The Washington Post Social Reader app unnerves me. The act of “Reading" is now itself an action. You don’t click any “read this" button. It may be benign to some but there are potential pitfalls on the privacy front.
What if your friends saw a steady stream of articles that you were reading?
1. Finding comedy in cancer
2. Study: Sexual potency after prostate cancer can depend on age, weight, treatment type
3. Quiz gives facts about skin cancer
4. A fight that’s only begun
and so on…
What do you think they might want to ask you about?
That is just a hastily put together example, but I think it illustrates my point.
We are what we read, and sometimes we need to explore topics and subjects that need to stay in the private realm. There are plenty of good and bad reasons why you would extensively read up on articles regarding to health, diseases, diabetes, marriage, death, suicide, taxes, depression… the list goes on.
Would you want those articles bunched together in your public feed?
The Washington Post has an Editor’s Note. Its says many things including:
“All you have to do is read, just as you normally do. No “recommending,” “liking” or “sharing” — just read and we’ll do the rest of the work. The app gets better the more friends you have using it.”
Thats a very nice spin on it.
Earlier this year when I was still at the Times we talked to Facebook about a news app. Facebook had a whole set of new features in the pipeline (presumably just launched) and this passive reading action was one of them and they were looking for us to use it. It came up in conference calls and on-site meetings. I believe Facebook is very eager to catch-up or even displace Twitter as a go-to place for news, and this is how they think they can do that.
To their credit the newsroom shelved the idea. The consensus was that this was intrusive and potentially an invasion of privacy. I think after that was repeatedly communicated that Facebook lost interest in doing anything at all.
I think its one thing to broadcast your taste in music, but what you are reading raises the stakes a bit. For now, all I have is this isolated case but everything has a beginning.