Obama’s Organizing for Action leaking personal details of supporters

Yesterday I received an email fundraising pitch from Obama’s new Organizing for America:

Email from OFA

Looks safe … click to enlarge

At the bottom of the email is a link to click to :

Looks innocent!

Nothing there to worry about, right?

But the text you see is not the actual link that is in the email.  That link is really:

Doesn't look like much

Doesn’t look like humans can read it, does it?

There’s a lot of information in that link, most of which does not appear to be human readable.  It turns out that it is encoded using a very common system known as “Base 64”, which is a way to take a bunch of data and put it into a URL like this.  But there’s no magic to Base 64, and when you decode it you see:

A little bit clearer now!

Hey, that’s me!

I’ve replaced my email address (to @secret.com) and zip code (with 99999), however if you are sufficiently energetic you can type in the base 64 text and see what it really is…

Anyone else I share that link with, when they click it, will be taken to the Organizing for Action page and shown my email address and zip code.

Other people appear to have their email address and zip codes exposed clearly in the links they’ve shared on Twitter:

Identifying information blurred by me...

Identifying information blurred by me…

It’s not a terrible security breach, and I’ve only found about 30 or so people who’ve accidentally done this in the past week.  But given that the OFA web site holds credit card information, the leaked data represents two pieces of personally identifiable information that could theoretically be used to assist in identity theft.  And if you share such links on Twitter you may find that people who oppose your views find it an opportune time to start up an email conversation you did not solicit…

Regardless of the risk, I am fairly certain (just about all of) the people involved did not intend to publicize their email addresses and home zip codes on Twitter.

Melissa Harris-Perry, Risky Comments, and the Attack of the Misogynist Twitter Clones

On Saturday’s (9/1) Melissa Harris-Perry show, the host made an animated defense of poor people, arguing that being poor was riskier than being wealthy.  It’s not surprising that her comments got a strong response from viewers, and it’s not surprising they were almost uniformly positive in their comments on Twitter.  What is surprising, however, is that 24 hours later the tone of the comments on Twitter had changed from positive to negative.  What happened? Were these real comments by people reacting to the video? Or was Melissa the victim of an orchestrated “attack of the clones” — a large number of  identical tweets that sought to change the public’s perception of events?

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Death to Retweets!

Live Tweeting News shows is fun, but existing Twitter clients don’t always make it easy to stay engaged.  This is the first of series of articles on the unique challenges of live tweeting and how they’re overcome in the TweetWatch.TV application.  To see how the application handles the challenges yourself, give the app a try.  It’s free and runs in your browser so there’s nothing to install.

Retweets are a great feature of Twitter — it allows you to see updates your friends think are especially noteworthy.  And it helps you discover updates and authors you might not otherwise come across.  It’s a part of what makes Twitter “social”.

But even though retweets are a fantastic part of Twitter, when I built the live tweeting application tweetwatch.tv I made it easy for users to turn off seeing retweets:

Why did I do that? What made me think that turning off a core feature of Twitter is a critical requirement for a live tweeting application?

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Catching up with some old trends — where are they now?

I have a strange fascination with those “where are they now” shows featuring the fates of famous people from years ago.  I know either they are washed up and broke, or made a fortune in real estate, or went back to college and earned a Ph.D. in some hard science.

For trends on Twitter, alas, the washed up fate is the most probable. It seems like only a few weeks ago that #Julia was a hot trend on Twitter.  What’s she been doing with herself lately? (I’m pretty sure if turns out she got a Ph.D., there’s a government grant in there somewhere).

There’s actually a lot of these short-lived trends that get started on Twitter: everyone piles on, and then they fizzle out.  I have been tracking a bunch of them for a while.  And since I too have the Twitter attention span, I now have months of data on long dormant trends.  But bit’s interesting to look back at some of their brief lives.  They shone so brightly but so briefly.

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Twitter Secrets of the Obama Campaign: #6 – First Master the Fundamentals

[For the background on this series, please see the Introduction]

So far in this series I’ve talked about many of the tricks the Obama campaign is using to get the most out of Twitter, such as tracking links, using multiple accounts, and integrating Twitter into an overall marketing campaign. While the advanced techniques are the most interesting, it still pays to heed Larry Bird’s dictum “first master the fundamentals”.  Let’s see how the Obama campaign has followed that advice and mastered Twitter fundamentals.

I’ve talked a bit about some of the Obama basics before: in the second installment of this series I talked about the diverse subjects the campaign tweets about and how and when they include links.  That post covers the content of the tweets thoroughly and is worth a review.

But even more basic than that are issues of when to tweet, how frequently to tweet, and how to use the limited space of a tweet.  These issues are driven by the unique nature of Twitter: tweets are fairly ephemeral, scrolling quickly off a feed as they’re pushed down by new ones, and tweets are tightly constrained in length and content.

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