The Not So Private Privacy

Feb 18, 2010 11:08 PM/by binsar

I have just joined Twitter the last month for the sake of this blog and, thanks to my gmail account, apparently I was also automatically listed as the new Buzz user by Google. While I have been enjoying the benefits of these social networks in my line of work, I also realized that these social networks have put privacy at risk.

Just a few days ago I was able to see the location of my tweeps (people whom I followed in twitter) with the proximity of 800 metres. Not bad. Then yesterday I was able to see the location of people who apparently updated their status on Google Buzz, and was able to see the location of other people I don’t even know, whom apparently are connected to my friends. The automatic roll in as user, the showing of location, in my opinion, are a bit over the top. The advancement of social networking sites makes us vulnerable in controlling information about ourselves. Who can view our location? Why do you want to share your location? What about your personal pictures, email address and phone numbers? What about the safety of you children’s picture? What about our privacy?

Although we always have a privacy agreement with every sites we joined, we never fully understand the effect of such agreement. As I am sure that only few really takes time to read those agreements thoroughly, do we understand what is at stake with the challenge on privacy issue? How can we really control the information about us? Or, who actually controls our information?  Is there such thing as private information? Or is privacy becoming a thing of the past?

Since Facebook changed its privacy option, in last month’s interviewMark Zuckerberg the founder, said:

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time… But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.

This suggests that Zuckerberg thinks that the social norm of privacy will soon changed – if its not over. They think that they have changed the ways of thinking so major that they themselves can’t predict when they started out as a small company. Privacy is a thing of the past.

It’s true that social network sites combined with the advanced Google, Bing, and other search web have been lethal in gathering information around the world. In a recent article on BBC, someone was able to identify a 62-year-old woman who was rather shocked and angry only after a few hours’ work and using nothing other than these search terms and the telephone directory. Like it or not the information about us is out there and we cannot control it anymore as we used to be in the past. Our social media has changed our social rules.

The effect of this limited privacy is now the effective advertising on your email or social network accounts. Facebook have just recently changed their layout to accommodate a full right-hand-full-of-advertisement-space which suits your personal interest. Google reaps the benefit by storing your search information and making advertising companies target the right audiences. And in a funny-true way, Von Amstel warns us the danger of revealing our information because our location can be checked and it might show the robbers that we are not home at their recently launched site (16th feb) PleaseRobMe.com. The site uses streams of data from popular location-based social network to “check in” to a location, recording their position on a map for friends using the service to see. This public position making it theoretically possible for a robber (or anyone else) to keep tabs on when you say you’re in your home or not. Check out Time’s review on the site. Ronaldinho, the AC Milan worldclass midfielder almost loose 700,000 pounds through information that was stolen from his mother’s email account. These are the actual challenges caused by a deep-pool of information on the internet.

There are other cases where people choose to share as much information about them as possible and causing a ‘breach on other people’s privacy’. People can also trespass other people’s privacy when  they are too open about themselves. There are complains about people who do not want to know about other people’s private life or maybe information that have nothing to do with their own interest. People who complain say, “we don’t want to hear minutely updates about what your dog did to your couch unless it’s a very rare type of dog.” This is too a challenge on privacy.

Of course we also gain a lot of benefits from this social network sites. Share of information has never been this fast, although false information can also spread worldwide in an instant. People are free to share their mind, and we can react accordingly to such horrific disaster that just happened in Haiti within hours of the real event. This social network could also save lives and organize a mass demonstration against tyranny. Employers can also know the whereabouts of their employee from their live-feed location and schools can expel own students who are making fun of them. These instances are already happening.

However, we are still facing the biggest challenge of our time. What is privacy and how can you limit your privacy? Our real option is now to limit your shared information on the web. Do not put your credit card or banking details on any social networks, even when they guarantee that the information is private. Nothing is private anymore, because the social network company cannot control the power of search engines and vice versa. I would suggest that you should never put any sensitive information on the web unless you are sure that it cannot be used against you. Choose wisely whom you want to be connected with. Don’t add people for the sake of being popular or curiosity. Be wise in using social network sites.

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