The Privacy Value Exchange on Social – You Are Being Sold!

There is an interesting dichotomy between our professional lives in the SoLoMo space and our personal lives as users. As professionals we are all exposed to a myriad of ways that we can individualize our campaigns. Personally, we all seem to be surprised by how much of our own information is being shared. Okay, that last may be a stretch, but it is surprising to our nonprofessional users

If It’s Free – You Are Being Sold

How many times am I going to use this refrain to talk about another privacy concern. This time I am going to start with personal privacy and then segue into corporate privacy.

When I first read the title of this article “Social Media Privacy Policies Come With Unexpected Loopholes” I thought I was going to read another article about the flood of social media privacy laws. While I do want to talk about that again, I was not prepared for what I did read. The article is about an ongoing project at the University of Victoria examining what our social platforms are sharing about us. I am going to link to a few of the information pages that the project has, but I really recommend you go over there and read in more detail what they have collected. This is one of the best single point sources of information about individual user privacy on social that I have seen.

To The Platforms

Do you use Pinterest? If so, your personally identifiable information (PII) can be shared with any third party company. If you object your only option is to stop using the service and delete your account. If you delete your account, your information will still be available for a period of time “as required by … legitimate business purposes.” This last turn of phrase is usually related to back-up cycles and 6 months is a good rule of thumb unless there are other regulatory reasons why a company may maintain its data.

What about the blogging platform I am using right now – WordPress? WordPress will not disclose PII to any third party, but they will do to third parties that need to know the information to provide services. You can avail yourself of services with WordPress that don’t require PII, but that “may prevent [you] from engaging in certain website-related activities.” By the way, there is no way to permanently delete information you have provided.

While the article says that only Google+ and Foursquare that they do not share PII with third parties they do miss that it is shared with third party contractors (Foursquare). Okay, I will quibble with the definition to prove that their statement isn’t quite correct. However, statements like that would give me some comfort as third party contractors are generally under the same confidentiality obligations as employees. Both Foursquare and Google+ do state that your PII may be shared for business purposes.

For Companies

The trend of software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service, small business are increasingly using these services to scale their business and to get insights into their business. I no longer need to have all the expertise to do things like website analytics. Which brings me to Google Analytics.

The free version of Google Analytics is quite interesting to me. By using such a service to track traffic on your site, and by extension, your users, you are giving up some data to Google. While their privacy obligations as to third parties are good, you are opening the kimono to Google on your website traffic and your users. You are selling your users to Google in exchange for the insight you get from their service. But we all trust Google, right?

To be fair, this is a bit of a useful foil for my argument, but quite honestly the example is not that troublesome. I may be the same naive user that I talk about, but generally I think that Google is mature enough as a company to not do something systematic to gain a quick buck. Apart from unintended breaches, I think your data is pretty safe there.

Google is just one of the services out there that you can avail yourself of. There are plenty of smaller companies and consultants that you can turn to. Be careful of what you are paying for and review their terms before you sign up for anything. If you don’t think you are qualified to review the terms well enough, spend the money and hire someone who is. Just like an insurance policy that you may never need, it may look like an expense. Or, you may find something that you should be really worried about and you can ask questions. If the service is free, your ability to negotiate may be lessened. If you are paying for the service, make changes that are reasonable.

Don’t sell your data, personal or corporate, too cheaply. You do need to share it to do business, but attach the right value to it, or you will be sold indiscriminately.

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