Guest post by Athena Newton.
If you were to do a Google search for some of the top social networking sites, you’ll almost certainly stumble across a news story concerning privacy issues with user data.
Though membership continues to grow for companies like Facebook, 2012 hasn’t been kind to the social giants when it comes to what they’re doing with all of our personal data and facts about ID theft online. Instagram is a recent target with changes to its terms of service, essentially allowing the company to sell its users pictures to third party vendors without any permission whatsoever. After an intense user backlash and a decline in numbers, Instagram pledged to readjust its terms to tighten up privacy.
As Ryan Block notes with The New York Times, the real slap in the face to those who use these services isn’t that their data is being sold off, but that it’s being done without a lick of permission.
“In my search for technology products and services that somehow enrich or add value to my life, Facebook and Instagram have been a net negative not only in their usefulness, but also in other, subtle ways most people don’t often consider,” said Block in the Times op-ed post.
Since the backlash with Instagram, other social networks have been tip-toeing in their approach to changes in terms of service. Foursquare, a social network that lets you “check in” online to places you go, is adjusting its service so that every user’s full name appears on their check-ins, as opposed to a first name and initial (such as John D).
The lesson learned, however, is that Foursquare is giving their users advanced notice of the changes, and spelling out in plain English what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. In a sub-page Foursquare calls “Privacy 101,” the plan and purpose of users’ privacy is laid out simply.
This is where social networking is going in 2013. Your data is still being shared to third parties, but the companies responsible are keeping you more well-informed about it. The saying goes: “The cover-up is always worse than the crime.”
Even when trying to do the right thing, some social networks just can’t cut a break. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi Zuckerberg, recently had an internet meltdown in glorious fashion, because a picture she shared on Facebook, which she thought was private, ended up getting reposted on Twitter. The snafu was something that could happen to any of us, but it was also a reminder that social networking privacy is so complicated that not even the boss’s sister understands it.
Randi later admitted that she (and everyone else) should only post something online they wouldn’t mind seeing on the cover of The New York Times, which is something we should all live up to. As social networks become more popular, there’s money to be made. In this case, it’s in the form of selling your data and even pictures to advertisers. And as time goes on, it will likely become harder to opt out of this in the future. So, take Randi Zuckerberg’s advice, and simply be mindful of what you post online.
About Athena Newton: a recent MFA graduate, Athena writes about fashion and celebrity trends in the U.S. and Europe. She loves following trends and seeing how history repeats and reinterprets itself through fashion.