Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Privacy Implications of Vizify Acquisition


[Updated On, March 14, 2014]

I received an email from Vizify this morning.  Yahoo is closing Vizify.  Bummer.
"We appreciate that you invested time in creating and sharing your bio and apologize for any disruption we may be causing you. We’re going to miss our bios, too, but we’re taking the following step to make the shutdown smoother."
On the brighter side perhaps they can bring some of their talent to a larger audience.  An updated FAQ is provided.

[Updated On, March 12, 2014]

Eli Tucker (@etucker) Vizify co-founder, provided a link indicating, "Yahoo will not use any Vizify user data except for purposes directly related to Vizify bios and services".

[Original Post, March 12, 2014]
Most of us have an idea about how our personal information is used when we sign up for an online service.  It stands to reason, participation requires sharing some personal information.  But what happens to our personal data when a company acquires another?

Vizify is an an online service where participants share personal background like, work history, Twitter connections, noteworthy Tweets, professional associations, and more.  The benefit of Vizify is that it presents professional and personal life in a info-graphic style dashboard that's easy for others consume.  If you want to see Vizify in action, take a look at my profile.

Now that everyone an idea of Vizify's services, let's think about the acquisition further.  I was wondering what would happen to my personal data when Yahoo purchases this company.  Investigating further, I reviewed Vizify's online privacy policy (image shown).

Image: Vizify Privacy Policy
First of all, Kudo's to Vizify for the worlds shortest privacy policy.  Most privacy policies I review these days read like the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Vizify's privacy policy is short and to the point.  In fact, the policy is quite clear about what happens during a merger or acquisition.  Any personal data  shared with Vizify will be included in the negotiations or sale of the company.  In this case, personal data shared with Vizify is now Yahoo's property.

Small disclaimer, Yahoo was a previous employer, I know how important security and privacy is to Yahoo.  I'm not concerned about this acquisition.  However, what if a different company purchased Vizify?  Considering more chilling scenarios, what if an insurance company purchased another company with medical information like WebMD?  WebMD does not hold medial records in the strictest sense and not subject to government regulations like HIPAA but they do have a treasure trove of medial information.  Continuing the thought, what if LinkedIn wanted to sell information about your job searching to the highest bidder which may include your employer?  My point is not to stir up conspiracy theories but personal information can be used in chilling ways that's difficult to imagine.

It's a fact that companies are sometimes purchased solely for the competitive value of their intellectual property (e.g., patents, information).  I'm not a lawyer, but outside of corner cases like medical records or credit card information, there are few laws describing protections for personal information or the disposition of personal data after corporate acquisitions and mergers.


 --Milton

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