Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Social Media Privacy News

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Yesterday the Wall Street Journal technology blog posted an article titled Google Buzz Exemplifies Privacy Problems, FTC Commissioner Says. The outgoing FTC Commissioner said that technology companies, specifically Google, are being too cavalier with the personal data of consumers. While qualifying her remarks as not official FTC comments, she said that the launch of Google Buzz was irresponsible conduct on the part of Google.

If you don't know to what she is referring, here's the greatly simplified breakdown. When Buzz launched, Google wanted to get people into it quickly and get them connected to their friends. To do this, Google essentially scoured your Gmail contacts and set them up as "friends" in this new service, allowing them to be seen as such by the general public. The awkward social case where this is a problem is when you use your Gmail account to court someone who isn't your spouse or significant other. In the professional world, reporters could instantly have their connections to otherwise anonymous sources or informants exposed. There was a firestorm of anger from users and Google quickly scrambled to close that gaping hole, as well as some others.

That the FTC commissioner specifically calls out Google, so recently in the news for this fiasco, doesn't let others off the hook. Facebook has been through its share of privacy dust-ups with users as it keeps pushing to make everything public.

Google Buzz also got its share of abuse at the SXSWi keynote speech by Danah Boyd, a Social Media Researcher at Microsoft Research New England and Fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. SXSW is precisely the event where a product/service like Buzz should be shining, as was the case for Foursquare last year, and not getting panned. Facebook got its share of a thumping in her speech, too, as she cited users who inadvertently adopted more public settings.

Meanwhile, in the world of sharing too much for robbers and stalkers, the world of geo-tagged and location-aware services saw a bit of a jump. Mashable reports that Foursquare Adds Almost 100,000 Users in 10 Days. To be clear, there weren't 100,000 people at SXSW, and many of those people already had Foursquare accounts anyway.

Apparently people have no problem sharing personal, potentially risky, bits about their lives. Just as long as they pick and choose what to share, that is. The FTC cannot regulate poor decision making skills by consumers, but it can at least step in when a company goes too far and just burps out lots of private data. For everyone else, I recommend you read the safety tips in my post Don't Let Social Media Get You Robbed (or Stalked) from earlier this month.

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