Tag Archives: online privacy

Six Years of Answering Instagram User Questions

I provided the original Instagram FAQ. Information in demand was missing from the internet and I enjoy researching technology and helping people. I wrote two posts in 2011 and 2012 about Instagram privacy which still rank in Google’s top 10 search results for related terms.

Six years and 700+ comments later, here’s what I’ve learned about human frailty, desire, shame, and searching.

woman looking at the water holding her phoneIn 2011, Instagram was growing in popularity but lacked a formal FAQ. Users desperately sought information about whether their accidental photo likes would be visible to their exes and frenemies.

Instagram FAQ comment
One of the top 3 Instagram questions I receive.
Instagram FAQ question
Will they know I liked the photo if I do everything possible to prevent it?

I’ve answered hundreds of questions in the comments and continue to receive more each week. After six years of fielding queries about Instagram profile privacy, blocking, hiding likes, push notifications, and whether video views are public, I have concluded that we waste far too much time worrying about the visibility of our activity. We feel unnecessary shame. We want to hide what we consider shameful: voyeurism, the masochism of cyber stalking an ex, or simply our fascination with others’ lives. These are timeless human behaviors that have adapted to the available means. Look at songs like Don’t Come Around Here No More and On Every Street. Everyone can relate to these lyrics. Songs like these play in my head as I read through the comments on my Instagram posts. We’re nostalgic, we’re sentimental, we seek information and updates on lost loves, lost friends, lost places.

It’s clear that we use social media for many reasons. One is to satisfy our hunger for connection and validation. We do this less and less in person and increasingly online. So much is lost in this digital version of interacting.

Instagram privacy question
How do I get my new ex to stop copying me online?

I’ve seen the fear of being found out for behaviors that are common and understandable. We have been given tools to passively, secretly watch the highlight reels of each others’ lives. So naturally we watch. And we slip and click and immediately feel ashamed and self-conscious, exposed for engaging in the very behaviors that the creators of these apps and our fellow users expect and encourage.

Chicago rowhouse neighborhood

Tom Petty asked his ex to “stop walking down my street”. She probably wouldn’t want to be seen but couldn’t help herself. Now she’d be embarrassed to be caught accidentally liking his two-year old photo. Mark Knopfler uses the metaphor of a detective looking for a missing person when writing about an ex he just can’t forget. Ani DiFranco captures the same sentiment in Gravel, still under her ex’s spell. We keep holding on to each other, to memories, to old flames, to friendships that dried up, and to places we’ve left behind. We seek connection and belonging, and we cling to the moments when we felt it. But we’re looking somewhere that can never meet our needs.

Snapchat Marketing: Doing What?

In the last 1-2 years we’ve seen a trend of complimenting brands who are “rocking” Snapchat and other relatively new one-to-one social messaging apps. (I prefer Allison Steele’s term: attention deficit content creation platforms.)

After 5-10 years of oversharing, narcissism, and selfie culture resulting in enough privacy backlashes, firings, and divorces, many users are crunching inwards toward more private communication. Brands automatically assuming they belong in this new crop of apps is a me-too mistake, the result of too much demand for rapid reaction.

Taco Bell Snapchat screenshot #DoingStuff
Taco Bell uses Snapchat to let fans know about new products.

Where is the data indicating that Taco Bell, McDonald’s, General Electric, Heineken, the New Orleans Saints, 16 Handles, etc. are successful on Snapchat?

Brands on Snapchat hope to reach Millennials (those born in roughly the early 1980s to the early 2000s). Targeting a demo whose childhoods were filled with every-loser-gets-a-trophy-for-showing-up has translated to brands showing up – without even keeping score – being considered winners.
Ladybugs movie soccer

You can’t measure engagement within Snapchat.

A snap can’t benefit from the interaction of a Like, retweet, favorite, or share. Brands get more buzz off the flowery Mashable campaign coverage written by AYSO trophy-saturated writers who continually fail to proofread (a symptom of “A for effort”? – this is too easy). I’ve personally seen brand impressions from articles lauding the “organic/intimate/forward-thinking/risk-taking” efforts of marketers and their agencies for experimentation with Snapchat, Vine, etc. worth more than any fleeting impact the disappearing content may have on consumers. Not only do the messages disappear, the attention span of their target user base is the shortest on the planet.

