Have you noticed how social media networks keep changing, with privacy settings (or lack of), email settings, and many other features keep popping up?

Make no mistake. Social media networks are self-serving, and not altruistic. Many of these social networks do not charge a fee to their users, and therefore, users are not really paying customers. Most of the time, the networks have financial accountability to their investors instead. This is especially true for those social networks that are public listed.

Therefore, because they are self-serving and commercial entities with commercial accountability, you cannot expect these platforms to act for your interests. They are here for a reason – to make money, and hopefully, lots of it. There is nothing wrong with the networks’ hope to be profitable, but you have to be aware of what that means to you, a user.

For example, you may have noticed that a new “feature” has popped up on your Gmail settings:

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To prevent just anyone from emailing you indiscriminately via your Google+ profile, especially since Google is merging many of their offerings together, you may want to turn it off altogether like this:

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This is not unique for this social network. Many other networks have acquired technologies or platforms to beef up their own offerings, and in so doing, make their platforms more and more complex beyond their original offerings. Users are often confronted with complex legalese on user agreements to “agree” before continuing to use such platforms, which are not helpful to most users who are not lawyers. And it is a unilateral document that is designed and written by one party, with no real input from the other party.

Therefore, most users really have two options:

  1. Become more vigilant when reading user agreements, features and upgrades on any platform, and keep up to date with blogs and news sites that feature news about such platforms and tools, or
  2. Quit the social networks and with sufficient technical knowledge, set up their own tools. For example, if you are not keen to use email services tied to social networks, you can easily sign up a shared hosting service and have your own email service. You can set up content management platforms, discussion forums, messaging, chat, and even private social networks of your own.

As a consumer, we need to understand the nature of social networks being private and commercial entities, with self-serving interests. We abide by their commercial interests as pawns to their bigger stakeholders such as investors, if we decide to stay in their networks. If we do not agree to any of their self-made “regulations”, then our choice is to leave, not merely to another competing social network since every such entity shares the same commercial leaning, but perhaps to take charge in our own hands. The choice is there, choose one.