Thursday, July 11, 2013

Every goddamn day would like to access your life at any time

     As with any birth, the arrival of my new blog last week inspired old friends to share their enthusiasm, good wishes and suggestions. 
     One fellow columnist, discussing the various technical details of running and promoting a blog, recommended that I manage my Twitter account on something called HootSuite. The site saves you from tweeting continually -- something the conscientious blogger must do to grind his thoughts in the face of an indifferent public -- by scheduling tweets to be sent automatically.  Just set them up and they fire off at the appointed time. 
     That sounded like a plan, and I hurried to join. A few easy steps, though I paused when HootSuite asked me to sign off on the following request:
Hootsuite would like to access your public profile, friend list, email address, News Feed, relationships, relationship interests, birthday, notes, status updates, checkins, education history, events, groups, hometown, interests, current city, photos, religious and political views, videos, website, personal description, likes and your friends' relationships, relationship interests, birthdays, notes, status updates, checkins, education histories, events, groups, hometowns, interests, current websites, personal descriptions and likes. HootSuite would like to access your data at any time. 
      Golly. I see. Boilerplate written by a 12-year-old. Well. On the one hand: most of that information is sitting in plain sight on my Facebook page already, and any of my thousands of Facebook friends, busily mining honey in the subchambers of the Hive Intelligence, are free to look at it any time they like. So why begrudge this upstart company, which I expect to flawlessly provide me with advanced technological service—scheduling and analyzing my tweets—the right to do the same?
      Fair is fair. I certainly expect to get paid, this blog notwithstanding.
     And yet ... on the other hand ... perhaps it's just the bald stating of what they expect — no, demand— and right off the bat, too. It seems too much, too early in the relationship. Imagine if, on a first date, the person you have just met were to push a piece of paper across the table that reads:
Toots Swit would like to access your face, name, pen, phone number, time, companionship, opinions, jokes, meal, attention, personal history, interest, hope, sexual desire, hand, car, apartment, sofa, lips, neck, body, bed, erogenous zones, cigarettes, refrigerator, bathroom, inner thoughts, heart, friends, family, future children, earnings, savings, patience and geriatric care services. Toots Swit would like to access your entire life at any time.
     Who would sign such a document? Even though that may be what is happening, in essence. Obviously, HootSuite cannot draw people into a relationship blind, the way they are lured into romantic liaisons. Still, I initially fled HootSuite's demand, the way any date worth his or her salt would run out of the bar and leave Toots dangling that little legal request.
      How to understand our desire to share everything about ourselves with countless near random strangers with our simultaneous ability to seize up at particular requests? Are we that afraid  somebody is trying to see what we so obviously want to give?
     I have a theory—and it's only a theory, I'd be interested to hear what you make of it—that what really bugs us is the hard truth that nobody really cares about our political beliefs or our birthdays or our taste in restaurants. We're not important enough to monitor. The government isn't really paying any attention to us. 
     Which is what we crave: not sharing, but attention. When you look at the dream communities of our nostalgic past — Mayberry, Bedford Falls, Brigadoon — those were places where everybody knew everything about each other. (Remember "Cheers"? — "Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your naaaaaame...") That's the small town ideal. A place where a kid can't draw on the sidewalk with chalk without a passerby threatening to tell his mother.
     If we yearn for that lost Eden, then why get all worked up because some company wants to know our height and weight? What's really so threatening about that? And the answer is, because they don't really care about it. They don't care about us. They're like the village gossip, digging for the details of our lives, not out of real concern, but just to have some dirt to share with the other busybodies who don't really care either. We resent handing over information that means so much to us, the grist of our lives, to somebody for whom it only represents currency, and a handful of pennies at that.
     With this clearly in view, being of sound mind and body, I went to join HootSuite. A lot of tweets between here and where I need to be. I clicked "Okay" on their dizzyingly-detailed demand, giving them permission to pull open the drawers of my life and poke around inside.
     But like Hitler gobbling up lebensram, satisfying one demand only led to the next. As soon as I clicked "Okay," this popped up:

     HootSuite would like to post to your friends on your behalf. 

