Privacy in Social Media – The Next Hot Button Issue?

In case anyone missed it, on Tuesday of last week the FTC settled their eight-count complaint against Facebook alleging they “misled users about the use of their personal information.” Essentially the FTC was claiming that Facebook had knowingly made changes to their privacy settings in December of 2009 that automatically made aspects of user’s profiles public by default without their permission.

At issue is the inability for Facebook users to have control over who sees their private information (name, picture, city, gender, friends, etc.) and who doesn’t. Twitter has also been a Target of the FTC, and settled a similar case back in June of 2010 for failing to safeguard user information.  

The FTC investigation centered on Facebook and Twitter’s inability to obtain user approval before changes in the way personal data is shared, which is why they put pressure on the social behemoths to tighten their data security belt with their investigations.

When was the last time that you typed in personal information to a Web site without either reading their policies (if one exists) or understanding their consequences if loosely defined? Do you know what your rights are when it comes to social portals sharing your personal information or making it public to advertisers, marketers, or sales departments? I’d venture to guess that most people don’t know what their rights are or understand the amount of money that these groups will offer to know more about you and your consumer habits.

The Information Age is big business for data miners and companies will stop at nothing to better customize ads that reach their target demographics. As society increasingly becomes more fragmented in our consumer tastes, beliefs and habits, (Seth Godin’s book “We Are All Weird should help explain that point better than I) the control of personal information in the social media digital age is sure to become a hot button issue, at least one that all of us as consumers should be concerned about. Privacy is a growing concern globally as more and more people share personal information without a clear understanding if it really is safe.

Ever since the beginning of the social media explosion there has been growing concern about how user data was stored and shared. Cases like these are stark reminders of just how much of an impact a single Facebook posting can have when information falls into the wrong hands. Facebook also saw a tremendous outcry from privacy advocates over their facial recognition photo tagging software upgrade this year which purportedly opens the door to identity theft by allowing tagging without a user’s consent if they haven’t upgraded their privacy settings.

The fact is that Twitter, Facebook and other large social media data repositories should be held accountable for their actions and assume a higher level of responsibility to protect our personal data. The FTC’s recent settlement is a reminder that the fight for access and protection to personal information will be staunchly fought by privacy advocates and social media titans for years to come. Don’t forget that a lion’s share of Facebook’s revenues comes from those with profiles, which includes me and probably you. Big money.

Will 2012 be the year that we see privacy legislation pass in large measures to appease consumers/ voters heading to the polls in November? What other social media sites are not protecting our personal information from companies seeking to obtain it? Just how bad is the problem anyway? How will biometric platforms like facial recognition be used to identify us even if we don’t wish to be found and what impact will this have on our privacy rights? Many more questions need to be answered so pay attention to the unfolding issue because its sure to get increased attention as more and more people use social media on a regular basis.

FYI – Click on this link from the FTC if you are interested in reviewing the proper steps to store and dispose of consumer personal information.

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