Is your online privacy safe with Pinterest?

By accessing your personal info when you set up your profile through Facebook, is the hot, new site breaching what has become online privacy protocol?

For once in my life, I’m skeptical. For you die-hard Pinterest fans, let me explain my current concerns about Pinterest.

I can’t get my sister-in-law to interact with me on Facebook, but she loves Pinterest and had been trying to get me to use it for a couple of months. Given the recent chatter on social media, I finally broke down and joined it, using my Facebook account to establish my Pinterest profile.

I then noticed that I was receiving emails that so-and-so was now following me on Pinterest. At first I thought, wow, I’m super popular. Then reality set in, and I decided to see what was up. In a quick call to my sister-in-law, I found out that she had received an email saying I was now following her on Pinterest, so she followed me back. My reaction? I never asked to follow you. I didn’t ask to follow anybody.

It turns out that when I used my Facebook account to create my profile, Pinterest accessed my personal information to automatically have me start following common connections. In my book, Pinterest broke a basic tenet of online privacy: to not invasively use my online information.

Connecting your Facebook account should either be an easier method for authentication (verifying identity) or to suggest friends to follow. I appreciate the ease of use that Pinterest is attempting to provide, but when it comes to deciding whom I follow—or not—that should be at my discretion, exercised manually. Additionally, while the Pinterest privacy disclosure does mention the use of personal information from Facebook to create a Pinterest account, it does not explicitly mention it would use that information to predetermine followees. (You also have the option to establish your profile using your Twitter account, which does not trigger auto-follow, I’m told.)

A quick Google search shows me that other individuals have encountered this same issue:

“The warning that I will give out about Pinterest is that they are not very good at maintaining your privacy when it comes to respecting your wishes about how much they share from your other social networking sites (you have to use Facebook to open an account).”
How to Unfollow People on Pinterest, Infobarrel

“I thought pinterest would be a cool way for me to categorize great content from webpages so I could stop emailing links to myself. I thought my page would be a nice blend of my and other nerds’ (whom I followed by choice) repositories of great info. As it turns out, I’m now following 78 women and 3 men against my will.”

“Pinterest has really bad privacy settings (or none) and I hate that. If you find a forum for pinning photos or links, that is private (like as private as an email account or something of that nature) let me know. I don’t like the automatic follow and following. I don’t like that I can’t link to articles, as well as, photos. I would like to use it as my own personal links library, not as another social media platform.”
So, let me tell you why I dislike Pinterest…and how to unfollow people on Pinterest, Josh’s Blog

In today’s world online privacy is crucial. So here are my four suggestions for Pinterest:

  1. Use Facebook information to suggest friends to follow, but do not automatically follow them on a user’s behalf.
  2. Create privacy settings; currently, there are none. At a minimum, I should be able to create contributor groups and then establish individual viewing permissions for each of my boards for those groups.
  3. Establish a method that enables people to unfollow connections in bulk. Currently, you have to unfollow people individually.
  4. Err on the side of restricting information first, and then let the user decide what information should be shared.

Online privacy is difficult to manage, and I don’t envy the creators of social networks such as Pinterest, because they have many factors to consider. The relationship between privacy and a person’s social network is multifaceted. In certain occasions we want information about ourselves to be known only by a small circle of close friends, and not by strangers.

In other instances, we are willing to reveal personal information to anonymous strangers, but not to those who know us better (Information Revelation and Privacy in Online Networks, Carnegie Mellon University).

Facebook learned a painful lesson about the importance of user-controlled privacy settings. Many people have voiced frustration as Facebook has released new versions, but it is the only site that enables you to personalize who and what people see all the way down to the individual news items or photos in your albums. It’s been worth the pain for me.

It is not my intent to lessen the current excitement and chatter that Pinterest has been generating, nor the value that it introduces to the social networking community. But I think it’s important to highlight the importance of online privacy.

And please, don’t get me wrong. I’m still really excited about the possibilities of Pinterest. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to explore it, because I’m unfollowing people one by one.

I’m interested in knowing whether anyone else has had a similar experience. I’m also interested in collecting more online privacy control suggestions for Pinterest from those who have actively been using it. Please feel free to post your comments below.

Elizabeth Lupfer is senior manager for employee experience and Web technology at Verizon. She is a writer and keynote speaker through her blog, The Social Workplace, where a version of this article originally ran.

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