Category Archives: facebook

Is Commodify.us an elaborate art joke?

Last week I was sent a link to commodify.us – a new web application where you can upload your data from Facebook, and choose whether to license it directly to marketers or make it available as open data. It’s a neat idea which has been explored by a number of other startups (e.g. Personal.com, YesProfile, Teckler).

Obviously, uploading all of your Facebook data to a random website raises a whole host of privacy concerns – exactly what you’d expect a rock-solid privacy policy / terms-of-service to address. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any such terms for commodify.us. If you click the Terms of Service button on the registration page it takes you nowhere.

Looking at the page source, the html anchor points to an empty ‘#’ id, which suggests that there is not some problem with the link, but that there was nowhere to link to in the first place; suspicious! If I was serious about starting a service like this, the very first thing I’d do is draft a terms-of-service and privacy policy. Then before launching the website, I’d triple-check to make sure it appears prominently on the registration form.

Looking at the ‘Browse Open Data’ part of the website, you can look at the supposedly de-identified Facebook profiles that other users have submitted. These include detailed data and metadata like number of friends, hometown, logins, etc. The problem is, despite the removal of names, the information on these profiles is almost certainly enough to re-identify the individual in the majority of cases.

These two glaring privacy issues and technical problems make me think this whole thing might just be an elaborate hoax. In which case, Ha ha. Well, done, you got me. After digging a little deeper, it looks like the website is a project from Commodify, Inc., an artist-run startup, and Moddr, who describe themselves as;

Rotterdam-based media/hacker/co-working space and DIY/FOSS/OSHW fablab for artgeeks, part of the venue WORM: Institute for Avantgardistic Recreation

They’re behind a few other projects in a similar vein, such as ‘Give Me My Data‘. I remembered seeing a very amusing presentation on the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine project by Walter Langelaar a year or two ago.

So I registered using a temporary dummy email addresses, to have a look around, but I didn’t get to upload my (fake) data because the data upload page says it’s currently being updated. I tried sending an email to the mailing address moderator ( listed as tim@moddr.net ) but it bounced.

If this is intended as a real service, then it’s pretty awful as far as privacy is concerned. If it’s intended as a humorous art project, then that’s fine – as long as as there are no real users who have been duped into participating.