Shame on LinkedIn; Don’t You Dare Put Me In Your Ads

August 16, 2011

100 million LinkedIn users may be in for a nasty surprise. Last week the company stealth added a feature to use your name and photo in advertising campaigns – and the company has set all users to accepting this abuse by default. This invasive feature came without any notice and it is a classic example of the really shoddy business practices that treat users with disregard.

Where was the announcement on user’s home pages informing you of the change and your choices? 

In one fell swoop LinkedIn joined the ilk of  Companies that change their terms of use and privacy policies without notice, add features that impact your privacy, security or safety without notice, that default (or later change) your settings to public.

These companies knowingly exploit you and your information for their next buck, and if this is what the company’s recent IPO represents, it will be time to dump the company.

Discovering how to opt out is ridiculously convoluted.

Not only does LinkedIn default you into their ad scheme without notice, opting out isn’t intuitive. To remove yourself from involuntarily becoming part of an advertisement take the following steps:

  1. Click on your name to see the dropdown with Settings
  2. Click on the Account option
  3. Select Manage Social Advertising
  4. Uncheck the box saying LinkedIn can use your name and photo in social advertising

Companies that respect their consumers work hard to give you full control over the information they collect and store about you. They are respectful of how they share any information about you and selective in choosing the companies with whom they share your information.

Respectful companies make it easy to understand their privacy policies and terms of use, notify you in advance of any significant changes to their terms or services, make it easy for you to remove your information from their sites and put strong measures in place to secure your data. Learn more about how respectful companies behave in my blogs Your Internet Safety and Privacy Rights – Standards for Respectful Companies, Privacy Policy Changes – Some Companies Get Notification Right, and Kudos to Groupon for Notifying Consumers of Privacy Changes – and Doing so in Advance of Rollout.

Right now, the public remains a sleeping giant, but naptime is over.

If you want a better internet experience, if you want to be respected, protected, secure and in control online it will only come by rewarding companies that do the right thing and letting companies disrespect you know you’re angry.

Trampling consumer privacy once is all any company should be able to get away with. If LinkedIn pulls a second stunt like this it will be time to dump the company – they will quickly figure out what that does to their IPO.

STORY UPDATE: LinkedIn responds to privacy uproar: LinkedIn is scaling back the level of detail it provides in its “social ads,” which showed if members in a users’ network followed certain products or services. In a blog post Thursday, produce management director Ryan Roslansky said that the company will now list how many members in a person’s network are following an advertised product instead of using individual profile pictures.

Chalk up one for the users – it’s not a perfect response, but certainly better than the full exploitation.

Linda


Kudos to Groupon for Notifying Consumers of Privacy Changes – and Doing so in Advance of Rollout

July 17, 2011

Defying the prevailing practice of steadily eroding user’s privacy and doing so without so much as a warning, Groupon has sent users a clear advance notice of pending changes and encourages users to read them.

And (Gasp!) Groupon is actually strengthening their privacy commitment to consumers, giving users more control over their privacy settings, and making their policy easier to understand.

It is a sad reflection on the internet industry that the respect Groupon shows their consumers is noteworthy, and it highlights a very clear gap that consumers generally have failed to appreciate.

There are two types of internet companies – those that respect you, and those that don’t.

Companies that respect their consumers work hard to give you full control over the information they collect and store about you. They are respectful of how they share any information about you and selective in choosing the companies with whom they share your information.

Respectful companies make it easy to understand their privacy policies and terms of use, notify you in advance of any significant changes to their terms or services, make it easy for you to remove your information from their sites and put strong measures in place to secure your data. Learn more about how respectful companies behave in my blogs Your Internet Safety and Privacy Rights – Standards for Respectful Companies, and Privacy Policy Changes – Some Companies Get Notification Right.

Conversely, companies that change their terms of use and privacy policies without notice, add features that impact your privacy, security or safety without notice, that default (or later change) your settings to public, or are careless in their protection of your information, show their true colors[i].  These companies often find themselves in the crosshairs by privacy advocates, the FTC, and even Congress.  These companies knowingly exploit you and your information for their next buck.

Why use a company or service that doesn’t respect you?

Figuring out which companies respect your privacy, security, and safety isn’t rocket science – my bet is you’ll know within 5 seconds of apply some basic criteria to sort the companies you use into respectful vs. disrespectful buckets.

