MyFox Dallas/Fort Worth (November 3, 2009)
"A North Texas woman is suing Facebook and Blockbuster for allegedly violating her privacy.
"According to Cathryn Harris, Facebook was posting alerts on her profile each time she rented a movie from Blockbuster. The updates featured her name and the movie title she had rented, Harris said.
"* Read: Cathryn Harris Lawsuit (PDF)
" 'I wasn't renting any movies that I'm ashamed of, but what if I had been? It's nobody's business,' Harris said. 'They need to follow the laws and respect their customers' privacy and not try to go behind the curtain.'
"The 25-year-old homemaker said she made the discovery last year when she rented the 1985 adventure film 'The Jewel of the Nile,' starring...."
"...According to Harris' attorneys, the companies violated a federal law -- the Video Privacy Protection Act...."
I've got a Facebook account - under my own name, of course, so I was a bit more interested in this item than in many 'invasion of privacy' pieces.
I'm not one of those 'privacy advocates' who don't like security cameras in parking lots and convenience stores, and who seem to live in constant fear that somehow, somewhere, someone's going to recognize them. I haven't noticed them in the news lately, but you may remember, several years back, where it looked like agoraphobia might become recognized as an officially-normal condition.
I think it's quite reasonable for stores to keep a database of my purchases and what I take a look at, but don't buy. Amazon.com does a good job of tracking my habits on their website - and uses that information to show me products that I might be interested in. Not products that their marketing department thinks a middle-aged midwesterner should be interested in.
On the other hand, I don't know that I'd be comfortable with my purchasing information being published - even on a comparatively closed online community like Facebook. Like Cathryn Harris, I'm not ashamed of my purchases - but that doesn't mean that I particularly want to let all my friends, family, and acquaintances know that I've purchased Tom Chiarella's Writing Dialogue (pretty good book, by the way, what I've read of it so far). If nothing else, I try to keep my Facebook posts to something I think folks I know might be interested in.
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Opt Out / Opt InA FOXNews (national) article added some detail to the local report:
"...At the heart of the suit is Facebook's controversial Beacon system, essentially a tracking flag that follows you across a network of sites and reports back to Facebook on your activity. For consumers, it's a way to share more information about your daily activity; for advertisers, it's a way to learn a great deal more about an individual.
"Following public outcry over the system in late 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized for the Beacon system, noting that 'the problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.'..."
("Texas Woman Sues Facebook for Privacy Violations" FOXNews (November 4, 2009)
Opt-out systems have the (apparent) advantage, from the point of view of a particular sort of business mind, that the ignorant suckers (customers and clients) won't notice what they're agreeing to, and certainly won't find the small-print link to the opt-out forms.
The downside of that sort of 'clever' marketing, aside from perpetuating stereotypes about stupid, greedy, business owners, is that customers - enough of them, anyway - aren't nearly stupid or passive enough to not complain. And, given today's lawsuit-happy American culture, that can get expensive. Even if a company wins a suit, they'll still have to pay the lawyers.
Opt-in systems encourage, I think, businesses to make it easier for their customers and clients to understand what's being offered - and should make it difficult for the occasional sorehead to get away with one of those "I agreed to these terms, and I've changed my mind" suits.
Isn't the Lemming "apathetic?" I've written about this before.