In his most recent book, "Nothing to Hide", Daniel Solove (John Marshall Harlan Research Professor of Law at George Washington University) makes compelling arguments about the false balance and trade-offs being made between privacy and security.
Although Prof. Solove is focused on the issue of 'privacy vs. national security', many of the same points made could apply to the tradeoff of 'privacy vs. commerce' as relates to social networking platforms and information aggregation by companies.
For example, he talks about the types of potential harm that can be done when massive amounts of information are collected, whether willingly (ie. in Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, or any other social media related application), or surreptitously. He describes four categories of risk:
Aggregation: When small bits of information are combined to paint a detailed picture or profile of an individual, perhaps well beyond what that person would knowingly allow to be compiled about themselves.
Secondary Use: The use of information that is collected for one purpose that is then used for a different purpose without the consent of the data's subject. (People join social networks to share information and connect, no one really joins a social network to become a highly targeted marketing prospect or to have their data repackaged and sold).
Distortion: When information that is gathered is used to interpret a behavior or create a profile of a person that is incorrect or misleading. Especially when the data subject is unable to change how their profile is being used, interpreted or communicated.
Although Mr. Solove was pointing out the real and potential dangers of misuse of information by the government, the same principles and dangers apply when data is misused by corporations. Especially now when individuals are willingly giving up hordes of information about themselves without really understanding how that information is being used or even by whom it is being collected, shared, sold or manipulated.
Mr. Solove argues that the entire legal concept of privacy and laws designed to protect privacy need a rewrite.
I couldn't agree more at a time when social media platforms are pressed to turn a profit and this pressure pushes them often in the direction of excessively or unethically exploiting the information they have collected from the members in their communities.
To read more about "Nothing to Hide" visit Prof. Solove's blog "Concurring Opinions".