The Problems With SocialCam: Privacy and Coercion Issues Raised by the New Online Video-Sharing App

If you're a heavy Facebook user, you're probably already aware of a new app for uploading, viewing and sharing videos known as SocialCam.

Unlike many of my Facebook friends - who are already avidly using the service (having apparently downloaded the Socialcam app without qualms) - I've refused to sign up.

I am a hold-out because of what happens when I click on a friend's Facebook post that includes an intriguing thumbnail for a Socialcam video. Instead of being directed to the video - I get instructions for downloading the Socialcam app that includes the following legalese: "This app may post on your behalf, including videos you watched, videos you shared and more.”

Maybe my legal training has made me paranoid. But I'm not willing to give Socialcam the power to post to Facebook (and elsewhere?) as if they were me. And what exactly does "and more" mean?

Am I crazy? Or do the Socialcam terms of service seem kinda broad?

Maybe I'm standing in the way of progress, but I don't want Socialcam sharing info about the videos I've watched.

Apparently I'm not alone in my worries about Socialcam. Robert Hof wrote the following in the April 30th, 2012 Forbes:

"Some people... might argue that, well, don’t watch anything you’d be embarrassed to reveal to the world, or at least your friends. Problem is, I don’t necessarily know in advance from looking at the thumbnail that something is NSFW [Not Safe For Work]. Even at that, some of the videos I’ve seen friends post definitely don’t look safe for work. I really wonder if they know that what they viewed was exposed to all their Facebook friends.

Ultimately, I don’t want to think about it in the first place. I just want to check out the damn video, period, without someone, least of all hundreds of “friends,” looking over my shoulder–unless I so choose to let them.

But mostly, I don’t like being railroaded. You want me to watch and share this video? Then stay out of my business and let me do it. Otherwise, I can assure you that, even if you’re the next Instagram, I won’t be one of the users helping you run off with the next crazy bag of money."

But Socialcam may indeed be the next big internet bonanza - It is certainly becoming harder to ignore. On my Facebook page, more-and-more posts are showing up each day with a thumbnail saying a friend has watched some apparently share-worthy video via Socialcam.com.

Even though I haven't signed up for the service, here's what I've been able to find out about Socialcam - as a non-user - with links to some informative source material.

The videos on Socialcam apparently range from typical web-video stunts, mildly provocative sexual teases, to short music and nature films. (The videos on Socialcam are very short - although, unlike the other hot video sharing app, Viddy, Socialcam does not limit videos to 15 seconds.)

Socialcam connects users to friends on other social media platforms (like Twitter and Facebook). If a user wants to upload a video - the user can tag friends.

And here's my fundamental problem with Socialcam: When a user posts or likes a video - OR SIMPLY WATCHES A VIDEO ON SOCIALCAM - all that user's Facebook friends will see that activity as an update on their newsfeed.

This means one ill-considered decision to view a short video (perhaps based on a misleading thumbnail - or perhaps based on an embarrassing interest in nudity or violence) will suddenly be public knowledge. Your choice to watch a short film of questionable taste will suddenly be known to all your friends, fans and followers (including employers and relatives).

And Socialcam has made it surprisingly difficult to hide your viewing habits from your Facebook newsfeed. For example, until quite recently (mid-May 2012), even if a Socialcam user went into the settings menu to eliminate "sharing" (i.e., turning off "sharing" in the Socialcam settings using Firefox on your computer) - watching a video on another device (like a phone) or with another browser (like Safari) would AUTOMATICALLY reset the default to share. Then, even after you'd elected to shut off sharing, everyone would once again know what you had just watched.

Apparently this "social mode" feature (that automatically turned Socialcam sharing back "on" when you visited Socialcam using another device or browser) has been modified (as of mid-May 2012) so that it now stays "off" once a user switches it off.

But it was sneaky and creepy of Socialcam to design their functionality so that users intent was subverted.

Is there a good side to (reasons for using?) Socialcam?

Socialcam isn't just about sharing videos and notifying friends about what you've watched. SocialCam also customizes videos - offering users uploading videos "a choice of TV-intro formats such as "Ticker" featuring the video's title and description running along the bottom a la CNN."

The app has an interface for viewing content that is customized for each user: Once a user installs Socialcam via Twitter or Facebook, that user's followers / friends show up first in the app's video feed, then trending videos are arranged in a mosaic. As with other video apps, users simply tap on a thumbnail to play a video.

According to a Tech Crunch report in late April 2012, Socialcam completed a seed round of funding from a showy list of angel investors (Ashton Kutcher?) even though "Socialcam still has just three full-time employees."

Thanks to Lance Weiler for the link to Robert Hof's article in Forbes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you aware that their privacy disclaimer page (http://socialcam.com/privacy_policy) contains bogus emails? privacy-sc@Socialcam.com is a non-existent address. If you have a privacy problem, or any problem for that matter, there is no way to contact Socialcam. It's truly frightening that in the last week alone millions of people (like sheep to the slaughter) handed over personal info without realizing that Socialcam created accounts without permission. Moreover, Socialcam does not allow people to access and remove their own accounts. I have just contacted a privacy attorney on the matter who is in the process of verifying my claims about the bogus email addresses.

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