Prelim Bloopers

Social Networks

Social networks are the biggest news topic today. Everyone today knows that companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter are hugely successful. If their social networks are so popular they must be doing a lot right, correct? Maybe, maybe not.

Their most frequently-cited strengths are:
• They spread information quickly and easily
• They permit people to initiate and/or improve relationships
• They connect organizations that seek members with individuals that want to join
• They can improve an individual's health and quality of life
• They can enable individuals to collectively accomplish a goal

Their most frequently-cited weaknesses are:
• They can violate individuals' privacy
• They can distract and waste a lot of time and/or harm employees' productivity
• They can endanger police, military, and journalists
• They can worsen social isolation, including by bullying
• They can cause a variety of negative emotions and dissatisfaction with life
• They can give a false sense of connection
• They can be used by criminals or gangs

Users of these social networks have accepted the Terms of Service (TOS) for them, giving them permission to do many things that, upon reflection, those users might actually not want done. The largest social network, Facebook, had 1.23 billion active users as of August 2014, but surprisingly there appears to be virtually no detailed third-party analyses on the Web, by qualified attorneys, of its TOS. We have read every word of Facebook's TOS (something only a small minority of their users have done) and done a brief analysis of it.

The Terms of Service statement is surprisingly un-lawyer-like in form. But it is hugely one-sided in that it talks about all the things that Facebook can do and not much about the things the Facebook customer can do. And it is hugely open-ended in that it cites examples of things that Facebook can do today or might do in the future, but places no limits on them.

It mentions "delete" frequently, but even if Facebook scrupulously deletes something exactly per your instructions it likely does not get deleted every place to which it may have propagated by the normal workings of the Internet. Facebook is not being dishonest per se, but is by far not telling you the whole story.

One of the important risks about your privacy is what your friends post about you. You have no control over it, and they apparently can post information that you would never have agreed to post on your own.