Google has mellowed over the years since they were accused of holding search data for too long a period of time. However, in March of 2011, Google settled a complaint with the FTC that its Google Buzz social network violated user privacy. With a fanfare introduction, Google failed to tell users their personal information might be shared. These oversights are frequent in businesses who apparently don’t understand the full value of privacy. Unlike junk mailers, who understand but either don’t care or favor profits over customer data security.
It is commendable that Facebook and Google have set up procedures to identify people who are contemplating suicide, passing them along to help lines that are geared up to help these folks. Facebook has designed a system that promotes the flagging of “suicidal or otherwise violent messages.” If there is a post about someone doing harm to themselves, friends can click on a “report suicidal content link.”
Google added something to its U.S. search engine in 2010 showing a red telephone plus the telephone number for a suicide help line to call. They have a similar program for poison-control providing a hotline. The latter was prompted by an actual incident of a mother unable to find the right number after her child had consumed something poisonous.
These are good things being done by two high-profile companies in the business of providing and sharing information between their customers. The question is whether we can trust either with this most personal of private information, that, if used against us, could be disastrous. As an example, both companies are known to collect marketing information from online use of their sites, and what if Google or Facebook decided to sell suicide data to a life insurance company?
After all, Mark Zuckerberg, the bad-boy founder of Facebook, has been known in the past to push the limit on how he uses your personal data. As late as November of 2011 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lodged a complaint against Facebook for assuring customers their data was secure from ad networks or FB apps, while at the same time this information was merrily streaming on its way to both.
It’s as if Zuckerberg, genius that he may be, comes completely dumb when it gets down to your privacy. Or is it that he just doesn’t care because he thinks your private information belongs to him? I spent 35 years in the junk mail industry selling your personal data, but for the last seven years I have been fighting for your rights in this matter. The problem is the average person is completely apathetic about this issue, allowing the Facebooks and Googles to do their thing.
Let me leave you with yet one more example of how Facebook and Google might share this data with advertisers. Pharmaceutical companies thrive on any means to hawk new and old drugs to the public and have little regard for consumer privacy. Anti-depressant drug-makers could use a list like this to sell their wares, although some experts in the past say anti-depressants actually cause suicides.
You may think this is all far-fetched but we are currently in an information-driven society and in my 35 years selling this personal data it was obvious just what a gold mine it is. And because everything anyone needs to know about you is out there with easy access, it just may be too late to even think about your privacy anymore.