And then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.
Basically, if society is becoming more open to sharing everything online and that any preconceived notions of privacy is no longer the norm… we should all be comfortable sharing everything with everyone – then comes the app “Girls Around Me” a Foursquare app that is probably every woman’s worst nightmare and brings the argument of straight-forward privacy controls back into the spotlight. If you’re unfamiliar with this popular app, it takes all of the publicly available information that women are sharing on the social network Foursquare i.e. check-ins, and displays them on a map around your position. You can see who’s close to you, what they look like, send them messages and view their Facebook profiles – talk about your all-in-one stalking app! The developers argue that they’ve done nothing wrong and technically they haven’t – they’re accessing all of the data that users have agreed to share on Foursquare and Facebook, but what they’ve done was re-purpose it in a manner that was unexpected and could place people in “awkward” situations to put it lightly. When apps affect other people who have not signed for the service, something is definitely not right, however as Molly Wood from CNet puts it
It’s time to realize, internalize, and truly understand that publishing anything publicly online means you have, in fact, opted in. And you probably won’t like where your data eventually ends up.
Paradise is lost; we’ve finally bit the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; it’s time everyone gets serious about what they’re publishing online as well social networks need to start giving users straightforward controls of what data apps can access. Since Girls Around Me uses Foursquare and Facebook data, I decided to take a look at their privacy controls to see if there is an obvious way for users to prevent their data from being abused. I’m going to have to assign Foursquare a failing grade when it comes to what data can be shared through apps.
These settings don’t provide a user granular control over how their location data is shared or used with 3rd party application. What they need to provide is:
- Options to control how your location data is used by apps that you’re using
- Options to control how your location data is used by apps that other people are using.
- Options to control how your profile data is used by apps that you’re using.
- Options to control how your profile data is used by apps that other people are using.
The language of the settings “How people bring your info to apps they use” is actually straightforward.
The settings Facebook provides is very granular regarding the specific pieces of personal data you’re willing to allow app developers to have access to. The only thing I see missing is location based data for Facebook check-ins so beware if you use that part of the service heavily.
Now that you know what data is being shared on Facebook and Foursquare, what about other apps that you may have authorized in the past to access your data that are no longer being used? These apps are able to access your personal information regardless if you’ve logged in recently and you’ve probably forgotten which apps previously used. Luckily there is a handy website called called mypermissions.org allows you to access Facebook, Foursquare and other social networking sites’ application and privacy permission pages. No more hunting to find the settings on each network, just head to mypermissions.org and do it from one spot. You can even have the site send you an e-mail reminder every month to review which apps you’ve approved to have access to your information.
What I find very interesting over the Girls Around Me app debacle is the recent attempts of governments trying to spy on its citizens in the name of public citizens. Canada’s online spying Bill C-30 and the UK’s attempts to monitor e-mail and web usage are very intrusive and there is huge public outcry that its being done without judicial oversight, but why bother trying to prevent it? People and Social Networks are just giving their personal information away – all the government has to do is write an app and they’ll have more than they ever wanted.