"I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy"
Social networks have empowered us and connected us to people around the world. In the last year, they have even been credited with fostering democracies. But they have also eroded our personal privacy and made us more vulnerable. Data aggregator services use our on line activity to compile an astonishing amount of information on us and sell it to others. Potential employers and colleges judge candidates in part by their social network pages. The law has not yet caught up with the technology. Diane and her guests discuss protecting our privacy in the digital age.
law professor and the director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at Illinois Institute of Technology, author of "I Know Who You Are And I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy."
executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and teaches Information Privacy Law at Georgetown University Law Center.
associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, blogs at Buzzmachine.com, and author of “Public Parts: How Sharing In The Digital Age Improves The Way We Work And Live.”
Millions are on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks posting pictures and details of life, but it's not just friends who read all this. How we use social networks can have a major impact on our lives and, indeed, our future. Our guests explore how much information we may be sharing - both intentionally and unintentionally - and how it may affect our employment prospects, personal relationships, and more.
Privacy A Top Concern Of Users
Privacy is the issue that constantly comes up in policy discussions, Marc Rotenberg said. In his view, we should be able to use social networks with some confidence our privacy will be protected. "So the question is what type of updates to the law do we need to make so that people can use the services with the expectation that their privacy will be respected?" Rotenberg said. Lori Andrews pointed out that although each individual has a choice about how much or how little to post on social networks, many people have no idea about how their images, in particular, might be used. "Thirty-five percent of employers say they refuse to hire people if they have a Facebook photo with a drink in their hand or provocative dress. So you can think about, you know, you might be at a wedding, you might be wearing some low-cut thing and you, as a woman, may be then denied a job because of that," Andrews said.
How The Law Is Keeping Up With Concerns
Rotenberg said one of the ongoing problems is the fact that companies keep changing privacy policies and users may not be fully aware of the changes. "You can't say to your users, once they've expressed a privacy preference, that you will then go in and change it," he said. Rotenberg said that with Facebook in particular, the new "Timeline" feature seems to take control away from the user about which information is being made publicly available. Andrews pointed out that though some changes might seem harmless, there may be unintended and serious consequences. For
instance, when Facebook made people's friend lists public, some Iranians who had family members studying in the U.S. that could be picked out from Facebook posts on their own pages were arrested by Iranian authorities, Andrews said.
The Benefits Of Sharing
On the positive side, Jeff Jarvis points out some of the reasons many people love social networking. "We can share with each other, find each other, create publics, create movements like Occupy Wall Street. We have power we never had," Jarvis said. He believes there are many benefits to more people sharing more information - about health, social activism, and more. Andrews countered Jarvis's arguments with her own concerns that social networks are "narrowing" our behaviors and that pieces of information on social networking sites that we may not even realize could be harmful to us could be used in ways we've never anticipated. Jarvis argued that it's not the information-sharing itself that's the problem - it's how the information is used. But Andrews said that is precisely her point - we can't control how many different people or entities will use our information, so it's essential to protect that information from the start.
"Removing" Information From The Internet
One caller asked about how easy or difficult it would be to remove some of her personal information from the Internet. "The short answer is that it's very difficult for an individual to remove information," Rotenberg said. "On the other hand it's not so difficult to regulate the practice of companies that collect and sell information about individuals," he said.
You can read the full transcript here