The new Facebook API exposes the events that some users attend to anyone on the Internet.

To protect your privacy, mark your events "Not Attending".

Update (06:00 PDT): So far, some people have reported that their events are exposed, and some have reported that they aren't. I don't have an explanation. I've sent a note to Facebook asking them not to expose events this way.

Update (13:00 PDT): theharmonyguy commented that event lists were already exposed in the old API, as he reported in December.

Note: This post is based on my observations as an individual Facebook user, curious to know what is revealed about me through the new API. I wrote this article to help others protect their privacy, and I am also in touch with Facebook's team, who is working to fix this. Although I work for Google, this blog represents my personal views and not Google's. Thanks to everyone for your interest.

Update (23:00 PDT): The Facebook API is no longer revealing event lists for the users mentioned in this article, or any other users I've tried. Thanks to the Facebook folks for improving their stuff!

Update (May 12): Please see the new FAQ about the Facebook API Browser.


Yesterday, I discovered something strange while playing with Facebook's new Graph API: the API was showing a list of my events, and it seemed that anyone could get this list. Today, I spent a while checking to make sure I wasn't crazy.

I didn't opt in for this. I even tried setting all my Privacy Settings for maximum privacy. But Facebook is still exposing the list of events I've attended, and maybe your events too.

What can your event list say about you? Quite a bit. It might reveal your home address, your friends' home addresses, the names and groups of people you associate with, your hobbies, or your political or religious activities, for example.

Here's what the Facebook API publishes about Mark Zuckerberg's events:

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What does Facebook's API publish about you and your friends?

A lot of people are concerned about Facebook's recent announcements of new information sharing policies and mechanisms. For those that are curious what Facebook actually exposes about you through its new API, I wrote a little tool that browses the API using the access permissions of a new user with no friends.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Anything you can see with this tool is visible to the public. (Information you don't see is not necessarily private, since there are other ways to get information from Facebook other than this API.)

I met two extraordinary people today.

One: Bear McCreary, composer of the incredible music for Battlestar Galactica and now for several other television series. (Another member of the audience got to sit at the piano and play with Bear, an experience for which I would have given my left arm. (I would have needed to keep the right arm to play.)) Hearing him talk about his art made me spend some time thinking about doing music more seriously.

Two: Nicolaus Tideman, creator of the Tideman Ranked Pairs voting method, arguably the fairest ranked voting method ever invented (along with the Schulze method, which Kingman uses in its elections). Out of the blue, the president of the Public Choice Society invited me to their annual meeting to present this stuff I posted on the Web years ago. (It's crazy what ranting on the web can do!)

I'm presenting tomorrow afternoon, with a new interactive visualization.
(What's going on in this Flash doohickey requires some explanation, but feel free to play with it if you'd like to try to figure it out yourself, and post your questions or theories here.)

multitetris: what I did at 26C3.

I went to Berlin over the winter break with various and sundry Noisebridgers to experience my first Chaos Communication Congress. While there I discovered c-base, a combination hacker club, nightclub, and crashed alien spaceship. Closest thing I've seen to the set of a Doctor Who episode, ever.

c-base has a multitouch table they built (with a projector inside, mirror, infra-red illumination, and a diffusing surface), and they had a little hackfest to write things for it. With lots of help and inspiration from two graphics hackers I met there, Martin and Ulli, I wrote multitetris.

Dan Kaminsky calls it the "Minority Report of Tetris". Good times. Man, I miss programming for fun.

The Haiti person finder.

I spent the last couple of days working with other people at Google to build a person finder site for the Haiti earthquake. It's now available at Google's earthquake page and the U. S. State Department website. I had lots of help — many people across the company pitched in to help write code, do translations, test, report bugs, and get our launch approved.

As with every time this has happened in the past, many different sites have sprung up to collecting missing person information. The big challenge now is to aggregate and reconcile the records across all these databases. I am hoping that our decision to use PFIF will help solve this problem.

An idea for 2010: personal consumption offsets.

Imagine you were confronted with a person in great suffering, and you were capable of helping to alleviate their suffering. If this person were right in front of you, it would probably feel unkind to ignore them.

Yet, rationally, there is no difference between the suffering of a person you can see in front of you, and the same suffering experienced by a person you've never met, thousands of miles away. Is it not equally as necessary to help any fellow human being in great need? Surely geographical location is not relevant to the worth of a life.

This has been my way of thinking for some time. Peter Singer explains it more eloquently in his 1971 essay, Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Yes, charities are less than 100% efficient, and choosing worthy ones can be complicated. And keeping ourselves in love with life is a necessary prerequisite for giving to others. But these are minor caveats in comparison to the main, inescapable point: most people give less than they should. I say this not to criticize any deficiency in their principles, but as an observation that their actions are logically inconsistent with the principles they choose for themselves.

Setting aside a fixed fraction of your income for charitable donations is a pretty common concept. Christians call it tithing, and Singer himself makes a similar suggestion, even proposing specific percentages for income brackets. The problem with the income-fraction approach is that not everyone can afford to give the same fraction of their income. Those barely able to make rent might only be able to afford a little, but billionaires can easily afford to give away most of their income. Singer wrote:

Given a society in which a wealthy man who gives 5 percent of his income to famine relief is regarded as most generous, it is not surprising that a proposal that we all ought to give away half our incomes will be thought to be absurdly unrealistic.