Resources devoted to Snapchat when your other social ducks are anemic makes good linkbait when we’re all tired of hearing about the reach woes of Facebook and ineffective YouTube pre-roll. Instead of fixing problems on platforms with better tracking, targeting, reach, and content longevity, it’s easier and more fun to make stop motion videos. Now, Snapchat’s 32.9% penetration among 18-34 year-olds should not be ignored. And if you want to reach 18-25 year-olds with exclusive content – things like limited time coupons, flash sales, and behind-the-scenes footage – I see the draw. But where is the yardstick?

Lastly, we all know what Snapchat is for. Do you really want a brand’s snap next to your sext? The proximity alone should cause a panic attack.

Andrew Cunningham at HUGE wrote a nice summary of considerations if you choose to market with Snapchat. I am not saying avoid it: I’m saying stop handing out trophies for showing up at try-outs.

About Snapchat:

It’s a mobile messaging app that allows users to share photos and videos that disappear after a short time once the recipient opens the message (after 1-10 seconds or 24 hours for Stories). As of July 2014, users were sending 700 million photo messages each day, up from 400 million in October 2013.
Source: statista.com

Vine vs. Instagram Video and Lulu’s Controversial “Yelp for Men” App – Episode 22 – The Digital Dive Podcast

I. Vine vs. Instagram Video – New Feature

02:00 – Instagram’s new video feature poses a challenge to Vine and has some IGers pretty annoyed. We review Vine and Instagram video in a side-by-side comparison. Word to the wise: put your phone on vibrate or silent if you’re going to peruse Instagram during a meeting.

Instagram vs Vine comparison by TechCrunch

12:30-15: 00 – Do investors even know what Vine is?

16:00 – The biggest market for Vine

II. Controversial “Yelp for Men” Lulu App Lets Women Rate Ex-Boyfriends 

16:55 – We take on Lulu, an app that allows women (and only women) to anonymously create “reviews” of men they know. Profiles are pulled from app users’ male Facebook friends.Lulu app ad "Research your latest crush" This isn’t an opt-in app; profiles are automatically created without the man’s knowledge or permission, and any man on Facebook is fair game. Pictures and limited profile/public information from Facebook, combined with anonymous rankings from women who’ve dated them, hated them, or adored them, are used to create a man’s profile on Lulu– complete with a numeric ranking and a myriad of hashtags ranging from complimentary to cruel…

Examples of Lulu hashtags about men:

#CantBuildIkeaFurniture
#BurnsCornflakes
#ObsessedWithHisMom
#BabyDaddy
#DoesDishes
#SixPack
#DrinksTheHaterade
#CanBuildFires
#CheaperThanaBigMac
#WearsFratTanks

Arguments for and against the app are abundant. A few comments from around the web:

Creepy, non-consensual and harassing.
Just an app for something that girls do anyway.
This is the stuff [women] need to know when checking out a guy. Lulu puts the girls in control.
The textual equivalent of leaking your ex’s naked pics to the Internet.

23:40 – Is there an upside to the app for men who otherwise wouldn’t get much attention, e.g. if a woman rates a shy guy friend nicely?

25:00 – Lulu heavily emphasizes user anonymity: what will this invite?

27:00 – Lulu is pretty heteronormative: does it discriminate against gay and lesbian users?

The Burn Book-esque app is geared toward college-aged adults for now (but then again, so was Facebook).

Tips on Tap

29:10-32:00 – I. Swackett – A weather app we actually like. Free and available oniOS, Android. Combines forecast and weather information with added features, such as “Dog Walking Index”, clothing suggestions, and an excellent mobile shopping tie-in (e.g., popular Warby Parker). Nice native advertising.

32:05-33:00 – II. Facetune – Photo beautifying tools are a dime a dozen, but this one has been making waves. Ranked #3 on the App Store’s top paid apps chart, Facetune is geared toward making photos of people more flattering.

33:00 – III. LinkedIn Privacy Tip – There is a LinkedIn profile setting under Settings -> Groups, Companies & Applications. Under Privacy Controls, you can turn on/off two things. One is whether you share data with third parties. Understand the associated risks and potential social benefits for a LinkedIn connected content experience vs. exposing one’s perusal of job-seeking content to one’s entire network.

