Privacy concerns with social networking services

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Social network is a social structure made up of a set of social actors (such as individuals or organizations), sets of dyadic ties, and other social interactions between actors. Privacy concerns with social networking services is a subset of data privacy, involving the right of mandating personal privacy concerning storing, re-purposing, provision to third parties, and displaying of information pertaining to oneself via the Internet.

Social network security and privacy issues result from the astronomical amounts of information these sites process each day. Features that invite users to participate in—messages, invitations, photos, open platform applications and other applications are often the venues for others to gain access to a user's private information. In addition, the technologies needed to deal with user’s information may intrude their privacy. More specifically, 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 be 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 to 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."

Causation[edit]

There are several reasons why invasion of privacy occurs among social network sites.

Various levels of privacy offered[edit]

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.[1]

People concern[edit]

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.[1] 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.[1] Majority of users also had not altered their privacy setting, allowing 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 may 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.[2]

User awareness in social networking sites[edit]

Users are often the targets as well as source of information in social networking. Users leave digital imprints during browsing of social networking sites or services. It has been identified from few of online studies conducted, that users trust websites and social networking sites. As per trust referred,[3] "trust is defined in (Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman, 1995) as “the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party” (p. 712)". A survey[4] was conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, a majority of users provided their living city, phone numbers among other personal information, while user is clearly unaware of consequences of sharing certain information. Adding to this insight, is the social networking users are from various cities, remote villages, towns, cultures, traditions, religions, background, economic classes, education background, time zones and so on that highlight the significant gap in awareness.

The survey results of the paper[4] suggest, "These results show that the interaction of trust and privacy concern in social networking sites is not yet understood to a sufficient degree to allow accurate modeling of behavior and activity. The results of the study encourage further research in the effort to understand the development of relationships in the online social environment and the reasons for differences in behavior on different sites."

As per reference, a survey conducted among social networking users in Carnegie Mellon University was indicative of following as reasons for lack of user awareness :
1) People's disregard of privacy risks due to trust in privacy and protection offered in social networking sites.
2) Availability of user's personal details to third-party tools/applications.
3) APIs and Frameworks also enable any user, who has fair amount of knowledge to extract the user's data.
4) Cross-site forgery and other possible website threats.

There is hence a dire need for improving User's awareness swiftly, in order to address growing security and privacy concerns caused due to merely user's unawareness. Social networking sites themselves can take a responsibility and make such awareness possible by means of participatory methods by virtual online means.

Data access methods[edit]

There are several ways for third parties to access user information.

Share it with third parties[edit]

Nearly all of the most popular applications on Facebook—including Farmville, Causes, and Quiz Planet—have been sharing users' information with advertising and tracking companies.[5] Even though Facebook’s privacy policy says they can provide "any of the non-personally identifiable attributes we have collected" to advertisers, they violate this policy. If a user clicked a specific ad in a page, Facebook will send the address of this page to advertisers, which will directly led to a profile page. In this case, it is easy to identify users’ names.[6]

API[edit]

Application programming interface(API) is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. By using query language, sharing content and data between communities and applications became much easier. APIs simplify all that by limiting outside program access to a specific set of features—often enough, requests for data of one sort or another. APIs clearly define exactly how a program will interact with the rest of the software world—saving time.[7]

Search engines[edit]

Search engines are an easy way to find information without scanning every site yourself. Key words that are typed into a search box will lead to the results. So it is necessary to make sure that the keywords typed are precise and correct. There are many of such search engines, some of which may led the user to fake sites which may obtain personal information or are laden with viruses. Furthermore, some search engines, like DuckDuckGo, will not violate the user's privacy.[8]

Benefit from data[edit]

This accessible data along with data mining technology, users’ information can be used in different ways to improve customer service.

According to what you retweet, what you like and the hashtag, Twitter can recommend some topics and advertisements. Twitter’s suggestions for who to follow[9] is done by this recommendation system. Commerce, such as Amazon, make use of uses’ information to recommend items for users. Recommendations are based on at least prior purchases, shopping cart and wishlist. Affinity analysis is a data mining technique that used to understand the purchase behavior of customers.

By using machine learning method, whether a user is a potential follower of Starbucks can be predicted.[10] In that case, it is possible to improve the quality and coverage of applications. In addition, user profiles can be used to identify similar users.

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.[11]

According to Gary Kovacs’s speech about Tracking our online trackers, when he used internet to find an answer to a question, "We are not even 2 bites into breakfast and there are already nearly 25 sites that are tracking me", and he was navigated by 4 of them.[12]

Privacy concerns[edit]

Companies[edit]

On Facebook, there is one way to ensure protection against applications sharing personal information. On the privacy settings page, you can remove or turn off unwanted or spam applications.[5]

Twitter has admitted that they have scanned and imported their user's phone contacts onto the website database so that they can 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.[13]

Institutional[edit]

A number of institutions have expressed concern over the lack of privacy granted to users on social networking sites. These include schools, libraries, and Government agencies.

