I got this email from Facebook the other day, and a couple of thoughts struck me as I read it (the bold is my emphasis):
If you have never heard of Beacon, or the lawsuit against it, check this information out. Not only did they have to shut the service down, but they have to now do the corporate equivalent of Bart Simpson’s chalkboard punishment? This is really great news, but I wonder how effective a deterrent/punishment the ruling really will be. It is one thing to rule in favor of the customers in a large class-action lawsuit and award massive damages in order to prevent a company from engaging in invasive or abusive behavior. But this strikes me as a slap on the wrist, and the punishment of having to fund a non-profit company that essentially duplicates the EFF‘s incredible efforts will probably be about as effective as having Steve Ballmer write a two page essay on why monopolies are bad. I doubt Facebook learned a lesson here, in fact the lesson learned might very well be “next time, don’t get caught”.
As more and more ‘private’ information is moved online, it is going to be those companies that demonstrate an unswerving loyalty to the privacy and security of their customers who will be allowed to continue doing business. You had better believe that the day Google is caught exposing or misusing user data, it is going to find itself in deep, troubled waters. Personally, I don’t really put anything on Facebook or other sites that I would be embarrassed or endangered by, were it to leak out. But this case has served as a reminder that you can’t really trust any company to put your rights and expectations above their own need to turn a profit in order to survive.