One of the lessons that seems hardest for people to learn about social media sites is that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites — from dating sites like Match.com to online communities for people with specific diseases like RA.com — aren’t our friends. They’re businesses, and what’s in their best interest doesn’t necessarily align with the best interests of their customers.
That message was brought home loud and clear last week when the California Senate said no to an online privacy bill after lobbyists from Skype. Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, eHarmony, and Match.com banded together to argue against it. The bill, sponsored by Senator Ellen Corbett would have allowed parents to edit postings by minors, and require websites to quickly remove information about adults when requested.
When it comes to privacy, the social media sites nearly always have an agenda different from their customers. For instance, it might be in a consumer’s best interest to require a court order before handing over passwords and messages on a profile hidden behind Facebook privacy settings to an insurance company, a spouse filing for divorce, or a government agency. But Facebook is like most social media sites when it comes to legal requests for data. They don’t fight subpoenas, and don’t notify customers before delivering data with or without a court order except in states that require advance notice for civil subpoenas. (For obvious reasons, no notice is provided in the event of a criminal subpoena.)
Time Magazine Techland columnist Allie Townsend published a pointed and blunt article last week that reminded her readers of the fact that businesses want private data in order to attract advertisers. They aren’t inherently evil for turning over private data when legally asked to do so — they’re just businesses minimizing their own legal liability and risk by handing it over.
I won’t attempt to re-state Ms. Townsend’s points, but it’s a good idea for all of us to remember three things before we post on a blog, web forum, or social media site.
- Google never forgets. Long after you’ve forgotten what you wrote — and even long after it’s been deleted — the search engines can (and do) find it and link it back to you in surprising ways.
- What you say online, even in a private email, a private message, a direct message, or a post to a profile marked “friends only” or “private” can be used against you in court proceedings.
- If you don’t want it made public, don’t put it on the Internet.