Why use a company that doesn’t put you, the customer, first when respectful companies can be found in every category of online service? Though they may not be the most popular choice today, you have the power to change that.

If enough people ask themselves why they’re staying in an abusive relationship with a company that doesn’t put them first two things will happen. The most popular companies will quickly become the ones that put users first, and disrespectful companies will quickly change their tune and show greater respect in order to avoid collapse.

Understand the power you command in the internet economy.

What value does a social network, a search engine, a dating site, a shopping site, a gaming site, etc., have if it has no users? None, zip, zero, nada.  To understand this, look at the fate of MySpace. The once “unbeatable” social network bought by News Corp. for $580 million in 2005, was dumped last week for $35 million because most users left.

In no other venue do consumers wield as much power as on the internet because in the internet’s business model you, the consumer, are the core commodity. Without consumers there are no advertisers. No shoppers. No information exchanges. No matter the current size of an internet company, if users leave the company is effectively dead.

Right now, the public remains a sleeping giant, but naptime is over.

If you want a better internet experience, if you want to be respected, protected, secure and in control online it will only come by rewarding companies that do the right thing. Make a commitment to only use companies that treat you as the valuable commodity you are, with the respect you deserve, with the controls in your hands (not theirs), and shun sites that fail to measure up.

Make companies earn your business. If even 5% of internet users demanded respect, the internet world would stand on its head to provide it.  The power is in your hands, which sites will you use?

Linda


[i] Note: Not all companies who are hacked have been careless with your information, but when a company like Sony stores information like your passwords in clear text (unencrypted) it represents a shoddy disregard for consumer safety.


Facebook Rolls out New Feature – Using Same Old Tactics

June 19, 2011

“We should have been more clear” Says Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes, responding to criticism about the deployment of the company’s new feature called Tag Suggestions without first notifying the users. Tag Suggestions is a facial recognition feature that allows users to identify an individual across multiple photos.

Sure you can turn off this feature, but it’s on by default.  The defense seems to be “if you don’t like it you can turn if off”, but that’s really the whole point. Users should not have to find a feature they don’t know exists to turn it off – after the feature has already rolled out and their images possibly tagged.

The Facebook apology (“we should have been more clear”) rings particularly hollow as this follows a long history of implement first; weather the protests; sound contrite but don’t change anything; wait for people to give up fighting it – and if that doesn’t work, reluctantly pull back.

Remember Beacon? This ‘feature’, launched in late 2008 took details about purchases a user made and by default shared that information making it visible to all their friends. Under extreme pressure Facebook finally made it optional then, nearly a year after its launch, they were forced to close it entirely after they lost a class-action lawsuit by furious users.

Facebook Privacy Settings. Can you say oxymoron? At least once a year Facebook ‘updates’ it’s privacy settings to expose more of your information than ever before. You can see this clear erosion in a blog posted in April 2010 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation titled Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline. These updates usually come after tremendous consumer protest and investigations by government bodies in the U.S. and abroad (you can thank the Canadian Privacy Minister and the EU for some of the restraints Facebook has had to bow to)

In fact, it was only a year ago that we heard nearly the same apology over another set of privacy encroachments, when Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s said, in what might have been one of the biggest understatement of 2010″We just missed the mark”. That statement, and this week’s “we should have been more clear” are non-apologies. As Peter Kafka commented on the 2010 incident “After weeks of noisy complaints about Facebook’s newest privacy issues, Mark Zuckerberg used an op-ed in the Washington Post to reverse course and beg his users for forgiveness. Hah! Not really. Zuckerberg’s 528-word memo might seem contrite, but only if you skim quickly. Read closely and you’ll see that it’s a classic nonapology–he’s sorry that Facebook “move[d] too fast.”

What’s really at stake here is money.  Every single piece of information about you has financial value. Too many consumers think that using a company’s “free” services is free. They aren’t. It just means the company makes money in some other fashion.  Facebook (like other ‘free’ companies) makes money by advertising. The way they attract advertisers is by providing advertisers as much information as possible about you so they can target the most relevant market segments.  This means collecting as much information as they can about you = more money.  Given this financial model, Facebook’s intrusion of consumers’ privacy is no accident; it’s the key to their financial growth. If you look on Facebook’s advertising page you’ll see this clearly spelled out:

I am not opposed to companies making money. I am opposed to them doing so using information they did not give consumers a full understanding of how it would be used, or giving consumers the notice and ability to block the collection of new types of information IN ADVANCE of rolling out new privacy encroachments.  That’s just unethical.

