December 27, 2007

As Google Relents, Spokeo Holds Tight to Auto-Friending

While Google Reader noisily backed off yesterday, stemming the tide of privacy complaints, other services, like Spokeo, are not changing their policies of automatically linking friends' data from one service to another.

In a post called, "Why we don’t require friend requests", Harrison, an occasional commenter on this blog, says that while some are uncomfortable with the idea their activities on one site will be shared with friends on another site, the service is simply utilizing public content, and as you don't need to ask permission to subscribe to somebody's RSS feed reader, you shouldn't have to ask permission to view their public Flickr photos, view their public Amazon Wish List, or view their public ratings of songs on Pandora, for example.

(See earlier coverage: Spokeo Upgrades RSS and Friend Tracker, Invites Available and PlugandPlay Expo Highlight: Spokeo)

New services like Spokeo thrive on transparency. If I have a friend on MySpace or Friendster, Spokeo will crawl popular services and find if I can get updates from their blogs or other activity. This can be done without the knowledge of the person being crawled, which is why I've heard other people refer to the company as "Spook-eo", remarking how spooky it is they can dredge up things you thought you had hidden away.

But Harrison brings up another great point, saying "We don't want to bother your friends."

I've complained ad nauseum about the stupid requests we get every day from applications my friends install on Facebook, or the countless e-mails from services I won't use, like Plaxo and Shelfari. If Spokeo sent out an e-mail to each friend to ask for permission to access each service, it'd be a nightmare.

It all comes back to the same issue, essentially, which we covered yesterday. If you have activity on the Web which is tied back to a single e-mail address or identity, it is public. That can range from posts on message boards years ago, to Google Reader shared items, to your bookmarks. There's no question I've probably said some silly things out there in the past I'd like erased, but we will live by transparency and die by it. I'm glad Spokeo isn't wussing out and changing its policy.


  1. Spokeo still needs to offer an opt-out, I think, to those being tracked.

    Someone focusing telephoto cameras on all your windows 24x7 would be a stalker, even though looking at your windows from a distance is not a crime.

    Spokeo needs to offer those being watched the option to pull the shades.

  2. I don't think Google Reader has backed down, and I don't think they will. They said that they will allow more user controls for the shared items, but everything is still public by default.

    I also don't think Google Reader should back down. A lot fewer people will share if it takes more than one click. However, you can't have granular privacy control if you don't have an extensive option menu that pops up when you press "share".

    It's the classic dilemma between simplicity and options. The more options you have, the more complicated your system will become. If I am Google Reader, I will choose to keep the design simplicity.

  3. Dave, you can already opt-out on whatever social networks you are using. Turn your accounts private, and Spokeo will mirror your privacy settings.

    Remember, it's a reader. It's reader's job to respect the privacy of the original content, but it's not reader's job to manage all your privacies online. Moreover, you probably don't want Spokeo to control your content privacy. After all, it will require you to input all your credentials, and I am sure you don't want to do that.

  4. Spokeo has gone too far, now they've spammed multiple times. Wrong. Not good; Stop this, Spokeo.