So in my mind the question is not whether your personal information is safe, but when will social Web companies start getting as desperate as auto dealerships and start selling their only asset to whomever has the cash.
This dim view of the future of the social web extends even to profit-poster boy LinkedIn, which threw itself a profitability party a couple of years ago and is now sagging under the weight of the global recession. The company laid off ten percent of its workforce last November, despite its self-avowed (as a private company, we have only their word for it) status as one of the few profitable social Web companies.
And, as its main VC firm started telling the tech world in October that the good times are over (and that was when the Dow was at 9000 and NASDAQ at 1700. Ahh, those were the good old days) you can be pretty sure theres a lot of pressure to find new ways to generate cash at LinkedIn. And about the only way to do that is with your data.
Same for Facebook, which is facing the fact that its former $15 billion evaluation is now considered an order of magnitude too high, and that, in my opinion, is being charitable. Then theres Twitter, which gained a massive cluster hug from the social Web recently following a New York Times article that cited (finally) a real world use for Twitter as a means to locate some apparently delicious but geographically elusive food. Take that to the bank, you Tweets!
There really are only two ways that this will all end. One way is a massive loss of privacy and control, and which will probably result in the disintegration of many of the social networks (aided and abetted by the facility for social organizing inherent in the social Web: witness the size and rapidity of the protest against Facebooks data policies last month.)
Or, there will be an attempt to start charging for these services, an almost heretical notion that nonetheless has the following point going for it. We need to realize that weve all been slopping at the social Web trough for years on the assumption that the oldest and most sacred maxim in economic theory there is no such thing as a free lunch had somehow been magically suspended when the social Web was created.
Well it wasnt and now we have a choice: pay for our privacy, or pay for our loss of privacy. Whats it going to be?