Dear Pandora, It’s over between us

by Joel on May 24, 2010

Update: It seems I wasn’t the only one disturbed by Pandora’s lack of privacy. According to Wired, Pandora no gives users the option to opt out. I’m still not going back.

Dear Pandora,

It’s over between us. My sudden change of heart may come as a shock but there’s a good reason for it. It’s not me, it’s you.

The other day I wanted to listen to some music and I wasn’t digging the blues show that was on my favorite source of streaming music, KEXP. So, I turned to you, my other source of interesting music.

On this particular day, my stream started normally but the second song, something by Bob Marley, seemed out of place. I don’t dislike reggae but it’s not something I listen to regularly and seemed out of place in my indie rock stream. As the Internet arm of the Music Genome Project you usually do a good job of playing music that I like. When I looked at your interface to figure out how Bob Marley ended up in my stream, I saw something that creeped me out so much that I decided then and there that our relationship was over.

Underneath Bob Marley was a bubble that said that one of my friends liked this artist and had his Facebook profile picture. This is not okay. You are not allowed to go digging around in my personal data without my permission to find out who my friends are and what kind of music they like.

Chuck and BeansI follow tech news so I know about Facebook’s “Social Graph,” which aims to connect everyone with everything, and the privacy concerns it has brought forth. I had read that you, along with Yelp and Microsoft, were using the Facebook API to “personalize” users’ experience. But it was my understanding that I had to be logged into Facebook for you to be able to retrieve my information. I surfed over to Facebook and I was not logged in. Given that I was on my media computer, which I primarily use for storing media, Netflix, Windows Media Center, and such, it’s likely that I have never logged into Facebook on that computer.

I hear you sputtering that you are just trying to be the best music companion you can be, that this is all Facebook’s fault, that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly apologized for this privacy snafu so everything should be okay now. But here’s the thing – I can’t trust that an apology from a megalomaniac is genuine. Besides, he has said publicly that the age of privacy is over.

You see, this isn’t the first time Facebook has changed its privacy policy and Zuckerberg has said it was a mistake. Each time this happens, Facebook rolls back the new policies but not quite as far back as the old policies. It is becoming apparent that Facebook’s game is to distract us by making drastic changes so the less-drastic changes that it eventually settles on seem acceptable by comparison. It’s a classic sales technique. This infographic of the erosion of Facebook privacy proves it.

There’s no need to get snarky, Pandora. I can’t quit Facebook. In order to administer the multiple Facebook pages that my employer maintains, I must have a Facebook account. (Believe me, I couldn’t care less who needs a pig for their “farm” or wants me to join their “mafia” or needs a green gem on Treasure Island.) I have used ReclaimPrivacy.org to lock down my Facebook privacy settings, though I have little faith that Facebook will actually comply with my wishes.

You have gone from a music geek’s perfect companion to a creepy stalker girlfriend who digs through my virtual underwear drawer when I’m not looking. It was fun while it lasted but knowing that you got into bed with Facebook, I can no longer trust you.

Consider yourself un-liked.

Sincerely,
~JG

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