I've never set aside a fraction of my income to donate, even when I've had a regular income. I occasionally donate here and there, at random to a charity that strikes me as a good one, but certainly far less than 10% of my income, probably less than 2%. Having a real job has made me think about what I should do about this.

I have an idea for a different approach that I'm going to try as an experiment. It's pretty simple:

In 2010, I'll match everything I spend on a non-essential purchase with an equal donation to an effective charity.
What's essential? Rent, groceries, furniture, expenses incurred in order to do my job.
What's non-essential? Eating out, movies, gadgets, toys, travel for fun. Gifts for myself, basically.
What's an effective charity? IRC, MSF, PSI, and EFF are my current favourites, though I'm sure there are many other excellent possibilities.

There are a few things I like about this scheme, both practical and psychological:

  • By definition, this only affects non-essential expenses — so anyone can do this, regardless of income level.
  • The statement of the pledge is simple and doesn't involve arbitrary percentages.
  • It motivates me to donate more, while enhancing my enjoyment of the things I buy for myself.
  • I'll become newly aware of how much I spend on non-essential things.

My plan is to use Mint to tag my expenses as non-essential. At the beginning of each month, I'll do a round of tagging and make a donation.

Thoughts, ideas, or suggestions?

Thanks to Mitch and Slim for reviewing this post.

2010-01-09 14:00 PST: Welcome, @PeterSinger followers! — PeterSinger tweets: Nice idea on giving here: Thanks Ka-Ping Yee. And you can pledge as well at

  • Current Mood

How did I do?

Back at the beginning of the year, I made a list of resolutions. Now that 2009 is drawing to a close, I suppose I should evaluate how I did.

For 2009, I resolved:

  • Not to learn anything: fail. At work, I learned a lot of technical stuff, and also learned about the green energy field and about working with utility companies. Thanks to the BSFC, I learned a bit about the process of getting a new organization off the ground. I learned some relationship lessons. And I learned a lot about Africa.
  • Not to launch any products: fail. We launched Google PowerMeter this year with several utility partners (Yello, JEA, first:utility, and SDG&E) and device partners (TED and AlertMe).
  • To become uglier and less happy: unfortunately, I made substantial progress on this one. This has been a tough year for me personally. I have been on an overall downward trajectory, and am ending this year much less excited about life than the last. As we put 2009 behind us, I hope I can turn the page and change this.
  • To remain in the U. S. for the whole year: a big fat fail. I saw Africa for the first time, and it strengthened my resolve to do something good for those in the greatest suffering and need.
  • Not to produce anything of noticeable benefit to others: fail. I contributed to the SMS for Life project, which is starting to show good results. In one of our pilot districts, stockouts were reduced by about 75%, which likely meant that lives were saved. I think it's reasonable to attribute some of this to the new information on stock levels that became available through our project. And I hope that the mapping piece I contributed made the project more effective, even though I have no direct evidence of that yet.
  • To give up the guitar: wellll... I haven't given it up, but I've played it much less this year, and have barely played at all in the last few months.
  • And absolutely not, under any circumstances, to build absurd contraptions: alas, I succeeded at this one.

What for 2010? I'm considering a few things. I guess the main thing I learned this year is what happens when I try to focus singlemindedly on saving-the-world goals to the exclusion of all else, including myself. It seems rational, but it's turned out to be pretty bad for me. I reached my limit and went beyond. I'm not sure exactly what to do next, but I'm thinking that I need more music in my life, and a commitment to enjoying life. Believe it or not, the latter is a very strange concept to me right now, and it's hard to accept.

We are halfway through the SMS for Life pilot.

IBM put out a press release about the project today: Saving Lives with SMS for Life. See more articles at mobihealthnews, FastCompany, and Google News.
After visits to clinics, hospitals and dispensaries across Tanzania, IBM, Novartis and Vodafone initiated a five-month pilot of the SMS for Life solution, covering 135 villages and over a million people in different geographic locations across Tanzania.

Vodafone, together with its technology partner MatsSoft, developed a system in which healthcare staff at each facility receives automated SMS messages, which prompt them to check the remaining stock of anti-malarial drugs each week. Using toll-free numbers, staff reply with an SMS to a central database system hosted in the United Kingdom, providing details of stock levels, and deliveries can be made before supplies run out at local health centres.


During the first few weeks of the pilot, the number of health facilities with stock-outs in one district alone, was reduced by over 75 percent. The early success of the SMS for Life pilot project has the Tanzanian authorities interested in implementing the solution across the rest of the country. Tanzania has around 5,000 clinics, hospitals and dispensaries, but at any one time, as many as half could potentially be out of stock of anti-malarial drugs.

This project is a collaboration among many people; I'm glad to be a small part of it, and it looks like we're helping the Tanzanian Ministry of Health achieve some significant reductions in stockouts.