Tag Archives: susan pointer

#snprivacy: Journalists’ privacy plea to social networks

This post was written following months of mounting concern about the way new sharing and connection features are being implemented on the most popular social networks. If you agree with what we ask of social network developers, feel free to quote this blog, or tweet marking your messages #SNprivacy. Journalism.co.uk will be putting more questions about privacy policy to Facebook later this week. To have your say, please leave comments below, tweet @journalismnews, or email judith [at] journalism.co.uk.

Re: Privacy policy

Dear social networks,

You say you want to reflect real world relationships and connections. Well, in the real world there are connections and information that journalists don’t want made public, shared or given to third parties. Please help us protect our privacy, so vital to responsible journalistic work. It will help you avoid law suits and government inquiries, too.

We know that we need you to help us work more effectively as journalists, to share with others, and to make connections in ways impossible before your birth. But likewise social networks need users and their endorsement. Google’s head of public policy and government relations, Susan Pointer, recently said: “We live or die by the trust our users have in our services.”

Social networks also rely on bloggers and technology/media journalists to communicate new and changed tools accurately.

We realise there is some shoddy and inaccurate reporting around social networking, especially in some of the mainstream press, but there are also many writers who care about relaying information responsibly.

We believe changes to Facebook’s privacy settings are particularly worrying for journalists and bloggers, who have good reason for protecting their privacy and confidential sources.

As the US blogger and librarian Bobbi L. Newman reported, users now have to ‘opt out’ of auto-personalisation settings that allow their friends to share their content.

Furthermore, as developer Ka-Ping Yee exposed, privacy breaches were made in the original open API which allowed external access to Facebook users’ ‘event’ information. We are pleased to see Facebook has reacted to this and corrected the privacy error.

We believe Google Buzz was naive in setting up auto-connections between contacts in Gmail address books. The public availability of email addresses on Buzz, as reported by TechCrunch, was also of concern. We are pleased to see Google has amended these privacy errors.

Journalism.co.uk has recently revealed misleading information surrounding Address Book Importing (ABI), which we feel does not adequately explain how social networks are using – and keeping – users’ email address book information.

We argue that the default options should always be set so that the privacy of the user is respected. With friend friend finder tools, like Facebook’s, users should have to opt in to share email addresses and opt in to each one shared.

It’s an issue publicly highlighted by Facebook’s former chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly (currently running for office as attorney general in California):  he is calling on Facebook “to structure all its programs to allow Facebook users to give permission before their information is shared with third parties”.

We are worried by Twitter and Friendster’s lack of engagement with us on privacy and ABI issues.

Facebook, with which we did enter lengthy dialogue, has said it welcomes feedback. Nonetheless, we are concerned it continues to dismiss the issues thrown up by its friend suggestions and connection features, which are implemented with harvested email addresses.

In light of the privacy breaches and concerns outlined above, we ask six things of growing social networks.

1. Please conduct thorough user research before you implement new features

2. Please publicise new features before you launch them fully, allowing us time to change new or existing privacy settings as necessary

3. If you change privacy settings, please ask us to opt *in*, not opt *out*. Social networks should NEVER set the default option to share users’ information

4. Please provide clearer explanations about how data is shared and how connections are made

5. Please test your new features more thoroughly before launching

6. Please answer our emails or postings on your forums about privacy concerns and reports of privacy breaches – written as either users or journalists / bloggers

Note to bloggers: please feel free to reproduce this plea on your own blogs, with a link back to the original post.

Technology: both good and bad for human rights

At an interactive event at Amnesty UK on Monday, the panel, audience and back-channel contributors (tweets were beamed up on a screen behind) discussed the pros and cons of using technology for human rights. The underlying conflict was this: repressive governments and regimes can make as much use of new technology as pro-democracy activists.

The panel included Google’s head of public policy and government relations, Susan Pointer; Guardian’s digital media research editor, Kevin Anderson; Annabelle Sreberny, professor of global media and communication at SOAS; and author and blogger Andrew Keen: who spoke from the US via an iPhone held up to the mic by the event chair, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

At the end, the conversation turned to Amnesty’s own changing use of technology to fight battles: letters were still important, said Steve Ballinger from its media unit. While email now played an important role, there was still something very “physical” about sending a letter, he said.

The event was put on by the human rights charity to promote its annual media awards, which freelancers, or journalists at small online publications, may be able to enter for free.

Amnesty also used the occasion to remind us of the plight of two bloggers from Azerbaijan. After producing a spoof YouTube video critical of the Azeri government last year, the youth activists were sentenced to prison; Emin Abdullayev for 2.5 years; Adnan Hajizade for two years. An appeal hearing is due for 3 March. Amnesty is calling for people to send protest emails to the minister of justice in Azerbaijan at this link.

Google’s head of public policy: ‘We live or die by the trust our users have in our services’

Google’s head of public policy and government relations pushed the ‘don’t be evil’ line at last night’s Amnesty International social media event, with emphasis on user power and responsible company behaviour.

“We live or die by the trust our users have in our services,” Susan Pointer told the audience of human rights, technology and media workers gathered to discuss the positive and negative uses of technology for democracy.

Also speaking were the Guardian’s digital media research editor, Kevin Anderson; Annabelle Sreberny, professor of global media and communication at SOAS; and author and blogger Andrew Keen: who spoke from the US via an iPhone held up to the mic by the event chair, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

“[A] very important thing to understand about the way our business operates is that our users choose to use it,”  Pointer later told Journalism.co.uk.

“We don’t have a contract with our users that ties them into our services. They haven’t invested a lot of money in our software packages.

“The way we keep our users is by continuing to provide good, leading edge innovative services: they’re free at the click of a mouse to choose an alternative to Google.”

Providing valuable services for users keeps the search giant – which owns YouTube as well as running a host of other products – on its toes, she said.

Improving the transparency of the recently launched social media application Google Buzz was one such reaction to user complaints, she added.

When the company realised improvements could be made, they were implemented, she said: “that’s something we did within hours and not days.”

While Pointer argued that no user information was ever revealed before an individual went through the Buzz set-up process, she said it had been necessary to make changes to the visibility of the user controls.

The addition of Buzz to the Google Dashboard allowed even greater user control over settings, she argued.

On Google’s approach to China she would not be drawn beyond the company’s most recent blog post, which explained its decision to stop censoring the Chinese language Google search service: “We no longer felt comfortable self-censoring results on Google.cn.”

The company is currently “discussing the possibility of continuing the Google.cn service without such censorship”.

“We’re not going to give a running commentary on where discussions are, but we want those discussions to be in good faith.”

Listen to Pointer talking to the Amnesty UK audience via AudioBoo:

On China:


On privacy, Google Buzz and customising advertising: