There is Facebook and Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. And those six are a very small fraction of the most popular social media applications that many of us engage with on a daily basis. Some argue that the social media devours far too much of our attention and I won’t argue that, caution is needed. But my big issue is the increasing amount of time I have to spend just to rein in the ever evolving privacy settings.
This is time I have to invest even on those applications I seldom log into anymore. Just because I don’t update them doesn’t mean I want the content I’ve created earlier spread to the four winds without my knowledge.
Of course, as an IT professional with a specialization in web technologies, I spend a great deal of my time online. And, being so involved in the online world, I’m careful not to share anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable having shared with the public. I am very well aware that anything I post anywhere is not guaranteed to stay under wraps. As a colleague of mine is fond of saying, “the only completely secure system is one that’s not plugged in.”
Just the same, we will all come to expect online service providers to protect our privacy to the best of its ability. Despite all of the breaches due to external forces, we have a reasonable expectation of basic privacy. That is up to the point when an online service completely revamps its terms of service or privacy settings and then leave it up to us to play catch up.
You may remember the storm that was unleashed when Facebook updated its privacy settings late in 2011 which accidentally shared supposedly private content. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t immune to that security hiccup, his private photo albums were wide open to the public. And now some of the biggest names online are at it again.
Both Google and Facebook are enacting sweeping changes to its networks. In the case of Facebook, the changes cover more than one front. In the case of Facebook-owned photo-sharing service Instagram, the changes are not so related to privacy, but they are still worthy of note. The first change will place advertisements in user’s streams. The second removes the option to prevent videos from auto-playing when you visit an Instagram timeline. So watch out if you use Instagram and you have any concerns about your bandwidth.
As for changes on Facebook itself, this one nails privacy on the head. Check the Facebook blog for details, but in a nutshell you will no longer be able to block your profile from showing up in all searches. Until recently, if you weren’t connected to a user then they would not see your profile if you had selected that option in your settings. So if you use Facebook in “stealth” mode, where you have a hidden profile to avoid unwanted friend requests, the game is changing.
And then we have Google+. A social network that currently has a somewhat smaller footprint than the ubiquitous Facebook, but one with a great deal of potential. After all, there is a huge user base on other Google applications like GMail, Google Drive, Maps, Search and the Google Play Store.
If you have taken the plunge and filled out your Google+ profile then you might want to double check that your picture is one you don’t mind showing up way more often and in new places. Google is integrating Google+ profiles and activities with their main revenue stream, Google Ads.
Essentially Google will be placing users’ profile pictures and their activities into ads and recommendations. To be fair, your picture and other information will only be seen by other users that you’ve accepted as Google+ contacts. Just the same, I doubt you realized your activity would be so visible when you gave that so-so restaurant a +one recommendation out of pity.
We had all best keep an eye out for further messages from our various online networks. A single email mixed in with the steady deluge of other network notifications is likely to be the only hint to opt out of the latest privacy overhaul that we’ll receive.
Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.