Friday, December 13, 2013

Private Messaging -- a Trend in Response to Government Spying?

After racing for years watching to make everything public, are we seeing companies, large and small, responding to the public's desire for more privacy? Twitter has added photo-sharing to its direct messaging functionality, and Instagram is enabling users to share messages plus photos and videos with a single person or small group of people.

All these companies seek to be “the email of chat,” the "killer app" of the second decade of the new millennium. This has happened before -- ICQ, AIM, etc., of the early days of the public uptake of the internet.

Until lately, Twitter users could view Instagram photos within Twitter itself thanks to the microblogging network's media-friendly expanding content cards. Then one day, they couldn't — having instead to perform the arduous task of clicking an outbound link to the Facebook-acquired Instagram's still relatively new website. So, while you could still technically share Instagrams to Twitter, the experience was drastically altered. Instagram killed support for Twitter, as well. Instead of a toe-to-toe nuclear conflict, Instagram photos shared by brands on Twitter decreased in engagement, brand activity on Facebook and Instagram increased.

The term "conversations" has been replaced with the term "messages" in many places throughout the enterprise. Twitter pushed out a new version of its iOS and Android apps, as well as the web-based versions of TweetDeck. Previously, all photos posted to Twitter were public by default, and all direct messages could contain only links and text. Now users can privately message photos back and forth through the app, helping the company compete with photo-sharing apps like Snapchat and messaging services such as WhatsApp and Kik. Unlike Snapchats, however, privately messaged photos on Twitter can be saved.

Clearly private messaging is an important component of public real-time conversations using distributed platforms such as Twitter. Can these private "conversations" survive government snooping? Not when the spooks are snooping in places like Second Life and WoW.

The spies have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents, disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. Because militants often rely on features common to video games — fake identities, voice and text chats, a way to conduct financial transactions — American and British intelligence agencies worried that they might be operating there, according to the papers.

Facebook introduced a new feature which allows business pages to receive private messages from their fans on the social network, first available to Asia-based administrators, is a significant private messaging tool that will allow organizations to interact more closely with stakeholders on the service than ever before. Consumer facing businesses will find the feature particularly useful as it enables more personal communication with individual customers, opening the possible of a greater level of customer service .

But what will this mean for privacy? Only time will tell if the NSA and other government agencies (US and UK, for example) tap these networks.

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