Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Open Letter to Google, Facebook, and Pretty Much Every Other Company About My Personal Data

Dear... uh... almost every company anywhere,

I am writing to let you know that you're in breach of our agreement, and I wanted to both explain why I'm upset, and show some ways you've perhaps been been... well let's not use harsh words. But let's say disingenuous, and perhaps shady. I'm talking about your packaging and selling my public life. Let me clear up why I'm upset.

The phrase "Public Life" or "In Public" refers to the fact that others can and might see it. It does not indicate "public domain." Just because you can
see me do something, doesn't mean I am allowing you to profit off it and sell it. My existence outside of the bathroom does not, and never has, belonged to the business world. But it goes beyond lack of understanding of that term; this is more about broken deals.

I have ceased being your customer, and become your product. That is a problem. The deal was that  I would get something beneficial, and you would show me advertising. That was the general deal. I search, ad. I surf, ad. I use your word processor, ad. When I used those products, I thought it was understood that the deals would stand as long as the site did. Now you are changing those things, and expecting me to hunt for where you're doing it.

If it was private when I put it there, it needs to stay private until I change it. If I am a product, then giving my things away is essentially stealing. There are parts of me that I have not agreed to sell, or make public to everyone I know.

You've basically said to me "If you don't tell us not to, we're going to take it." That's really not OK. We had a deal when I gave you content I expect you to stick by it, ask me about changes to that deal, and delete my stuff if I don't agree to the new deal. I expect to not have to opt-out of a deal change I have not agreed to.

It's not alright to tell me I have to seek out private, often forgotten things, that you've made public. I shouldn't have to agree to keeping the agreement, I should be agreeing or disagreeing with changes. I do not like that I am often not allowed to pre-opt-out. This means that from when you turn on the new thing, to when I turn it back off, there is a window of time that others can access it. That is also not OK.

I also had deals with a number of other companies. You bought those companies, which is totally fine. But you've taken content from them that I gave with certain expectations and agreements, and again retroactively changed the terms. So I often don't even remember these things exist. You should come to me and ask, not do a press release then give it away.

I don't like having to safeguard my information against companies who's products I like. I don't want to be tricked, or coerced, or forced to share things I may not want to share with the public, or have reiterated or reposted, or sent to friends. It's pushy and invasive, and sometimes a little creepy.

But here's the thing; this stuff isn't deal-breaking, Often, had you informed me of the changes, and asked if it was OK, I would have said yes. I still will say yes. A lot of this sharing I like (I wouldn't be social networking if I didn't.)

You just need to make it optional, opt-in, and easy to understand. A button to a flash tutorial or a You-Tube video that pops up is much preferable; the difference between a new feature and a change is optionality. If it's better, I'll use it.

I want you to scratch my back too, that's all. I give you a few photos which you pay to store and my friends surf a little longer, seeing a few ads. Value. I  easily talk to a number of friends at once, you get to be hugely socially relevant and show me a few sponsored links. Value. You let me sift the entire Internet with a few button presses, a few of those things that you label as paid for get seen. Value.

That's all I want, and I suspect that's all a good number of the rest of us want too. Don't just take it; give us something or show us WHY it will make our experiences better. I'm willing to work with you here.

As long as you don't rob me.


Will Ross

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