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Click by click, swipe by swipe, privacy died in 2010

This was the year privacy died.

Facebook allowed other websites to tap into your information, Google stirred up some Buzz, and several location-broadcasting smartphone apps took off. Heck, you don’t even need an app — a credit card swipe can broadcast where you are and what you purchased.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg kicked off 2010 saying that he doesn’t believe privacy is important to society anymore.

"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,” Zuckerberg told an audience in January. “That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”

Fast forward to the end of December, when a Wall Street Journal investigation found many popular smartphone apps are, unbeknownst to us, tracking and sharing our identity and location with advertisers — and sometimes our passwords, too.

This was a year in which sharing too much information, TMI, just didn’t apply.

And for those who do want to protect their privacy, this should have been the year they learned that nothing you put online can be guaranteed as private.

But perhaps our faith in privacy can be resuscitated, if the government follows through with recent talks about setting privacy standards.

Here’s a look back at our picks for the top five social media privacy stories this year:

5. Google Buzz. It was launched in February as a way to post and share social activities. But the search giant caused an uproar when it automatically signed everyone who uses Gmail into Buzz and posted users’ contacts. Google quickly fixed that and made it so users had to opt in to share, but the service has had a rocky start.

4. Facebook Instant Personalization. In April, Facebook spread itself further throughout the Web by giving outside sites the ability to share public information with other users. Websites like Yelp and Pandora were the first to display what your friends thought was popular, and numerous sites have followed suit. Users can block the feature — but they have to dig through their Facebook privacy settings to opt out. Otherwise, the feature is automatically turned on.

3. Swipely.com and Blippy.com. Swipe a credit card and users let friends know about the shoes they just snagged. Take it a step further and write a review to share with Facebook and Twitter friends. The social shopping phenom grew with the introduction of these two sites that let shoppers share what they’re buying with friends.

Users can connect these services to their bank accounts and pick which purchases they want to share — plus write a review of the product. But Blippy faced an embarrassing privacy breach in April when it discovered that four users had their credit card information pop up in a Google search. The company said it has made changes to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

2. Geolocation. More commonly referred to as a “check-in,” using one’s phone to share location on Facebook and Twitter has become more popular. Foursquare reached one million users in April, and its popularity inspired privacy advocate sites including PleaseRobMe.com, which pulled a feed of anyone sharing their location, mocking that they could be robbed.

In August, Facebook launched Places, its own way of using Facebook on a smartphone to show where you are — but with the bonus of listing who is with you. Unless users go into privacy settings to turn this off, any one of their friends can publicly announce their “location” — whether it’s accurate or not.

1. Do Not Track. The most recent event could set the tone for a new privacy standard. In early December, the Federal Trade Commission told Congress there’s a need for more transparency in how websites use the information they collect and for users to be able to opt out of having their personal data mined and shared with advertisers. The FTC said there should be a Do Not Track option for users, similar to Do Not Call lists.

Two weeks later, the U.S. Commerce Department said there’s a need for a Privacy Bill of Rights and a Privacy Policy Office. Microsoft and Firefox responded by saying they will have more privacy options to stop such tracking in the next release of their Web browsers.

Will the government be able to take the reins on this new advertising frontier? We’ll see in 2011.


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