2106: Sharing Options

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Sharing Options
How about posts that are public, but every time a company accesses a bunch of them, the API makes their CEO’s account click 'like’ on one of them at random so you get a notification.
Title text: How about posts that are public, but every time a company accesses a bunch of them, the API makes their CEO’s account click 'like’ on one of them at random so you get a notification.


Cueball is floating, talking to a screen that looks like a smartphone with a virtual assistant. Ponytail and other characters also fly in the background. The screen is explaining his options for sharing information on social media, he can make it available only to those he selects, or he can make it available to everyone, including various high risk groups. The drawing may represent a Virtual Reality cyberspace. The comic might be set in the distant future, where VR will have become commonplace and be embraced by Cueball and his friends. This cyberspace may be the social network’s cyberspace where everyone interacts. The clouds could represent the cloud server where the data of the social network is stored. The virtual assistant seems to have a face and have very advanced AI, which can even be arrogant by assuming that it already knew the information about the “option in between”.

Many social media sites allow users to control who can see content (posts, pictures, etc.) that users share. Several high profile social media sites have sparked controversy by automatically widely sharing user data, unless the user restricts access. The settings for controlling the sharing of data are not always obvious to the user, or easy to use. Access may be limited to immediate friends, or be available to all users (public); some platforms allow intermediate levels of control. As most social media sites are free to use, the business model for these companies involves a mixture of selling advertising space on their website and selling data on its users. Targeted advertising takes data on users’ past behavior and things that they have liked, and uses this to predict what adverts they may be interested in or be most vulnerable to. Targeted adverts are more valuable to advertisers as they avoid paying to show adverts to individuals who are unlikely to be interested in their products; but can lead to users feeling that they are being spied on. While the terms and conditions for social media websites will include details of how data will be used, the length of these documents and legal terminology may deter users from reading them, meaning that they may be unaware that their data is being exploited in this way. Regulation has been slow to catch up with changing online trends; however, the European Union have recently introduced General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which aims to regulate how user data can be shared. GDPR was featured in comic 1998: GDPR.

Data from social media may be used for marketing, for law enforcement, mass surveillance and social control, for investigative journalism, for criminal activity, confidence games, among other things.

Internet scammers use online information to manipulate people, often to commit fraud. They may acquire personal data using web crawlers to automatically scan social networks for personal information (particularly emails) to scam their owners. Those bots called web crawlers can get the information without scammers' manual browsing of the victims' profile. Those people who set their social network account as public (the 2nd option in the comic) are more likely victims of scammers since they can access their profiles without being the victim's friend or follower. Other examples of questionable uses for social media on xkcd include 300: Facebook. Randall is making a point that there ought to be some option between sharing posts only with your friends and making them completely public. The title text shows that he would specifically like to know when corporations read regular peoples' posts.

This also could be a stab at the sharing policies between Facebook and the just-announced end of Google+. Google+ allowed users to create multiple groups called 'circles'. Posts could then be shared by targeting specific circles. For example: "I'm in the hospital" could be shared with just the family circle, but the "I got a promotion" could be shared with the family circle, the co-workers circle, and the general public circle. Facebook provides an option to share with “friends of friends,” leaving the decision about how widely a post is shared not with the posts creator, but with the posts recipients. The comic is set in the future of VR, yet the fact that Internet companies like Facebook, Tencent and Twitter try hard to collect and sell user data won't change. This may suggests that Randall believe those companies will never reconsider their approach regarding user privacy.


[Cueball floating in midair is communicating with a small floating screen that resembles a smartphone. Other people and clouds visible floating by in background.]
Screen: Welcome to social media! When you put stuff here, you have two options: (1) You can make it available to a small set of 300 or so approved friends.
[Cueball is still floating and talking with the smartphone. Other people and clouds visible floating by in background.]
Screen: Or (2) you can share permanent copies of it all with billions of people, including internet scammers, random predatory companies, and hostile governments.
[In a frameless panel, Cueball has stopped moving and is facing the screen]
Cueball: Why would anyone pick option two?
Screen: Two is the default.
Cueball: Yikes.
[Cueball is still floating and talking with the smartphone. Other people and clouds visible floating by in background. Cueball has his hand raised]
Cueball: So those are the only two options? There’s nothing in between?
Screen: I don’t understand. Like what?
[Cueball continues floating and talking with the smartphone. Other people and clouds visible floating by in background.]
Cueball: I mean...there are numbers between 300 and a billion.
Screen: Huh? Name one.
Screen: Pretty sure I would have heard of those.

