In another assault on personal privacy by News Corp. and its progeny, MySpace has announced that they will begin offering a “viral fundraising tool” to candidates for president. The stated purpose of the tool is to allow members to make contributions to the candidates of their choice. On the surface this may not seem worthy of outrage or objection. It might even be considered a public service. The problem with the tool as proposed is that it will also be able to track the donation histories of MySpace members. Do you really want Rupert Murdoch to know to whom you contribute and how much? Do you think that information would be safe in those massive archives that already contain mountains of data about you and your personal life; your buying habits; your professional affairs, etc.?
I would feel a bit nervous permitting an enterprise that has had such a sordid history of privacy violations to be in control of such data. This may be a good time to remind everyone that when MySpace was acquired it was actually as a subsidiary of Intermix, which is the company News Corp. had purchased. Just weeks before the acquisition, Intermix settled a lawsuit with the State of New York with the payment of 7.5 million dollars. They were accused of clandestinely distributing spyware with many of the software and services they provided. I’m sot so sure that the integrity of MySpace’s new owner is any more trustworthy than their previous owners.
This announcement is just the latest escalation of the risk to privacy with regard to voting issues and MySpace. Earlier this year MySpace revealed plans for presidential “Town Halls” and a “virtual primary” to be held on the site next January. These initiatives would provide additional elements of members’ electoral preferences with which to shape sophisticated profiles of MySpace users.
The questions arising from these projects are serious. There is a real threat of the loss of the concept of a secret ballot. This is especially worrisome when the caretaker of the former secrets is a less than reputable mega-corporation. In addition, funds raised via resources provided by MySpace could be construed as bundled contributions. The impact of this fundraising, if successful, might potentially influence candidates’ positions and voting on matters related to News Corp. Is it really worth potentially sacrificing personal privacy and political principle just to participate in a statistically irrelevant exercise in election handicapping? I think not.