If you’re a student, professor, or lawyer of a certain age, you may feel a need to be on some social networking site–be it Facebook, Linked-In, or even MySpace. You might want to create one site for your friends, and another for your professional colleagues. But before jumping on, consider the business plan of a data scraper like RapLeaf:
Rapleaf [is] a people search engine that lets you retrieve the name, age and social-network affiliations of anyone, as long as you have his or her e-mail address. . . . Upscoop.com [is] a similar site to discover, en masse, [the] social networks to which the people in your contact list belong.
There’s a nice discussion at Crooked Timber. The bottom line is that you take a calculated risk when joining these sites. Even if you don’t create “bad news that follows you,” you at least generate opportunities for the nosy to unearth all manner of communications, opinions, and likes you happen to make public.
Addressing an identity mixup I experienced recently, Mike suggested that “the best defense is a good offense.” If you don’t want unwanted information following you around the net, make sure there’s plenty of authorized material available. However, the strategy has its limits when someone’s up against the search engine optimizing capacity of an outfit like the New York Times. Seth Finkelstein puts the matter a bit more pointedly: “ordinary people do not want to get on the blog-evangelism gatekeeper-begging attention-mongering digital-sharecropping rat-race.”
Ownership of their own personal information, including: their own profile data, the list of people they are connected to, and the activity stream of content they create;
Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and
Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.
While there are good reasons to be wary of the propertization move implicit here, I’m on board with the “control” and “freedom” prongs.