When Social Media Becomes a Bad Idea

I was reading some blogs that I sporadically visit and came across a link to a post regarding copyright and Pinterest on Michelle Allen’s blog.  If you use Pinterest, I suggest you read this.  It certainly got me thinking and I went in and removed all of my boards and pins for things I do not have express permission to use. 

I had one of the artists who is teaching at ADAA 2012 recommend Pinterest to me as a place to promote ADAA classes, so I requested an invite from a friend of mine who’s very connected in the social media world.  I have to admit, I’m not a social media evangelist, not even a fast follower.  My day job is in the high tech industry, and I get more than enough screen time between 8am and 6pm, so I’m not inclined to spend more time on the computer when I get home.  Unless of course, I’m not particularly motivated to do yard, house, or art work.  Even then, I’m still an introvert online, preferring small groups of friends to large groups.  I’m sure I disappoint Facebook and Google+.  In fact, the only reason I’m on Facebook is to promote my work and All Dolls Are Art.  I get on only when I need to post something about the conference, and while I’m there, I check in with my SiL and my friends.

Because I’m an artist, producing both art work and patterns, I’ve got more than a passing interest in copyright.  I’m careful to watermark my photos and to never post hi-res images online.  I am fully aware that any content I post on Facebook is outside of my control. 

Because I work in high-tech, I pay attention to privacy issues.  It constantly amazes me how much information people are willing to give up in order to use Social Media.  When Google’s Privacy Policy Changes were announced, I went in and changed my settings to prevent, as much as possible, tracking.  I’ve been reading up on how to prevent tracking through Wiki’s on Wired Online and other outlets.  If you want to learn more about this, I recommend The Electronic Privacy Information Center.  If you live in Europe, you are in much better shape, as the EU has already started to tackle online privacy.  I get that there are good reasons to track what I do online.  I love that I can see recommendations on Amazon and that they can keep items in my wishlist and my shopping cart if I have to leave the site for some reason.  I opted in to that.  As far as I’m aware, I haven’t gotten any spam, or snail mail spam, from companies who have purchased information about my reading and listening preferences from Amazon.  The article in the link to DDK’s blog makes me want to go read their privacy policy though. 

I happened to ask a person that I know through my day job why Europeans’ have such a different view of privacy.  His response was “Can you imagine how much MORE damage Hitler could have done if he’d had access to the amount of information that is collected on people today?”  His response seems a bit extreme, but he’s got a point.  Of course, he’s also German.  But it does make you think.  Would the Arab Spring have made it off the ground if those in charge of things had been able to force all electronic communication through their filters?  If they’d been able to find the people planning to protest in Tarir Square BEFORE the protests started?

We Americans take our Freedom of Speech and Rights to Assemble very seriously.  Today, political campaigns are making use of all of the data mined on citizens in the US to “target” advertising for particular towns.  Translation, they are so able to predict what message will resonate with a particular demographic that they can say what we want to hear instead of what they really intend to do.  Regardless of your political affiliation, that should scare you.  Because when they are saying what you want to hear, you believe them, you vote for them, and they get in office and they don’t have any reason to respond to your needs, issues, complaints.  An example of targeted advertising using data mining provided to me by a co-worker:  A national retail chain, using data mining techniques noticed by looking at search terms used by a particular young woman that she was likely to be pregnant.  This retailer then targeted advertising to this young woman that featured items needed in pregnancy.  Her father saw one of these targeted ads.  You see what happens next?  Nothing good.

What do we do about this?  It’s hard to see a way to a reasonable solution.  So, for now, I will not participate in Pinterest, except where I have express permission to use a photograph or it is my own.  I am going to go read privacy policies for the online communities I participate in.  I’m going to pay attention to the policy and legislative activity around privacy.  I’m going to do a better job of formulating and articulating privacy policies for online communities I manage.  I will be more vocal on the topic of online privacy and will advocate for simpler, easier to use and find privacy policies.  Because we shouldn’t need a law degree to figure out what we’re signing away.  What will you do?