Sunday, January 30, 2011

Plea for Social Privacy Falls on Deaf Ears

It would be understandable for the executive team at social network has-been MySpace to wonder what they did to garner such bad karma.

For starters, their strategy to position the community as a "social entertainment" site (rather than squaring off with Facebook) has been greeted by stagnant membership and declining site traffic.  Then earlier this month, the News Corporation property slashed nearly half of its workforce by shedding 500 employees.

And now comes the lawsuit.  No...not disgruntled former workers or spurned business partners.  This legal action was brought by a convicted sex offender challenging MySpace for their adherence to a warrant signed by the magistrate in Cherokee County, Georgia.

I encourage you to read this article in AdWeek for the specifics of the complaint.  My reaction is to encourage Cory Hubbard, the 34-year-old plaintiff, to focus his time in prison on how to eliminate his desire to prey upon underage girls. 

Image courtesy of Media Bistro
However, Hubbard's contention that MySpace violated federal Internet privacy and wiretapping laws raises an important question -- what expectation of privacy should we have as users when participating in social networks and online communities?

I believe the answer is none.  First off, I agree 100 percent with the Cherokee County District Attorney who compared user content uploaded to a social network to a diary author who willingly hands over their writings to a third-party, who then gives it to law enforcement.  There is no Fourth Amendment violation.

Moreover, it should be well understood by users that social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. are commercial ventures with business models focused on generating advertising revenue. 

As such, they track user activity, behavior and preferences to serve the needs of their customers -- the organizations that view online communities as a targeted promotional vehicle.

I recognize this big brother-ish monitoring may be unacceptable to some.  There's a simple solution.  Sign off Facebook and connect with your friends in an old-fashioned way.

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