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I don’t particularly care that the WSJ expanded its data mining reach — it’s the company’s right as long as we treat personal data as property that can be contracted away — but I do care what the lack of discussion says about how we think about online data privacy. If this had been Facebook making a similar move — or, actually, making a much less aggressive move — you couldn’t escape the outcry.
This suggests a narrow and perhaps wrongheaded view about the scope of the issue, about who, what and where are the real privacy threats. Yes, social media usage brings about all sorts of new privacy issues, but sharing information is, to some degree, the purpose of social media. Given that, Facebook is somewhat of an ironic privacy scapegoat while one of the nation’s largest news publishers makes linking personally identifiable information and on-site activity the status quo and there’s seemingly little concern.
Facebook — a young company dedicated to facilitating information-sharing on its relatively new and wholly unnecessary platform — turns up the sharing quotient a bit, and there’s outrage. Fair enough. But I’d argue it pales in comparison to a 137-year-old newspaper essentially saying that when you exercise a fundamental component of democracy on its web site by trying to keep informed, it knows who you are, what you’re reading and will use that information to make money unless you explicitly tell it not to.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert.Montalvo.