Dec 28, 2009

Why Social Networks Only Pretend To Protect You

Editor’s note: The following guest post was written by Rohit Khare, the co-founder of Angstro. Building his latest project, social address book, gives him a deep familiarity with the privacy policies of all the major social networks.

I’d be wishing everyone a happier New Year if it were easier to mail out greeting cards to friends on Facebook and colleagues on LinkedIn. I’d like to use, our free, real-time social address book, but their ‘privacy’ policies prevent us from downloading contact information, even for my own friends.

At least those Terms of Service (ToS) that force us to copy addresses and phone numbers one-by-one also prevent scoundrels from stealing our identity; reselling our friends to marketers; and linking our life online to the real world. Right?

Wrong. When RockYou can stash 32 million passwords in the clear; when RapLeaf can index 600 million email accounts; and when Intelius can go public by buying 100 million profile pages; then our social networks have traded away our privacy for mere “privacy theater.”

With apologies to Bruce Schneier’s brilliant coinage, “security theater” (e.g. the magical thinking behind forcing passengers to sit down and shut up for the last hour of international flights), social networks have been dogged by one disaster after another in 2009 because they pursue policies that provide the “feeling of improved privacy while doing little or nothing to actually improve privacy.”

As long as the same information that social networks piously prohibit their own customers from using is being bought and sold on the open market by giant marketing companies, social networks are only pretending to protect your privacy.

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