(Second in a series of posts that will form a chapter for a university textbook called Communication in Question, Second Edition which will be released in 2013. The chapter is called "Social Networks and Privacy: Should Government Be More Interventionist in Protecting Personal Privacy?" Please read part one first so that you get the proper context for this post. Part three will follow next week.)
Let’s explore each one: First, the question of whether or not personal privacy should (and needs to be) protected on social networks.
The extraordinary phenomenon of the last ten years is not so much the new Web 2.0 technologies that facilitated the interoperability of social platforms as well as user generated content, but what the resulting social networks have brought about in terms of how democracy is practiced, revolutions birthed and nurtured, relationships begun and ended, information and ideas shared and debated, and products devised and sold. For some it is difficult to imagine a world in which people could only talk on the phone or go to parties and meetings (organized by phone calls often) as a way to do all these things.
Ubiquitous social networks have also brought into much sharper relief questions of privacy. People have surrendered – sometimes unconsciously or at least tacitly – various levels of personal data to social networks and other web-based applications. A billion or so people globally have relinquished their privacy on social networks like Facebook, Ren-Ren (Chinese), Badoo, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Google+ for the benefit of having a platform on which they can connect to friends, causes, products and services.
Although not by any means alone, Facebook has been the focus of much of the concern about privacy leakage. Recently, the social network once again stepped on privacy toes by offering brands what were originally called ‘sponsored stories’, later changed to ‘featured’ stories (a language change which interestingly seems to hide the fact that the stories are paid ads).
Featured stories allow brands to create ads that target users based on when they ‘like’ a product or brand. The ad identifies that your friends have ‘liked’ the product or brand and includes their pictures and names in the ad. The featured stories appear in your Facebook news feed automatically and next to the time stamp is a little note that explains that the ad is appearing because you or perhaps your friends have liked the brand previously. The concern, of course, is that the brand ‘like’ content has been taken from your friends’ pages without their consent.
At the end of 2011, the appropriateness of this intrusive use of personal data was still before the U.S. courts.
Twitter also collects personally identifiable information and sells it to third parties who can target users with advertising as a result. The microblogging service has been the subject of a Federal Trade Commission prosecution for a variety of security breaches, including a hacker accessing a Twitter administrator’s account – a doorway into private information of any Twitter user.
And Google’s challenge to Facebook – Google+ – came under criticism in early 2012 by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) which expressed concern about privacy issues arising out of “a new feature, called ‘Search Plus Your World’, that blends information such as comments and photos posted on its Google+ social network into users' search results.”