Facebook’s Data Mining Lawsuit: How Far Is Too Far?

Facebook’s Data Mining Lawsuit: How Far Is Too Far?

The Privacy Debate

Today when people talk about the plethora of data available it is often from a positive perspective. This viewpoint is focused is on the strategic insight opportunities enabled by truck-loads of data. However, we’ve all heard the quote most famously referenced in the movie Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Social media giant, Facebook, has recently been hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging they violated users’ rights by data mining private messages. Two plaintiffs claim the site scans private correspondence between users for links to third-party websites, sharing that information with the likes of “advertisers, marketers and other data aggregators.”

Whether Facebook is guilty or not, this raises some important questions. First, where should the line be drawn when it comes to quality data mining and consumer privacy?

Where’s the line?

I believe this debate should start with the privacy policy and expectations. If the privacy policy clearly states “we will not touch or use any of your data”, then the network has an obligation to keep those standards and keep the trust of their community.

On the flip side, we should think about where we’re posting our information. Social networks like Facebook are SOCIAL and are voluntary. People choose to sign up and they choose what information they type/share on their profiles (regardless of what the privacy policy says).

Michalis Michael (@DigitalMR_CEO), CEO at DigitalMR, believes that “only data on public sites should be mined”.

What is Facebook doing with the data they’re mining and what expectations were set in their privacy policy?

Annie Pettit (@LoveStats), VP at Conversition, has a few thoughts on this:

“Facebook states in multiple places in its lengthy and difficult to search privacy information that they use the information we enter to provide services. A quick search of their privacy policy does not suggest that information labeled as “Message” is any different than “Status Update.” There is a difference between applying knowledge to meet a client’s need and giving data to clients. For example, anonymizing data is a great way to create knowledge while maintaining privacy. I don’t consider that to be an invasion of privacy unless it was pre-specified in a privacy policy. There is a difference between what you agreed to when signing up to be a member of a non-mandatory social network vs what you would prefer vs what you thought you read or thought you understood.

The line must be drawn in the privacy policy. If consumers are not happy with how the social network indicates that it shares their data, then they should not join the network. Or, they should only share what they are comfortable with the whole world knowing.”

How safe is online data…honestly?

Ok, so I think most people would agree that if the privacy policy says the “data is safe” then they have a legal obligation. However, at what point are we honest about how safe our data is? Do you honestly believe there is such a thing as private conversations in the social/digital world?

I asked a few valuable people in the industry for their opinion:

“People should never share anything online that they do not want other people to know. This includes things you don’t want your boss, your mother, your spouse, or your neighbors. This includes confidential emails and reports to clients. Always assume that your data will be purposefully or accidentally widely shared. I say this in pretty much every presentation on social media I give.”
-Annie Pettit (@LoveStats), VP at Conversition

“Web crawling and analytical technology has been around for ten years at least, so if a consumer puts it online, they should have no expectation of a right to privacy for the information they freely share. Consumers have become complacent about ‘give to get’ informational exchanges online and forget that like chocolate, one slip of the lip means it stays on your hips (or online) virtually forever!

For this reason, private forums and private networks should be highly diligent about the security of these private communities lest they lose the trust placed in them by their members and/or open themselves up to lawsuits.”
-Leslie Ament (@Hypatia_LeslieA), SVP Research & Principal Analyst at Hypatia Research Group

I think Facebook’s lawsuit brings up a few important things for researchers to think about. At what point are researchers crossing the line in the digital/social data mining process? (social lines and legal lines)

Tell us what you think!

  • Do you think Facebook crossed the line? (if these allegations are true)
  • In your opinion, where should the line be drawn when it comes to quality data mining and consumer privacy?
  • Do you honestly believe there is such a thing as private conversations in the social/digital world?

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