Libraries[edit]

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.[14] Some have argued that the lack of privacy found on social networking sites is contrary to the ethics supported by Library organizations, and the latter should thus be extremely apprehensive about dealing with the former.[14] 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.[14] In 2008, a study was performed in fourteen public libraries in the UK which found that 50% blocked access to social networking sites.[15] 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.[16]

Potential dangers[edit]

Identity theft[edit]

As there is so much information provided other things can be deduced, such as the person’s social security number, which can then be used as part of identity theft.[17] In 2009, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University published a study showing that it is possible to predict most and sometimes all of an individual’s 9-digit Social Security number using information gleaned from social networks and online databases. (See Predicting Social Security Numbers from Public Data by Acquisti and Gross) [18] In response, various groups have advised that users either do not display their number, or hide it from Facebook ‘friends’ they do not personally know.[19] Cases have also appeared of users having photographs stolen from social networking sites in order to assist in identity theft.[20] 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.[21] According to the Huffington Post, Bulgarian IT consultant Bogomil Shopov claimed in a recent blog to have purchased personal information on more than 1 million Facebook users, for the shockingly low price of USD$5.00. The data reportedly included users' full names, email addresses and links to their Facebook pages.[22] The following information could be used to steal the users' identities : Full names including middle name, date of birth, home town, relationship status, residential information, other hobbies and interest.

Sexual predators[edit]

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 [online].[23] Further, lack of age verification mechanisms is a cause of concern in these social networking platforms.[24] However, it was also suggested that the majority of these simply transferred to using the services provided by Facebook.[25] 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.[26] In worst cases children have become victims of pedophiles or lured to meet strangers.They say that sexual predators can lurk anonymously through the wormholes of cyberspace and access victim profiles online.[27] A number of highly publicized 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.[28] 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 application.

Stalking[edit]

The potential ability for stalking users on social networking sites has been noted and shamed. Popular social networking sites make it easy to build a web of friends and acquaintances, and share with them your photos, whereabouts, contact information, and interests without ever getting the chance to actually meet them. With the amount of information that users post about themselves online, it is easy for users to become a victim of stalking without even being aware of the risk. 63% of Facebook profiles are visible to the public, meaning if you Google someone’s name and you add "+Facebook" in the search bar you pretty much will see most of the persons profile.[29] 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.[17] 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.[17] Concerns have also been raised over the relative ease for people to read private messages or e-mails on social networking sites.[30] Cyber-stalking is a criminal offense that comes into play under state anti-stalking laws, slander laws, and harassment laws. A cyber-stalking conviction can result in a restraining order, probation, or even criminal penalties against the assailant, including jail.[29]

Unintentional fame[edit]

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.[31] 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.

Employment[edit]

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).[32] 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.[32] Other concerns investigated via social networking sites included poor communication skills, inappropriate photographs, inaccurate qualifications and bad-mouthing former employers/colleagues.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34]

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’.[35] In 2008, Virgin Atlantic sacked thirteen cabin crew staff, after it emerged they used had criticized the company’s safety standards and called passengers ‘chavs’ on Facebook.[36] There is no federal law that we are aware of that an employer is breaking by monitoring employees on social networking sites. In fact, employers can even hire third-party companies to monitor online employee activity for them. According to an article by Read Write Web employers use the service to "make sure that employees don't leak sensitive information on social networks or engage in any behavior that could damage a company's reputation."[18] 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.[37]

Online victimization[edit]

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 victimization includes sexual advances and harassment.[38] Recent research has reported approximately 9% of online victimization involves social network activities.[38] It has been noted that many of these victims are girls who have sexually appealed over these social network sites.[38] 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.[38] All in all, positive online social behaviors is promoted to help reduce and avoid online victimization.

