2012 didn’t end well for social networking and the ever-looming subject of online privacy. Popular social sites like Facebook have been the subject of privacy concerns for years, but users are starting to hold companies accountable for their actions – making others rethink the way they take on Internet privacy.
Instagram Hates You
In early December, Instagram made controversial changes to its terms of service giving the company the ability to sell user’s pictures to third party companies without the permission or even notification of the original posters. The overwhelmingly negative feedback from Instagram users caused the social network to recant on that aspect of its changes, but the damage was done. Since the changes were announced, Instagram’s daily user numbers have been steadily dropping, according to statistic tacker AppData.
That fact that Instagram wanted to profit from customer data isn’t what’s stunning. An entire economy of buying and reselling user data revolves around social networking, as it’s one of the few ways to profit from a service that’s essentially free. What sent users over the edge was that they weren’t invited to give feedback over the changes or given a change to “opt out” to preserve some of their privacy.
It didn’t take long for other social networks to learn from the mistakes of Instagram. Popular “check-in” service Foursquare recently announced changes to its service that will display user’s full names under all check-ins compared to the current first name and last initial (like John D). The changes could be seen as a breach in user privacy, but Foursquare prepared for this. In a page it calls “Privacy 101,” Foursquare cuts past the fine print and lays out in plain English the changes it plans to make and why it’s making them.
And that’s the real difference here. Foursquare figured out a way to just talk to its users like people. To say to them, “This is what we’re doing and this is why we’re doing it. We hope you understand our reasoning and welcome feedback on the matter.” It’s likely that their changes could have been as intrusive as Instagram’s and the backlash still wouldn’t have been as harsh.
So what does this mean for you in 2013? It’s not likely that social networks will stop selling your data to third party companies, but it’s looking up for how social networks communicate that information to you first. Even Facebook, whose privacy policies used to be a total mystery (and apparently still are to CEO-sister Randi Zuckerberg) are beginning to offer clarity to its users. The mistake of Instagram was that the cover up is always worse than the crime.