Facebook has learned over their long history of introducing new features without informing users that in most cases, memories are short. After the initial furor subsides users accept the new settings. It was for just this type of behavior that the moral of the frog placed in warm water, vs. the frog placed in boiling water was created.  Letting encroachment occur incrementally because you are too complacent to address each new infringement allows Facebook to take every last shred of your privacy.

As users you need to demand rights or you won’t have any. It is for this reason  I periodically publish your ‘bill of rights’ as internet users:

Consumer Internet Safety and Privacy Rights – A Standard for Respectful Companies

ALL Internet users have the expectation of a safe Internet experience, and respectful companies strive to provide quality safety and privacy options that are easily discovered and used by consumers.  Your safety and privacy, as well as the safety and privacy of your family on the Internet should be core elements of online product and service design.

In a nutshell, online consumers should demand these rights (I’ve highlighted the ones specifically relevant to this incident):

  1. Establishing safety and privacy settings should be an element in the registration, or activation of a specific feature’s, process.  This includes informing you in easily understood language about the potential consequences of your choices. This allows, and requires, you to make your own choices, rather than being pushed into hidden, default settings. 
  2. During the registration or activation process, articles of the terms and conditions, and privacy policy, that might affect your privacy or safety, or that of a minor in your care, should be presented to you in easy to understand language, not in a long, complicated legal document in small font.  
  3. You should expect complete, easily understood information and age appropriate recommendations about every safety and privacy feature in a product or service.
  4. You should expect to easily report abuse of the products or abuse through the products of you or someone in your care.
  5. You should expect a notice or alert if a significant safety or privacy risk is discovered in an online product or service you or someone in your care is using.
  6. The provider needs to publish on a regular basis statistics demonstrating how well the company enforces its policies.  Such statistics should include; the number and types of abuse reports, number of investigations conducted, and number and type of corrective actions taken by the provider.
  7. When services or products are upgraded, you have the right to be informed of new features or changes to existing features and their impact on your – or your child’s – safety or privacy in advance of the rollout. 
  8. When the terms of use or privacy policy of any provider are about to change, you have the right to be informed in advance of the changes and their impact on your – or your child’s – safety and privacy.
  9. When a provider informs you of changes to their features, privacy policy, or terms and conditions, they should provide you with a clearly discoverable, way to either opt out, or block the change, or to terminate your account.  
  10. When terminating an account, your provider should enable you to remove permanently and completely all of your personal information, posts, photos, and any other personal content you may have provided or uploaded, or that has been collected by the provider about you.

 To disable Facebook’s tagging feature:

Go to your Facebook Privacy Settings, under the Account menu

  1. Click “Customize Settings.”
  2. Under the heading “Things Others Share,” click on Edit Settings next to “Suggest photos of me to friends.”
  3. Switch the “Enabled” menu to “Disabled” and click “Okay.”

Facebook Basics

February 28, 2011

I still get a lot of basic usage questions from users about Facebook, so if you have questions, there’s a great Facebook 101 guide brought to you by the Goodwill Community Foundation, LearnFree.org.

This material provides clear answers to common questions about usage, privacy, safety, and, should you choose to stop using the service, deactivation. Much of the guide is done through interactive screens that let you discover the different elements and learn more about each.

If you have questions, this is a great starting point to look for answers.

Linda


If it’s Personal, or Controversial, Don’t Post it on Twitter

November 28, 2010

In an interview for Forbes.com, Linda Criddle, President LOOKBOTHWAYS and the Safe Internet Alliance outlined the most common mistakes consumers make when posting comments on Twitter.

To read the full article, click here. Read on for an excerpt of Linda’s comments.

Posting on Twitter requires even less time–and therefore, thought–than the average Facebook post. “People say, ‘I’m stuck in traffic,’ or ‘I’m at the mall, saw a great discount,'” says Criddle. “If I look at someone’s Twitter history over time, I’ll notice things like that they tweet from the same Starbucks ( SBUXnews - people ) every morning. People give away their daily routines, and that allows me to impersonate you, or ‘coincidentally’ meet you.”

What to do when meeting people in person. Criddle advises Twitter friends meeting in person for the first time to insist upon doing so in a public place. Guarding emotions is important, too. In addition to allowing crooks to feign empathy and build trust with victims, letting people know how you feel can put you at risk for emotional abuse and cyber-bullying, she warns.

