Certainly if you’re going to use “social media” you can understand the need to share personal information with the people you select to have access. It’s not social unless you do some amount of sharing. Yet it’s reasonable for people to express concern when their private information such as location, lists of friends or browsing habits become visible to their friends, or worse, friends of friends without their expressed permission. Sometimes this happens when people don’t really understand how to use the available privacy settings on the services they use. Sometimes the services themselves are sending more personal information than they admit or knew. Lastly, applications such as games or services that work on the social platform can also abuse their permissions and share your data inappropriately.
Consumers are becoming more aware and more concerned about the potential for abuse of private data. It may cause you to remove your social media account; to restrict access to your posts and photos to a strict list of friends; and to remove apps from your account all in an effort to regain some semblance of control.
It’s been my impression that consumer and privacy advocates in Europe have been ahead of the game, at least in recognizing some of issues and demanding changes from several online players. There was the mapping software effort that retained private WiFi information, resulting in a storm of privacy-related outrage and several lawsuits. More recently, a major social network agreed to adjust how their photo recognition data would be used for Europe.
Now, the Federal Trade Commission is viewing some data collection abuses by children’s marketers with alarm. We’ve long had COPPA, a law designed to protect children from having their private information gathered without parental approval. As a result, websites designed to be used by children will often require the child to provide a parent’s email to gain authorization before they can proceed with creating an account. The workaround practiced by some vendors is to offer games and promotions on these websites where children are encouraged to upload personal photos and provide the email addresses of their friends. While technically legal, these actions cause alarm to many parents who might not have realized what was going on.
Closer to home, at least my home in California, Governor Brown has signed two online privacy bills. One is to protect students from invasions of online privacy by university officials. The second is to prevent employers from requiring applicants to submit their online usernames and passwords to their social media accounts. Both bills take effect January 1. In a perfect world, neither would be required at all.