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Certainly true for Twitter where it's either public or private. (Nothing about 300, but the amount of requests one can accept over a lifetime is finite.) As for the "friends-of-friends" option, it's possible that Randall only has ~300 within that wider circle. 17:17, 1 February 2019 (UTC)

The 300 may be in reference to a widely reported average number of Facebook friends of 338 (although not sure where this number comes from). For Twitter it looks like the average number of followers is slightly lower [1]. Both Twitter and Facebook have well over a billion users. 300 friends is also around the maximum number of close acquaintances that the human brain is thought to be able to cope with. AlChemist (talk) 20:27, 1 February 2019 (UTC)
Dunbar's Number is closer to about 150. 11:46, 3 February 2019 (UTC)

Pretty sure the title text is meant to have been spoken by "the screen" vs. Randall/Cueball. The screen is attempting to appease Cueball's privacy concerns by proposing that if a company such as Google, Amazon, eBay, etc. mines a large number of Cueball's social posts for their own agenda, instead of notification of that event, Cueball will instead receive a single "like" to one of his posts at random from the company's CEO. This practice would be deceptive and of little value. Cueball might easily miss the like, not know who the CEO of various companies are, may forget the significance of receiving such a like, etc. 19:42, 1 February 2019 (UTC)Pat

For me, I found the idea enticing because targeted advertising is so creepy, and it would show where it comes from. 21:54, 1 February 2019 (UTC)

Shouldn't this be categorised under "Comics featuring Megan," "Ponytail," "Hairy," and "White Hat" as well, even if they're just in the background? 00:46, 2 February 2019 (UTC)

Sorry, I'm confused. Why is the explanation "Da da dur dur ma ma hur hur"? 02:23, 2 February 2019 (UTC)

No one bothered to explain it yet.
A lot of vandalism to the article has been reverted, apparently. That was one of the strings of text that the/a vandal had left. 17:46, 2 February 2019 (UTC)

New xkcd up! 23:57, 2 February 2019 (UTC) NEVER MIND; I WAS WRONG 23:59, 2 February 2019 (UTC)

Actually other than in the cartoon (cartoons always show simplified versions of reality) Facebook offers a 3rd and a 4th option: Set your post to be kind of "private" by default and wait until the default changes afterwards. And share your post with your friends, their friends and I think also the friends of everyone else who pressed the "share" button on it. Yuck!

Facebook has several sharing options, but they take a bit of time to set up. You can collect your friends into groups and (on a per-post basis) specify that your posts are only to be visible to people in certain groups. Much like the (soon-to-be-gone) Google+'s concept of circles. I used that for years (before I shut down my FB account altogether) to categorize my posts and only show them to friends I think care about the subject (e.g. only show politics and religion posts to those not likely to respond with flames, keep movie and TV reviews from those who hate spoilers, etc.) Shamino (talk) 15:59, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

Why do the clouds have to represent cloud servers? Why can't they just be clouds, because, ummm, I don't know - they're flying?

What the hell is all this business about VR? I just saw the sky and stuff as an abstract representation of social media. What are you guys smoking? 16:03, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

this is true. It's not VR and it's not the future. It's a metaphor and it's the present. When we get to the future where people are using VR, (a) they will have more interesting scenery and (b) option 1 will no longer be available. 10:53, 28 April 2020 (UTC)

Why change my "I have cancer" to "I'm in the hospital"? I thought it especially relevant, as Randall's is a cancer survivor. 22:10, 4 February 2019 (UTC)SiliconWolf

 Grr.  I thought I typed that in correct, but I guess not.  'as Randall's WIFE is a cancer survivor.' 23:08, 4 February 2019 (UTC)SiliconWolf