     What the hell could THAT mean? To my friends? On my behalf? The friends in my phone book — which HootSuite has already slipped out of my briefcase and has started thumbing through — will begin to get wheedling emails, supposedly from me: "Hey Bill, it's Neil here. I just got done using HOOTSUITE and, boy, oh boy, is it the greatest web site ever!!! I'm livin' in HOOTSUITE Heaven!!!!"
     That I cannot risk. It's bad enough to be sweet-talked into dropping my informational drawers in front of some attractive tech start-up. But I'll be damned if I'm going to pimp my friends for it too. I fled HootSuite like it was on fire.
     For now. It's only 2013. I'm sure, in a few years, these qualms will not only fail to bother people, they'll never even occur to anybody. Such concerns will seem quaint, inexplicable, the way we view a matron in 1910 who refused to have a telephone installed in her hallway because she could not bear the thought of suppertime being interrupted by persons to whom she has not been properly introduced. Our children will wonder why we made such a fuss over something as meaningless as privacy. 


  1. This is going to be great! You can swear like real people do!

    Seriously, I look forward to your insights in a more uncensored forum!

  2. If you're going to use HootSuite to do your postings on FB and Twitter, it needs permission (per Facebook's rules) to post on your behalf. So, this is really the payoff question: "Given that I (HootSuite) know everything about you and given that you'd like to use me to automate your social media existence, I must now ask you to confirm that you wish to allow me to take the stuff you enter here in HootSuite and put it out on Twitter and Facebook."

  3. I may not be one of those thrilled by the prospects of more "expletive deleteds" filling up web pages but it's great to be able to read more of what you write. By the way, all these places want this information so that they can package your personal data and sell it to advertisers and even potential employers or health insurance companies. I think that they should pay you a percentage of whatever bucks they get for doing that.

  4. David,

    I work at HootSuite and I can assure you we don't package up user information and sell it to advertisers or anyone else. Our tool requests data for the reasons outlined by Steve, above. Of course, we have no influence over the data that users provide Facebook or Twitter, which is governed by the Facebook and Twitter user agreements.

    Our privacy policy is here:
    Here's the relevant section, if you're interested:

    "The information we collect is used to improve the content of our Web pages and the quality of our service, and is not shared with or sold to other organizations for commercial purposes, except to provide products or services you've requested, when we have your permission, or under the following circumstances:

    It is necessary to share information in order to investigate, prevent, or take action regarding illegal activities, suspected fraud, situations involving potential threats to the physical safety of any person, violations of Terms of Service, or as otherwise required by law.
    We transfer information about you if HootSuite Media Inc. or HootSuite is acquired by or merged with another company. In this event, HootSuite Media Inc. will notify you before information about you is transferred and becomes subject to a different privacy policy."



  5. A rare occasion: I disagree. I don't care who gives me attention. When those sites want access to my friends, etc., I'm breaking my friends' assumed trust. Who am I to give up my friend's information? I've said no to games, birthday lists, etc. etc, that all seem logical and great (except for the games..who cares!?), because if one of my friends gave up my information, without my consent, or at least, prior warning, I'd be pissed. Just as when I'm at a restaurant, or ball game, or wherever, and my much younger companion immediately goes to Facebook or Foursquare or wherever, I tell her, don't you dare mention my name. They don't even ask, they just assume it's ok to say they are with so and so at so and so. Rude!! I'm old, I know, but, still...

  6. I was just about to go into HootSuite land until I read what they want to access and after reading this post, I'm certain I don't want to participate in HootSuite. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Thank you for answering my question.It is also nice to know that it bothers others as well. I go out of my way to sign up with user name and password instead of signing up through Facebook because the phrase, "BLANK would like to access your public profile, friend list and birthday." just perturbs me. Most of the time companies don't need this information for me to have an account with them. FYI I found this blog because I searched for what happens when signing up with an account via FB. Nice blog, thanks again.


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