Poorly thought-out social media posts can also ruin careers and destroy reputations. “There was the Obama speechwriter who put up the picture of himself groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton,” says Criddle. Tweeters and other social network users may also encounter malicious situations where someone else is deliberately trying to tear another person down, and there are unwitting attacks; a friend tweets something that gets you into hot water.”

To read the full article, click here


C’mon! Match Terms of Use Text to Users’ Comprehension Level

November 4, 2010

When users register on a website, they are obligated to adhere to the site’s Terms of Use [i], but how realistic is this obligation when users can’t understand the Terms? It would see the notion that Terms of Use should be written in language accessible to a site’s target audience is a concept sorely lacking in many company’s considerations.

To show how inaccessible the content in Terms of Use are, I ran several through a readability index – which is designed to gauge how easy a text is to read and calculates an estimate of the  (U.S.) grade level needed to fully comprehend the text. (I chose the Flesch-Kincaid Grade level model for this comparison.)

It doesn’t require a lot of thought to see how far out of end-user comprehension many of these Terms of Use actually are. To fully understand the iPhone App store’s or MTV’s Terms, a user needs a PhD – yet their target audience is teens. And little kids don’t stand a chance – they need to be in college before they’ll be able to grasp the Terms imposed by Club Penguin or NeoPets.

Comprehension level required to understand the Terms of Use for common adult sites:
  • Bank of America  – requires a college graduate’s reading comprehension level (Grade17)
  • Amazon – requires a third year college student’s reading comprehension level (Grade15)
  • New York Times  – requires a first year college student’s reading comprehension level (Grade13)
  • Twitter – requires a third year college student’s reading comprehension level (Grade15)
Comprehension level required to understand the Terms of Use for common teen sites:
  • iPhone App Store – requires a PhD’s reading comprehension level (Grade20)
  • MTV – requires a PhD’s reading comprehension level (Grade21)
  • Facebook  -requires an high school junior’s reading comprehension level (Grade 11)
Comprehension level required to understand the Terms of Use for common kids sites:
  • Club Penguin – requires a first year college student’s reading comprehension level (Grade13)
  • NeoPets – requires a first year college student’s reading comprehension level (Grade13)
  • Webkinz – requires a high school senior’s reading comprehension level (Grade 12)

If we want users to improve their behavior and be better digital citizens, it wouldn’t hurt to explain their obligations in terms they can grasp.

Linda


 

[i] For more information on consumers’ obligations, see my blog Website’s Rights and Responsibilities – They are Far More Than ‘Fine Print’)


Racism Online – How Comments Create a Dilemma for Mainstream Websites

October 21, 2010

Internet anonymity is a critical element in allowing people to retain their privacy for a wide spectrum of legitimate and honorable reasons.

Unfortunately, anonymity is also used as a blanket covering cowards who want to lash out while hiding from their actions; the racists, sexists, ageists, the religiously intolerant, the homophobes, the cyberbullies, cyberstalkers, cyber trolls, and every other miserable crank that wants to be mean without facing the consequences.

The Washington Post just posted an excellent article written by Jesse Washington of the Associated Press titled Racist messages pose quandary for mainstream sites that tackles the issues online news sites, and other web properties face when allowing readers to post comments on their sites.

In the article, Washington dives straight into the issues:

Do these [racist] comments reflect a reversal of racial progress? Is that progress an illusion while racism thrives underground? What kind of harm are these statements doing? Could there be any value in such venting? And what, if anything, should a free society do about it?

“We’ve seen comments that people would not make in the public square or any type of civic discussion, maybe even within their own families,” said Dennis Ryerson, editor of The Indianapolis Star. “There is no question in my mind that the process, because it’s largely anonymous, enables people who would never speak up on Main Street to communicate their thoughts.”

Hateful sentiments have unfortunately always been elements in our society, what the Internet has done is to provide a platform and megaphone for these views to be expressed publicly.

Linda Chavez, chairman of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, says racist comments come from a “very small but often vocal minority of people”…. But she does see a destructive aspect: “It may actually increase the percentage who will feel comfortable expressing these views. Social pressure is important.”

Providing comments sections for readers is intended to increase engagement with the websites, build a sense of community, expand discussions, and bring in higher advertising dollars. But the cost in terms of civility can be steep, and the cost of hiring moderators to filter out hate comments can be high.

