A Week of Very Public Social Media Adventures

Social media has been through quite an adventure in the past week. First, it was the launch of Google Buzz and its invasion of privacy in its quest to compete with Facebook and Twitter. Next, Yahoo! mail threw its hat in the ring with opt-out updates on its email users. Then, over the weekend, phishing attacks on Twitter and Bebo users compromised the security and privacy of their accounts, followed by spamming from those accounts.

One wise Harvard Law School student seemed offended by Google, kicking off a class action lawsuit. Most people, like me, were unaware they had been tapped into against their wishes until word got out on the social networks. There was an uproar, followed by changes in the Gmail policies.

Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management for Google, seemed taken aback by the outcry over the poor privacy controls on Google Buzz. He told eWeek that it was “not anticipated.”

Horowitz (and Google) clearly did not understand that many people use email for business contacts or keeping in touch with people they consider acquaintances. These are not your BFFs. Fixing the privacy controls after the fact is admirable, but the sincere backpedaling gives the impression that Horowitz simply doesn’t “get it.”

Yahoo! is just as guilty, offering active updates and the opportunity to wish a happy birthday to your contacts. They didn’t tell users it was an opt-out service either. Yes, Big Brother is watching you. He’s also going to wish you a happy birthday while he’s at it.

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Give Twitter credit, though. They have taken the phishing scam very seriously, warning users to steer clear of any LOL messages and trying to prevent any further damage to privacy. There is a warning to change your password if you suspect your account may have been compromised. There was genuine concern on their part. For that, they should be applauded.

Meanwhile, the events of the past week should serve as a reminder that in cyberspace nothing is really safe, so keep an eye out for something phishy, and don’t forget to opt out if you’re not ready to go public.

Graham Cluley at Sophos, an Internet security firm, gives a pretty detailed look at the Twitter attack.

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