“If you’re signed in to LinkedIn when you view any page that uses our professional plugins, we receive information that you’ve visited that page. This allows us to improve your LinkedIn experience and provide you with insights from your professional network, like how many of your connections have shared an article into LinkedIn using the Share on LinkedIn plugin.” -LinkedIn

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Facebook Vs. Google Means No Hiding

More about Facebook privacy and idiot users.

From NYTimes article: Company Accused of Firing Over Facebook Post

“…The case involves Dawnmarie Souza, who had to prepare a response to a customer’s complaint about her work… Ms. Souza then mocked her supervisor on Facebook, using several vulgarities to ridicule him, according to Jonathan Kreisberg, director of the board’s Hartford office, which filed the complaint. He also said she had written, “love how the company allows a 17 to become a supervisor” — 17 is the company’s lingo for a psychiatric patient…”

Well, it was only a matter of time until this explosive online social arena leaked into workplace drama taken to the courts. We’ve already seen middle and high schools battling cyber bullying (which is horribly damaging to students in a different and likely unfathomable way, being a still nascent reimagination of typical developmental cruelty). Utter permeation.

Ferris Bueller was successful at playing high school hooky not because he checked in on Foursquare at the five star restaurant where he nearly ran into his father at a business lunch; not because he posted pictures of himself and Sloane at the Cubs game; and not because he blogged about his plans before enacting them. If you imagine that Ferris’s parapet to Mr. Bueller seeing him across the restaurant — hiding behind his menu raised to eye level — exists in any way online, you’re mistaken.  Abe Froman and his face-shrouding menu are things of the past.

Ferris Bueller Abe Froman restaurant

I am excited to watch the Facebook-Google war unfold (and I mention it because when you’re active on a social platform that is in the same sentence as “Google” and “war” you need to stop behaving like a fourteen-year old in an AOL chatroom):

So well-put:

“Today, the Google-Facebook rivalry isn’t just going strong, it has evolved into a full-blown battle over the future of the Internet—its structure, design, and utility. For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms… Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.” – Wired: Great Wall of Facebook: The Social Network’s Plan to Dominate the Internet — and Keep Google Out

Clearly, most people like Ms. Souza must reformat their Facebook schemas.  As I have said before, my generation stands at an unique vantage point before these social media shenanigans. I thought it was primarily we who would need to edit our posting rules, because what was acceptable in college for Facebook simply no longer is. I wrongly assumed that older users would have jumped on the FB bandwagon with the wherewithal to infer why privacy settings were so intricate and developed beyond their early iterations.

Digital Scars

The internet is a place where the birth of a single character is eternal. Blessing and curse in concert. Ultimate recorder of civilization- but is it worth the hard drive real estate? How long until we max out the digital space?

"Contemplating My Soul" by Punch Buggies
Artist credit: Punch Buggies on deviantart.com

How will the earth store our exponentially increasing input of data mixed with blood and dust? The master computers in secret rooms will shrink until near-infinite data is in the expanding cloud. Just as the same matter that is in our water was once in a dinosaur’s body, our text messages, tweets, and energetic outputs will somehow live on in this bionic state of existence into which our baby planet has morphed. This is not a forested plains land of indigenous peoples. This is not an unpolluted crystal sea. This is a greying, littered land of scars, where human action on the earth at large, and human interaction in the microcosm of our increasingly antisocial relationship conversation has departed from anything we could have been programmed for. I might call some of our cultural norms unnatural, but really anything produced on this planet must come from this planet.  Skyscrapers are natural, because metals were already here. We simply shaped them, maybe in a likeness of some god.

Ponder this: “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” -Ayn Rand

Some Native Americans believe that we store all our experiences in our bones. Assume that the pain body lives inside us, as Eckhart Tolle posits in Be Here Now. Psychology and medicine have repeatedly evidenced psychosomatic illness: your body reflects your mind. More than you realize.

If we are organic human bodies roaming this planet, cell phones in hand, relationships drastically altered as for the way our bones store their effects, their digital marks on each of our individual online clouds, how will that affect the collective unconscious? Has it already changed? Jung?

If Ayn Rand is correct, that “the skyline of New York is a monument of a splendour that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach,” then is the skyline of our digital empire in the cloud equally or comparably splendid?  Or is it too confusing in its very essence of lacking tangible metals from a steel mill and sturdy bricks and mortar?