Following on yesterday’s entry about Facebook’s Timeline and that old adage of history repeating itself, I feel like I am back in the end of the 20th century when it comes to assumptions and inconveniences laid before online and mobile users. While much debate and consideration of best practices led to companies switching to Opt-In rather than Opt-Out, it seems like there’s an entirely new paradigm shift – or pendulum swing – back to requiring users to Opt-Out.
Facebook has determined that users must effectively Opt-Out by changing their privacy settings to control how much information is shared via the Timeline feature. Netflix is pushing on Capitol Hill for a change in a law that would enable them to post what movies and videos people have viewed on Facebook, much the same way Spotify now does with songs heard through the Facebook App. For whatever reasons, more and more companies seem to be deciding that they know what’s best for users when it comes to sharing their own information.
Unfortunately, the issue persists even for those who had already effectively opted out. Such an example is shown in the fact that I had set very stringent privacy settings on my Facebook account a few years ago regarding what people could see about my activities. Since then, I’ve been confident that those bits were handled the same way only to find that something I had blocked to others is showing up. I was quite bothered last night when my wife mentioned an update on her wall about me that I had thought was not being shared. The information that was posted was not a biggie, but it exemplified how users may not know exactly what is shared – even if they thought they knew and tried to block it once before.
I can understand how companies would rather make it Opt-Out for participation and marketing reasons. But, when will it ultimately come back to hurt both the companies and the users in real ways? There are a plethora of activities that skirt with personal information where assumptions are made that the user would rather share such information purely for convenience. Those bits of personal information can come back to harm the user – perhaps in ways we can’t even fathom at this time – and that harm could lead to suits that affect the companies’ bottom line.
In dissecting the discussion surrounding the House’s proposed amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act and the Senate’s consideration of it, VentureBeat focuses on the act of bringing the permissions for sharing movie information more in line with what is already allowed with music, television or radio/webcasts. Those accept one-time allowances to govern all future activities and can certainly be a convenience for those who want it. The argument presumes that it opens the law just for the matter of sharing viewing activity for social and promotional activity, but the problem – in regard to the original VPPA – is that it would soften the original intent of the law and open it up to abuse.
Ultimately, my problem is only partially limited to the debate about the intricacies surrounding what’s going on with lawmakers and more about the suppositions of companies that users rely on as instruments and outlets for sharing the details of their lives. It is about the leap companies sometimes make to go from allowing users to share what they want to under their specific control each time to setting that sharing as the default because they feel the user would benefit by convenience – or the fact that the user might not know any better. As far as I’m concerned, if the user doesn’t want something to be shared or doesn’t fully understand what they are sharing, then it should not be a challenge to keep those items from being shared. There are still huge amounts of users that want to flaunt what they do. And, if by requiring users to initiate every share rather than automating, wouldn’t that effectively make each share or post worth that much more?
We have already seen people use their right to just not use a product due to these issues with one glaring recent one being the Spotify App. The feedback I have heard most is that people don’t want to use it – no matter how convenient – because they don’t feel the need to share every song. I limit how much I use Facebook because I want to limit how much is shared – and even then, more info is shared than I thought.
We are in the midst of one of the fastest-growing and world-changing mediums of all time. Even the idea of “Ancient” history in this environment is measured in decades – not centuries – but we are already seeing history repeat itself in the practices that we thought were already played out. It’s a shame that the mistakes will only become more magnified as government and the courts get further involved and regulation becomes the barrier to growth rather than the economy.
There are still actions that are being worked through the court systems related to Opt-Out issues from over a decade ago and both Facebook and Netflix are already involved in suits related to the VPPA (among others). If Opt-In is not required and Opt-Out is confusing, hard to find or inconsistent, it points to many legal challenges and real digital growth hinderance in the future. Let’s be smart and learn from history rather than seeing it come back to haunt us.