Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Facebook used by Hamas to lure Israeli soldiers

thief_coming_from_monitor_1600_wht_10122The Israeli army has used Facebook in the past to catch people trying to avoid national service.

Now its sworn enemy Hamas has used the same social media tool to try and lure Israeli soldiers into conversations by opening fake accounts with racy photographs of  girls taken from real accounts.

They then ask the soldiers to download a video messaging app which was in fact malware which allowed them to hack the contents of the phones and activate the cameras and microphones.

They hoped to get photos and information from inside army bases and armoured vehicles. The honeytrap operation lasted for a month and was focused on troops near the Gaza border.

Israeli intelligence  sources said that no sensitive information was hacked and that the majority of troops hacked were low-ranking. “There was a potential for serious harm to national security but the actual damage done as minor. Anyone who was infected is not any more”.

Previously Hamas has tried to infiltrate Facebook groups (of which there are thousands) used by army units by posing as Israeli soldiers in order to access sensitive information.

Hamas declined to comment. As far as I know no-one has asked Jeremy Corbin.

Facebook – why should anyone trust it? Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t – he employs a dozen people to censor comments about it and him.



Facebook can be used against you


dislike_ink_stamp_1600_wht_9113If you publicise your extravagant social activities on Facebook and other social media you run the risk of it being held against you.

Not just in your career (about which I have posted previously elsewhere) but in getting a mortgage or a loan .

A new company called Big Data Scoring is offering its services to banks and other financial organisations and says there has been a lot of interest.

It uses models and algorithms to predict the likelihood you will default on a loan based on thousands of data points including social media, blogs, web pages you have visited and information available on google.

Lenders ask permission from Facebook account holders to access the information as part of the loan application.”This is not as stalkerish as it sounds.We don’t look at the photographs or read people’s messages. We focus on the overall nature of the profile – how…

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Facebook is a false friend

P1010034Just because Facebook stopped Admiral Insurance from using its site to analyse your personality profile  doesn’t mean it wants to protect your privacy. 

If you believe that you probably believe that we are controlled by an alien master race (and I don’t mean those people in Silicon valley, or do I?). They just used the PR gaffe by Admiral to boost their own privacy credentials when the whole raison d’être behind Facebook is not to have any privacy. They’ve even experimented on you before in a mood manipulation experiment.

And even if you believe Facebook is not to blame (and of course you’re really the only one to blame, Facebook just makes it easy for you) there are lots of other data companies can use to make moral judgements and assess your risk factors. Your tweets, photos posted by your neighbours on Facebook, Google earth taking a walk round your neighbourhood, and your postcode itself.

Using algorithms they can categorise you and assess your creditworthiness. If you don’t have a credit history or have only just moved in and are not on the electoral register don’t worry, they’ll use your neighbours instead. If you live in an area where credit scoring is poor that may work against you as “banks take the view that birds of a feather flock together” according to Justin Basini, founder and CEO of ClearScore, a ratings agency.

Erik Kert, CEO of Big Data Scoring, puts a more positive spin on this data mining saying “scrutiny of online behaviour is a positive way to boost the financial prospects of people with a thin credit file“. Well not if you are a regular user of gambling sites or a shopaholic surely?

He says his company uses algorithms to predict your “expected probability of default” based on tens of thousands of data points gathered from the internet including social media, web pages you have visited, in fact anything you have made publicly available online.

This “big data” is made available to lenders in the absence of other credit history. Kert says it focuses on how active you are with your online profiles, what sort of activity you are involved in, how you access the internet, and what all that says about your personality. You don’t even need to use a psychologist – the computer decides! (Having said that Cambridge University has developed a tool “Apply magic sauce” to predict your personality based on your Facebook page).

A mortgage broker at Coreco conceded that postcode profiling was unfair if used but said actual methods of creditworthiness assessment are kept a close secret. However “if the information is readily available in the public domain, then lenders are bound to do additional research on people they are about to lend money to. Although nothing has been proven, I would suggest that those looking to apply for a mortgage should be careful. Gambling stories, wild nights out and lavish spending boasts should probably be avoided“.

Precisely! You can’t really blame them can you when you are prepared to put so much of your life on the internet little thinking it will come back to bite you. Your digital footprint never goes away as people have found when applying for jobs or going through a divorce.

Organisations like the Open Rights Group are concerned by these developments and believe society should think about the ethics involved. “Big data is often perceived as being able to deliver neutral decisions but algorithms and poor data can perpetuate social biases on race, gender, religion, or sexuality. There’s also the question of transparency. If we don’t know the full criteria being used how can we appeal against them?”

Young people or those on a low income shouldn’t be pushed into sharing their social media to secure discounts (one of the issues Admiral was criticised for). The right to keep things private shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it

I agree with the last point wholeheartedly but perhaps if people weren’t so willing to be so transparent themselves and share every aspect of their lives, almost by the hour in some cases, they wouldn’t find themselves enmeshed in someone’s algorithm.