Surveillance[edit]

While the concept of a worldwide communicative network seems to adhere to the public sphere model, market forces control access to such a resource. In 2010 investigation by The Wall Street Journal found that many of the most popular applications on Facebook were transmitting identifying information about users and their friends to advertisers and internet tracking companies, which is a violation of Facebook's privacy policy.[39] The Wall Street Journal analyzed the ten most popular Facebook apps, including Zynga's FarmVille, with 57 million users, and Zynga's Mafia Wars with 21.9 million users, and found that they were transmitting Facebook user IDs to data aggregators.[39] Every online move leaves cyber footprints that are rapidly becoming fodder for research without you ever realizing it. Using social media for academic research is accelerating and raising ethical concerns along the way, as vast amounts of information collected by private companies — including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter — are giving new insight into all aspects of everyday life. Our social media "audience" is bigger than we actually know; our followers or friends aren’t the only ones that can see information about us. Social media sites are collecting data from us just by searching something such as "favorite restaurant" on our search engine. Facebook is transformed from a public space to a behavioral laboratory," says the study, which cites a Harvard-based research project of 1,700 college-based Facebook users in which it became possible to "deanonymize parts of the data set," or cross-reference anonymous data to make student identification possible.[40] Some of Facebook's research on user behavior found that 71% of people drafted at least one post that they never posted.[40] Another analyzed 400,000 posts and found that children's communication with parents decreases in frequency from age 13 but then rises when they move out.[40]

Location updates[edit]

Foursquare, Facebook, Loopt are application which allow users to check- in and these capabilities allows a user to share their current location information to their connection. Some of them even update their travel plans on social networking applications.However, the disclosure of location information within these networks can cause privacy concerns among mobile users. Foursquare defines another framework of action for the user. It appears to be in the interest of Foursquare that users provide many personal data that are set as public. This is illustrated, among others, by the fact that, although all the respondents want high control over the (location) privacy settings, almost none of them ever checked the Foursquare privacy settings before [41] Although there are algorithms using encryption, k-anonymity and noise injection algorithms, its better to understand how the location sharing works in these applications to see if they have good algorithms in place to protect location privacy.[42]

Reading a privacy statement in terms and conditions[edit]

Most social networking sites require users to agree to Terms of Use policies before they use their services. Controversially, these Terms of Use declarations that users must agree to often contain clauses permitting social networking operators to store data on users, or even share it with third parties. Facebook has attracted attention over its policies regarding data storage, such as making it difficult to delete an account, holding onto data after an account is de-activated and being caught sharing personal data with third parties.[43]
This section explains how to read the Privacy statement in terms and conditions while signing up for any social networking site. Most people will skip this section while signing up and seldom understand what they are buying into. But spending a few extra minutes reading through can help tremendously.[44]

What to look for in the Privacy Policy:
1) Who owns the data that a user posts?
2) What happens to the data when the user account is closed?
3) How does changes in the Privacy policy be made aware to its users?
4) The location of the privacy policy that is effective
5) Will the profile page be completely erased when a user deletes the account?
6) Where and how can a user complain in case of any breach in privacy?
7) For how long is the personal information stored?

These questions will give an idea on how safe the social networking site is.

Key points to protect social networking privacy[edit]

Realize the threats that will always exist[edit]

There are people out there who want—and will do just about anything—to get someone’s private information. It's essential to realize that it's difficult to keep your privacy secured all the time.[45]

Be thorough all the time[edit]

Always log out. It is dangerous to keep your device logged on since others may have access to your social profiles while you are not paying attention.[46]
Keep your full name and address to yourself. Children’s safety may be compromised if their parents post their whereabouts in a site where others know who their real identities are.[47]

Know the sites[edit]

Read the social networking site’s fine prints. Many sites push its users to agree to terms that are best for the sites—not the users.[45] Users should be aware about the terms in case of emergencies. Exactly how to read the terms are explained above at "Reading a Privacy Statement in Terms and Conditions" part
Make sure the social networking site is safe before sharing information. Users shouldn’t be sharing information if they don’t know who are using the websites since their personally identifiable information could be exposed to other users of the site.[47]
Be familiar with the privacy protection provided. Users should take the extra time to get to know the privacy protection systems of various social networks they are or will be using. Only friends should be allowed to access their information.[46] Check the privacy or security settings on every social networking site that they might have to use.[48]

Protect devices[edit]

Encrypt devices. Users should use complex passwords on their computers and cell phones and change them from time to time. This will protect users’ information in case these devices are stolen.[46]
Install Anti-virus software. Others would be able to use viruses and other ways to invade a user’s computer if he or she installed something unsafe.[49]

Be careful about taking drastic actions[edit]

The users’ privacy may be threatened by any actions. Following actions needs special attention.
(1) Adding a new friend. Facebook reports 8.7% of its total profiles are fake. A user should be sure about who the person is before after it as a new friend.[46]
(2) Clicking on links. Many links which looks attractive like gift cards are specially designed by malicious users. Clicking on these links may result in losing personal information or money.[46]
(3) Think twice about posting revealing photos. A revealing photo could attract the attention of potential criminals.[45]

Response to criticism[edit]

Many social networking organizations 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.[50] 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 criticize users rather than adapt their policies.[51]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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