Note to Self: Never Tweet “That Dress Makes You Look Fat”

As my Internet law students know from my recent classroom rambles lately I am focused–it sounds much better than obsessed–with exploring and defining the complex relationship between privacy, social media, and electronic data tracking. The issues are not new to me but something has ratcheted up my appetite for privacy stories, like this from the NYTimes about tensions that arise when one partner in a couple objects to the other partner’s public disclosures.

[S]ome spouses have started insisting that their partners ask for approval before posting comments and photographs that include them. Couples also are talking through rules as early as the first date (a kind of social media prenup) about what is O.K. to share.

“Talking through rules as early as the first date?” Do couples handle these conversations face to face or via text? I’m just wondering.

If You Post It, They Will Come

This Forbes article’s title sums up its content: What Employers Are Thinking When They Look at Your Facebook Page. It includes a score sheet of “Five Big Qualities” used to rank college students based on information revealed on Facebook. (I hope whoever named it Five Big Qualities does not plan a marketing career): Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neurotocism, Openness to Experience. I’m most interested in the view of privacy expressed in a quotation from someone who opposes using Facebook in this way: “In my opinion you have no more business examining my Facebook entries than you would crashing a private cocktail party.” If a simple search allows me to read your Facebook entries then an apter analogy is  ” . . . than you would watching a cocktail party held outside in Central Park in the middle of the afternoon.” People can wring their hands over the appropriateness of winnowing candidates through social media postings, but if it can be found by a simple search, it will be used.

One Mean Man

I just learned that I am the prototypical Google+ user. Comscore reports that in January the average user spent 3.3 minutes using Google+–that’s 3.3 minutes for the entire month, not each day.  That is, I recall, exactly how much time I spent on Google+ in January: 198 seconds, staring at the screen, wondering what to do with it. However, I am not the average Facebook user, who during January spent 7.5 hours on that site.

+-ing Google+

Wired offers an interesting perspective on Why Google+ Pages (Will) Beat Facebook, and Twitter.

Google+ Pages are where businesses interact with web denizens on the cutting edge of net technology, and Facebook is where you interact with everyone else. Facebook boasts 800 million users, while Google claims 40 million. Google’s limited audience isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For now, Plus streams generally contain “non-frivolous” information. A company’s message isn’t lost amid a sea of random pictures and cat videos. Of course, this may change. But more importantly, Google integrates Plus into its web-dominating search engine . . . This is where Google will have an advantage over Facebook: With a broad array of services like search and Gmail and Chrome and Android, Google offers tools that are fundamental to the online lives of so many people — and these can be tied to Google+. As Google+ evolves, Google will have the means to promote its social network — and the branded Pages within it — in ways that Facebook or Twitter cannot.

Why I Like Google+ More than Facebook

A brief story about a recent interview with Vic Gundotra, Google’s Senior Vice President of Social Business, reported that Google is “continuing to work on how Google+ shares information to the world. Google’s social lead seems to be less inclined [than Facebook] to create tools that automatically push data public than Facebook does. ‘There’s a reason every thought in your head does not come out of your mouth,’ Gundotra said, adding that there’s a value in curation.” (Emphasis added)

Google+, One Week Later

Last week Google+ had 10 million members.  This week it has 20 million members.  It’s rate of growth as a social networking platform is unprecedented, and it is still in beta and open only by invitation.  It allows more control over personal information than Facebook. Like any social networking site users must think through the privacy implications of using it.  For instance, its seamless integration with Picasa makes one’s shared albums more readily visible to people in one’s Google+ circles, so I changed the visibility of all of my Picasa albums to exert more fine-grained control over sharing.

I’ve had a Facebook account since the days when it was open only to .edu addresses but I’ve never truly used it. I explained to a friend why Google+ appeals to me:

Google+ is Facebook without the clutter and with privacy controls. It’s social networking where I don’t have to keep my eyes closed because 90% of my contacts are current or recent students with no boundaries and no discretion. It’s integrated with other Google products I use often. It’s the future.

Facebook users may love what it allows them to do (whatever that may be) but they don’t love Facebook.  The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) just reported that “Facebook ranks as the lowest-scoring site of all companies measured, not just in the social media category.”  Reasons “could include the complexity of the user controls, the introduction of ads, and the privacy issue.”  Facebook’s genius was in filling a need, not anything intrinsic about the site’s architecture or design.  Google+ provides an alternative with different architecture, design, and policies, especially for those not heavily invested in Facebook.


