Google Reader privacy preferences: good step in the right direction.

I recently logged into my Google Reader a few minutes ago and was greeted with the following pop-up message:

As you can see, it asked whether I wanted to change my privacy preferences in clear language and described the consequences associated with each action.  It doesn’t describe the process for changing my settings, it directly enables me to do so.

I’ve slammed Google in the past for failing to respect privacy concerns, but this is a good step in the right direction.  It doesn’t obviate the user-side failure that attended the debut of Google Buzz, but it demonstrates that they’ve been listening, as opposed to (only) playing damage control.

I hope Facebook is paying attention, but I doubt that they are. Based on my experience, companies at this stage are insular and inward-looking. They reason that everyone else is out to take them down because they’ve been successful — as a result, they don’t need to change, they simply need to present the illusion that they’re being responsive.  Union Carbide took this tack after Bhopal, Morton-Thiokol did it during the Challenger disaster, and British Petroleum is doing it right now.

I’m only referring to the corporate responses; Facebook’s weak privacy protocols haven’t killed anyone (yet), but they’re redefining the definition of public and private to suit their business needs.  The only reason they’ve been allowed to play this game is because of a lack of case law regarding the protection of personally identifiable information.

Which is entirely our fault.

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