Forgiveness > Permission

By David Veldt - 08/29/2013

"It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." - Grace Hopper

These words have given innovators, entrepreneurs and visionaries across the world the justification (not that they needed it) to take bold risks and test new waters with relative uncertainty. Originating from a legendary programmer, few industries lean on this mantra more heavily than tech. For the most part, it is this mindset that has enabled the world of web technology to evolve at a blistering pace.

More specifically, few companies take these words to heart more than today's social media giants, who continuously add and remove features, tweak layouts or completely overhaul experiences. Few would disagree that Facebook most prominently displays and even flaunts the "forgiveness trumps permission" mentality, and fewer still would question their success as a result.

Since its early days, Facebook has made a habit of rolling out new features and massive layout changes, much to the bewilderment and frustration of its users. However, Facebook knows its users. Few users actually follow through with their predictable account deletion threats, and most who actually do come back sooner or later. Eventually, the griping and frustration dies down as people accept the new norm because hey, what can I do? All my friends are here.

That's all well and good when it comes to user experience matters. However, we're seeing networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn become alarmingly cavalier with the issue of privacy; something that is (and should be) a bit of a hot-button issue lately. New features and data-sharing options are continuously rolled out in which users are opted into by default and in your LinkedIn Account & Settings page, you can actually find three separate areas labeled as "Privacy Controls."

Any why shouldn't they automatically opt us into new features and sharing controls? What consequences do they face aside from some disgruntled users who don't want to lose contact with their friends by dropping Facebook or limit their career opportunities by avoiding LinkedIn? Even when they are faced with legal action, it is a mere slap on the wrist. Sure, Facebook just settled for $20 million for using the names and pictures of around 150 million users in Sponsored Stories, but do they really care that much when they reportedly made $73 million off of those same ads?

Even after a hot debate on LinkedIn and numerous attempts to get answers from their customer service, aside from a very sparse Help page and several theories, we're still no closer to knowing the full extent and exactly what data they are tapping into to show the increasingly creepy suggestions in their "People You May Know" feature.

So at what point do we enact some way to police these under-the-radar changes? Do we have to leave it to ourselves to regularly comb through account, privacy and settings pages to make sure these networks haven't pulled a fast one on us? Or is it reasonable to expect to be asked permission on such matters?

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