Nextdoor: Useful neighborhood tool or threat to privacy?

Nextdoor: A SPECIAL REPORT

Editor’s note – In light of recent international headlines, Wrangler News contributor Sammie Ann Wicks set out to learn more about one of the social-media platforms being used in our community.

By Sammie Ann Wicks

If you’re an average citizen of today’s wireless world, you know the drill: Go online, where internet companies invite you to share, connect, network or reach out to family and friends. And, oh yes, they’d like you to sign up for their free services by filling out a simple application.

But this isn’t the kind of connecting we remember our own families doing as we were growing up. It’s not sitting with the neighbors next door and looking them in the eye while you share stories about your kids and theirs, the new postal carrier on the block, the Jones’s missing cat, the high school kid who lives down the street who drives too fast, too dangerously.

No, our online world today is what Marshall McLuhan so many years ago famously called mediatedconnecting. That is, something (or someone) stands between your connection and your intended respondent, who is also online, he or she mediatedby the same electronic tools.

So we begin to “connect” and encounter the communication of those we know are doing the same thing. It’s entertaining, clever, convenient…and to a growing number, worrisome.

Today, the biggest and most socially powerful of these media are familiar to us all: Google, a search engine and its related enterprises, like the company’s so-called Cloud; Twitter, in almost constant daily public consciousness due to heavy presidential patronage; Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook. Again, you know the drill.

So ubiquitous are these seemingly ever-present dispensers of “news” that even such municipalities as Chandler and Tempe have engaged with yet another, though still lesser-known but growing social media company, Nextdoor.

The San Francisco-connected company has, in fact, grown its presence locally with a considerable amount of input from the city of Chandler, which finds the company’s services useful to its communication needs.

Nextdoor’s popularity here may be due to its “next new thing” status, offering participants a chance to monitor real-time neighborhood activities and report those happenings back to other participants in the neighborhood.

Like those in Nextdoor’s claimed 100,000 neighborhoods across the country, Chandler’s Nextdoor members can “create private websites for their neighborhoods where they can ask questions, get to know one another, and exchange local advice and recommendations.”

Says Nextdoor’s call to action:

“When neighbors start talking, good things happen.”

Because of the possibility of real-time reporting of activities and events in the local neighborhood, municipalities like Chandler say such services can also help neighbors to monitor nefarious activities such as sexual predation, kidnappings and other activities they regard as suspicious.

In Tempe, Nextdoor provides a communications tool the city says it also finds useful.

Says Kris Baxter, a Tempe public information officer specializing in social media:

“There are two ways we at the city use Nextdoor, and they’re both news-based. The first of these is the kind of news that is specific to a neighborhood, like perhaps a park remodel or other event in the neighborhood of interest to the people actually living there, where people who are directly affected might see it.”

Other information the city might want to share with citizens has a broader audience, Baxter adds.

“The second way we use Nextdoor is to disseminate news and information that is geographically wider,” says Baxter—“items of concern to people city-wide.”

Baxter states that, although numbers of local Nextdoor users compared to Facebook is smaller, around 21 percent of households in Tempe still make use of Nextdoor services, including 161 neighborhood self-started groups.

Privacy issues of concern to individual users are strictly a matter of choice, she declares.

“Nextdoor is much like any other social media outlet; you either use it and abide by their rules or you don’t use it,” she says.

“Individuals have the right to choose the venues that they’re comfortable using.”

Some observers, though, say they suspect the potential for a darker side to such social media sites in the area of personal privacy. They cite recent revelations that social media giant Facebook allowed Russian operatives, posing as Americans, to buy divisive ads and thus influence some 10 million Americans during the 2016 presidential campaign.

At the national level, data collection beyond the purely political is said to have become a massive marketing tool, burgeoning both in size and its ability to create accurate profiles of individuals, and thus target them with unsolicited ads for products they might buy.

(Full disclosure: Wrangler News pays for a small number of promoted posts on its Facebook page to help expand readership of topics we consider to be of community-wide importance.)

