Do Social Media Sites View Privacy As A Burden?

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When interviewing Robert Ellis Smith, privacy expert extraordinaire, WebProNews' Abby Johnson asked him how the recent FTC/Myspace ruling would impact services like Facebook and Google+. While indicating all three services reached privacy agreements with the FTC, with both Google and Myspace agreeing to be audited for the next 20 years in relation to upholding their privacy agreements, Smith made the inference that a number of social media outlets used innovation as an excuse when discussing lax privacy enforcement.

Keep in mind this is the same kind of argument net neutrality opponents like AT&T and Verizon have made, if, for nothing else, it sounds meaningful, even if it is unquantifiable. While he never names any privacy adherence opponents outright, Smith does directly state that social media providers have indicated compliance with established privacy measures would inhibit innovation. In response to this, Smith states that no new technology should be a threat to privacy, and that if consumer privacy is taken into account when the product is being developed, aka, privacy by design, these companies would have a much easier time complying with current privacy statutes.

To further illustrate his point, Smith discusses how credit card companies used the same arguments when the FTC began regulating the industry in 1970s. In response to the FTC's consumer privacy demands, according to Smith, these companies claimed compliance would "retard progress and cut into the bottom line. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. They've thrived during this regulatory period."

Smith also indicates the same is true for social media providers, and considering Google's considerable earnings, and Facebook's initially-successful IPO, it's evident he's onto something.

The FTC's role in relation to privacy enforcement is also discussed. Here, Smith indicates the basis for Internet privacy when it comes to FTC enforcement are the Fair Information Practice Principles, which are listed on the FTC's website. Furthermore, the FTC is not in the practice of enforcing the existence of privacy practices, but if a company creates a privacy policy, Smith states they had better abide by it. If not, this is when the FTC gets involved.

One final piece of advice concerns transparency. Smith states that most, if not all of Facebook's privacy issues stem from the company's lack of transparency. This means simply being up front and open with your users about what information the service collects, as well as what happens to the collected information. All in all, Smith's advice is not too difficult of a concept for companies to enact. Don't allow these entities to use the "well, it's new technology" excuse, either. As indicated, Smith is a firm believer in the idea that new technology should not be a threat to consumer privacy.