Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What Happens When Social Media Sites Change the Rules?

Ryan Block, co-founder of the gdgt site and formerly editor in chief of tech blog network Engadget, brings up an important point about social media content posted by users. What happens to users' data and content when a site changes its user agreement and/or privacy rules, jumps the shark, or gets acquired?

In his New Year's Eve post, titled "Why I'm Quitting Instagram," Block tells about joining the pioneer social media site Friendster in its early months and then moving on. Friendster was purchased in 2009 by a Malaysian company and has been repositioned as a social gaming and dating site targeting users in Asia. Months ago, Block began getting promo e-mails from Friendster's current owner. That's when he realized that his info had been transferred without his knowledge or permission, and is now out of his control.

In the context of Instagram's recent announcements and reversals about changing its user agreement, Block has decided to give up that account, as well as his Facebook account (remember, Facebook now owns Instagram). Given the need for social media sites to build profits--usually via advertising--Block's concerns are understandable. Not to mention that privacy policies can be confusing . . .  and even a highly public fuss may not roll back changes that prove unpopular with users.

However, as Andrew Couts points out in his post, "Why I'm NOT Quitting Instagram," the social media sites have already won. Advertising sales form the basis of their business models, and consumers mostly don't care about what happens to their content, now or in the future. Rules may change, ownership may change, but once we're connected to friends, family, and colleagues, we're unlikely to quit.

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