In this blog I will formulate my answer to the question: should I continue to be active on social media and am I willing to pay the cost (or my perception of the cost)?

The Game
In 1997 I saw the movie: “The Game”, starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, amongst others, directed by David Fincher. The following scene is relevant to the first point I want to make. It’s the scene in which protagonist Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) finds a life-size clown doll in his driveway, puts it in a chair in his mansion and then finds out how his privacy is compromised. The scene is available in the iTunes trailer:
Like Van Orton, I say, we too have embraced smart phones, tablets and apps that look like fun and indeed are fun, but, at the same time also have a more ugly face. It’s the apps and the features we like and adopt to in our lives. It’s the connected way of living where we use available information with small financial costs to make better informed decisions as to what time to leave and which route to take to a certain destination and avoid traffic jams, when to bring an umbrella or sunglasses. Or to connect to people on Instagram you don’t actually know in person and admire their pictures and views on reality.

Brian Solis: Engage!
From the user perspective, Brian Solis, especially with his 2010 book Engage! and his Conversation Prism made it clear that social media not merely facilitate connecting people, but have the potential of actively engaging people for all kinds of purposes, using all kinds of social media. Solis wrote from a business / marketing perspective and analysed succesful ways in which companies put people first again. It was an eye opener for me.

Today I still see Solis as the evangelist of the mutual benefits and added values for people and businesses by using social media. But I see more clearly now the gap between the apps we like so much and the companies that run the apps. And more clearly the benefits for the companies as well as the cost for the people using social media and sharing their data.

The gap between the app and the company
Many people have pointed out the gap between the intention of our voluntary sharing of data on social media and Governments demanding these data for reasons of preventing unlawful acts – before they even take place – as well as acting in the interest of National security in general.
One documentary, to me, stands out in demonstrating this fact and I recommend watching it: Terms and Conditions May Apply, by Cullen Hoback (2013). See here for the trailer. The documentary is available on Netflix and Vimeo. On YouTube an interview with Hoback is available in which selections of his documentary are showed and discussed.

The Third Party
The effect of the documentary, and many alike, to me, is the awareness that the corporations behind the apps we use, are in the business of collecting citizen’s data, more efficiently and on a larger scale than, for instance, a secret service could wish for. And since we provide this information to a Third Party, not to our Government directly, we feel safe doing so. At the same time however we trust our Government to protect us and our privacy – not to invade the latter. With respect to protecting the citizen’s privacy on social platforms like Facebook and Google, only Germany really stands out in Europe. See for instance their position on Google collecting data for the Street View service leading to a fine, as reported in the NYT. Although the much awaited European Privacy Act is soon to be expected. For the Dutch people it was perhaps an inconvenient find to see the mentioning of the Netherlands in the Hoback documentary in the case of TomTom. TomTom is a Dutch company that provides real-time traffic information and GPS based route instructions. The company said sorry to its customers after it became clear that TomTom had sold user traffic data to the Dutch Police. The TomTom CEO:

We are now aware that the police have used traffic information that you have helped to create to place speed cameras at dangerous locations where the average speed is higher than the legally allowed speed limit. We are aware a lot of our customers do not like the idea and we will look at if we should allow this type of usage.

Our data can backfire at us in ways we didn’t imagine. It backfires because we seem to fit in a risk profile set up by someone somewhere, based on which we are suddenly treated as a risk or threat. Examples of this; real consequences for social media users, users of online banking services and credit cards, are many and convincing in the Hoback documentary.
The downside of documentaries like Terms and Conditions May Apply, to me, is the shift of the debate to the hackers and wiki leaks reality, which is a bit too much for most and at least not my cup if tea. It is the world of conspiracies and underground movements and taking a stance. It does seem a bit awkward to identify with hackers and their illegal activities on the basis of a common understanding of privacy worth protecting. The matter blows up in our faces, as it were.

A social media decision tree
As a response I reconsidered my own activity on social media. And I like to share this with you to hear you thoughts.

I am now aware of the fact that the data I upload on social media platforms are ways of interacting and engaging with friends and people I share interests with and at the same time will never leave the companies’ servers, even if I request such a thing by permanently deleting my account.
So, for personal use of social media, I made this decision tree:
This is a way in which one can, knowingly and in steps, decide to post something online or not. With which audience do you want to share your public / private / secret thoughts and do you trust companies with this information? Companies who can figure out the private, based on the public. And the secret, based on the private and public. And the false, based on incorrect profiles, thus connecting the dots all wrong.

The remaining aspect is the fact that we currently are so poorly protected online. That we have to accept terms and conditions at all for services rendered. That we have no choice between a free account and a paid, privacy secure, account.
Hoback calculated it takes a month each year to read all of the terms and conditions we are asked to agree with. European law will perhaps make a difference, but law, by nature, follows reality. So there will allways be a gap for individual people to bridge themselves wisely.
I will explore alternative routes to the model where my data ‘lives’ on a server abroad. I intend to use my domain more often (Dutch server accessible for me via good old FTP) and try social platforms like Ello (a Public Benefit Corporation, that made it a point not to sell adds or user data).
And finally I will read more closely the terms and conditions of services provided and decide when enough is enough and I should permanently delete my account(s).

If you have come this far in this blog – thanks!
Please share your thoughts on these matters. I am curious to learn from you.

PS Mark Zuckerberg admits in the New Yorker (2010), at age 26, to having called FB users “Dumb Fucks” for trusting him with their data, in the early days of FB, at age 19. As was documented in the Hoback documentary.