The Devil’s in the Details (Part II)

September 10th, 2009 |

About

Jeff Louis is a strategic media planner, brand project manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. He's intrigued by innovation overcoming adversity, survival of the fittest brand, history, reading, and similar fun stuff. He writes for sites and is the Public Relations and Advertising writer for the Chicago Examiner.

On the last blog, we left off with the following statement regarding Facebook’s Privacy practices:

ALLOWING CAUSES ACCESS WILL LET IT PULL YOUR PROFILE INFORMATION, PHOTOS, YOUR FRIENDS’ INFO, AND OTHER CONTENT THAT IT REQUIRES TO WORK.

Most users hit “Allow,” use the application, and move on. Facebook posts the fact that the user accessed the application by posting the information on the his or her homepage, and on the live feed Wall of all the user’s friends. There is an option to not post at this point, but it does not seem to be used very often. Photobucket So, the application has access to the user’s entire profile, as well as that of his/her friends. Once the user’s friends add their two-cents to the poll or take a quiz, the application has access to all of their friends. And so on. Soon, like a gigantic spiderweb, the application has access to millions of profiles. Just in case you’re not familiar with these applications, a few of the more popular ones are Gifts, Mafia Wars, Like/Dislike, Flixter, We’re Related, Who Has the Biggest Brain, and Causes. I visited the Living Social website (one of applications I had allowed) to read their Privacy Policy and immediately yanked them off my page. Basically, Living Social declares that a user’s personal information will be collected, used, disseminated to other companies, as well as the fact that they will receive information from other companies to add to that they have collected.

[Living Social] …will collect any information you voluntarily provide, and we may also request optional information to support your use of LivingSocial, such as your year of birth, gender and other demographic information. [Household income, children, geographic location, etc.] We collect information in the form of the content that you submit during your use of LivingSocial, such as photos, reviews, ratings and other information you choose to submit. We may also collect information about you and your friends who use LivingSocial, from any social network you may have connected from, in order to provide you with a more personalized experience. For instance, we may collect your user ID or profile information that you have permitted to be displayed through LivingSocial in order to display you as a friend or in association with your profile and collections. When you order our products or services, you will need to submit your credit card or other payment information so that our service providers can process your payment for those products and services. When you sign up for, or win, any contests, sweepstakes, or other activities that we make available on LivingSocial, we will collect the information designated along with such activity, which may include your contact information such as your address and phone number. If you choose to sign up to receive information about products or services that may be of interest to you, we will collect your email address and all related information. Additionally, we collect any information that you voluntarily enter, including Personal Information, into any postings, comments, or forums within the LivingSocial community. Personal Information from Other Sources We may receive Personal Information about you from other sources with which you have registered, companies who we have partnered with (collectively, “Partners”) or other third parties. We may associate this information with the other Personal Information we have collected about you.

I should have just sent them my wallet, my Social Security Card, Passport, and all of my credit cards in addition any personal information that they needed: gender, sexual orientation, interests, birth date, birth place, and location of moles, tattoos, and facial hair. As stated above, that application is no longer part of my life…we broke up because of the simple fact that she was too damn nosy! Now, to their credit, Facebook does not deny, or spin, their position on this matter. Rather, they smack users in the mouth with one seriously grave fact that will exonerate the company from any and all charges:  Users must willingly opt-in to an application to use it, in essence trading their personal information, and that of their compatriots, to find out “What movie star they resemble.” An unnamed, faceless Facebook spokesperson clearly stated Facebook’s position in the following statement (regarding the Canadian lawsuit):

“We pride ourselves on the industry-leading controls we offer users over their personal information,” said a company spokesperson. “We’ve reviewed the complaint and found it has serious factual errors – most notably its neglect of the fact that almost all Facebook data is willingly shared by users…. We look forward to working with [Privacy] Commissioner [Jennifer] Stoddart to set the record straight and will continue our ongoing efforts to educate users and the public around privacy controls on Facebook.”

Facebook is 100% correct. Unless a user hits the “Allow” button, nothing happens. However, it does seem unnecessary for companies to rape profiles when users choose to answer polls, take quizzes, or participate in causes. That being the case,  the ACLU has launched a petition to change the policy practices of the popular site, and, in a seeming contradiction of their goals, have launched a quiz to educate users on the dangers of applications. We’ll leave it there for the time-being. The next post will cover some solutions that are available to you and yours. Thanks for reading.

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Jeff Louis