Internet privacy is officially an oxymoron

Flickr from YahooRed alert!  While Facebook and Google Buzz are getting the media attention for abandoning privacy in the name of  social media, Yahoo is quietly changing it’s privacy settings to public defaults.  Not just Yahoo the portal but all related sites and services including Flickr which I just found out about today.  That’s huge!

As most of us know, the key feature of the internet is that information is now real-time.  Instantaneous.  And social or shared.  And yeah, that’s changing the course of news, media, information.  Generally speaking though, aside from the early adopters or industry specific folks who are directly impacted by that changing landscape, I’d say the general public just doesn’t pay attention all that much.

Now take that lack of attention and apply it to something that gets buried deep within a site anyway or accessed through 7 point font in a footer.  At least Facebook is in the hot seat.  But I’m waving the red flag now with Yahoo and especially Flickr.  

I’m a private person so I know to check my settings whenever I set up a new web-based service like photo sharing.  At the time, it wasn’t alarming since the settings were pretty basic and expected (find, view and comment restrictions).

But I just set up a Flickr account for my husband and I was absolutely shocked at (a) how stupidly convoluted the account set up was – first a Yahoo account, THEN the Flickr account; and (b) the default settings for all new accounts on every level.

Bottom line, the defaults are set to PUBLIC on every aspect.  Find your stuff, view and comment – to be expected.  Now it’s (in order on Your Privacy footer link):

  • who can download your stuff
  • who can share your stuff
  • who can add you to a photo
  • who can print your photo
  • who can blog your stuff
  • allow your stuff to be added to a gallery
  • show camera equipment details
  • include your profile and stuff in public searches
  • allow your stuff to be reviewed by 3rd party
  • share your stuff on Yahoo updates
  • who gets to see, comment, etc for all new uploads
  • see your stuff on a map
  • autoplay videos
  • content maturity (defaults to G for General Audience)

First of all, when did all these distinctions get added and why wasn’t I told that they were added and automatically set to PUBLIC on my behalf?!  I can tell you that more than half of those settings were not around when I set up my account.  Just because the internet allows instant changes to a website, it doesn’t mean that it should without letting anyone know.

I think the absolutely WORST offense is that Flickr added a new category of settings called “Defaults for new uploads” and they ALL default to PUBLIC. Who can see, comment on, add notes or people, and see your stuff on a map.  Even if your general default settings are set to private, anything you upload after this setting got added is completely open.

My last upload was 27 Oct 09 so this category of settings must have been added in the last 5 months.  Flickr has my email address.  Why didn’t I get a changes to their privacy policy email.  Okay, let’s say this is not a change to their privacy policy per se but this is a huge change to how these policies are implemented.  I should receive a notice everytime Flickr Adds or Modifies their privacy setting CHOICES since nuances like “privacy setting for all FUTURE uploads” is a pretty darn big addition.

So if you go about your life knowing that you’ve set your Flickr preference settings to Private when you signed up and you uploaded a ton of new photos recently (whenever the new Defaults category was added), then you’re in for a big shock. Everything will be public and you’d have absolutely no idea that they are.  Shame on you, Flickr.

If you’re a professional photographer and you want to get found, this is the place to do that – and that’s really how Flickr got started.  But if you’re a mom and the keeper of the family albums – the much larger audience that Yahoo wants to go after for advertising purposes – then sharing with just friends and relatives across the globe and no one else gets a bit trickier.

But here’s the other kicker:  Flickr is a part of Yahoo and Yahoo is rolling out their new Ad Interest Manager (labeled as BETA).  Yahoo has hundreds of standard topic categories based on Yahoo-related sites and services.  For example, I read the story today about Serena William’s glamorous tennis outfit.  I got tagged with Sports > Tennis.  Ads get served to me based on my surfing behaviors otherwise known as Behavioral Tracking.

But to opt-out of this feature, I have to allow cookies and be logged IN to Yahoo to keep the Opt-out function activated on my computer or any computer I use.  Otherwise, if I use my computer and am NOT logged into Yahoo, then my browsing behaviors are automatically tagged and tracked anyway through the cookies that I have to allow.  That’s just not right.  I’m being forced to use this portal the entire time I’m on my computer in order to prevent that portal from using the tracking data it’s collecting automatically?!

Where does this stop?  I have a couple of Yahoo accounts, a Gmail account, an MSN account, an Aol account.  Are ALL of these portals doing the same without telling anyone?  Will I have to be logged in to all of these to prevent my activities from being tracked?  Do I need to drop all my accounts except for one?

Instead of internet privacy being an assumption, it’s now the exception.  I’m seeing it.  I get it.  But what about the hundreds of millions of other people who don’t see it and are still in that old-fashioned privacy assumption mindset, and don’t know that their privacy settings were modified and set to Public for them?  They  just don’t know enough to be vigilant about checking their settings – and they shouldn’t have to be.

Between the sheer size of Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, I feel that it’s too late – the Public Default floodgates have opened and Internet Privacy has drowned.

What do you think?

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