Facebook, Spokeo and the End of (Online) Privacy

So I received a chain email that’s been going around warning people about Spokeo, a website that aggregates public information on people. (If you search for yourself, you’ll probably find your name, address, maybe even your home value and a few relatives. Spokeo isn’t new, and there are others out there, so I’m unsure what prompted the alarmist chain email in the first place.)

But the email did prompt a discussion amongst me and some family members regarding how much information is available about people online. Basically, Spokeo left quite a few of my family members spooked.

Of course, all of the information that Spokeo finds about you is already public. Your phone number and address were in the phone book. Your home sale price is on record at your county clerk office. You get the idea. Spokeo just pulls it all together and puts it at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection.

The problem with blaming Facebook…

Inevitably, the conversation turned to Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla in the room of online privacy. As the conversation evolved, I found myself defending Facebook for two reasons: first, people join Facebook and divulge personal information freely, and, second, the trend I’m seeing toward sharing more information isn’t unique to Facebook and, therefore, I’d rather be on Facebook framing my own personal narrative rather than allowing other people to share information about me without my knowledge.

Then again, I live and breathe digital media for my day job, and long ceded any semblance of online privacy by joining every social network I could and starting a personal blog. So it was interesting to hear the perspective from people who can say, with all honesty, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

To use the Spokeo example again, that website specifically, as well as others, haven’t done anything illegal, unethical or in any way suspect by providing the information they aggregate. Rather, the Internet in general has completely redefined the concept of “public information.”

And the $64 million question is…

So are we comfortable with that? Is our society better off for it? Is that a price that we collectively pay to enjoy the numerous benefits such openness provides (easier access to information in education, better accountability in government, the ability to do my Christmas shopping a month in advance on Amazon in my pajamas)?

I don’t have the answers, but it did inspire me to check my Facebook privacy settings again.

Social Media: Business Versus Personal Use

Just stumbled across the following video report on social media in the workplace, via Nathan Moore over at Anthology Creative, a local Web Dev firm here in Nashville. I wrote on this before here, and I couldn’t agree more with Nathan’s assessment.

Whatever you do in your free time is a reflection on you, right? You are you. Your actions on the weekend reflect on your 9-to-5 life and vis versa.

Video Link

I’ll reiterate what I said earlier. Two things must happen (and, indeed, are happening).

1) Employees will be more mindful of their personal behavior and how it reflects on them professionally (or at least they will when they know there’s a digital camera in the room).

2) Employers will become a little laxer when reviewing social networking profiles of employees and potential hires.

Your take? Agree? Disagree?

Social Media Accelerates the Blurring of Life and Work

Indeed many people see interweaving as a natural way of operating, a sort of throwback to the cottage-industry days when life was integrated and whole. It seems a healthy reaction to the organizational age system, which split work and life into compartments and required you to be one person here, another there.

Richard Florida – The Rise of the Creative Class – p. 153

I have six e-mail addresses, two of which I check regularly for work and personal usage, respectively, the other four of which forward automatically to my personal account.

I maintain two separate Google accounts, one for work, one for personal use.

I tried two Twitter accounts for a while, sporadically save bookmarks to three accounts on Del.icio.us and have intermittently maintained two YouTube user names (in addition to my presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, GoodReads, CouchSurfing.com, amongst others).

If you spend any time looking at the activities of any of these “online identities,” you’ll come to the same conclusion I have: it’s unsustainable, inefficient.

And it requires added time that I’m just not willing to give up.


So the solution seems that I should consolidate. But that brings up some interesting questions. How much information can I make publicly available on Facebook? Should I have a separate MySpace account for more private information? How social/transparent/forthcoming can Matt the employee versus Matt the person be?

I’ve been telling colleagues that I sense a fading of the distinction between personal and professional lives brought on by social media. As I lay in bed last night reading “The Rise of the Creative Class” by Richard Florida, I realized that social media is just one part of it, albeit an interesting one.

According to Florida, casual dress at work, longer work weeks and less direct oversight of “creative types” all amount to a blurring of our personal and professional identities. And they aren’t causal, they’re effects of the dramatic shifts that have occurred in the way people live their lives now versus how they did, to quote Florida, “in the organizational age.”

Social media merely accelerates this phenomenon.

“What Is LinkedIn?”

Whenever I take a trip out of my “new media” bubble and hang out with old friends from high school, it’s always a humbling experience, for a number of reasons.

One of those is the realization that many of my high school friends (and, by extension, most people in general) don’t care nearly as much about the things I think are really important. Sitting around with a few drinks and some old friends, talks of the recent landmark MySpace litigation did not come up, trying to explain my job as an Online Content Manager ends with a number of polite nods and a change of the subject, and then there’s this…

I had tried to connect with a good friend of mine on LinkedIn a week or so ago, but couldn’t find him. At a friend’s house, I asked him about it.

“What’s LinkedIn?” he said.

What was more interesting was another friend’s quick response.

“It’s like Facebook for resumes.”

More than resumes

Now, in my second friend’s defense, he was quick to add that it’s more about networking than it is about resumes. After having just led a quick tutorial at work for a few of our business development folks and sales people on the value of LinkedIn, I was glad to hear him add that addendum.

In any case, coming home for the holidays can be fun, awkward, surprising, uncomfortable, etc., for any number of reasons. For you “new media” friends of mine, do you have any similar experiences? Do old friends look at you like you have two heads?

Journalism 3G: The Future of Technology in the Field

This two-day conference in Atlanta, Georgia, took place Friday, March 22nd to Saturday, March 23rd. It brought together some extremely bright people doing some fascinating things at the intersection of computation and journalism.