“It astonishes me that they [companies with websites] allow such blatant expressions,” said Robert Steele, a journalism scholar at DePauw University and The Poynter Institute.  “Even if it’s legitimate to try and draw viewers to sites, is it legitimate to allow individuals who are swinging a sharp ax, and often doing so with a hood over their heads in anonymous fashion, to have this forum that can not only create harm but breed hatred? I recognize the value of citizen dialogue, but when the comments are poisonous … you have to go back to the issue of why you would allow the dialogue.”

Echoing this sentiment, Herb Strentz, a retired journalism professor and dean at Drake University in Des Moines said, “For me, all the problems of online anonymity and comments outweigh any imagined benefits. If people want to contribute thoughtful things, they should be willing to stand up for them and be quoted.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in America has more than doubled in the last 10 years, totaling 932 identified hate groups in 2009. And Anti-Defamation League civil rights director Deborah Lauter said there are thousands of hate websites, some with tens of thousands of viewers each month.

Tackling Hatred Online

The most common ‘solution’ described to stop hate content on news sites, and other web properties, is to require users authenticate themselves before posting content. This is actually a fairly cumbersome and difficult task. Exactly how would a website do this? Using a credit card ID? A driver’s license?  While ‘good’ people can show their credentials, they may be reluctant to relinquish personally sensitive information – I would be.  For ‘bad’ people, getting a fake ID, or using someone else’s ID, isn’t hard to do.

This solution also places the websites and companies in the position of needing to validate and store this sensitive information, a job they should be reluctant to take on.

This leaves us with three primary methods for tackling expressions of hatred online

  1. Teach tolerance and acceptance to reduce the audience for hate sites and hate content – an ongoing effort that to date has yielded mixed results, but an effort that must continue nevertheless.
  2. Filter consumer content ideally prior to upload onto news sites, and other web properties, but at a minimum shortly after posting. This is a very expensive proposition, but critical to maintaining the reputation of websites.
  3. Deploy a system that rates users by reputation. Similar to Ebay, or how credit bureaus work. This allows users to remain anonymous because it doesn’t care who the user is, it cares how the user behaves.

I rarely use this blog site to promote a product, and even less frequently tell you about the products that LOOKBOTHWAYS Inc. has developed.

This is one of those rare exceptions, because our ReputationShare service is designed for just this type of scenario.

ReputationShare places privacy first. At no time does our service ever know who a user is, we simply know – and share with participating companies – how that user behaves online.

This service enables web services to instantly know the reputation of someone coming to their site- without that individual identify themselves by name or other personally identifiable information.  With this information, websites can determine how they want to interact with that user. They may choose to welcome a user with a sterling online reputation with open arms and extra bonuses, welcome a user with an ok reputation with no reservations (but no extras), or welcome a user who’s had a history of disrespectful/racist/bullying or other issue but include some restrictions on their ability to do things like post comments until the user has kept their nose clean for a while.

This service is totally transparent to users, they can see their reputation score at any time, and they can challenge any negative (or positive, but we’ve never seen that happen!) score they’ve been given by taking the issue up with the company that gave them the score. Essentially, ReputationShare works like a credit bureau with one key difference – we don’t know who you are, just how you behave.

For companies, this enables strong moderation of consumer content their websites at a very low cost in two ways:

  • Once the company establishes the guidelines for how users with different types of reputations are handled, these settings are reflected in the user’s registration process. Problem users, who aren’t allowed to post content, aren’t going to leave a mess for moderators to clean up.
  • Consumers with a good reputation want to maintain their good reputation and are likely to act appropriately. This means that websites don’t have to monitor 100% of comments; they only need to monitor the comments left by the 5-15% of users who are known to behave poorly, or who for whatever reason do not have an established reputation.

This service also helps consumer through the services. First, I don’t have to be subjected to content that is offensive. I can also set my options to only receive interactions from people with a reputation rating above ‘x’; where I can choose for myself, or for minors in my care, the types of people that can interact with us.  For example, on an online dating site, I may say that I don’t want to be paired up with anyone who has been flagged for cyberstalking or financial scams, and then anyone who had these negative reputation flags would be eliminated from my search results.

We can tackle online civility and it is critical that we do so. The internet is in its infancy, but the choices we make now about acceptable online behavior will have very long shadows.

Linda


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