Not a day goes by without some kind of revelation about what’s being done with our user-generated content and our personal information on social networking sites and blog networks. The scandal around Facebook’s Beacon project, whose aim is to track and broadcast what Facebook users are doing on the Web, forced Facebook to back down.
In France, there’s a mini-scandal brewing over a blog network called Ladies Room (www.ladiesroom.fr), whose members create the content for the site. It turns out that Ladies Room is owned by a marketing agency called Heaven. A lot of people are upset because this was not clearly disclosed and had it been, several users would probably have never opted to become members. The French newspaper, Le Monde, talks about a strike among the contributors, but one of the commenters to the article says only a few members actually went on “strike” (i.e. refuse to post any more content). And again, one wonders who exactly this commenter is, whether she is really a member of the site or someone from the marketing agency (or a friend of the agency).
This is the biggest problem with these free services, whether they are social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, blogging services, or applications like Twitter. How are they supposed to make money to cover the cost of doing business? Advertising. They must cater to the desires of those who pay them — the advertisers — even if it means using our personal data and content in a way that we did not envision or desire. There is a built-in aversion towards transparency, openness and honesty.
The solution: give members the option to remain on the free service (with the knowledge that their personal data and everything else they do on the site will be sold to the highest bidder); or pay (for privacy).