This article was published 14 years ago

Privacy should not die

Former Sun CEO Scott McNealy vocally proclaimed that privacy is dead and we need to get over it; however two events last week – one involving the display of users’ credit cards – demonstrates that many companies are ignoring the privacy of users and that users still value that right.

When an idea surfaced about a social networking site that lets users voluntarily announce how much money they spent at a local Starbucks by swiping their credit card, three thoughts should come to mind: This is every marketers wet-dream fantasy; users’ that voluntarily announce their purchases want the world to see their huge, inflated ego; as well as their earning potential; and users’ credit card numbers could be revealed on the Internet by someone screwing up.

The later part happened over the weekend when the social-sharing purchasing site, Blippy, accidentally allowed credit cards numbers to be indexed by Google. Only four card numbers were revealed without the expiration date and the card verification number that are located on the back of the card. The company is working with Google to make sure all card numbers are removed from the search query.

Hopefully Bippy is working with other search engines to make sure their queries don’t contain credit card numbers as well – some people do use Yahoo! and Bing as their default search engine.

While the incident is not on the same level of security breaches as the T.J. Maxx incident in 2007 or the Heartland Payment Systems breach in 2009; it does raise awareness about how much data companies have about our lives and how the data collected should be protected or pass along to other companies – even if we voluntarily allow private information to be public.

What Blippy will – hopefully – learn from this mistake, Facebook continues not to learn for previous mistakes and ignore the demands from users to protect their privacy.

The newest Facebook privacy scandal involves the “Instant Personalization” feature. It’s difficult to describe the new feature but Liz Gannes of GigaOM describes the feature better than I can.

“Instant personalization means that if you show up to the Internet radio site Pandora for the first time, it will now be able to look directly at your Facebook profile and use public information — name, profile picture, gender and connections, plus anything else you’ve made public — to give you a personalized experience.”

Think of it as a way to see what your friends wrote about a restaurant or interest in music tastes when you log on to Yelp or Pandora Internet radio.

Why Facebook engineers chose the name “Instant Personalization” instead of Beacon 2.0 will keep many people awake for several nights.

What Facebook keeps forgetting about their user base is that the users are very sensitive, and the tiniest-amount to change to the social network can quickly turn into firestorm of protests. Anything Facebook does – redesign the website or adding new features – the user base turns to a mob-like mentality.

Why are they upset are the privacy settings for the new “Instant Personalization(Beacon 2.0)” feature – you join a group about cooking or a website about cooking for beginners; everybody in that group can see your privately-marked profile, including your photos.

While joining a group about cooking won’t get you in trouble; groups like “Americans for health care reform” or “Obama is a Socialist” might get you terminate for your job or possible ruin your career – especially if you’re a journalist or media personality.

The Facebook mob-mentally user base are also upset at the complexity of removing the new “instant” feature off of their profile – involving un-selecting the feature and the sites that uses it – like ABC News or CNN.
A simple opt-out feature would have been sufficient for the user base but when your company is setting on a gold mine of a potential new revenue stream, users’ voices do not count.

Both examples are the perfect reasons why privacy still matters – even in the online world. One company will learn from their mistakes while the other will not and continue on as if their mistake never happened.

Everyone should value their privacy to the highest setting allowed because sharing everything about your life has its’ advantages.

Until something comes out that wasn’t suppose to and destroys your life.

Repairing your life is very difficult- if not, impossible – ask Gary Powell.