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Web 2.0 MIS Finds Compromise Between Service and Privacy
WhitePages.com maintains an MIS fed by a huge database that provides information on 180 million adults in the United States— 80 percent of the U.S. population. Look up an old friend on WhitePages.com and you may find his new address, the name of his wife, his age, e-mail address, phone number, even a map to his house. Using associated services, you could find police records for your old friend and find out how much his house is worth. You can guess the obvious concern that many people have about WhitePages.com—privacy!
Information systems that post personal information on the Web without a person’s consent run the risk of negative press and lawsuits. Consider the Beacon program provided by social networking giant, Facebook. Beacon was designed to collect information about a Facebook user’s activities on partner Web sites and use those members to endorse products. For example, you might see an announcement in your Facebook news feed informing you that your friend Shannon just rented the movie “Iron Man” from Blockbuster Online.
When Facebook users learned about how the Beacon system worked, many were enraged. Facebook quickly responded by giving users the ability to opt out of the Beacon system. The difference between Facebook and WhitePages.com is that Facebook is set up to serve registered users, and they have certain expectations of the Facebook service. WhitePages.com, however, was not designed to service members, but rather the entire Internet population. WhitePages.com does not obtain information about Internet users through an online profile that the user submits. It collects information from freely available public records on the Internet. This makes WhitePages.com less liable to privacy violations than Facebook. However, that level of liability might be changing.
WhitePages.com sees many similarities between today’s popular social networks and its own directory service. It also sees the potential for substantial profits. In moving to a design that reflects a social network, WhitePages.com now includes a way for those listed in its directory to correct and add information about themselves. It is also setting up a service that allows members to fill out a profile and find others in the directory with similar interests. Users can send an anonymous message to others listed in the directory to find out if they are interested in striking up a friendship or renewing an old one. Now WhitePages.com finds itself in the same quandary as the big social networks: what information to share and what to keep private.
WhitePages.com decided to allow those listed in its directory to select the information they want to make public—if any. The company has decided to give its users control over their information. In doing so, WhitePages hopes to transform its directory service into an Internet-wide social network. While some users are likely to omit information that WhitePages previously made available, others might add to their information. By being conscious of privacy concerns, WhitePages hopes to improve its reputation and draw more visitors. The company has also released a software development platform that will allow developers to publish useful applications based on the WhitePages directory.
Businesses such as WhitePages.com need to control access to the private information in their information systems. Whether it’s an information system available only to employees of the company or one that’s accessible on the public Web, the reputation of a business depends on the trust of its clientele. If customers don’t trust one company due to mismanagement of private information, they are likely to select a competitor that promises better security and privacy.
1. Why is WhitePages.com more concerned about customer privacy today than it has been in the past?
2. What are the differences between the services offered by WhitePages.com and Facebook.com?
1. What benefits does WhitePages.com have compared to Facebook.com in regards to its customer base?
2. What types of applications might be developed using the WhitePages.com software development platform?