Posting more photos on Facebook helps you live longer?

stick_figure_liking_it_500_wht_9170According to US research Facebook users who upload the most photographs are less likely to die prematurely. The researchers analysed 12 million users in California and linked them to the state’s public health records.

The top 10% of people posting the most photographs were 30% less likely to die earlier than the average user. 

It had nothing to do with the number of “likes“. And it wasn’t how many people you invited to be your friend but how many invited you that was important.

Even the average Facebook user is less likely to die prematurely than a n0n-user! However that analysis didn’t allow for differences in socio-economic status e.g. homeless people are unlikely to be on Facebook.

Does it also suggest that being “popular” makes you live longer? Maybe. According to the researchers Hobbs and Fowler, it’s hard to say which way that goes. It could be that individuals who are more likely to live longer are more attractive to others in the first place. They say that needs more research.

The researchers felt that taking photographs indicated a strong network of family and friends which research has shown benefits health (social relationships seem to be as predictive of lifespan as smoking, and more predictive than obesity and physical inactivity).

The researchers concede thatIt is only on the extreme end, spending a lot of time online with little evidence of being connected to people otherwise, that we see a negative association”.

But that assumes that people taking photographs are also interacting face-to-face. How many of the photographs were “selfies”?  Do narcissistic people live longer – or would they hate to see themselves ageing online?

And other research suggest that Facebook users are not necessarily the healthiest or happiestOne study links heavy use of social media with depression.

Sitting at a computer or desk for hours is associated with increased risks of heart disease and diabetes.

Staring at screens throughout the day and night disrupts your sleep patterns and your cognitive ability.

And let’s not forget Facebook friends aren’t real, are they?

Facebook is for losers

figure_bed_computer_1600_wht_14033Most people who use Facebook do so to add positive updates but generally people who use Facebook tend to be more frustrated, angry and lonely.

This might be because positive updates from their “friends” make them feel inadequate.

Now researchers at Ohio University have discovered that people in a bad mood turn to social network sites and look up people less attractive or less successful than themselves rather than those more attractive and more successful.

Given a choice of profiles to look at on a new social networking link called SocialLink participants who had been put in a negative state of mind – by being given poor feedback on a test – spent more time looking at the profiles of people who were less attractive and less successful.

The message is if you’re feeling bad look for someone who’s feeling even worse and regain your emotional superiority.


It’s been over a year since I posted about Facebook but my 4 year-old post “So many friends but still lonely” still regularly appears in my top 5 most-read posts so clearly strikes a chord..

My previous post about Facebook was eighteen months ago when I summed up the uses (or mis-uses) of Facebook in “Facebook Follies“.

But there’s so much stuff out there about Facebook it’s hard to keep up.


Over the hill in your 30s?

doctor_operating_tablet_1600_wht_5935Certainly if you’re a computer expert in Silicon Valley – home of Apple, Facebook, and Google.

Apparently plastic surgeons have seen a boom in their services as anxious techies try to keep their career on track in an ageist industry. One of the surgeons there, Dr Seth Matarasso, is the 3rd biggest dispenser of botox in the world!

The surgeon said that if you’re in the 30-45 age bracket you’re competing with people fresh from college in a business run by young people. “You don’t want to look as if your have kids and a mortgage”.

Facebook founder Zuckerberg has said “young people are just smarter” and a venture capitalist said “people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas” and another said young company founders “don’t have distractions like families and children and other things that get in the way of business”

Apart from botox, which costs about $1,000 a treatment,  eyelid and face lifts are also common.

In California in 2010 there were more complaints about age discrimination than any other kind of discrimination

Google – perhaps no longer “don’t be evil”

single_eye_movement_500_wht_9341Google quietly dropped its “don’t be evil” motto in 2009, probably because it was making them an easy target for critics.

And they have been criticised for their intrusive ethos. Remember the street cars scooping up you personal data as they drove by?  Just a systems error, really?

Several EU countries are concerned about Google’s poor compliance with data protection and failing to let users know what information they hold on you.

A co-founder of Google, Larry Page, said in 2004  that he saw a time when Google “would be included in people’s brains. When you think about something and don’t really know much about it you will automatically get the information”.

And now we have Google Glass. The stuff of sci-fi, the ultimate intrusion you might think, short of hidden button hole cameras and other spy-like paraphernalia.

Data protection watchdogs, politicians, casino and cinema owners are just some of the few who fear the worst from this new gadget due out next year.

Like Facebook in that they don’t respect your privacy (and you know what I think about them) their chairman Eric Schmidt once boasted that his privacy policy was to “go right up to the creepy line and not cross it”. Really?

PS Let’s not mention their “immoral” tax arrangements!