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Tres Reyes Island view of the Marinduque Mainland

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Are you bored with FaceBook? "Airtime" may Relieve your Boredom

Recent news indicated that 30% of FB user are getting bored in using this social media site. One user commented that instead of checking his profile daily, he just check in on it once a week. He was ask why he is getting bored. He said FB newness has faded and to him it was just a passing fad. He wants something fresh and new. I tend to agree with the above member. So if 30% of the 900 million users of Facebook is bored, will this affect the stock price of FB? I will definitely agree, particularly if another social site can challenge FB domimance. In my article in Publish Us the other day, I posted eight sites that could challenge FB dominance. The sites are Twitter, LinkIn, Pinterst, Stumblr, Viddy, Google+ and two others sites that I have not heard before.

My dear readers what other features do you want to see in FB, besides posting pictures, sharing videos and playing games? In my case, I would like to see the chat option updated, so that you can see someone you are chatting with if you have a web cam, similar to Skype . This wish may have come true last Tuesday when Airtime was launched..Will this new feature relieve your boredom with FB?

The following article from NBC News, was just posted recently discussing Airtime? Airtime, a browser-based video chat service, launched on Tuesday. It's shiny, new and created by Napster co-founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning. It's also prone to taking snapshots of your video chats and sending them to trained Airtime employees, who review them for inappropriate content.

Sounds somewhat creepy, right? That's what I thought, so I had a lengthy conversation with an Airtime spokesperson who broke down what happens in the background, while you use the service. The details will probably still leave you feeling a bit uneasy, but it's better to be informed and uncomfortable than to be caught completely off guard. As you may know, Airtime is essentially a browser-based video chat service which relies on your Facebook identity. All you have to do is grab a webcam, head to the Airtime website and login using your Facebook account — no downloads or installations are required.

The service will allow you to video-chat with your Facebook friends or match up with strangers, based on location and shared Facebook interests. (Your identity isn't revealed to the strangers until you choose to share your name, mind you.) If you're not particularly charmed by your chat partner, you can simply click "next" and go on to the next one.

As we pointed out when we first covered Airtime, the service works a lot like Chatroulette — a site which randomly paired strangers up for video chats. The trouble with Chatroulette, of course, was that many users — ahem — exposed themselves on camera. We speculated that Airtime might simply be hoping that associating its users' Facebook accounts — and in theory, their real identities — with their Airtime usage might discourage them from getting indecent. But there's oh-so-much-more to how Airtime is trying to avoid the so-called "Chatroulette penis problem."

Smile! You're in a snapshot! Airtime's spokesperson tells me that the company invested significant amounts into the technology used to maintain user safety. In fact, the team dedicated to this task is by far its largest, by head count. A large portion of these Airtime employees are trained to analyze and evaluate abusive behavior — and to nip it in the bud. According to Airtime, when you have a video chat with a stranger — meaning someone who is not one of your Facebook friends — the service quietly takes snapshots. How often these snapshots are taken is determined by an algorithm which assigns a risk percentage to each user, based on how likely he or she might be to engage in inappropriate behavior. (Factors used to determine this risk percentage include — but are not limited to — age, gender, location, and the time the service is being used.)

As soon as these snapshots are taken, the spokesperson tells me, they are analyzed by a number of automated filters, which check, among other things, for the presence of a face and the luminosity of the image. (The assumption is that you are theoretically more likely to be engaging in inappropriate behavior if you are sitting in a dimly lit room.) The Airtime spokesperson refrained from elaborating further on the nature of the other filters used to analyze snapshots, explaining that this could potentially compromise some of their effectiveness. Wait — what did you say about someone looking at my video chats? Any snapshots which are deemed to be showing potentially inappropriate behavior — which according to the Airtime terms of service includes nudity, violence, animal cruelty, drug use and more — are flagged and sent to the Airtime's Tier 1 safety team.

The trained professionals who make up this team are able to view the flagged snapshot as well as a user's snapshot history in order to best determine if he or she is engaging in inappropriate behavior. Though each snapshot is associated with an individual's Facebook user ID, Airtime assured us that safety reps are not able to view any other user information. If members of the Tier 1 safety team believe that a snapshot displays behavior which violates the service's terms of service, they will escalate it to the Tier 2 team. Members of this second team have additional training which will help them determine whether a user should be permanently banned from Airtime — and whether there is a need to notify authorities. The policy is "one strike and you're out," says the Airtime spokesperson.

Are Airtime bans really permanent? There's currently no way to use Airtime without a Facebook account. So when a member of the service's safety team bans you, he or she is banning your Facebook identity. In theory, you could try to make a new Facebook account and use that to log back into Airtime, but there are roadblocks. "You have to demonstrate social behavior before you can get on the site," explains the Airtime spokesperson. Just as a credit card company might look at your credit history, Airtime looks at your Facebook history in order to determine whether it will grant you access. If you do not have a minimum number of Facebook friends, you will not be able to get onto Airtime. This minimum friend threshold, among other factors, makes it more difficult for banned users to regain access to Airtime by simply creating new Facebook accounts.

How long does Airtime keep these snapshots ... and why? Snapshots are stored indefinitely "for historical perspective" and to "detect abuse patterns," the Airtime spokesperson told me. This is, of course, outlined in the service's rather intimidating privacy policy. This long term storage struck me as startling, so I asked Jeff Hermes — director of the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society — for some perspective. "When we talk about privacy concerns, the primary question we have is whether there is sufficient notice given to users about whether their information is going to be stored," he explained. "We review these issues from the perspective of whether there is a legal issue."

There you are my friends, FB has a new application to relieve your boredom. Welcome to Airtime!.

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