Shock social media eavesdropping horror

The row about privacy on Facebook makes me wonder whether we are going to see a re-run of the media outrage we saw a while back over junk mail and call centres.

We certainly will if the Daily Mail has anything to do with it. Take last week’s odd piece in which, according to the newspaper’s headline, ‘secret new software allows BT and other firms to trawl internet looking for disgruntled customers’.

Companies such as easyJet, Carphone Warehouse and Lloyds TSB are also monitoring social networking sites to see what is being said about them, the paper fumed. Privacy campaigners have accused them of ‘outright spying’ while legal experts have suggested that firms making unsolicited approaches to customers could fall foul of data protection laws.

To give substance to this, the Mail’s hack found a Facebook user who had posted a comment calling BT ‘a bunch of unaccountable, business shafting, useless b*******’, and who within hours had been contacted by BT asking if there was anything they could do to help. He told the paper that he found this ‘quite Big Brotherish and sinister’, and had since changed his privacy settings so that only his friends could access his page.

Businesses, of course, have a completely different view of this, and one that we at ItsOpen have been enthusiastically promoting. They need to be proactively monitoring the Internet for negative comment, and then stepping in where possible to see if they can resolve the problems.  In most cases customers are delighted to find that the company is actually trying to help, and may even become advocates for the brand in the future. (To be fair, the article did give them the space to make the point.)

Also, if you post an angry comment on a public forum, then you surely shouldn’t be shocked to get a reply from the individual or organisation you’ve slandered. The article implies that BT rang him up at home, when of course it simply posted a comment further down the thread.  So where is the privacy issue? And the point of the call wasn’t to make threats – it was to help.

As for the ‘secret new software’, it’s been around for yonks and is commercially available. And if it happens to be monitoring this site on behalf of BT, let it take note: I’ve had epic problems with the company’s laughable  technical help line recently, and I’d love to hear from it with assurances that nothing of the kind will ever happen again, and perhaps a hamper of goodies to compensate me.

The Mail’s outrage is clearly manufactured, and I’d argue has more to do with the drive to boost circulation than any genuine issue. But is there a serious point here if, in treating businesses as pantomime villains, it changes perceptions of social media as an open forum, and the Internet too, for that matter.

Perhaps we should see this in the context of the conflict between old media and the new, the bitter resentment of the hidebound, conservative press at the johnny-come latelies who have the affrontery to allow views and information to be shared for free.

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