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24 February 2004

LiveJournal now produces FOAF

So LiveJournal, a journals service primarily used by young people is now auto-generating FOAF. My LiveJournal FOAF file contains all of my interests, my friends, my URL and date of birth! I didn't request this and wasn't notified of the update. I know that LiveJournal is probably doing this with the best of intentions - in the same spirit as their decision to publish LiveJournal statistics - but I have some concerns about the auto-generation of FOAF for younger users. Do we really want to give their details away more freely, or allow new services to build around the friend lists they've built within the semi-private environment of LiveJournal?

Posted at 12:57 PM in Children and teens, Identity | Permalink


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The information that LiveJournal is providing is simply a machine readable format of information that is already openly available.

For example, at http://crschmidt.livejournal.com/info, you can see all my Friends, Interests, and contact info, or you can go to http://crschmidt.livejournal.com/data/foaf . The latter is simply a more easily machine readable format.

Security through obscurity is not enough, which is why LiveJournal allows you to disallow showing contact information on this page - which FOAF respects, if you choose to do so. These options are available to you.

The data presented in the FOAF file is exactly the same as the information on the user information page, in a more usable format. Surely a change in format isn't a security concern?

Posted by: Christopher Schmidt at 24 Feb 2004 21:48:06

Geez, all I seem to be able to generate is faff!

Posted by: dombo at 25 Feb 2004 03:13:43

Sorry Christopher, I didn't articulate my concerns very well. And I don't mean to seem overly critical of a piece of work that is clearly designed with the best principles of interoperability in mind.

I do understand that LiveJournal's production of FOAF doesn't directly increase the amount of personal information that's in the public domain. It is simply a re-presentation of information that is already available on a LiveJournal public profile.

What it might do, however, is exacerbate the problem of children and teens being careless with their personal information. I am also concerned about the ways in which some social software can make 'public figures' of people who haven't really understood the implications of that, or actively chosen to do so.

Creating a public profile within a site like LiveJournal is different (I think) from creating a machine-readable version of your details. It's do with the expected usage. If I create a public profile within LiveJournal I don't really expect to see that data re-presented elsewhere. As it stands, my LiveJournal public profile isn't findable via Google (or at least not easily) but the moment the FOAF is used by another application it does become more findable to people outside LiveJournal.

I am a fan of LiveJournal's privacy options and would like both to learn more about their actual usage, and see those conventions deployed elsewhere (in TypePad, for example). I guess I would have seen LiveJournal's production of FOAF as a really good opportunity to educate users about the management of their personal information, and perhaps also to encourage usage of the fantastic privacy features that LiveJournal very responsibly provides.

Posted by: Foe at 25 Feb 2004 22:44:42