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Facebook privacy and copyright issues

I know that there’s quite a lot of interest in using Facebook, the social networking site, as a platform for interaction with students (1, 2). Whether that interaction is going to be on a social level (and the implications of that alone are certainly food for thought) or academically, it’s worth taking note of Facebook’s Terms of use, which states that:

“By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

And it’s Privacy Policy:

Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience. By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say we should avoid using Facebook as a platform for engaging with students. However, I’d strongly urge anyone considering this option to be aware of the fact that Facebook is essentially a closed environment over which you have no control and it seems that the copyright of any and all content published on the site will revert to Facebook, to do with as they will.

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Open source alternatives to proprietary applications

I thought I’d take a moment to briefly mention a few open source alternatives to popular computer applications. The following programmes are all:
  • Open source – the source code is freely available, which usually means more stable and more secure.
  • Free – as in no cost and free from restriction.
  • Cross-platform – they run on multiple operating systems, including Linux and Windows.
  • As good as, if not better than, their proprietary counterparts.

So, here goes (by the way, this list is by no means complete):

Firefox – A very popular web browser that offers a more secure, more intuitive and faster alternative to Internet Explorer.

OpenOffice.org – An entire office suite of applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases and drawing. It uses the OpenDocument format by default and as such, it’s use is encouraged, especially in academia and governments.

Thunderbird – An email client that is a fast, secure and stable replacement for Outlook and Outlook Express, especially if you just need something light to manage your email.

Pidgin – An single instant messaging client that allows you to use all of your IM accounts at once, including IRC, MSN, Groupwise, AIM and ICQ.

Miro – An Internet TV application to subscribe to RSS feeds of free content from a host of providers, including TED, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.

GIMP – The Gnu Image Manipulation Program. A free alternative to Photoshop that, while lacking some high end, professional features, does more than enough for most of us.

Flock – Social web browser…if you use Facebook, Flickr, Digg, or any other social networking service, this is for you.

Ubuntu – Not a software application but an entire operating system, Ubuntu is a Linux distribution based on Debian. Click here for the Wikipedia article.

Another great application to run, although once it’s set up you’ll hardly ever notice it, is BOINC (click here for the Wikipedia article). After installing the software, register with various projects and join millions of other users who donate their computer’s idle time to solving complex medical, scientific and mathematical problems. I can suggest the World Community Grid to begin with.

And while I’m at it, here’s a link to a post that discusses some of the problems with using Microsoft Word. I personally don’t mind receiving Word documents and understand that many institutions don’t give their employees a choice, but the first step is realising that you actually have a choice.