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  • Callum Haywood – An Interview With The Brain Behind "We Know What You're Doing"

    According to Facebook, users upload more than 300 million photos, generate over 3.2 billion ‘likes’/’comments’, and have 526 million active users on average per day. But do we stop to think about where our information is being shared and what happens after an image or a post has been uploaded? To show users just how easy it is to access user’s status updates and share it to the world, 18 year old Callum Haywood set up a website called ‘We Know What You’re Doing‘, pulling public status updates via Facebook’s Graph API that contain references to hating your boss, getting drunk, using drugs and changes to your personal phone numbers. The site created a massive media stir with questions being asked once again about online safety on social networks. We caught up with Callum to find out more about the man behind the website, and to ask what inspired him to set up the site as well as what users can do to ensure online safety.

    Callum Haywood

    Hey Callum, firstly, congratulations on your experiment, it’s gotten you worldwide recognition; did you ever envision that this project would get you this much media attention? Thank you, I had never envisioned that the site would get anywhere close to the number of visitors it has had in its entire online life. I had certainly not expected the media to pick up on it.

    Could you tell us a little bit about your career background and how and when you got into coding and web development? I’ve recently finished my A level studies, and will be starting university later this year. I started coding when I was about 13 years old, just learning basic HTML out of an old book. I then got into web design using CSS, and this lead me onto PHP which is what the site is written in.

    What inspired you to set up “We know what you’re doing?” Two things inspired me. First was Tom Scott’s video “I Know What You Did Five Minutes Ago” in which he demonstrates, using live data, the amount of personal information that people put online. Secondly is the simplicity in which this information can be obtained; within a few lines of code you can query Facebook’s Graph API for public posts and output them.

    Do you think employers ought to take things employees write on Facebook (and other social media sites) seriously? And as such, could posts on your website be used as grounds for dismissal? What are your thoughts? People have lost their jobs in the past because of what they put on Facebook. My site isn’t intended to get anyone in trouble, but people need to be aware that their employers can see this information if it is public, and that it is up to the employer to decide how they go about dealing with it.

    How can users protect themselves from their posts being pulled via Facebook’s social graph? The easiest way to ensure that you are protected is to go on Facebook, click the drop down arrow at the top right of the page, next to the home button, select ‘Privacy Settings’ and under ‘Control Your Default Privacy’, make sure it is set to either ‘Friends’ or ‘Custom’. Caution should always be taken when posting anything online, because someone on your friends list may pass this on to someone else, and you could get into trouble that way too.

    Is there an upside to this? Can information and posts gathered via Facebook’s API be used for “good” purposes? Since you can access all public posts through the API, there are a lot of good posts, which can be put to good use.

    A follow-up on the last question; how can a website owner, or a business owner benefit from pulling in information via Facebook’s API? Businesses can use the API data to see what people are saying about their brands or products, for example. This information could be very useful for businesses to analyse, and also very cost effective.

    Why did you choose drugs, alcohol, slagging off your boss, and new phone numbers as your categories for the experiment? I chose those categories because they typically give interesting results. If the categories were boring it wouldn’t shock people, which is what the site is designed to do. Hopefully people who have seen it think twice about the information they share online and who can access it.

    Looking ahead, how do you think online privacy will be shaped? In the future I think people will need to go to extraordinary lengths to protect their privacy online. If you are serious about online privacy, then social networks are not the ideal place to be hanging out.

    What do you think Facebook should do? Are they doing enough to keep their users safe? Facebook’s privacy controls are very good when they are used correctly, but I also think they have a responsibility to let users know that their posts are public, for example a message to confirm whether they want to post, because it can be seen by anyone and shared via the API too.

    Have you ever thought of trying your hand at SEO? I have not really gone into depth with SEO before. My friend who works as an SEO programmer suggested that I add in the Facebook and Twitter buttons (which really helped get the site known) and also to optimise the title tags, as well as the meta data.

