Color me stupid: A privacy nightmare in the making

What happens when a geolocation-based photo-sharing network gets hacked? Like it or not, your life goes on display for all to see

It's not like the world needs another social network, yet we keep churning them out. The latest social media darling is named Color, a network designed for the "post-PC era." If you thought Facebook or MySpace was a privacy nightmare, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Color is a free iPhone or Android app that lets you share photos and videos with every Color user in the general vicinity, as well as comment on those shared by others. The app works only within a radius of approximately 150 feet, though, so whatever you're sharing isn't likely to surprise the folks you're sharing it with. (Last time I checked, there was already a way to capture and share events happening directly in front of you with the people standing next to you, utilizing low-cost yet highly sophisticated eyes-brain-and-mouth technology. I guess that just makes me an old fart, eh?)

[ Also on InfoWorld.com: If you like your social networks to be more, er, antisocial, Cringely can point you in the direction of Canvas, brought to you by the founder of 4chan. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]

Color recently made a big splash, thanks in large part to $41 million in venture buck funding and its pedigree. It was co-founded by serial entrepreneur Bill Nguyen, a very sharp guy who launched the music sharing service LaLa, which got snapped up by Apple in 2009 and folded into its Ping social net.

This week Color made news for another reason: It got hacked, very quickly and easily, by a security wonk named Chris Wysopal. As Forbes' The Firewall blogger Andy Greenberg reports:

Using a jailbroken iPad and an app called FakeLocation, Wysopal was able to set his device's location to anywhere in the world. Launching Color a moment later, he found, as predicted, that he could see all the photos of any person at that location…. Wysopal is based in New York, but … by hopping between Harvard, MIT, NYU, and then to Color's headquarters in Palo Alto … he accessed the photo and video stream of Color's chief executive Bill Nguyen.

Because Color is set by default to share your stuff with everyone around you, Wysopal's hack allows it to share your stuff with everyone everywhere.

The response from Color? Privacy, schmivacy. Everything you post via Color is already public, though geographically limited; Wysopal's hack just lets you share your narcissism with the world at large.

Let's put this in perspective. You do or say something stupid in a public place. In the past, all you had to worry about was some embarrassment the next day or maybe blowing your chances of making a deal/getting a second date/ever visiting that restaurant again. But the effect was limited. Now, with the profusion of camera-enabled devices and apps like Color, every stupid thing you do can be captured and shared automatically with everyone, at any time, instantly.

I'm guessing most of InfoWorld's readers probably won't have any interest in using Color, but I'm sure others out there will. If they happen to be next to you at that concert or in that bar or wherever, you're suddenly a part of their permanent online history, like it or not.

Color takes the already blurry line between our public and private lives and makes it practically invisible. By comparison, it makes Zuckerberg's attitudes toward privacy and anonymity sound like the Unabomber's.

The folks behind Color are smart, but I gotta wonder if they gave this idea enough thought.

Do you care if your private life isn't? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Color me stupid: A privacy nightmare in the making," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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