Here are just a few of the examples there I found particularly interesting:

Everyblock – a location-based aggregator of crime statistics, news articles, Craigslist postings, and a ton of other publicly available information sources displayed at the neighborhood level. Everyblock currently operates in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Global Voices – a global network of paid and volunteer bloggers who monitor the blogospheres around the world and report back in English on the site.

Django – an open-sourced Web framework utilized by many news organizations for more robust Web publishing. Lead developer Jacob Kaplan-Moss asserted (and was challenged on it) that with Django, journalists could (and perhaps should) learn enough programming to free them from the time and resource restraints of their newsrooms.

News at Seven – a broadcast-ish production that creates a personalized news piece. Users input a few preferences, and the program pulls a news piece, checks Wikipedia, finds video, images and blog reactions and creates a broadcast reported by avatars.

Facebook’s Social Ads uses the wrong approach

Facebook logoA lot has been said regarding Facebook’s controversial advertising scheme dubbed Social Ads. Here’s my problem with it: it uses its users instead of empowering them.

No way to opt out

One thing I’ve read thus far is that there is no opt out option for the Social Ads program. This fact overlooks another interesting one: there’s no opt in. Why not build the program and ask users if they even want to participate, and then share the revenue with its users.

Now, I’m sure there are a ton of issues with this route as well. But, I think it’s better than what Facebook is doing. What do you think?

Facebook and “maintained social capital” – a study at Michigan State University

Read about an interesting study on Facebook conducted at MSU (thanks to Alec Saunders).

Facebook logoThe group attempted to establish a correlation between different forms of social capital and heavy Facebook usage. To put it simply, social capital is the benefits we gain from being connected. (For an exhaustive study of social capital, read “Bowling Alone” by Putnam). In it Putnam establishes bridging social capital and bonding social capital. Bridging social capital represents the our relationships with acquaintances, whereas bonding social capital describes the close relationships we have with friends and family. The study, however, introduced a new form of social capital: “maintained social capital.”

Maintained Social Capital

Maintained social capital refers to those relationships, and the benefits we derive from them, that we maintain despite having shifted geography, interests or workplaces. In the case of Facebook, they may be the relationships we forged in high school with people who went off to different colleges. The authors of the study write:

Social networks change over time as relationships are formed or abandoned. Particularly significant changes in social networks may affect one’s social capital, as when a person moves from the geographic location in which their network was formed and thus loses access to those social resources.

What makes Facebook, other social networking sites, and the Internet in general so interesting when it comes to social capital, to put it plainly, is its uncanny ability to help people keep in touch. The authors of the study quantified those relationships using survey questions such as, “If I needed to, I could ask a high school acquaintance to do a small favor for me,” or “I’d be able to stay with a high school acquaintance if traveling to a different city.”

Social networking sites solidify our past relationships, and have huge benefits for personal and professional gain. Taken the above example, if you’re traveling to a city where you don’t know anyone, how easy it is to peruse your network of friends on Facebook or MySpace to see if an old friend or acquaintance got a new job there? Perhaps you wouldn’t feel comfortable crashing on their couch, but you might drop them a line to see if they are free for dinner one night.

On the one hand, the Internet is exciting because it’s fast; dynamic. On the other hand, however, it’s also much more stable; permanent.

Interesting stuff…

Medill School of Journalism trains journo-bloggers

I’ve read a couple of articles recently describing blogs as the next prime internet real estate that main stream media companies are gobbling up.

Media companies, in other words, are buying up audiences. This is one way they can compete in the new Web 2.0 arena.

Black Medill LogoHere at Medill, Rich Gordon, who directs New Media studies, has revamped the New Media Storytelling class. Whas was once a crash course in HTML, CSS, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and even a bit of Flash, now involves identifying an audience, setting up a WordPress blog, installing Google analytics and posting daily. They are embracing, it seems, the importance for young journalists to build their own audiences and establish their own brands.

Does anyone else know of other J-schools embarking down the same road?

Here’s a link to the class blog and below are a few of my favorites from the course, which (in full disclosure) I am not enrolled. It appears the class site, as well as the individual student’s blogs, are just getting underway. But definitely interesting.

The Sidewalk – a blog on urban development by Ki Mae Huessner.

Sprockets & Cogs – a “tech-ish” blog by Amy Lee.

My Fare Chicago – a food blog by Kelsey Blackwell (which I’ve always thought was a great idea. You’ve got three posts idea easy, and that’s before snacking!)

The virtue of sticking it out at old (established) media and marketing companies


That’s what Christie Hefner, CEO of Playboy Enterprises, Inc., told a convention of new marketers to do if their aging bosses didn’t “get” social media last week at the Forrester Consumer Forum on social media and branding in Chicago.

Get your resume out on the street, she advised.

If they haven’t seen the writing on the wall yet, you won’t be able to change their mind.

Her remark drew a laugh, and the lively room of new media advertisers and marketers (with titles such as “digital strategist” and “engagement officer”) smiled at each other in the confidence that they “get it.” But here’s why they were wrong.

If a CEO or aging marketing exec doesn’t “get it,” they’re probably on the way out

After Hefner finished her speech I spoke with a couple of account directors from Whittmanhart in Chicago. Hefner’s main point, they noted, makes sense given her position: don’t align yourselves with those who shun social media. But it doesn’t necessarily hold true for young hires.

Trusted brands don’t sprout overnight. From a media perspective, magazines are a perfect example. While plenty of them are struggling with their print editions, it may make sense to stick with them. After those aging marketing executives take their leave, it may prove easier to open up their brand and their platform than to establish brand equity in a startup from scratch..

My favorite example is Ebony, which has struggled to define itself online. But what brand has more equity than Ebony? For those wishing their companies would “embrace social media,” moving to a startup or latching onto something less-established might provide short term relief, but sticking it out could pay off in other ways.

 Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research Inc.