On the everyday, local level, personal data collection by social media ventures is just as replete, and some say—in the area of personal security and privacy—just as dangerous.

Pundits posit that, if you’re not paying, you’re not a customer—you’re a marketing target. So social media companies require users to reveal information about themselves as a cost of membership: If you don’t provide the personal information, well, you can’t participate.

Nextdoor’s founders’ stated goal of “creating meaningful online communities” thus carries with it the burden of potential privacy issues.

For instance, Nextdoor’s official Privacy Policy states that potential users of the site can become members if another Nextdoor member in their neighborhood invites them (if they supply their residence address) or “by providing…your name and street address and email address…[and] additional authenticating information that we request, such as credit card numbers, the last four digits of your Social Security number, and unique codes emailed to you, or your home or mobile phone number.”

Thus, users are allowed to use Nextdoor services by first submitting personal information about themselves to the company.

“We allow you to create a personal profile and submit information such as your phone number, photo, occupation, family members, biography, and personal interests,” says Nextdoor, adding however, “We may give you ways to hide some of this profile information, but your name and street address may be visible to your neighbors so long as you maintain your account.”

Once membership is granted, says Nextdoor, the company “automatically collects information about your visit to the company web site…including the browser you are using, the URLs you came from and go to, your operating system, your IP address, and usage and browsing habits.” This collected personal information, the company declares, is used “to…analyze trends, help target offers and other ads, track user movement…and gather broad demographic information.”

Users’ own personal computer equipment is also physically altered by company software, says Nextdoor, through the use of “cookies, small data files stored on your computer which include unique identifiers.”

Nextdoor says, however, that it allows users not to participate in cookie collection: “You can configure your browser to reject cookies,” says the company, “but doing so will prevent you from logging into our web site…[and]  Our systems are not configured to accept browsers’ ‘Do Not Track’ signals.”

Other personal information is used by Nextdoor for similar commercial purposes:

“We may share your verification information with third-party vendors,” says Nextdoor, “[and] We may choose to retain all verification-related information indefinitely to assist with future verifications, even if you do not complete the verification [process].”

Nextdoor, as well as Nextdoor members living in your neighborhood, also will be told where you live:

“To start a neighborhood, we obtain public information about residences in the neighborhood,” Nextdoor says, “such as street addresses and property lot maps.” But your neighbors, they say, will have your information as well.

“Your neighbors may provide us with, and share with your other neighbors, information about you, (even if you are not a member),” the company declares, “such as your name, email address, street address, phone numbers, and other information typically found in our neighborhood directories.”

But even with the amount of sharing Nextdoor participates in with its third-party vendor partners, the company constrains users from sharing the same information.

“You may not gather information from Nextdoor, either manually or an automated basis,” the company warns, stating that “it is not OK to provide your neighbor’s information from Nextdoor to third-party marketers.”

14 COMMENTS

    • It is worse than that Joe. There is a dark side to NextDoor. Because they insist that people use their names and address, I had a total stranger knock on my front door, to tell me he didn’t like something I posted on ND, and I was not to make a comment again about parants not monitoring their children in golf carts. Nice, huh? So, I am put in jeopardy because I cannot remain anonymous, or just use my first name. If this man had harmed me, would ND be responsible? They say no.

      • Nextdoor does not take any responsibility for the risk that they expose people to by demanding the use of real names. I hate that people will die as a result of this service and I can’t wait until there is a class action that takes them down.