To me it sounds like a version of hell, but as reported by the NY Times there’s a growing market for “automatically tracking personal browsing histories for public viewing.” let’s users “[a]utomagically [sic, and yuck] share what you’re up to on the web with friends and followers in real-time. Discover what your network is viewing online and see what you’ve been missing out on!” let’s you “share your clickstream automatically using our browser add-on.”

Does no one have a filter?  Can anyone think for themselves?  I come across lots of new sites.  I share maybe 1 in 50 if it offers a uniquely helpful service, and then only with a few people.

I hate the concept.  I’m sure it will be successful.

Right to Review Applicants’ Facebook Pages?

The Baltimore Sun reports that when he reapplied for his former job 29-year old correctional officer Robert Collins was forced to divulge his Facebook password and “watch as his personal page and its postings were perused by an investigator.”  Collins considered this to invade his privacy and complained to the ACLU, which led to the Maryland Division of Corrections “backing off, saying it will suspend such demands for 45 days during a review of the matter.”

What will they learn in 45 days they don’t know now?  Maybe the DOC thinks that’s long enough for this issue to fall off the radar.

Should employers have the right to look at the Facebook posts, pages, and pictures of prospective employees?

Oops, We Did It Again

The Wall Street Journal’s ongoing What They Know investigative series, about online marketing and privacy practices, is a must-read for anyone interested in commerce and privacy.  Every week the Journal reports on some widely-used but little-known aspect of electronic tracking and data collection, and it seems every week the Journal article reveals one or more companies violating their internal data-disclosure policies.  The companies sing the same refrain:  Oops, we didn’t mean to do that; because of the mistake we’ve changed our software/data collection/security protocols; now it’s all better.  Today’s article–A Web Pioneer Profiles Users By Name–reports that tracking company RapLeaf maintains the holy grail of online data collection, a detailed database containing users’ real names and home addresses.

[P]ossessing real names means RapLeaf can build extraordinarily intimate databases on people by tapping voter-registration files, shopping histories, social-networking activities and real estate records, among other things.

RapLeaf has 1 billion email addresses in its database, not all of which are linked to real names.

RapLeaf acknowledges collecting names. It says it doesn’t include Web-browsing behavior in its database, and it strips out names, email addresses and other personally identifiable data from profiles before selling them for online advertising.   Nevertheless, the Journal found that, in certain circumstances, RapLeaf had transmitted identifying details about Mrs. Twombly—such as a unique Facebook ID number, which can be linked back to a person’s real name—to at least 12 companies. The Journal also found RapLeaf had transmitted a unique MySpace ID number (which is sometimes linked to a person’s real name), to six companies. MySpace is owned by News Corp., which publishes the Journal.   RapLeaf says its transmission of Facebook and MySpace IDs was inadvertent and the practice was ended after the Journal brought it to the company’s attention. The company says people can permanently opt out of its services at

The article contains too much to summarize or excerpt here.  It’s worth a look.

After finishing the article I checked my computer for a RapLeaf cookie.  I did not find one, but I’m not confident it’s not there.


Facebook handled its latest privacy kerfuffle more adroitly than prior dust-ups. (Posts here, here, here, and here.) It started when consumer-rights blog Consumerist publicized a recent change in Facebook’s terms of service.  Facebook eliminated the right of users to remove their content–the profiles they created, pictures they posted, etc.–and added a provision giving Facebook the right to retain a user’s content even after the user’s content was terminated. As Consumerist characterized the changes, “anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.” That’s a scary thought, and it rightly stirred up Facebook users.  At first Facebook couched the changes in ways less threatening than they were perceived–explaining, for instance, that after a user terminated his account the comments he posted on another user’s wall would remain on the site, not that Facebook wanted to use pictures of students doing jelly shots until they were old enough for AARP. Then Facebook caved, reverting to the terms of use in effect before these changes.  The site’s chief privacy officer “characterized the event as a misunderstanding, stemming from a clumsy attempt by the company to simplify its contract with users . . .”

This controversy goes to the heart of the latent ambiguity in Web 2.0 applications.  I create the framework, you add the content, I manipulate/mine/exploit the content for my financial gain.  It is a seductive trap.  Users go to the site and see their profiles, their walls, their pictures, their friends, their lives online.  Sites like Facebook are structures on which users hang whatever interests them, and if enough users hang interesting stuff then more users will come.  They can be brilliant examples of the profound, transformative power of the Internet, the network of networks manifested as a community of communities.  The users provide the material from which it is all woven together but once that material is on the site’s servers its ownership can be murky.  It’s a sure bet that most Web 2.0 terms of use give the sites rights in user-created content that do not correspond with the users’ expectations.  Facebook has trampled users’ expectations before and will do so again.  It’s an inevitable result of its business plan.