Privacy concerns with social networking services
||It has been suggested that this article be merged with Privacy issues of social networking sites. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2013.|
Social networking sites vary in the levels of privacy offered. For some social networking sites like Facebook, providing real names and other personal information is encouraged by the site(onto a page known as a ‘Profile‘). These information usually consist of birth date, current address, and telephone number(s). Some sites also allow users to provide more information about themselves such as interests, hobbies, favorite books or films, and even relationship status. However, there are other social network sites, such as Match.com, where most people prefer to be anonymous. Thus, linking users to their real identity can sometimes be rather difficult. Nevertheless, individuals can sometimes be identified with face re-identification. Studies have been done on two major social networking sites, and it is found that by overlapping 15% of the similar photographs, profile pictures with similar pictures over multiple sites can be matched to identify the users.
For sites that do encourage information disclosure, it has been noted that majority of the users have no trouble disclosing their personal information to a large group of people. In 2005, a study was performed to analyze data of 540 Facebook profiles of students enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University. It was revealed that 89% of the users gave genuine names, and 61% gave a photograph of themselves for easier identification. Majority of users also had not altered their privacy setting, allowed a large number of unknown users to have access to their personal information (the default setting originally allowed friends, friends of friends, and non friends of the same network to have full view of a user‘s profile). It is possible for users to block other users from locating them on Facebook, but this must be done by individual basis, and would therefore appear not to be commonly used for a wide number of people. Most users do not realize that while they make use of the security features on Facebook the default setting is restored after each update. All of this has led to many concerns that users are displaying far too much information on social networking sites which may have serious implications on their privacy. Facebook was criticized due to the perceived laxity regarding privacy in the default setting for users.
Social network security and privacy issues result from the astronomical amounts of information these sites process each day. Features that invite users to participation—messages, invitations, photos, open platform applications and other applications are often the avenues for others to gain access to a user's private information. In the case of Facebook. Adrienne Felt, a Ph.D. candidate at Berkeley, made small headlines last year when she exposed a potentially devastating hole in the framework of Facebook's third-party application programming interface (API). It made it easier for people to lose their privacy. Felt and her co-researchers found that third-party platform applications on Facebook are provided with far more user information than it is needed. This potential privacy breach is actually built into the systematic framework of Facebook. Unfortunately, the flaws render the system to almost indefensible. "The question for social networks is resolving the difference between mistakes in implementation and what the design of the application platform is intended to allow," said David Evans, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Virginia. Moreover, there is also the question of who should be hold responsible for the lack of user privacy? According Evan, the answer to the question is not likely to be found, because a better regulated API would be required for Facebook "to break a lot of applications, [especially when] a lot of companies are trying to make money off [these] applications." Felt agrees with her conclusion, because "there are marketing businesses built on top of the idea that third parties can get access to data and user information on Facebook."
Storage of data
Due to the high volume of personal information often displayed on social networking sites, it is possible to make further estimations about a user, such as the person’s social security number, which can then be used as part of identity theft. In response, various groups have advised that users either do not display their birthday, or hide it from Facebook ‘friends’ they do not personally know. Cases have also appeared of users having photographs stolen from social networking sites in order to assist in identity theft. There is little evidence that users of social networking sites are taking full measures to protect themselves from identity theft. For example, numerous celebrities have claimed their Twitter accounts have been hacked.
Most major social networking sites are committed to ensuring that use of their services are as safe as possible. However, due to the high content of personal information placed on social networking sites, as well as the ability to hide behind a pseudo-identity, such sites have become increasingly popular for sexual predators. In 2009, it was revealed that MySpace had evicted 90, 000 registered sex offenders from its site in the previous two years. However, it was also suggested that the majority of these simply transferred to using the services provided by Facebook. In response to concerns, Facebook Help Center has set up a system whereby users may notify on suspected sex offers which, if proven to be accurate, will result in their account being terminated. While the numbers may remain small, it has been noted that the number of sexual predators caught using social networking sites has been increasing, and has now reached an almost weekly basis. A number of highly publicised cases have demonstrated the threat posed for users, such as Peter Chapman who, under a false name, added over 3, 000 friends and went on to rape and murder a 17 year old girl in 2009. A 12 year old, Evergreen girl was safely found by the FBI with the help of Facebook; due to her mother learning of her daughter's conversation with a man she had met on the popular social networking website.
The potential ability for stalking users on social networking sites has been noted. A study of Facebook profiles from students at Carnegie Mellon University revealed that about 800 profiles included current resident and at least two classes being studied, theoretically allowing viewers to know the precise location of individuals at specific times. AOL attracted controversy over its instant messenger AIM which permits users to add ‘buddies’ without their knowing, and therefore track when a user is online. Concerns have also been raised over the relative ease for people to read private messages or e-mails on social networking sites.
Privacy concerns have also been raised over a number of high profile incidents which can be considered embarrassing for users. Various internet memes have been started on social networking sites, or been used as a means towards their spread across the internet. In 2002, a Canadian teenager became known as the Star Wars Kid after a video of him using a golf club as a light sabre was posted on the internet without his consent. The video quickly became a hit, much to the embarrassment of the teenager who claims to have suffered as a result. Along with other incidents of videos being posted on social networking sites, this highlights the ability for personal information to be rapidly transferred between users.
