Thursday, August 25, 2011

LinkedIn does a SlippedIn: And LinkedIn users themselves do damage control

Like me, you possibly had to have someone else bring to your attention the new social advertising functionality of LinkedIn: And the fact that "on" was introduced as the default setting. Here's how to turn it off:

I got an email this morning from someone close to me, S., whose colleague, C., had sent them a message with a Dutch translation of these directions on how to turn the social advertising off. S. declared happily, "The community is really strong". LinkedIn pulled a now-classic social network move and the community moves to push back against it. If there wasn't a name for it already, we can now conveniently refer to it as a SlippedIn.

SlippedIn or slipped up? The fact that this changed behind my back really makes me angry at LinkedIn: Are they going to lose their community?

Well, no. Because actually in sending this mail C. is engaging, probably without her conscious knowledge, in the ultimate form of social advertising. By alerting us to the problem and letting us know how to fix it, C. is mediating between LinkedIn and the community that uses the LinkedIn platform. She is making it possible for all of us to be really p.o.ed at LinkedIn, but still not leave the LinkedIn network because we have the feeling that our community itself has created the solution that keeps us in control of our personal information.

S.'s attitude "The community is really strong" is natural. Because C. caught this feature being slipped in and let us know how to fight it, we now have the impression that we somehow have the power to band together and resist the erosion of the functionality that we signed up for when we joined LinkedIn. C.'s actions give us the impression that although what LinkedIn did is not ok, that LinkedIn is still an tolerable place to social network because we have friends there and that we are in control and can work it out together.

C. has really be used. She is unwitting broadcasting in her social circle a sense of security that everything will be all right. We completely overlook the point that we have no idea of what goes on beyond the scenes that might go on unnoticed by C. or the other C.-like people in the network. We are given the false impression, that whatever LinkedIn does that we find intolerable, that we will be able to notice it and work together to fix it.

We cannot forget that LinkedIn is a monolithic entity: they write the software, they control the servers. What ever feeling that we have that we can influence what is going on is supported only by our own human nature to simply trust that our friends will take care of us. LinkedIn is exploiting that trust to create a force of advocacy for their platform as they pursue a policy aimed at eroding our individual privacy.

Last week I spent a great deal of time last week writing on a proposal called "XNets". Basically, we're looking for a million Euros to help develop robust and productive networking technology that will help ensure that social networking unfolds to meet its full potential. Our vision is distributed social networking: let users build a social network platform where there is no central entity calling the shots.

However, it's not just the distributed system that we need it is the consciousness. I turned the social advertising functionality off and have for the moment the feeling that it is "fixed". But getting this fixed was not C.'s job. C. is not all-seeing nor can she help her friends protect themselves against all possible future SlippedIns. C. should not be doing damage control for LinkedIn. We the community are strong, but we are not omnipotent. The ultimate responsibility for safe-guarding our personal data lies with LinkedIn itself.