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Privacy, Google, and Facebook: chill!

Okay, privacy is an ongoing concern for all of us, it's a real thing. However, there're a lot of bogus headlines regarding online privacy, and I figure some perspective is good.

Most of the panic regards Google and Facebook, and almost all of it is faked, from parties who're looking for headlines or people who don't understand tech, and panicked. Let's just say very little factchecking was done.

There are real concerns, including the occasional bug or questionable decision, but both companies try hard to do the right thing. They consider what's the right thing for their communities in their decision making, which is an unusual business practice. Maybe the big difference is that Facebook takes a Millennial view of privacy (per Zuckerberg) and that Google has a more traditional perspective (as do I; we're old).

In particular, neither company sells your personal data. There're a lot of companies who do that kind of thing, like banks.  (That's one reason we need a serious Consumer Financial Privacy Board.)

The deal with both companies is that they offer us services in return for the privilege of targeting ads to us individually.  That can be done without disclosing personal info to advertisers.

It's a deal I'm okay with.

Both companies might share some blame for some of the panic around their privacy policies, since they frequently do a really bad job discussing those policies. However, almost all the problems you hear about are, at best, greatly exaggerated.

The solution requires some quiet industry action, and I'm doing what I can.

Normally, I'd conclude with "more later"… but sometimes, I get more done while keeping my mouth shut, publicly.

5 Responses »

5 Responses to Privacy, Google, and Facebook: chill!

Paula Andrea Gean says:

Well said. There's an unwarranted amount of fear and speculation of these two conglomerates' privacy practices. The most exaggerated story was the one about prospective employers' ability to see candidate's fbook or google profiles. They are unable to see those profiles UNLESS they are directly linked (as a "friend" or in a "circle") to the candidate in question, or the prospect has allowed his page/information to be viewed by the public.

Rick Thomchick says:

Craig, thank you so much for bringing up this issue. I know privacy policies are generally heinous, but agree that we need to chill because these companies do care about the privacy of their users. I had the honor of interviewing Adam Langley along with security experts from Facebook, Twitter and PayPal as part of a white paper I wrote on Always On SSL for the Online Trust Alliance. I learned that Facebook is very concerned about the safety of political activists in North Africa, and Google has walked the gauntlet with the SEO community for encrypting search queries for logged in users. Twitter is also determined to stop the account hijacking antics and PayPal's privacy/security controls are probably the best in the industry. I have a much deeper respect for these companies now, and a more balanced view of the challenges that social media companies face in this regard.

Personally, the issue to me is about business practices vs. security practices, and I think there is great need for separation of duties between the two. Security and privacy decisions should never be made for the convenience of the business … that kind of thinking is what led to the Diginotar and Commodo breaches in 2011, and it has eroded the public trust. It's also worth noting that neither Facebook nor Google generally have your SS# or credit card number, nor have they engaged in the kind of inexcusable negligence that led to the huge breach at ChoicePoint (a data "aggregator" for those that don't know) in 2004-2005.

Sam White says:

Great post!
It's also important to note that most privacy advocates ignore the fact that targeted ads are more desirable than non-targeted ads for the end user. Most marketing campaigns are massive old media ventures that take a one size fits all approach. The ads I have to look at ever day, whether in my local newspaper or on television, are usually irrelevant to me. Targeted advertising matches a users tastes to a product they might like. As long as the product is real, I see that as a net benefit. I'd much rather see advertisements for really nice teas I might buy than ads for sugary sodas I'm trying to avoid.

larryr says:

So Craig
WHEN do they become the BANKS?
When did the lovable / earnest George Bailey become the Citibank and etc who foreclosed on so many of America's Homeowners and created 30% credit cards?
"Fool me Once…"
Some learned other things from Star Trek rather then just what tech to make;)
lr