Two high profile social networks have been in the news this week, for all the wrong reasons. First Path, which recently announced its 2millionth user, were caught out when it was revealed they'd been uploading iPhone user's address book data without permission.
And then Pinterest, social media's new darling, was discovered to be switching user links to affiliate links, namely those of Skimlinks, in order to help generate a little revenue. This in itself isn't necessarily an issue; it's that they didn't tell anyone that is causing the Internet to throw stones.
The interactions that we make on digital platforms are done so with a certain amount of goodwill and trust placed into the hands of the services we use. If our data is going to be used for purposes we may not agree with, let us know before we hand everything over. If you intend to adapt our activity to make money, let us know up front so that we don't find odd links appearing where they shouldn't and then freak out.
You wouldn't for example, in the real world (yes it is out there) take your car for an MOT, hand over all your particulars, only for them to appear in a garage up the road 24 hours later with a description of what was wrong with your car and the mechanics selling
this information to their customers for a profit. We trust the mechanics in our garage to keep that information safe and not try to make any additional benefit from it.
The new and emerging social networks need to be aware that as users, we've been through all this before with Facebook and Google updating their privacy policies to close loopholes and adapt as user behaviour changes. It is very off-putting and does nothing to endear them to us
- you, the new shiny startup, have an opportunity to learn from these mistakes and get it right first time.
And this, as a digital comms professional, presents several challenges.
Firstly it means now more than ever we need to be aware of the legal implications for brands on social networks, better than before, so that we can best advise clients on what to do should their communities or digital presences be compromised.
Secondly, it makes it slightly trickier to convince our clients to experiment with new platforms, in case they are implicated in any unfortunate activity. Who wants to be the brand that partnered with the new shiny social network, built a community and then saw all their data taken and sold for a tidy sum? Not us thanks for asking.
Thirdly, it flies in the face of credible community building for a brand established on a digital platform. If you investment time, effort and, dare I say it, advertising money into developing a lively community, only to see it vanish in a cloud of legal mess, data safety and angry message boards, what will encourage that community to come back and engage with your brand again in the future? If you got it wrong once, what's to say you won't get it wrong again?
So, brand new social networks, your challenge is this: If you're looking to be seen as a serious long-term leader in your respective field, be that content sharing, collaborative working or update sharing, help your future communities out by getting your data privacy in order, be transparent about what your doing with your community's data, and let's work together to give your future communities the best experience possible.