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Why Storify Misses the Point on Protecting Privacy

Why Storify Misses the Point on Protecting Privacy image facebook groups

When is a private thought not a private thought? When online curation tool Storify decides to bypass privacy wishes and share that thought publicly.

Over at AGBeat, there’s an interesting (and alarming) story about how Storify can be used to post private updates on Facebook publicly. By using their curation tool, someone in a private or secret Facebook group (where only members can view content) can share something meant for a limited audience for the whole web to view.

Storify co-founder Burt Herman seems to think this is okay, and the perfect example of why you should be careful in who you trust online.

But he’s missing a very key point.

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People Can Make Mistakes – Technology Should Be Smarter

In a post on the Storify site addressing the AGBeat article, Herman suggests that curating private posts into a public stream is no different from taking a screenshot of a private update and posting that too.

While technically that may be true, in reality there’s a big difference between the two methods. Founder of business network pioneer Adholes, Marc Lefton, succinctly sums up the issue:

Screenshots are malicious. This [a Storify share] can happen by accident. That’s the difference.

Because Storify makes it simple for people to be browsing a site or network and share something that catches their eye, users (rightly or wrongly) will not always consider the limited audience the original update was meant for.

That’s the equal beauty and fallacy of human nature – excitement about content that grabs attention can result in the emotion of finding that content override the logic of respecting the audience limitation.

Technology like Storify, however, isn’t built on an emotional reaction – it’s bits and bytes taking a logical approach to enabling you to share emotionally-rich content.

Or at least it should be – but as the AGBeat article and Storify co-founder Herman’s shifting of blame to the user proves, the technology only works logically if the developers build it to do so.

Herman’s logic – that you should trust who you share content with not to reshare it if it’s meant to be private – would carry more weight if his platform was consistent in that mindset across all networks. But it isn’t.

If you try and share content via Storify from a protected Twitter account, the privacy settings from the micro-blogging platform prevent Storify from being able to quote the tweet. So it’s clear that Storify’s technology can be stopped by a network’s API.

Which suggests both Facebook and Storify are at fault here – Facebook for not preventing sharing the way Twitter does, and Storify for not recognizing a private group or community’s restricted access settings. Unfortunately, Storify doesn’t really see it this way.

It’s Your Fault

In the comments section of the AGBeat article, I questioned Herman’s stance on user blame after he stated it wasn’t a technology issue, but one of etiquette.

Why Storify Misses the Point on Protecting Privacy image Danny AGBeat

Herman’s answer, ironically, highlights Storify’s failing – the “power” effected by being able to share easily needs to be countered by the ability to identify whether that content should be shared.

Herman’s logic suggests if a private update is shared, it’s your fault for trusting the wrong friends to begin with. But that’s simply absolving responsibility from the platform that offers the public sharing of a private update. Former journalist, and General Manager of Social Media at New York-based technology startup Internet Media Labs, Amy Vernon identifies the flaw in this logic perfectly:

This is the difference:

You protect your tweets, Storify won’t allow people who are allowed to see your tweets to Storify them. You protect your Facebook posts, Storify will allow people who are allowed to see those posts to Storify them.

Plain and simple.

Is it, at its root, a human problem? Sure. But all this is changing faster than the average person can keep up. That doesn’t absolve tools and platforms from trying to abide by privacy levels.

Instead of blaming the user, why doesn’t Storify take the higher road and have a filter/blocker in place (similar to the Twitter scenario) where a message pops up prior to the sharing that asks the simple question: “This content is from a restricted source – are you sure you wish to share?” Or, better still, simply change the way Storify scrapes network API’s and only allow sharing of clearly publicly available content.

Of course, to do this would mean admitting Storify (and, by association, Facebook) have a problem. And no-one likes to admit they have a weakness…

image: AGBeat

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