A VC: Facebook and The Privacy Backlash

From Fred Wilson’s Blog on Internet Privacy:

My view, for those who haven’t been reading this blog for a long time, is that all of this privacy stuff is way over the top. You need to disclose what you are doing and Facebook has done that. You need to give users a way to opt out and I believe but am not sure that Facebook has done that. Certainly the partner sites that are runnning Facebook’s beacon need to disclose and provide an opt out

But beyond that, tracking what we do and reporting it to our friends and using that data to target advertising and content is a good thing. In fact, its why the Internet is getting better and better every day

When the internet knows who you are, what you do, who your friends are, and what they do, it goes from the random bar you wander into to your favorite pub where your friends congregate and the bartender knows your drink and pours it for you when you walk in the door

To quote one of the all time great movies of all time Office Space, ‘uh, yeah… i’m going to have to ‘disagree’ with you there on that one.’  I expect that in a broader sense, Fred would agree that privacy is important and maintaining his vision of the above in a safe secure way is important.  Still, this strikes me as pretty naive, given what we see occurring. 

The fact is that privacy breeches are occurring all around us, with big risk.   Last week, for example, the UK government mistakenly compromised the personal information of roughly half its citizenry due to a low level staffer sending 2 CD-ROMs through the mail (source: Economist).  This is just the latest in a continuing string of privacy compromises that will continue to haunt people.

The case of the minor girl who met on MySpace the convicted sex offender who then kidnapped her in real life also comes to mind… 

Most people who don’t work in technology (the vast majority of the consumer internet btw)  have no idea the exposures they’re making, and controlling them with an ‘opt out’ seems way too simplistic a view to me. 

Its important that as an industry, we realize that most consumers are baffled by the amount of stuff going online and what’s private and what’s not.  As an industry, we need to do more to assure people that they can figure out how to be safe and secure. 

The above quote is far too cavalier IMHO.  A more reasonable view is one that say: while the benefits of sharing information in general are quite high, privacy is an important concern.  To always assure privacy, here’s a step you Mr./MS. consumer can take to assure you’re safe–<insert verbiage that’s readable by human being without law degree here>.

I think Mint.com (I have no affiliation with) does best in class job on this right now.  They take extremely sensitive data — your personal finances — manage it in a way that’s secure and private, and best of all explain their privacy approach in a human-understandable way.

A VC: Facebook and The Privacy Backlash


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