Privacy Settings Matter…

I have been working on a new project I call Electronic Timelines. The ET project is a set of data capture tools designed to structure information streams from news, blogs, and social networks and to correlate/compare them with other less obvious data points. I have been working on the underpinnings of this concept for a while and am finally beginning to see my hypothesis proven correct.

In the process of this work I have become interested in the “discoverability” of data that currently lives within ones social stream/graph. For the sake of this conversation let’s accept the following definition of “discovery”…

Part of the pre-trial litigation process during which each party requests relevant information and documents from the other side in an attempt to “discover” pertinent facts. Generally discovery devices include depositions, interogatories, requests for admissions, document production requests and requests for inspection.

The formal procedures used by parties to a lawsuit to obtain information before a trial is called discovery. Discovery helps a party find out the other side’s version of the facts, what witnesses know, and other evidence. Rules dictating the allowable methods of discovery have been set up by Congress (for federal courts) and by state legislatures (for state courts).

All the conversation around privacy, particularly with respect to Facebook, tends to focus on non-descript fears, a.k.a. FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). However, as I have begun to investigate this matter more deeply, I have concluded the number one reason NOT to allow your social stream/graph to be publicly accessible comes when we consider what happens if you are every involved in a legal matter where a “discovery” demand is placed on you.

Apparently, on 26 May 2010, the US District Court (see See Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc.) ruled that some content hosted on social networking sites will be precluded from discovery only to the extent that those communications were not available to the general public (see This is huge news and should be taken VERY SERIOUSLY by anyone that uses Facebook or any other social networking site. This is particulary important now that Facebook is all about your location, etc.

Let me pose the following as an example…

You allow Facebook, Foursquare, Google Latitude, etc. to track your every move because you like letting all of your friends know where to find you. (I would encourage you to reconsider this personal policy, but that is not the point of this posting.) If you do not setup your privacy settings correctly, all of this location information would be “discoverable” in a court of law. I don’t know about you, but this fact alone should make everyone strongly reconsider just what they really want shared publicly.

I am very interested to hear what other people think of the “privacy question” from this perspective.