Home > BCS, Privacy, social > Social Networking versus Personal Privacy

Social Networking versus Personal Privacy

The recent furore surrounding Facebook’s Beacon is a prime example of the peril faced by operators when they misjudge the fine line between the networking and privacy. It leads users from saying: “I want to share my life…” to “I want to sue for invasion of privacy…”

The story is simple and, according to a BBC news article, relates to Facebook’s introduction of a controversial ad feature / technology, (called Beacon), which monitors and informs other users of your purchases from participating stores. Instead of the usual accolades for far-sighted innovation and initiative, Facebook was met with an angry petition signed by over 50,000 users. Their complaint? Intrusion of privacy!

Now before you ask why a bunch of people who are perfectly happy to share their personal, and sometimes intimate, details with others online should balk at the prospect of publicising their shopping habits, you should consider the following scenario: (reported in the Washington post) where a shopper’s surprise Christmas gift for his wife was published to his network in a news headline that read: “Sean Lane bought 14k White Gold 1/5 ct Diamond Eternity Flower Ring from overstock.com”. Well I suppose it might have been worse, it could have been for his mistress… The upshot of this, according to a Slashdot article, was that Facebook consequently altered Beacon to offer users the ability to Opt-in to using it, instead of being enabled by default.

It was also interesting that a couple of comments on this article picked up on how Facebook’s Terms of Use effectively grants Facebook the right to use and distribute user submitted content “…for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise”, and even though users have the right to remove their content, Facebook may still retain archived copies of the content with the original terms. Makes you stop and think for a minute!

To be fair, in my opinion, the Beacon feature simply makes use of a potential killer combination of online commerce, advertising and social networking, but the execution may have been a bit too pushy / early. Users are not quite ready for that level of openness by default. In any case, the idea has been planted, and I won’t be surprised if it becomes common practice in a couple of years, with the right value proposition for the user such as free music, ringtones or movies etc.

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