FTC’s strong message to social media providers

By Anne Collier

Via its proposed settlement with Google over its Buzz product’s privacy flaws, the Federal Trade Commission just sent the social-media industry a message. Bake user privacy protection into your product development. The Commission’s critique of Buzz’s launch was detailed, reported Rob Pegoraro at the Washington Post: “If you read through its eight-page complaint, you’ll see a focus on the finer points of Buzz’s initial presence – the default settings that anybody could change but few people would, the user-interface details that were too easy to overlook – that other social-media sites would do well to consider.” The FTC sees these finer points as best practices for the whole industry, the New York Times reports (2nd page of that article). I’m sure other large social-media companies took note of the FTC’s proposed consent decree, but I agree with Pegoraro at the Post that “anybody who designs privacy options for a Web site or service needs to obsess [emphasis mine] over getting the default settings right and implementing a design that makes it easy to discover how to change them,” and I wonder if app developers and other small social-media shops took enough notice. Alertness to what social games, apps, and Web sites do with our personal information, including physical location, needs to be baked into media literacy lessons for consumers and children, because there are zillions of social-media providers now – for example, see “New phone app: Color me (& us) careful!”

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