Care To Share Your Credit Card Statement?

Ryan Calo, a residential fellow at the Center for Internet & Society talks to KALW's Martina Castro about online privacy in light of, a site that shares financial details within a social network:

Not that long ago, it was awkward, and even inappropriate, to share your personal business with the world. Relationship woes, resumes, credit card statements -- they were all considered "private."

But now, users are broadcasting these things -- and much more -- to the whole world, on websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Yelp...and the list keeps growing.


RYAN CALO: He spent $8.94 at McDonald’s--he eats a lot of fast food it looks like to me. Oh, and there's Whole Foods, I’m going to guess that he's a Democrat!

Then you get an idea of what these purchases might say about you.

CALO: My name is Ryan Calo, and I'm a residential fellow at the Center for Internet and Society.

Calo says information that seems benign can get you into trouble.

CALO: There are countless examples of many different kinds of authorities using social networks in order to draw conclusions and sometimes to take adverse action.

Calo knows of cases in which school principals, employers, and law enforcement have used information from social networks against someone. And, of course, crooks can use that information to steal your identity. But what's possibly worse, Calo says, is that we don't really know how most of that information is being used.

CALO: What I lament about people living in public as much as they do is that we don’t appreciate the consequences of that, because we can’t even understand the many possible uses of our information.

LARRY DOWNES: Well, you know, I’m all for consentual, adult sharing of information. I think that's great.

Larry Downes is the author of Laws of Disruption: Harnessing the New Forces That Govern Business and Life in the Digital Age. He sees two forces in American culture that are coming head to head in these discussions about privacy.

DOWNES: We were founded by people who wanted to get away from government and wanted to get away from institutions that were suppressing them, so we have a sort of individualistic culture, and that leads us to be very protective of our privacy on the one hand. On the other hand, we have this idea of the free market, of capitalism, and of government not interfering with our commercial activities.

Downes acknowledges that as companies test the waters, there will be bumps in the road, as there were with Google and Facebook. But Downes says regulation is not the way to keep the information marketplace from going too far.

DOWNES: The general rule we’ve got under a capitalist system is that markets regulate themselves, and we know of course they don’t always do a perfect job, and we know of lots of places where they are broken and where it is appropriate for government to intervene. But the general rule is they will do a more efficient job of regulating themselves than the cost of external regulation.