Home > Personal, Privacy, Trust > Trust in Me

Trust in Me

Trust in me, I’m the social media vendor providing this FREE service because I want to make you happy.  I know that all of this infrastructure and the thousands of employees I have working for me are costing a small fortune, but I do this because I care …. I care about YOU!

Trust in me, I’m the software development company who develops these FREE applications because we are looking out for you.  We know that you need something entertaining to do or something informative to occupy your time.  We ask you questions about your preferences so that we can customize the software for YOU.  That’s the only reason, trust us.

Trust in me, I’m a one man developer operating out of my house creating these FREE applications so that you don’t have to pay for the premium ones.  I have no visions of grandeur for myself.  I have no dreams of making money for myself, I am doing this for you!

REALLY?  No catches at all?  Awesome, where do I sign up?

I learned a long time ago that there is no such thing as a free lunch, yet people continue to be duped into believing lies to the contrary.  Let me be clear,

Privacy is an illusion in our current social media landscape.  Period. 

If you think that these FREE services are free then think again; they are anything but.  In fact, social media companies and application developers are making money off of the very things that are most precious to you – they are making money by selling information about you and your loved ones.  Whether they are selling this information directly or indirectly through advertising, these entities are collecting thousands of pages of information about you – enough to fill volumes of books.  Don’t believe me, read Kim Cameron’s article, 24 Year Old Student Lights Match:  Europe Versus Facebook.

Your preferences, your habits, your activity – essentially your life – is meticulously tracked by social media sites and used to predict your behavior.  With this information in hand, they seek out those who are looking to target those with this behavior or are willing to pay to gain access to these people.  It is a well-known fact that social media sites may know more about you than your own family members do, but social media is not the only culprit.  “Real world” businesses have been tracking your behavior for years and are just as savvy as social media sites (see How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did).  The amount and types of data associated with social media sites is much greater than that obtained in brick and mortar stores as it is more plentiful, easier to gather, easier to store, and easier to analyze.

In George Orwell’s book, 1984, we were worried about a Big Brother that we feel never came.  In reality, however, he came and brought his whole family with him and they are all watching us.  Get used to it, or take the steps necessary to protect your information assets the same way you protect the money in your bank or your legal documents.

Last month, I wrote a blog entry entitled Which Line Do You Want To Be In? in which I stated that people are

willing to trade important things in life for short term gain

Unfortunately when convenience and privacy are at odds with each other, people tend to throw privacy out the window in trade for convenience.  Are these people oblivious or do they simply feel that they have no choice.  Have they made a conscious decision or are they simply uneducated to the risks associated with privacy breaches?  I tend to believe that most people are too trusting and do not know (or simply do not understand) what information is collected about them and what happens when their information is inadvertently shared.  You can classify these people based on age and/or knowledge of technology as follows:

  • Typical Kids – who do not yet understand privacy implications
  • Typical Adults – who may understand privacy, but don’t understand technology and how it can affect their privacy
  • Tech-Savvy Adults – who understand privacy AND take an active role in protecting themselves on social media sites

For those of you who fall in the third category, I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but unfortunately the vast majority of people do not attend the church where this message is being preached.  There are still many people who have never heard the message or if they have, they simply choose to ignore it.  Is it because they disagree that information is being tracked?  Or is it maybe that privacy policies on most social media web sites are simply too difficult to read and/or understand and it is simply easier just to “click through” to get to the site that we want.

I once heard that marketing agencies build their message so that a person with a 7th Grade education can understand it.  That is an unfortunate statement to the intelligence of the average American.  Unfortunately, it is also a statement that many companies rely on when crafting their legal documents.

Suffice to say, if the price is FREE, it may be costing you dearly.

Categories: Personal, Privacy, Trust
  1. Kim @ QwikR.me
    April 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Great, well-written article Bill. Playing Devil’s advocate here, but do you see this information gathering as nefarious? (and I suspect you do). If so why? Is a company knowing what we want, need inherently bad?

  2. idmdude
    April 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I don’t see information gathering, itself as being nefarious. What I do see as nefarious is what data is being collected (without the user’s knowledge) and how that data is being used (again, without the user’s knowledge). One could argue that users should just read the site’s Terms of Use or Privacy Policies, but its not that simple anymore. TOUs and PPs have become legal documents in and of themselves and most users simply cannot understand them. Couple that with applications that users grant access to their social data (which themselves may or may not have policies) and you open up another whole set of privacy concerns.

    One could argue that the data that a company collects on you can be used to customize your user experience. If that is all that the data is used for then I have no problem with that, but that is not usually the case. Vendors need to pay for their “free” sites somehow and if you are not paying them, they will need to make their money through other means. I just don’t believe that those other means should come at the expense of the user, themselves.

  3. Kim @ QwikR.me
    April 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I think you are 100% right on with everything you say. I agree, in and of itself, gathering data is not “evil” but the information is gathered knowing that the legalese is so complex and that people are so rush, that the average person will just breeze through the TOS/disclosure statements. I am curious as to exactly what information is gathered.

  4. idmdude
    April 16, 2012 at 7:01 am

    Most social media sites keep track of every preference, everything you like, everything you do (activity), your content – essentially, if you type it or click it, they have a copy of it.

    There was an interesting article that demonstrates the content Facebook had to turn over as part of a subpoena. Facebook was asked to turn over the following:

    1. Neoprints – complete online profile and posted files. Please include videos, blogs, notes, notifications, and comments posted on the subscriber’s wall and (if possible) and and all wall-to-wall conversations with other users participated in by either of the requested subscribers
    2. Photoprints – (and any comments made on those pages)
    3. Name, address, personal information
    4. All subscriber contact information, including email addresses and activated mobile numbers
    5. IP Logs
    6. Length of service (including start date) and types of service utilized
    7. Friends list
    8. Private messages in the user’s Inbox, Trash and Sent Mail.

    You can find the subpoena here: http://thephoenix.com/Boston/news/136761-slideshow-the-craiglist-killer-files?page=2#TOPCONTENT.

    I would also point you to the article that i reference in the story, “24 Year Old Student Lights Match: Europe Versus Facebook.” European privacy laws specify that companies that collect information on its citizens must provide a copy of said information upon request; one such person made a request for their information. Max Schrems, a Viennese student received a CDROM of over 1,000 pages of information collected on them by Facebook – and much of it was content that he had long ago deleted from the site.

    I tell my kids if you don’t want it to be seen by you and a million of your closest friends, then don’t put it anywhere on the Internet. I hope they get it, but it is amazing at how many adults don’t.

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