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Communications Networks

Waking the Beast Without a Way to Control It

I was struck today by two seemingly unrelated stories today.  The first was an observation that Dropbox had been "incredibly tonedeaf" in adding Condaleeza Rice to their board given the NSA concerns.  The second story was about LinkedIn showing you open jobs at your own company. 

There was some serious public blowback against Dropbox, such as an open petition to remove Rice, but my initial reaction was that it would be better to remove Dropbox.  I had been having concerns already that I didn’t understand what some of their convenience features such as automatic image upload were doing, and worse yet, I couldn’t control which were uploaded and which weren’t.  

The LinkedIn decision to bridge the gap between external and internal job searches is also problematic, but in a slightly different way.  A few years back, a colleague of mine had observed that he could get a pretty good sense of who was looking for outside work by their LinkedIn activity.  I know that every time I get a connection request from a headhunter, I have to think hard about the signal that it is sending.  While we all know that companies are constantly trying to fill jobs and employees are looking for greener pastures, it causes a lot of additional conflict and noise when those activities become public.

The practical problem is that these companies really only provide users with a single mechanism for controlling the sensitive balance.  Take it or leave it.  While they may argue that they have settings buried deep in the bowels of their application, in practice, opting out is the only safe way that makes sense to most people. 

There has been some interesting research at Carnegie Mellon that shows that when users are provided with easy and useful controls over privacy that engagement actually goes up.  That is why these types of issues are so frustrating. 

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