Recently the WSJ conducted a panel discussion about online privacy. Panelist Christopher Soghoian’s perspective on Facebook resonates for me:
Although consumers knowingly share information via Facebook, the privacy issues associated with that company are not related to the way consumers use it, but rather the other things the company does. These include the tricks the company has pulled to expose users’ private data to third-party app developers, the changing privacy defaults for profile data, as well as Facebook’s covert surveillance of your browsing activities on non-Facebook websites, as long as a “Like” button is present (even if you don’t click on it).
The dirty secret of the Web is that the “free” content and services that consumers enjoy come with a hidden price: their own private data. Many of the major online advertising companies are not interested in the data that we knowingly and willingly share. Instead, these parasitic firms covertly track our web-browsing activities, search behavior and geolocation information. Once collected, this mountain of data is analyzed to build digital dossiers on millions of consumers, in some cases identifying us by name, gender, age as well as the medical conditions and political issues we have researched online.
Although we now regularly trade our most private information for access to social-networking sites and free content, the terms of this exchange were never clearly communicated to consumers.