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?