We’ve all had our youthful indiscretions. That time you “borrowed” dad’s car without asking and wrapped it around a pole. The time you drank too much at your friend’s wedding and puked all over the bridegroom’s shoes. The day you signed up for a MySpace account.
Just as dad took away your allowance and your friend never spoke to you again, your social networking mistakes may now come back to haunt you. MySpace was purchased lock, stock, and barrel by online ad firm Specific Media this week. Included in the $35 million haul: An estimated 50 to 65 million user profiles – arguably MySpace’s single most valuable asset.
(Also taking part in the purchase: Justin Timberlake. His next wardrobe malfunction will occur in cyberspace.)
[See also: Facebook's fake friends epidemic ]
What will Specific Media do with this treasure trove of data, purchased at the low low price of 40 to 60 cents a head? Good question. There are plenty of things they could do.
One is to simply continue to run MySpace as is, collecting ad revenue. A second revenue option is to take that data, combine it with other data Specific Media has collected, and use that to target ads to you across the Web. Option C is to rent various slices of MySpace users to direct marketers, data miners, background check firms, and the like. That’s a virtually endless source of revenue.
There’s also option D, all of the above. I’ve asked Specific Media to answer this question, and if they do I’ll update this post.
Of course, Specific Media is a member of the Network Advertising Initiative, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the Digital Advertising Alliance. While that’s a positive sign -- it means the company is a mainstream online ad firm, not a gang of Eastern European cyber thugs – it is no guarantee they won’t take your data and do whatever they want to it.
Remember: Industry groups like the NAI were not created to enhance your privacy. They were created to get Congress off the online advertising industry’s back by fostering the illusion of “self regulation.” And if self regulation had actually worked, we wouldn’t still be talking about the need for legislation protecting your personal information from, well, people like Specific Media.
That doesn’t mean Specific Media is evil. It just means that there’s nothing stopping them from being evil, besides their own internal moral imperatives.
How much this data is actually worth is another good question. MySpace users aren’t typically the richest slice of demographic cheesecake. A 2010 study by Nielsen Claritas indicates that MySpacers tend to be lower income and more rural than Facebookers. In short, Facebook members favor Boursin and Beamers; MySpace users trend toward pork rinds and pickup trucks.
A casual stroll through MySpace will turn up a lot of teenagers, wanna-be rock stars, trailer park denizens, and -- for reasons that demand further study -- an inordinate number of adult entertainers. It seems a lot of MySpace users can also be found wrapped around a pole. (Ba-dum-bump. Thank you, I’ll be here all week.)
This is probably the biggest privacy threat posed by social media, and yet it’s something almost no one talks about: What happens to your deeply personal data when the company you trusted to keep it safe is swallowed up by somebody else with their own agenda?
I guess we’re about to find out.
The MySpace acquisition should be a wake up call for many people who share too much of themselves online. But it probably wont.
Yes, ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan has a MySpace profile. However, he's never totalled his dad's car or thrown up at a wedding (yet). Visit his eHumor site eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.