A theme in this morning’s news items struck me:
- Class action lawsuit against Google filed in California over Buzz
- Class action lawsuit against Facebook filed in CA over privacy changes from Nov/Dec.
- New privacy settings for Facebook apps launched today (Facebook’s response to the outcry in November and December).
- Pleaserobme.com, a tool that searches Foursquare posts on Twitter to publicise who isn’t at home.
It’s interesting to me that these issues are based in the same quandry: how do we, as a society, deal with placing the control of our content in the hands of a few big providers?
The writers and the publishers – a contract
User-generated content comes out of a relationship: the writers (us) write things, generate data through web activities, and create links to people, while the hosts (Facebook and Google, here) gather the information and do neat things with it. They share our posts with our friends, connect us with ads that might interest us, and host our status updates and regulate who sees what we are up to.
The first two links are public retaliations for what the plaintiffs feel is a betrayal of trust by Google and Facebook. They put their trust in these two tools to safeguard their content. They are unhappy that Google and Facebook changed the rules (or perhaps violated their side of the agreement) with the users by changing the defaults on what information is public.
This, to me, is an age-old “breach of contract” question. Have Google and Facebook in fact violated the terms of service, to which they agreed when each user opened an account with them? And if so, what do they owe us?
The next story is about Facebook, having heard the outcry (well represented by the aforementioned lawsuit) and attempting to re-establish good will. Though they aren’t admitting that they have done anything wrong, they appear to be trying to regain some of the trust they lost in November and December by offering users more control over who sees posts from the various applications they use. (The example cited in the Facebook blog explanation: I’ll let the Someecards app post to my close friends only, but My Causes can post to everyone including the boss.)
As the Facebook announcement says, “Facebook is designed to give you control over the information you share.” I think they are hoping that even greater control will result in a stronger feeling of contract and trust between the users and their tools.
Be careful what you say…
“The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.”
Pleaserobme.com is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that all information posted on the web is public. Also that most posts can be added to other bits of content for more context than we might intend.
Pleaserobme.com takes basic posts to Twitter from the location-based app Foursquare, which announces where a user is when they check in at that location. As the Pleaserobme site says, “The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.”
There are a number of ways to work out where someone lives, not the least of which is that many homes are being added to Foursquare as check-in destinations. Sure it’s nice to know where your friends are, but this could be problematic!
(Side note: when I added a new location to Foursquare on Tuesday, it offered me the choice to have that location be private among my friends. It appears that they are already trying to counter this problem.)
But the idea is that, by announcing on Twitter that I have checked in at a location that isn’t home, then all my valuables at home are open for the taking. Obviously, that’s not good.
As a content-generator in this relationship, I have to be aware of what information I am releasing to my hosting platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google, etc.) and how that information can be compiled.
Are we making progress?
We can talk at length about the generational change in individual data, and how kids today will grow up happily sharing every last bit of their lives on the Web. (I’m not convinced of this, by the way- I think they will grow out of a lot of their exhibitionism. Caution and desire for privacy often comes with age.)
But these stories represent, to me, an ongoing push-me-pull-you tension of expectations and service provision, as the capabilities and they way they’re used continually race ahead of each other. I think our society and laws will continue to swing back and forth on privacy issues as we re-establish our norms and our expectations for companies that hold our content.