In the latest revelation in a seemingly never ending stream of privacy breaches by online companies, we now know that Facebook and MySpace have been sending consumers’ personal information to advertisers despite promises that they don’t share such data without consent.
And Google, already scrambling with its own all-hands-on-deck response to its WiSpy gaffe, is peripherally implicated in the social networking privacy fiasco. The Internet giant’s DoubleClick and Yahoo!’s Right Media ad networks were among those on the receiving end of the ill-gotten data from the social networking sites.
Both companies stress that although they got the information, they did not use it. But given Google’s WiSpy stumble don’t be surprised if many folks say, “Really? Why should we believe you?” Remember with WiSpy the Internet giant first said it wasn’t gathering communications from WiFi networks, then flip-flopped and admitted it had made a “mistake” and actually was doing so.
The Wall Street Journal broke the social network story Thursday evening based on research by Harvard Prof. Ben Edelman. Coincidentally Edelman met over breakfast with my colleague Jamie Court and me Thursday morning to discuss our mutual concerns about online privacy and other Internet abuses.
Edelman briefed us on his findings about Facebook and we encouraged him to file a letter asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. He came back to the Consumer Watchdog office and wrote.
What conclusions can we draw from this string of privacy intrusions?
I ‘d say these constant gaffes demonstrate a Silicon Valley mindset all too common among computer engineers: Push the envelope; gather as much data as you can. Don’t ask permission; you can always ask forgiveness.
That may have been excusable when these were cute, cuddly start-ups in garages and dorm rooms. But those days over. They are now global giants.
It’s time Google and Facebook grew up and started to act responsibly. Where’s the adult leadership when we need it?