To get people thinking about the related issues, Marshall Kirkpatrick has put together a list of questions well worth asking, and discussing. It is indeed timely.
Online social networking is already on fire, but there is a price to be paid as well – mashups galore are making it ever easier to get the data you want, as well as enable people to acquire data on you. I find it amusing that users scream when their Facebook accounts are disabled because they tried to mine some of the data within, but in the Scoble case and many others just face the facts – all those people you think are your friends aren’t really your friends. The majority of the people on that “friends list” won’t ever ask you out for a drink, help you move, or read your business plan, and they certainly don’t want you taking their email address to another site so that service can spam them with invitations to join the next best thing. I’m no particular fan of Facebook, but I can’t help but give them a thumbs up here. The myriad of user privacy settings they offer are there for a reason, to prevent pseudo-friends from taking users’ data while they are attempting to grab their own.
It’s a quandary for many internet users. The fact that some join and befriend in the first place makes them particularly vulnerable. It won’t be long before the type of intrusion exemplified by Robert Scoble/Facebook is going on undetected – its centralization makes it low hanging fruit. Meanwhile we’ve moved beyond the average person’s grasp of privacy – it no longer exists – the best one can hope is that the information available about them isn’t ultimately damaging.
No fire truck is going to arrive to help you if it is.
UPDATE: If the risk of all that social networking data floating around isn’t bad enough already, you can always worry about your ISP doing the mining.
UPDATE 2: Regarding the Scoble/Facebook drama, Paul Buchheit wonders: Why aren’t Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Hotmail blocking Facebook? Another good question, and with TOS excerpts to boot!