy and surprised that some people even after one year remember, that I’ve made such program in long lost dog days (even though it’s pretty simple).

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards

So here is the data that I’ve posted in the final release on 27/09/2012 : https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AvbW1NzjFjqzdHpGSDQtdGtXOE84LUYwd1VfaWVsUkE&usp=sharing

Also I like you to check out my laster project picnicy.com which displays events happening in Colombo.

Unfortunate Facebooking.

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We talk about Facebook, online privacy and bullying online, but we don’t realize the gravity of it until it happens to someone we know. This is an incident that’s currently happening to a friend of mine and I’m blogging about it to let people know and get attention of someone that can help.

This friend of mine who I won’t tell the name is a student of a government university, and recently she had a request for a date by a person from the navy which she has refused, and because of this this person has created a fake Facebook profile of her using her photos but with a different name and has started posting bad things that are ruining her real life.

Also making things worse the person who created this fake profile is adding her real life friends to the fake Facebook profile, because the fake Facebook profile is using her real photos people that she know are accepting the requests and thins are getting worse and worse. And making things extra worse the people who’s behind all this is telling that he would stop all this  if she agrees to go out on a date with him. Which is bullying.

Because of this my friend is pretty sad and depressed at the same time, not knowing what to do. We were trying to report about the fake Facebook profile for weeks but Facebook has failed to remove the fake Facebook profile. So as a final option she’s about to go to the police which will be little help because it’s hard or nearly impossible to get evidence from Facebook to convict the person and the best thing to go is to remove the fake Facebook profile which Facebook is not not doing at the moment even with so many reportings.

One of the problems that we had in a past incident regarding Facebook failing to remove a Facebook page called “I like to rape girls”, in that occasion although Facebook was receiving complaints about the “I love to rage girls” Facebook page, the people reviewing these complaints Facebook was unable to understand what are being posted on the page because the page was not using English. Instead the Facebook page was using Sinhala. Therefore someone from Singapore of Malaysia who knew Sinhala and read about this page in a blog post who somehow he has direct contact with Facebook had to explain to people at Facebook about what’s on the page which made Facebook to remove the “I love to rape girls” Facebook page. Sometimes I think that must be the reason here too for Facebook not to take an action even with so many people reporting.

These are just few incidents that has happened on Facebook and we think somehow our friend will be able to get through the bullying and we’re supporting in every way we can, and hope Facebook would take quick proper action regarding this, and this is just an isolated event and I’m sure there must be many more incidents happening just like this at this very moment. And them must be getting though the cracks of the reviewing process of Facebook. And remember that this can happen to anyone, our sister, friend, wife, it can be to anyone anywhere.

If you are someone in a position that can help, let me know I will be able to provide further information about this. And even you are not in a position to help directly you can help by reporting the fake account to Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/nimalka.madushani.92

  • Go to the fake profile https://www.facebook.com/nimalka.madushani.92
  • Click the wheel button at over the cover photo’s right side corner
  • From the dropdown menu select Report/Block
  • In the dialog box select, submit a report
  • Thanks

Sunday Observer : Cyber Security, a must credo.

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Today @ipv10 asked from me whether I’ve read the article on SundaObservy er, it was about an article posted about the Sri Lankan Computer Emergency Response team (SL-CERT). If you don’t know about SL-CERT they are the people dealing with cyber security in the country, the people who should be tracking the computer crooks and protecting the Sri Lankan cyberspace and preventing data breaches.

She was actually worried about this photo of SL-CERT appeared on the article, you can skip this part and go to the bottom of the post to read about the photo.

This is not SL-CERT.

Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team Coordination Center according to Sunday Observer.

Is CERT doing enough work?

Although people are doubtful about the work that they’re doing for the past few years, a hacker getting arrested for hacking a Facebook profile is so rare in the country that it’ll be big news. And also the kids who deface websites and walking free. This gives a good chance that a good hacker hacking sensitive information walking away without even getting caught.

Anyway reading the article it was good that they are actually working to improve the cyber security in Sri Lanka which is in pretty bad shape, which I think they do know (I got that impression while reading the article.) Luckily for CERT most of the private companies are taking good measures to prevent cyber-attacks and government websites doesn’t host any valuable information on their servers and we still use pens and paper to document information.

Remember the incident about the missing book that contained information about the elephants, I was wondering why on earth they were using a book to document these things, and even though they’ve used a book why did they have a single book and no copies of it. If they have used computers to document the information they could have kept multiple copies of the data with different access levels for each copy, so one copy gone missing would not have caused such panic.

The photo

Anyway back to the article, Ipv10 was excited or terrified about a particular photo that was in the article titled “Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team Coordination Center”.

This is not SL-CERT.

This is not SL-CERT.

In ipv10’s own words

it was like in movies. Ha ha, I never knew there is such thing in Sri Lanka; this picture really freaked me out. For the stupid things I did [on the web], missed a beat

This was quite impressive if we actually had such a cyber crime facility, people monitoring Sri Lankan cyberspace like NSA prism. To be honest I got excited too.

Anyway just to clarify things I ran an image search of the image on Google (I love the image search function on Google where we upload a photo and Google will show websites with the same image). And it seems the photo Sunday observer was using is not real.

The photo first appeared on the web in Reuters website on March 3, 2010 in news about a Spanish botnet. And the image has appeared in various websites after that, the only difference is all of them have given credit to Reuters for the photo and Sunday Observer has not.

So hackers can breathe a sigh of relief, because SL-CERT doesn’t have a place like this.

That goes to show that everything you read on the web is not true. Anyway thanks Google, also I was halfway through the “Internship” movie which is a comedy about 2 guys working at Google. Pretty hilarious movie thus far, so watch it if you are free because today is a holiday.