Something seems to have happened to social networks I frequent lately. They’ve gotten more desperate for my attention. I’m getting all kinds of emails from Twitter and LinkedIn, to name just two, that I’ve never gotten before. Twitter really wants me to follow people it knows I’ll like, for example. It never used to care that much. And LinkedIn wants me to endorse my friends’ skills, and vice versa, in all kinds of ways.
When I log on, LinkedIn demands to know if my friends really do know about the things they claim to know about. It feels almost like a betrayal to say no or skip past. Then, of course, it sends an email telling them they’ve received my endorsement and prodding them to endorse me in return. (Not to worry guys, I said yes.)
Rationally, I’ve always been aware that social networks – and really, we’re talking about the algorithms inside them – are watching me and my friends. But they’re taking far less pains to keep what they know about me a secret. It has started to creep me out.
Here are three examples.
1. Yahoo knows what you’ve been reading
You know how this works. A friend posts what sounds like an interesting story to Facebook, you click on it, and you have to install a social reader app in order to see it. Once you do, you now know what all your various friends who also installed that app are looking at, and they know how you’re wasting your time as well.
So now everybody knows I read this ridiculous story about rock and/or accidental porn star Tommy Lee. I hope they can forgive me. But sometimes I look at the stuff other folks are reading and I think “Geez, does your boss know you’re doing this? Are you that short of clients?” Or I see someone show a lot of interest in articles about cancer and it starts to worry me.
2. LinkedIn knows who you are stalking
So LinkedIn has always had a feature where it teased you with things like “someone in the pharmaceutical industry looked at your profile in the last week.” (Usually it’s some ex-high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin.) But lately it’s gotten pretty damned specific.
The other day, for example, someone from People magazine looked at my profile. I immediately sent them a LinkedIn connection invite (because heck, I’d work for People magazine). I had to apologize for stalking them in reverse, though, because it just felt a little ewwy.
Turns out they were looking for a crime reporter in my area. They found someone else. Too bad, because I have a great story about an ex high school teacher turned meth dealer they’d just love.
3. Facebook knows what you’ve looked at
This is something I’ve only noticed in the past week or so. You no longer have to Like or comment on a post for others to know you’ve looked at it; you just need to look at it. Click on the “Seen by x” below the post to get a list of their names and times they looked at it; click the names to pull up each one’s profile.
Unlike Yahoo’s social reader, I don’t actually know many of the people who are seeing these things. But I get ready access to their public profiles with a couple of clicks. As far as I can tell it only works on Facebook Pages (ie, for public figures, groups, or companies) and not on run-of-the-mill Facebook profiles.
Still, it’s a little disconcerting -- another step down the slippery slope into ‘everything you do online is public and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ It just feels to me like the creepiness factor started to take over social networks in a troubling and irreversible way. Am I wrong?
Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.
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