NPR has the second in a four-part series about privacy (here’s the first). This segment focuses on social-networking sites and privacy. In June, the MIT Technology Review reported on research about social networking sites and their privacy settings. The researchers noted that social networks get more economic value out of users who share a lot of data. “This situation encourages social networks to bury the privacy settings that they build.” NPR reports:
Much has been made in recent years of the so-called Facebook generation, which supposedly consists of 20-somethings who like to go online and spill their guts without regard for privacy. The reality is more complex.
Yes, social network users post a lot of personal information. But they’re sharing it within a circle of online “friends.” And they fiercely resist outsiders’ attempts to get a peek. […]
Social network users assume a degree of privacy within their circle of friends — but it’s not a safe assumption to make. […]
Chris Conley of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is particularly concerned about the quizzes that circulate on Facebook. […]
What people often don’t realize, Conley says, is that these quizzes are applications. Just like games and other entertainment, they’re programs that run in a user’s Web browser. […]
To demonstrate, Conley wrote his own Facebook quiz. When you run it, it gathers your information, then shows you, the user, what it got.
That means your photos, political views, even sexual preferences can be sent back to the stranger who wrote the quiz application. […]
Tim Sparapani, Facebook’s director of public policy (and a former ACLU Legislative Counsel), says though technologically possible, a quiz that violates a user’s privacy also violates Facebook’s terms of service. In that case, Facebook would take legal action against the offending third-party application creator.
Nathan Hamiel of the Hexagon Security Group focuses on the false belief of security held by social-networking site users.
“There’s a perceived safety,” he says. “People are a lot more loose with their information because they don’t realize the trust they’re putting into this application developer.”
People tend to open up about themselves on social networks, and that kind of candor is worth money. There are now companies that mine social sites for data to sell to marketers.
Earlier this month, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a study (pdf) concerning privacy and six social networking sites: 1. Facebook 2. Hi5 3. LinkedIn 4. LiveJournal 5. MySpace 6. Skyrock. The study that social-networking sites’ privacy problems were similar. such as not telling users enough about how or how much of their information is shared with advertisers and third parties.
Earlier this year, the Privacy Commissioner criticized some of Facebook’s policies, saying they violated the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”). The social networking site later agreed to implement the Privacy Commissioner’s suggestions in order to better protect the data of Facebook users.
In May, University of Cambridge researchers found that several social-networking sites kept copies of users’ photos available online even after users deleted them. Of the 16 social-networking sites, blogging sites, and dedicated photo-sharing sites surveyed, seven kept copies of users’ photos after 30 days.
I have written before about how data from social-networking sites are being used against various current employees, applicants to jobs, applicants to colleges and graduate schools, and in criminal trials. In the end, users need to remember that once data is posted online, it is difficult to control who sees it and how the data is used. Rethink whether you should post that embarrassing photo or anecdote.