Public Outrage Grows Over Lax Privacy Polices At Popular Social Networking Sites
Recent actions by social networking leaders in the market place have brought new attention to a user’s privacy rights. Despite the fact that these sites provide a freemium service to users, abuse and arrogance of a user’s privacy rights combined with user ignorance has led to not only a public outrage, but also increasing action from privacy advocacy groups to petition government agencies. Three public examples include:
- Google+ Search Plus Your World controversy. The recent decision by Google to feature personalized search results from one’s contacts has generated an uproar. While users may opt out of receiving search results based on personal data, users can’t block information found by their Google+ contacts including those that are +1 pages, messages, contacts, and videos. Despite the personalization benefits to users and the fact Twitter and Google could not agree on terms on real-time search, the forced march and prioritization raises concerns over a user’s rights. Consequently, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has asked the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Google’s practices.
- Facebook Timeline uproar. When Facebook recently rolled out their new Timeline feature, users expressed outrage. Though Timeline simplified access to a user’s profile, the lack of time to make changes, suddenness of announcement, and confusion over public versus private data furthered complaints. The constant stream of privacy changes without user control led to EPIC’s petition to the FTC and Facebook’s settlement. Facebook’s market dominance (see Figure 1.) and public proclamation that “The Age of Privacy Is Over” should lead to greater scrutiny by privacy advocates.
- LinkedIn Ads backlash. Rolled out in June 2011, LinkedIn exposed the products and services of interest to members for use with advertising. Advertisers could then display which members “endorsed” products and services from an advertiser. The lack of solicitation from an opt-in process led to a backlash from users and LinkedIn backing down to consumer pressure.
Figure 1. US Social Networking Sites Market Share By Page Views
Consumers and Businesses Should Expect and Demand Seven Basic Privacy Rights
As adoption grows, the potential for abuse exponentially increases. Exposure of location based services (LBS) can lead to safety concerns from a stalking and burglary perspective. Ignorance on how user generated content is used can lead to the unwanted public sharing of private information such as pictures, conversations, and relationships.
To protect a user’s right as well as create a trust environment required for success in social business, business and consumer users should demand that vendors deliver seven key rights:
- Default opt-out on sharing private information. Basic profile information not limited to name, gender, email address, birthday, address, contact information, contacts, and relationships should be defaulted to opt out. Default opt out should apply to user generated information such as messages, photos, audio, and video.
- Transparency in how personal information is used. Social networking sites and other social business concerns should detail what information will be shared. Users should know if their information will be sold and if so to whom.
- Advanced notice on new changes to privacy options. Social networking sites should provide adequate warning when new features impact a user’s privacy preference. The duration for advanced warning should be commensurate to the amount of time required for a user to opt out or make changes to avoid involuntary exposure.
- Affirmative consent for overriding privacy preferences. Users must opt-in to changes in privacy. The default option should be opt-out. the recent EPIC Facebook Privacy Complaint FTC Complaint and settlement reinforces the requirement for affirmative consent and provides good guidance on privacy rules.
- Access prevention to user’s data upon account deletion. Information about a user should be locked down when an account is deleted. This information should not be used in aggregate statistics or data. Only the user should be allowed to resurrect an account.
- Export provision for user generated data. Customers should own their data and take it with them as needed. A mechanism to export user created information should be provided to the user. Doc Searls and the Project VRM community has been advocating Personal Data Stores for quite some time and this will be the necessary requirement for social business to make it to the next level.
- Deletion of all data upon user’s request. Should a user request a hard delete, users should be granted this option for a permanent delete with all information removed from all files.
The Bottom Line: Will Users Trade Privacy For Convenience In An Era of Social Business?
Convenient features based on personalization provide a rich opportunity for both consumers, brands, and enterprises to take advantage of social media and social networking tools. Despite Mark Zuckerburg’s foolish cry that the “Age of Privacy is Over” and the ongoing confusion between what information is public or private, Social Business can not succeed unless trust is ensured. Trust is the key platform as we shift from transaction to engagement and ultimately personal fulfillment systems.
Consequently, users must remain vigilant in protecting their privacy and not take a fatalistic attitude that privacy is over. In fact, users should push hard to take a stance to preserve their rights to be offline as a counter measure. Vendors, social networking sites, and enterprises must do their part and ensure trust among their stakeholders (e.g. employees, customers, partners, suppliers, etc.) or expect more public backlash. Privacy is not over. The fight has just begun and ultimately users will win.
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(Cross-posted @ A Software Insider's Point of View)