With the increasing popularity of social networks like Facebook and MySpace, and the incessant use of Google and other search engines, web companies are starting to amass an enormous amount of data about individuals and their behaviors. This is why Facebook changing their privacy terms is an interesting event. This is definitely not the first time they have changed their privacy settings–and each time they change them, it causes a minor uproar. From the last fiasco with the terms, I think Facebook and the web community have learned that openness is a premium in a company-client relationship.Web companies should be very clear about how they use their data, especially when they have so much of it.
The question that arises here is this: What is the responsibility (if there is any) of these web companies towards their users? I think the answer is that a web company like Facebook or Google takes on a great responsibility with its popularity. Because they are so prevalent in our daily use, they are at the limelight of these privacy debates–and they do have a responsibility to be forward and honest. Deception is probably the worst thing a company like this could do–espousing a great policy but privately acting differently. For example, Facebook says a lot about the way that it approaches privacy by the way that it chooses default settings. Since many users do not edit the default privacy settings or go out of their way to set up limited profile lists, the defaults are the settings that most users have. Many of the defaults now share more information than people would like, and also bombard your inbox with pointless app invitations. Facebook should alter the defaults to a reasonable level–where people are not silently sharing their information with the world without their knowing. A reasonable policy would not keep all of their users’ information forever, even when they terminate accounts.
When you talk about Google and privacy, it is amazing how much data they amass just by the fact that people use it so much. They know what you search, when you search it, who you are, what you click, where you live, among other things. And when I say this, I realize that the reason that they know so much is because they provide many useful and popular services, and because of that are able to gain this information. But that also means that Google should be more proactive in terms of privacy and user information.
Likewise credit card companies have a crazy amount of information about what you buy, when you buy it, and who you are and all of your behaviors to the point where it is scary. So should we be afraid of these mammoth companies and what they know about us? That is a difficult question to answer, and I would like to think no. This answer, however, depends on these companies maintaining the faith of their customers by continually being open and pushing privacy measures and not abusing the information they have.
My overall point is that web companies now have an absurd amount of information about our daily lives and habits, and have a great responsibility of maintaining open lines of communication and trust with their customers. This means that privacy policies should be simple–simple enough to read and understand, not convoluted legal jargon. People aren’t reading terms of service agreements, and a company that knows this should not take advantage of it. Companies should have a reasonable policy of trust with its clients, and users also have the responsibility to be aware of their web presence. So is there any privacy on the internet? In a certain way, no–but if we can trust the major sites we use, that would be an important step.