October 08, 2012, 3:30 PM — 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.