Issues relating to privacy and employment are becoming a concern with regards to social networking sites. As of 2008, it has been estimated by CareerBuilder.com that one in five employers search social networking sites in order to screen potential candidates (increasing from only 11% in 2006). For the majority of employers, such action is to acquire negative information about candidates. For example, 41% of managers considered information relating to candidates’ alcohol and drug use to be a top concern. Other concerns investigated via social networking sites included poor communication skills, inappropriate photographs, inaccurate qualifications and bad-mouthing former employers/colleagues. However, 24% manager claimed that information found on a social networking site persuaded them to hire a candidate, suggesting that a user image can be used in a positive way.
While there is little doubt that employers will continue to use social networking sites as a means of monitoring staff and screening potential candidates, it has been noted that such actions may be illegal under in jurisdictions. According to Workforce.com, employers who use Facebook or Myspace could potentially face legal action:
If a potential employer uses a social networking site to check out a job candidate and then rejects that person based on what they see, he or she could be charged with discrimination. On August 1, 2012, Illinois joined the state of Maryland (law passed in March 2012) in prohibiting employer access to social media web sites of their employees and prospective employees. A number of other states that are also considering such prohibitory legislation (California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington), as is the United States Congress. In April 2012, the Social Networking Online Protection Act (2012 H.R. 5050) was introduced in the United States House of Representatives, and the Password Protection Act of 2012 (2012 S. 3074) was introduced in the United States Senate in May 2012, which prohibit employers from requiring access to their employees’ social media web sites.
Monitoring of social networking sites is not limited to potential workers. Issues relating to privacy are becoming an increasing concern for those currently in employment. A number of high profile cases have appeared in which individuals have been sacked for posting comments on social networking which have been considered disparaging to their current employers or fellow workers. In 2009, sixteen year old Kimberley Swann was sacked from her position at Ivell Marketing and Logistics Limited after describing her job as ‘boring’. In 2008, Virgin Atlantic sacked thirteen cabin crew staff, after it emerged they used had criticised the company’s safety standards and called passengers ‘chavs’ on Facebook. While employers may have found such usages of social networking sites convenient, complaints have been put forward by civil liberties groups and trade unions on the invasive approach adopted by many employers. In response to the Kimberley Swann case, Brendan Barber, of the TUC union stated that:
Most employers wouldn't dream of following their staff down the pub to see if they were sounding off about work to their friends," he said. "Just because snooping on personal conversations is possible these days, it doesn't make it healthy."
Monitoring of staff’s social networking activities is also becoming an increasingly common method of ensuring that employees are not browsing websites during work hours. It was estimated in 2010 that an average of two million employees spent over an hour a day on social networking sites, costing potentially £14 billion.
Social networks are designed for individuals to socially interact with other people over the Internet. However, some individuals engaged in undesirable online social behaviors creating negative impacts on other people’s online experiences. It has created a wide range of online interpersonal victimization. Some studies have shown that social network victimization appears largely in adolescent and teens, and the type of victimizations includes sexual advances and harassments. Recent research has reported approximately 9% of online victimization involves in social network activities. It has been noted that many of these victims are girls who have sexually appealed over these social network sites. Research concludes that many of social network victimizations are associated with user behaviors and interaction with one another. Negative social behaviors such as aggressive attitudes and discussing sexual related topics motivate the offenders to achieve their goals. All in all, positive online social behaviors is promoted to help reduce and avoid online victimization.
Twitter has admitted that they have scanned and imported their user's phone contacts onto the website database in order to learn more about their users. Most users were unaware that Twitter is created this way for new users to search for their friends. Twitter has stated that they will have their privacy guidelines illustrated more clearly in the future.
More than 1,000 companies are waiting in line to get access to millions of tweets from users that are using the popular social networking website. Companies believe that by using data mining technologies they would be able to gather important information that can be used for marketing and advertising.
Libraries in the particular, being concerned with the privacy of individuals, have debated on allowing library patrons to access social networking sites on public library computers. While only 19% of librarians reportedly express real concern over social networking privacy, they have been particularly vocal in voicing their concerns. Some have argued that the lack of privacy found on social networking sites is contrary to the ethics supported by Library organisations, and the latter should thus be extremely apprehensive about dealing with the former. Supporters of this view present their argument from the code of ethics held by both the American Library Association and the UK based Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, which affirms a commitment to upholding privacy as a fundamental right. In 2008, a study was performed in fourteen public libraries in the UK which found that 50% blocked access to social networking sites. Many school libraries have also blocked Facebook out of fear that children may be disclosing too much information on Facebook. However, as of 2011, Facebook has taken efforts to combat this concern by deleting profiles of users under the age of thirteen.
Response to criticism
Many social networking organisations have responded to criticism and concerns over privacy. It is claimed that changes to default settings, the storage of data and sharing with third parties have all been updated and corrected in the light of criticism, and/or legal challenges. However, many critics remain unsatisfied, noting that fundamental changes to privacy settings in many social networking sites remain minor, and argue that social networking companies prefer to criticise users rather than adapt their policies.
- Social networking service
- Information privacy
- Social media
- Criticism of Facebook
- Unauthorized access in online social networks
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