Creepy!?? Is that how consumers would describe your online advertising? Maybe not, but regulators are clearly creeped-out by the amount of consumer data collected online and the ability of data aggregated to collect or discern information that many would consider private. Over the past weeks and months, several privacy stakeholders have issued guidance for best practices in online privacy and new light has been cast on developments in the state of online privacy.
Despite the spotlight on privacy, consumers seem less creeped out than regulators as they continue to surf, post and check-in online, giving Foursquare, Google and Facebook permission to track them for geo targeting purposes. However, last week, a mobile app called ” Girls Around Me” caused an uproar because it displayed the location of girls in the vicinity of the user and offered names and other personal details (such as relationship status) from the women’s Facebook profiles. Internet furor branded the app as a stalker tool… and induced Foursquare to block the it due to its creepiness. Considering that Girls Around Me simply runs on top of Foursquare, Facebook and Google services that were already permitted to track the women, accusing it of being stalker-like demonstrates considerable lack of awareness of what users already permit other geo tracking apps to do.
Clearly, what constitutes an invasions of one’s privacy is an individual decision and most of the responsibility for protecting the user’s privacy starts with the user’s own choices. Will the new awareness of social media’s potential creepiness inspire social media users to finally check their Facebook privacy settings? Perhaps. I don’t personally share much on Facebook, but the uptick in creepiness that Facebook’s new Timeline offers led me to fine-tune my Facebook settings. It took less than 15 seconds. Google privacy settings are somewhat more difficult navigate as its products cross numerous platforms. Google Dashboard, on the other hand, pretty quickly displayed what I have already agreed to share on various Google products.
Social networking is here to stay and developing new conveniences for users at a brisk pace — at least in my practice. At SXSW Interactive, numerous new social networking apps allowing mobile users to find other users in their geographic vicinity were launched, proving that many users and businesses need a better understanding of what is only creepy, versus what could allow other users to actually invade your physical privacy.