Friday, July 06, 2012
Success in the online world seems to breed arrogance, and maybe more than a little carelessness. Today's example is a controversial new Facebook policy that was put in place abruptly and that, apparently inadvertently, corrupted contact lists on some users' smart phones. It's a disturbing event at a time when increasing numbers of Americans are worrying about loss of control, let alone privacy.

The problems began in the past few weeks, when, without notice, Facebook generated email addresses for its users and publicly posted them with members' contact information. Critics saw it, correctly, as a hamfisted attempt to push more users on to Facebook sites, at the expense of other email providers. At stake is millions of dollars in advertising revenue.

That was enough of a black eye for Facebook, but it went much further when a bug in the program evidently caused email addresses on other platforms to be wiped out on smart phones and replaced with the new address. It may have been inadvertent, but it is at least frustrating to millions of users, and potentially caused other problems as emails and other messages become redirected or otherwise confused. That's the kind of intrusion that, repeated often enough, invites a government response.

Facebook, of course, is free to its users and, as such, users should expect that the social networking site will make changes that it believes to be in its - and, hopefully, its users' - interests. But its influence is broad and deep and it needs to do a better job of notifying users of changes. That's important, not just socially, but financially as Facebook struggles on the stock market.

Facebook is hardly alone among Internet-based or -influenced companies in making moves that users don't like. Google imposed a new privacy policy earlier this year that many people found intrusive. Several years ago, Sony caused a controversy by releasing CDs that installed cloaking software when anyone loaded them into their computers. It later issued a patch that caused its own problems. Such is the nature of the modern digital experience.

It's a new world, and everyone is still adjusting to the lure of online riches or, in the case of companies like Sony, the desire to protect their products from what they see as theft. But a better balance needs to be struck. People's smart phones and computers are theirs, not some company's to mess with as they see fit.

Online privacy is a huge issue and, for the most part, government has stayed out of it, probably wisely. But, also for the most part, privacy practices tend to benefit online companies far more than their users and, at some point, users are going to protest. When that happens, government will step in. It's predictable, but also probably avoidable, if companies like Google and Facebook will do a better job of keeping their patrons happy and informed.

Really? You stupid pieces of shit are that proud of yrselves? NEWSFLASH: You're nothing more than spammers, the telemarketers of the past rolled up in an extra-douche bag techno-blanket!