Social Media and Privacy

To start out with this post I had to really sit down and identify the major issues with social media and privacy.  I eventually found my way to a blog post that pretty much summed up the main points, found here.  In addition, the site also gives some pointers on how to handle some of the privacy concerns. This post is essentially going to be my take on each of these issues.  Is it a legitimate issue?  Who stands to gain or lose from the issue?  Can it be prevented?

The most common issue with privacy and social media seems to be problems with collateral damage from posting to your social media site.  What I mean by this is when a person makes a post, it sometimes isn’t meant for everyone to see.  When the people that aren’t supposed to read the post come across it, the outcome can be a disaster.  We have all heard some rumor along the way about this happening, here is one that I have seen a few times around the net:

[Lindsay]
“OMG [oh my God] I HATE MY JOB!!” “My boss is… always making me do s**t stuff just to p**s me off!!… “

[Brian]
“Hi Lindsay, I guess you forgot about adding me on here?” [He continued with] “… that s**t stuff’ is called your ‘job’, you know, what I pay you to do. But the fact that you seem to be able to f**k up the simplest of tasks might contribute to how you feel about it. And lastly, you also seem to have forgotten that you have 2 weeks left on your 6 month trial period. Don’t bother coming in tomorrow.”

I find this hilarious in every way, even if it isn’t real.  If it is fake, I’m sure that something similar has happened before.  What we need to take away from this though is that posts on social media sites should always be considered public, never private.  This is especially true when you consider the article from Boyd and video from Shirky. In the article/video they talk about how sites like Facebook nonchalantly tell you that they have changed the privacy setting and that you should revise them.  The number of people that ended up actually changing their settings was 1 in 3.  This disaster was compounded when the changes made it so that the site took a default setting of public, and then the option of switching to private.  Why would they do such a thing?  Probably because their business partners would have a lot to gain from it (see: Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol).  Don’t be naive, always assume that the one person you don’t want to read your post is going to somehow find it and read it.  I do not feel bad for these people who lose their job because of social networks.   Also, are people really being fired over pictures of them drinking alcohol?  Last I checked, it’s not illegal and it definitely shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of.  If anything, its shows some form of normalcy.  Pro-tip: either embrace it fully, or just get off the social network.

Another large concern with privacy in social media is the use of public information.  When a person posts information to their profile on a website, do they really know what they are doing?  Do they know where that information is going?  What is being done with it?  I don’t think they do.  This is probably because you are only really asked for small tiny pieces of information at a time.  First your email to sign up, then your first and last night.  Now maybe they want your birthday.  Soon they could be asking for city of birth, and so on.  By concatenating all this information, a professional could build a very detailed profile of you (recent Google folly ring a bell?). What about places like LinkedIn?  It’s on online database for professionals.  But I can go in there and look up a person, see where they live, where they have worked, and even get a picture of them.  Surely everyone can see the potential for danger in this.

Just recently I noticed that one of my Facebook applications took the liberty of adding itself to the “interests” section of my profile.  This was without my knowing, and had I known that was happening, I would have immediately uninstalled the application.  Outside of the electronic world, I struggle to find the line between when I just don’t care about someone having some of my information and when I’m concerned enough to do something about it.  On the internet though, once I’m passed the initial feeling of being flattered,  I’m irate that someone took information without my knowing.  I’m genuinely creeped out by ads that are engineered based on my interests an habits.  How are they getting my information! (again, see: Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol)  Stop it!  These ads are useless anyway and they are never things that I would actually be interested in.  So maybe that’s a bigger slap in my face, they steal my information, then don’t even use it to benefit me!  I think the reason I get so mad about it is because I don’t have the option to sell my information, it is just taken.  I know I put it out there, but still, a more formal warning would be nice.

So overall what is my take on social media and privacy?  I agree with essentially everything that Boyd and Shirky are saying.  The system is not in place online to interact with others in the same way that we do in real life.  I’m ok with that.  This is still a relatively new phenomena and it isn’t fully developed yet.  In a few more years if we still have the same problems then that is another thing.  I don’t think its ok at all that businesses are stealing our information though.  I know its on “public” webspace, but as Shirky noted, if you knew someone was listening in on a conversation, you probably wouldn’t talk about the same things or talk in the same way as you would in a more candid situation.  I love it, I hate it, I just deal with it.  Learn to adapt to the new form of communication.  Just stop stealing my damn information without asking!

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Annotations of links and readings:

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/danah_boyd_talks_about_privacy_at_sxsw.php

  • By and large, teenagers, according to Boyd, are more conscious about what they can gain by being public, while adults worry more about what they could lose.
  • Just because you can see somebody, doesn’t mean they want to be seen.

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/a_closer_look_at_facebooks_new_privacy_options.php

  • When interacting in real life, we can really control who hears/sees what.  But when you are online, its either public or private.
  • Are all your friends in one big bucket, though, in real life?
  • Facebook is implementing a system that will allow you to specify who see certain posts, not just the two options of public/friends only.  This will sort of be like email mailing lists.  Maybe you can set up certain groups.

On my facebook:

  • apps adding themselves to my interests.

LinkedIn – website meant to advertise yourself (career related) or do they take the info without asking?

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One Response to Social Media and Privacy

  1. What I find funny is that I didn’t read your post prior to writing my manifesto of social media privacy, but we seemed to have made a few of the same points. My favorite is when you talk about drinking on Facebook:

    “Also, are people really being fired over pictures of them drinking alcohol? Last I checked, it’s not illegal and it definitely shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. If anything, its shows some form of normalcy. Pro-tip: either embrace it fully, or just get off the social network.”

    I agree 100 percent. People should either be happy with who they are and not care about if an employer sees them drinking, or they should chose not be on the site, as you suggest, or they just shouldn’t make those kind of posts.

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