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Privacy Backlash Hits Social Networking

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Aggressive advertising, unwanted friends, and employer-snooping into social networking profiles may dull the edge of being on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Privacy Backlash Hits Social Networking
Privacy Backlash Hits Social Networking

One-time online darlings in social networking have begun to feel the dizzying dehydration of the morning after a really great party. Pushback from several quarters may leave the typical past college age person questioning the sanity of being on such sites.

Facebook has been in a running battle recently with activist group MoveOn.org over use of the Facebook Beacon. That feature of Facebook posts a note to one’s online profile whenever the individual makes an online purchase at a merchant participating in Beacon.

MoveOn accused Facebook of originally planning to permit people to permanently opt-out of Beacon, but removed that function at the last minute.

“Facebook should explain why they chose at the last minute to put the wish lists of corporate advertisers ahead of the privacy interests of their users,” said MoveOn’s Adam Green.

If it isn’t a cadre of advertisers looking over one’s shoulder in social networking, it’s people who a person would rather forget existed. Cory Doctorow said at Information Week that social networking sites have “built-in self-destructs”:

For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there’s a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I’d cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, “Am I your friend?” yes or no, this instant, please.

When that happens enough times, someone may just decide it’s time to bail out on the social network; either to build a new profile on a different site, or simply ditch it altogether.

The world of work poses another challenge for the post-college social networker. American human resources workers will cheerfully dredge up a job applicant’s youthful hijinks from such sites and use it to exclude him or her from the hiring process.

This is hypocrisy distilled down to its most potent essence. The hiring person, and probably her boss and the boss’s boss, etc, wouldn’t be able to withstand such scrutiny either in the 21st century, yet they will use it against those who didn’t do anything worse than they did.

Though there’s no hope of US businesses being prevented from doing this, it could change in the UK. The Guardian reported these searches into social networking profiles, or even a cursory query at Google, could be in violation of data protection laws.

However, the legality is not clear, leaving it up to the individual to ensure the proper privacy settings have been made to keep their personal lives private, or at least limited to trusted friends. It might be easier to delete a profile entirely.

We have noted before that the original Facebook model, limiting access to registrants with a dot-edu email address, could be replicated easily by another site. With the right feature set and ease of use in place, such a site could become what Facebook used to be: relatively private and free from heavy corporate influence.

Privacy concerns could provide fertile ground for such a site to grow.

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Privacy Backlash Hits Social Networking
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