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August 11, 2011
Long, Little Privacy Rant

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google + - they've all gotten kicked in the teeth recently over the same thing.


Just this week, we found out that LinkedIn had sneaked in permission for themselves to take information from our profiles and use it for their advertising. Many users are leaving in disgust--others are simply fighting their way through the system to the place where they can block the practice.

At the same time, Facebook is getting their tenth (or is it twentieth?) kick in the teeth--this time it's over the issue of harvesting and displaying people's phone numbers.

Notable in the vast majority of the wars over personal privacy in the last year or so is one, simple concept--opt out vs opt in.

Every time a new privacy-violating element is added to these services the companies opt everyone in and it's only thanks to the handful of people who monitor their account settings daily that most of us find out that we need to go and opt out.

I get that websites services are desperate to turn "social media" into a cash cow. There's been so much press and so much hype about how fabulous social media is--how when Brad Putz buys a new vacuum cleaner it will inspire all his friends and relations to rush out and buy the same make and model--that these companies are all starting to believe.

What they don't seem to get is that we refuse to be milked without consent.

Whatever creative way you think your engineers have come up with to monetize your system is fine. Give me the option to opt in to it. Maybe I will and maybe I won't--you have a 50/50 chance.

I promise you, though, that if you opt me in without asking, I will opt out 100% of the time.

Privacy is not, as some seem to think, "just so 20th century."

I'm sure Zuckerberg and others wish it were, but it's not.

Like some politicians, these people make the mistake of thinking that if they wish a thing hard enough, it will become reality, but the ruby slippers only worked in Oz and this is so not Oz.

Privacy is a serious concern for a huge number of people and it becomes a bigger issue every time one of these cases hits the headlines.

*TANSTAAFL, people.*

Now, let me speak to the vast body of users of these "social media" websites.

Nothing's free.

Y'all are sucking down a lot of internet bandwidth. Are you paying your share?

Someone has to pay bills for every website you visit. If you spend a lot of time and use a lot of resources on some site regularly, you should be paying. Information and entertainment cost money--even street performers drop a hat in front of you and ask you to toss something into it. If you're reading the articles or playing games or uploading and watching videos, etc., then you're getting a lot of information and entertainment and you should be willing to pay.

If Facebook is your first stop every day, without fail, you should be willing to pay something for the use you make of the site. If the hundreds of thousands of you sitting in Facebook for ten hours a day were willing to pay a reasonable fee for access to the website & services, maybe the company wouldn't be so desperate to pay the bills that it resorts to what I would characterize as underhanded tricks to harvest private data for ad serving.

If you send and receive 500 Tweets a day, you should be willing to pay for the service. (Also? Shut up already. No one is that interesting.)

Ditto for LinkedIn. A one-off professional listing is one thing but those of you setting up massive numbers of groups, linking to the first 5,000 people you can find, sending out dozens of messages a day, blogging, linking, and loading images, networking across half the user base--how many of you are using the paid version of the program and how many of you are riding for free?

TANSTAAFL - There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Someone's gotta pay the cook. If you don't do it willingly, then you shouldn't be surprised when you find out that he slapped an ad on your back when you weren't paying attention. The cost of your lunch has to be covered, one way or another.


People in Spain are going to court for the "Right To Be Forgotten" -- to get references to themselves removed from public search databases.

It's a bit of a different issue but maybe not. It's all around how internet information is gathered, indexed, and shared.

The recent trend toward harvesting more personal data about individual people is being driven by both social uses and for advertising to Brad Putz & like-minded friends.

Clearly some people--and some countries--object.

The push toward "real names" online is the same thing. (I believe LinkedIn pioneered that one since it made sense in their venue, although naturally Facebook was right in there.)

We're all to have one name so that all we do online is connected to that one name so that our demographic and advertising profile can be as complete as possible.


You know what? I don't really think that a blog post I made when I was nineteen, wherein I admitted to having crazy, drunken sex in a public place, _really_ needs to be connected to my professional business profile ten years later. Nor do I feel that it needs to come up in the SERPS when my daughter idly searches on my name one day just to see what the world says about me.

I don't really think my participation in a serious U2U forum talking about quantum physics really needs to be connected to my silly posts in another forum where I was giggling over some celebrity gossip.

None of those three personas need to be linked to my professional accounts online. None of this is particularly appropriate or necessary data to have linked together

I'm sure both corporations and the government would like us all to live our lives with our full names, our annual incomes, our age brackets, our genders, and our social security numbers tattooed across everything we do but it's not gonna happen.

My right to create a "real name " persona that doesn't intersect with my persona of PutzLuvRH8R and neither of which intersect with my persona of BadMom does no harm.

Contrary to what some people have said, anonymity does not breed contempt and we would not all be more civil if we used "real" names.

Rude people are going to be rude. They'd be rude under any name--real or assumed.

Names do not breed civility. Civilization does.

Society forms social interactions and boundaries.

If you think everyone posting online under an pseudonym is rude, maybe you're just hanging out in really rude spaces?

I hang out in a lot of places all over the internet, and civility is the norm in all those spaces. The names we all post under are our "real" names and the social norms of each space inform and define our behavior.

Posted by AnneZook at 11:50 AM


I've thought of a service whereby users could pay $X, and the service would go out and create hundreds of references to the user's name with made-up information so that the information harvesters would get confused.

Posted by: GDad at August 12, 2011 05:50 AM

Heh. There's a certain amusement value in that.

But when I stop to think, I decide that adding to the already enormous amount of spam and worthless content on the internet is not an attractive idea.

Posted by: Anne at August 12, 2011 07:59 AM