      • WOW!! You LITERALLY just shared one of my biggest fears about Nextdoor. Especially lately when we are all so divided within the community. I’m very involved on current events…and passionate about my views and beliefs..like all of us are. ND has become such a tool of bias and spreading of others views and opinions. Because I won’t be intimidated and will stand strongly by my views I have been “scolded” by admins because my response was too hostile. I know I can’t prove it to you all but I’ve never attacked someone on ND. When I respond it is always with respect and courtesy. I don’t use vulgar language nor do I insult others. Let’s just say that I live in an area that has some very strong minded individuals that will shut me down at any opportunity. Their goal is to silence and censor me because I don’t agree with their views. While I’ve been called racist, bigoted, hateful, Nazi, etc….and yet their posts remain.
        It used to be a great site. Especially if you lost your cat, came across an injured deer, need a cheap plumber, etc. It’s now bordering on something quite dangerous and the LEVEL of hate that has been directed to me most definitely gives me pause. Are they going to knock on my door and physically attack me or my family members? It’s going to happen ESPECIALLY in the direction our society is heading these days. Were you able to have them blocked permanently or file charges?? Unreal. I’m sorry that happened to you and I fully believe that ND has a responsibility to protect their members and when they have failed in doing so resulting in a horrific attack…..I hope someone uses them for everything that they have.

    • Julie, thanks for that info, on deleting your profile, account, and information on “Nextdoor”?
      I want to join so I can find a roommate, or be a roommate.
      Would you, or anyone interested, mind elaborating, on it being tricky to delete your account ? I’m really hesitant to join, but a neighbor told me that there is ads for roommates on Nextdoor.
      Thank you for all comments in advance.

      • From the website you can go to account and there is a link to delete it, but information wont be deleted, at anytime you can log in again and will ask if you want to reactivate your account, so, is not a real delete is just a “suspend”.

        If you can stay off the nextdoor, please, do it.

      • Don’t join! It’s?a liberal nightmare trap. They’ve attacked our President law enforcement & censor like crazy

  1. I used ND for a few months. I enjoyed it at first because it was nice to interact with people in my neighborhood, offer referrals, exchange information, etc.

    Then, I suddenly started receiving warnings that the website was not safe whenever I launched it, and lo and behold, it was NOT safe.

    I had my identity stolen, my bank account was hacked and purchases were made using my bank information that I did not authorize.

    I closed my ND account, and now I am constantly receiving emails that someone has requested to change my password. I contacted the person that “invited me” in the first place and the Admins of the website – no responses.

  2. I have been trying to contact anyone at ND. Is there anyone that I can contact besides the Leads in my neighborhood? I am being trolled and harassed by a neighbor and her friend is a Lead. Now I’m concerned that this Lead has my personal information and because they are just volunteers that they may not be held to any higher standard. How can I find out who sees my personal information?

    • I am very concerned about ND. I had similar experience with their helpline until I have informed them that I have reported to the police and IWF and I will start legal action for unlawfully holding and publishing my details. They have contacted me, they have sent me whatever terms I have agreed to, however they have deleted my account and I no longer receive emails from them. It is a nightmare and my belief is that their purpose is to collect personal data and use it for different purposes with no care about the users safety or community.

  3. I just went to the group that I had created to check on things only to find that Nextdoor deleted it because of a different viewpoint? There HAS to be some recourse for such un-American and draconian behaviors!.

  4. I used a fake name when I signed up for ND. I decided to change it using my real initials. The change was accepted. The next day they told me it was fake and disabled my account, and to get back on I could upload my DRIVER’S LICENSE. I said no way and asked them to delete my account with a confirmation. I bet they wont, but I’m glad they never got my real name or real phone number. I completely saw in 1994 how giving out any personal info online can be dangerous to any angry idiot or invasive big tech companies. No thanks. Not playing. EVER. I have no social media accounts if they require anything real. My right to my safety and privacy. Not anything to do with advertisements, which I have easily blocked, and clean cookies habitually, for years. I know how technology can track your location and isp with your IP address. I used to do this when tracking spammers. Use a VPN.
    Aside from all that, ND is a replica of the same players you find on Twitter and Facebook. Just go meet your real neighbors and talk to them, or start a simple newsletter as I used to do before the time of social media. Social media keeps us locked down from real people and makes being rude and ugly easier for mentally undeveloped people.

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