Internet Privacy and Its Place in Web Development
by Francis Meetze on November 11, 2013
The Internet is an historical landmark of the 21st century. It can rightly be considered one of the seven wonders of our modern world. People live, work and play in it. There are no national borders or languages that can contain it.
For years now, people have been sharing their lives with millions around the globe. Why then the recent confusion about privacy and how will this effect the future of website development?
Just as the Internet has opened up the world to each and every one of us, it has also opened up each and every one of us to the world. Increasingly, the price we have to pay for all of this connectedness is our privacy.
Why People Are Confused About Privacy
According to statistics in March of this year, Facebook had 1.15 billion active users worldwide. Around that same time, the United States Census Bureau published an estimate that the world population was 7.124 billion. If both of those statistics are accurate, that would put 16% of the total world’s population on a single social media platform! If that isn't mind-boggling enough, just consider how many different social platforms are available today.
As more people start sharing their lives with the World Wide Web, new opportunities arise for both businesses and consumers. Businesses can tailor advertisements for consumers based on a social profile, and the consumer has fallen in love with it! This remote social experience is now more familiar to them and offers convenient opportunities to find products or services of interest.
Take a moment to analyze comments left by others in any social meme. Generally most people aren't shy about exposing their private thoughts and feelings. There are comments about everything from the latest viral video, school, work, hobbies, love interests, to their political persuasion. With advanced search algorithms, a comprehensive social profile can be generated for nearly 33% of the world’s population!
It hasn’t taken long for this novelty of social advertising to wear off — a cookie here and a cookie there. An online snooping software like Collusion can reveal a trail of hundreds of sites who are collecting online statistical data from just a single days worth of Internet browsing. In fact it was only last year that Google was slapped with a $22.5 million civil penalty by the Federal Trade Commission for exploiting temporary cookies in the Safari browser in order to target Apple consumers.
Now people are just as excited about their privacy as they are with social networks! Unfortunately many of the social giants didn’t develop their platform with privacy in mind. Since their users have matured, privacy is increasingly difficult to manage and develop around. All the new privacy settings are also shutting the door to advertising, making it much more expensive to reach paying consumers.
It is no wonder why people are confused today. They are inundated with articles that are either for or against privacy. Both businesses and consumers are attracted to the convenience of social profiling, but the crimes being reported every day are weighing on their minds. Enter in economic and political instability, the social meme is in for a rough ride and companies like Facebook and Google are struggling to keep on top.
Be Honest and Listen to Your Members
If you are developing your site with a popular social network or introducing your own, take some time to learn from the past mistakes of others. Randi Zuckerberg has made a helpful observation in her book Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives
. She indicates that most misunderstandings about privacy can be blamed on user error and a lack of online etiquette. When these misunderstandings aren't addressed, they eventually lead to a mass exodus of the site.
The best practice is honesty. A website's interface should clearly indicate what information is public or private. When privacy settings are hidden under several layers of tabs or buried in a 45,000 word policy users become disoriented and tend to shy away from participation.
When applying website updates, it is never wise to automatically opt-out of new privacy settings without first requesting the user's input. Although the default privacy settings may reflect the original operation of the site, users feel slighted and can quickly lose confidence.
Listen to your members. After all, the strength of social advertising is uncontested. When a website’s credibility is undermined by its own social tools the recovery is very expensive to mitigate. Ultimately, your users dictate how you can monetize them.
The sooner you understand their needs, the more reasonable long-term development costs will be.
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