    You say on your site that in order to be a decent developer, you need to develop a logical mind. If there were 5 skills necessary to work for you what would they be? If someone was going to work for me I would want them to be a good problem solver, logical thinker, have an analytical mind, be focused, and be able to understand the technical aspects in great depth.

    Has age ever been an issue when dealing with clients? Fortunately not, age has never been a problem when dealing with clients, which is a good thing. Even when freelancing, the people I have met never had a problem with someone my age (or younger before I was 18) completing the work for them.

    How do you manage your time with school, work and a social life? In order to manage my time I created a personal planner, which contains 7 columns, one for each day of the week, and is divided into hourly slots. I print one of these off when I have a particularly busy week and fill it in. At the bottom there is a section for other tasks that need doing and other notes.

    How are you dealing with your new found fame? How many six figure job offers have you received so far? :-) Haha I haven’t received any job offers, however before I launched the site I was looking for summer jobs just so I can earn money before university. I can now postpone that search, and also deal with any freelance work requests that come my way.

    Yesterday, you launched a search function to your site, what made you open it to the public? I created it so people could enter their own queries and see what interesting posts they can find, as well as just the default questions that are asked on the homepage. Since it went live, there have already been a lot of requests, although the site only logs the quantity of requests, not the actual query or responses.

    Finally, what plans do you have for the future? What other projects have you got in the pipeline and where do you see yourself in 5 years from now? I have a few ideas but they are at an early stage, so can’t promise anything. In 5 years time I would like to see myself running my own business using the internet.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    5 Responses to “Callum Haywood – An Interview With The Brain Behind "We Know What You're Doing"”

    1. Jeff Whiteman says:

      Hi, I have to say after reading this that without sound negative this is not the first time someone has created such a site which pulls off the public Facebook status’s. There is already a site I came across a few days ago that already incorporates the search function so for Callum to have deemed it something ‘he’ created is a tad short sighted.

      Further to this, I took me no more than a few hours and a bit of digging before I was able to reproduce what Callum already has and I barely know PHP that well. I don’t want to be misunderstood here I wish the lad the best of luck I just think these things have already been done before and really not entirely sure what innovation has actually taken place.

      One PHP page where the status’s pulled for “I hate my boss” can be seen at http://uni.gdr-dev.co.uk/fb.php

      All in all though the lad has done well to get as many hits as he has, kinda reminds people a bit of what Mark Zuckerberg did with Facesmash back in the early days!

      • Shaad Hamid says:

        Hi Jeff, Many thanks for dropping by. Just to clarify; firstly, nowhere in the interview does Callum claim to be the first to set up a website that pulls in public Facebook posts via Facebook’s API. In fact, he’s told us who and what inspired him to set up the website. Secondly, Callum was referring to a feature on his own site that he “created” and launched two days ago, this is not to suggest that he was the first to “create” such a function. Thirdly, it’s fantastic that you were able to reproduce within hours what Callum did. This is the point the lad’s trying to hit home. Anyone can access public posts, and share it to the rest of the world. The objective of this exercise was to create an awareness among Facebook users about being vigilant about online privacy issues, not to claim innovation.

    2. Kent says:

      Just curious, what is the different between “‘We Know What You’re Doing” and hootsuite crawling because hootsuite can do the same thing on Twitter and Facebook as well.

    3. Dave Ripley says:

      I guess there are a few of these sites out there! I do believe there has been a site going since 2010 that has been trying to raise this particular issue but seems to have either been overlooked or ignored. I found another site that is on google search called Rant Zone which isn’t as good looking as “we know what youre doing” but certainly seems to point towards the fact that its not just Facebook people need to be worried about but other social networking sites too. Anyone who is interested either search for rant zone on google or try http://www.rantzone.co.uk/ as thats the address, it hasn’t got any search facility but is a smaller approach to Callum Haywoods site as well as still highlighting the issue of social media privacy. All in all though very scare stuff!

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