By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Extreme social sharing and the rising cost of free

Does your Flashlight know what you're doing?

Given that my life is too dull to be of much interest to anyone, I generally go along with the ever-increasing demands from the digital tools that I use to reveal my location or connect with Facebook. I don’t like it, but I don’t care enough to take a stand. (Yes, I’m well aware that that’s the road to hell.)

But three recent experiences have me wondering. I’ll take them in increasing order of ridiculousness.

I’ll start with Spotify, the free music service (premium versions are also available) that requires you to log in using your Facebook account, after which all of your Facebook friends can see what you’re listening to.

I had been using Rdio at the recommendation of Josh Stearns and found it was a little less bewildering than Spotify. Even better, there was no Facebook connection. But after I used up my free-music quota for the month, I switched over to Spotify, and joined the stream. I suppose a 55-year-old shouldn’t worry about whether his musical choices strike others as sufficiently cool, but I do.

Now, I don’t think Spotify’s social-networking policy is particularly outrageous, because it is offering an expensive service for free. So I have no real complaints. But I’m not crazy about having to do my listening in public. And if I get a sudden urge to listen to Barry Manilow (I’m kidding! Really!), I’ll be sure to do it on Rdio.

Considerably farther down the food chain, yesterday I wanted to download a PDF of a legal decision from a site that uses Scribd. With PDFs, you can usually just click and download. But with a Scribd-ified PDF, I had to register, either by creating a new account (ugh) or logging in with Facebook. Hmmm … I did as I was told and got my download.

In paging back through my Facebook status updates, I see no evidence of anything saying “Dan downloaded a document from Scribd!” But still.

Finally — and the mind still reels at this — I recently received a notification that there was an update available for Flashlight, an app that turns your iPhone into, yes, a flashlight. What, I wondered, could be new and improved about Flashlight? A brighter light? A setting that shines a Batman logo on the sides of vacant buildings?

I installed the new app, started it up — and was asked whether I wanted to provide my location information. Seriously. Well, that was easy. No. But is someone sitting in a room somewhere with a giant Google map, checking to see who’s looking for their car keys?

My prediction: Social sharing is here to stay, but not at this level. Businesses are going to discover that there’s no social-media pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. And as I said, though I’m not particularly obsessed with protecting my privacy, I think all of us should be concerned about living increasingly large chunks of our life in public.

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  1. BP Myers

    I read a comment recently from a celeb on twitter who said, “saying you’re not on Facebook is the new ‘I don’t have a television.” Well, I’m not on Facebook, not because I object to anything about it, but because I simply have no interest in it and am fairly easy to find on the Internet should anyone ever come looking.

    But as someone on the outside looking in, I resent greatly its growing use as a mandatory authenticator and as a portal to other “free” apps of the sort you describe. I resent too (and I know we disagree on this) it being used as a cudgel to slowly eliminate anonymity from the Internet.

    It occurs to me that what they are doing (and getting away with) is scarier than anything Microsoft ever tried to do, for which they suffered years of anti-trust litigation. I suspect (and hope) that sort of thing is coming for Facebook.

  2. As someone who deleted her Facebook account two and a half months ago, I’m here to tell you that you can use Spotify without logging in through FB. And you didn’t ask, but since this is the age of oversharing, I’ll tell you that my family and I have been listening to A Chorus Line, Guys and Dolls, Jack Johnson, some teeny bop group called Cimorelli, Gorillaz, Maroon5 and probably Glee soundtrack stuff. And I also listened to Copacabana a few times last month.

    But seriously… this is just the stuff you know about. I’ll be okay with a culture of oversharing as soon as legislate the Fair Information Practices suggested during the Nixon Administration or get anywhere near the protections the EU has.

  3. wilson tisdale

    This is why I remain a Luddite.

  4. I’m continually amazed by people who don’t realize that privacy on the Internet is an illusion.

    Just recently, someone posted a picture on Facebook that I know he would not want his employer to see.

    It would have taken 2 minutes to drag the photo to a desktop or take a screen shot of the page, Google the top executives at his company and e-mail it to them.

    Granted it’s only his “friends” who see the photo and they’re not likely to do that. But we all know how porous Facebook’s security system is.

    My rule is: never post anything online that you would worry about the whole world seeing.

  5. Mike Saunders

    You can use Spotify without linking it to Facebook. It’s an opt-in “feature.” Minus 15 coolness cred points for you, Tenacious D.

    Most “free” apps ask for location info so that even if you’re not supplying actual info so that they can push location-based ads. It’s not a huge step from the print Globe’s fantastically expensive mailroom distribution system that can send targeted inserts to a specific zipcode

    But Esther’s final point can’t be more true.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Mike: I missed this follow-up. But it sounds like you’re required to use Facebook to register, and then, if you can find it, you can use a switch to turn off sharing. In looking at Spotify, it appears that you have to remember to turn off sharing every time you use it. Ugh.

  6. L.K. Collins

    Esther’s caution is spot on.

    What astonishes me is the number of people who spill their lives out on the internet and then have no clue as to why when they find out others know all of their personal details.

  7. C.E. Stead

    DK – I have another (albeit schizophrenic) Facebook account.

    I do all my bad stuff there.

    Think about it.

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