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Hot Topic: Privacy

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Hot Topic: Privacy

This month’s hot topic is privacy. Every day people log on to a number of social networks and  share content with friends, family, collegeagues, etc. What started as status updates and  party photos has evolved … Now people are sharing everything from their exact location to the latest purchase made on their Visa. As people of all ages (and  comfort levels) continue to join social networks knowing how, where, and  with whom your information is shared is becoming increasingly important.

What is it?

For the purpose of this session, privacy refers to privacy strictly in the digital sense. Whether you’ve got a profile on one social network or many, you probably have a vested interest in wanting to keep private information, well … private. While not all users do, some users do differentiate between content that is private or public. Recent policy changes in some social networks have rendered what many users thought was private information publicly viewable, leading to a public outcry and  eventually a change of privacy policy.

Why is it important?

People are upset about privacy for the same reason they hate when telemarketers call their house and  cell phone. No one likes when their seemingly ‘private’ space is invaded. Some networks, like Twitter, are open by default … any information published to the stream is publicly available but users know this. Others, like Facebook, were closed by default but gradually have been stripping away privacy one item at a time and  allowing these items to be publicly accessible.

Everyone has information that they are not comfortable sharing with the world. Being unaware of policy changes could put a lot at risk since what was previously private knowledge has now been made public. If someone knows your name it is entirely possible they could find your cell phone number, address, and  place of work. Beyond that, pictures and  other personal information can be easily found with a simple google search.

What to do

The first thing to figure out is what you want and  don’t want to be publicly accessible. If there is the possibility of someone seeing a photo you don’t want them to see, or knowing every connection you have, don’t make that knowledge publicly available. Whatever social network you’re using will have some sort of privacy control that allows you to choose exactly who you want to share content with and  what exactly you’re willing to share.

The best philosophy is to think of everything in your digital life as sensitive information. If you wouldn’t show questionable pictures to your friends or say things that compromised a coworker’s integrity, your online activity should mirror that. Just as you wouldn’t throw sensitive information out, your social profile is no different. Once something is online, it’s there to stay.

Still confused? Marc Cuban has an opinion regarding Facebook and  privacy.

“While FB doesn’t have the equivalent of a Retweet function, it doesn’t have a Muzzle function either.  Facebook can’t control downstream discussions today any better than you could when you told stories to your buddies at the bar the other night.  Whether you like it or not, posting on FB is a publishing function. You are publishing to your “friends” and  whether you like it or not, they have every right, opportunity and  possibly inclination to share what you say, do and  show.

Facebook privacy is very simple at its core. You joined because you wanted to give up some of your privacy in exchange for the benefits that FB offers. If you think its a problem, de-activate your account.  If you think its a problem, but really want to be on FB, RTFM (Read the Frickin Manual).”

What not to do

What got us to evaluate privacy in the first place.

The omnipresent social network recently made a couple of gaffes regarding their privacy policy that set the media on a witch hunt. A little less than a month ago at it’s annual f8 conference, Facebook released new products that allowed third party sites to take advantage of Facebook’s features. Facebook partnered with a hand ful of sites to allow back and  forth functionality; if you “liked” a band  or song on Pand ora or reviewed a restaurant on Yelp your Facebook profile and  news feed would automatically be updated. The new products also allowed for all profile information to be publicly linkable– if you’re interests included “bikes”, clicking on it would take you to a land ing page of all other people interested in bikes.

Why the blowup then?

When it released the new products, Facebook failed to disclose a few things to users:
1. By making your entire profile linkable, your profile was viewable to the public.
2. To change their privacy settings,   users now had to wade through 50 settings on their Facebook page (with over 170 different options in total)
3. Users were automatically opted in to Instant personalization options (which pulled data without consent)

Among these issues with their new products,   Facebook (among other sites) was recently caught sending user data to advertisers. As if that wasn’t enough to happen, recent bugs exposed  private profile information,   friend requests, and    chat sessions. One person went so far as to create an application called   Evil that pulled publicly available phone numbers.

By implementing the open graph and  instant personalization options across the entire Internet, Facebook puts itself in a position to be the largest owner of private data in the world. For a site founded on transparency and  openness, Facebook needs to be clear with its users about what information is public and  how their data is used.

Update: Facebook released new privacy controls on May 26th.

Google recently admitted to accidentally collecting personal data with its street view cars. While it was out collecting information for street view it inadvertently was picking up Data off open wireless networks. While the Google cars couldn’t have been within range of the networks for more than a few seconds it still is a challenge for Google to explain why it was picking up data in the first. Google also caught a bunch of flack when it   first released Buzz over concerns that it had buzz users auto-follow their most frequent contacts without permission.

Blippy, a service that broadcasts recent credit card purchases came under fire when it was found that   some users’ credit card numbers had been compromised. The service itself is extremely similar to Facebook’s Beacon service, which was shut down after Facebook users complained about violation of their privacy en masse.

Other good reads on privacy
–   Should Government take on Facebook?
–   NYU students raise over $100,000 to build Diaspora