One of the benefits of the Facebook Beacon affair is that it has made many more people aware of the open nature with which so much data is exchanged on the Internet and the World Wide Web.
I’m not excusing Facebook; companies need to be honest with their customers. But I do think that many of the comments I have read in the blogosphere tend to be rather naive. Personal data is bought and sold every day, on and off the web. Web surfing data is tracked religiously by for profit, nonprofit, as well as private sources. People allow “cookies” to be placed on their computers either unknowingly or to simplify their web surfing experience.
Let’s face it; when you connect to the web, you are making a public statement that you are willing to give up some of your privacy. The question is what people will do about it. The first thing is, get educated. Perhaps we should be teaching our children how to encrypt files. At minimum, it seems to me, we all need to become more knowledgeable about managing our own “online identities.”
So far we have seen a reluctance on the part of online vendors and institutions to tell us exactly what they are doing with the data they collect about our online behavior. For example, try finding out the details of what Google actually does with all the data it collects about you once you agree to their privacy statements.
What originally interested me in this topic was the fact that people are buying and selling personal data without compensating the people whose data is generating the value. That’s probably a minority view. Right now I would be much happier if the privacy statements online vendors and sites publish were more meaningful to me personally by telling me what they know and who, specifically, they exchange that data with. Are they required to do that legally? Probably not.
Would it hurt them if they did so? I don’t know. I’m still amazed at how little people really care about issues such as Facebook Beacon when you move away from technically literate groups into the mainstream, and I don’t think that indifference is going to change overnight. With so many other critical social issues to worry about, that’s probably not surprising.