First, when fitness tracking app Moves was acquired by Facebook in April, it said:
For those of you that use the Moves app – the Moves experience will continue to operate as a standalone app, and there are no plans to change that or commingle data with Facebook.
CNET reported almost identical language from Facebook:
A spokesperson for Facebook confirmed the plans to keep the Moves app standalone and not commingle its data
We may share information, including personally identifying information, with our Affiliates (companies that are part of our corporate groups of companies, including but not limited to Facebook) to help provide, understand, and improve our Services.
I suppose the updated policy doesn’t technically contradict the statements by Moves and Facebook because it’s feasible there were no plans at that time to commingle data with Facebook. But my initial reaction was incredulity.
After all, the Wall Street Journal reported Moves had been downloaded 4 million times. Surely Mark Zuckerberg acquired Moves primarily for its ever-growing trove of user activity data. Why else?
But none of the coverage questioned the initial statements, and I figured the companies wouldn’t say it so plainly if it wasn’t true. So I decided to wait and see.
Well, I’ve waited and seen. The lesson here is that it is wiser to pay attention only to what a company does, not what it says. If it looks like a data grab and smells like a data grab, it’s probably a data grab. Even if, especially if, someone tells you it isn’t a data grab.
Facebook deals in data, whether its hundreds of millions of users know it or care about it or not. And Moves would be stupid not to take the money and, more importantly, the resources Facebook can bring to bear on improving the app. So a data grab isn’t a surprise. Perhaps the “no commingling” language was an elegant public relations play meant to minimize privacy concerns in the press. That would seem to have worked: as of this article’s publication I couldn’t find a single story on the change.
Zuckerberg’s recently stated intent to grow via the acquisition and development of discreet apps and services raises another interesting issue. To quit Facebook, it may not be enough anymore to, well, quit Facebook. If I closed my Facebook account today, the company could still gather data about me for as long as I use Moves. Facebook has a growing list of acquisitions under its belt, so that concern is likely to increase with time.
This example of corporate self-contradiction is a good reminder: Always assume your data is a valuable and transferable commodity in the eyes and on the servers of the apps and services you use. Some people are deterred by that fact, while others are not. There is no right or wrong answer, just a continuum of personal comfort and preference.
While I wish the companies had been more forthright from the beginning, I won’t stop using Moves. I have personally always been relatively open in sharing data in exchange for convenience and utility. But that doesn’t mean I’m not alarmed by the increasing difficulty of using the internet and related apps and services for those who disagree with my position on openness.
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