Essay: Privacy Issues Raised by Social Networking

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Social Networking Privacy

Online privacy has been a prominent topic around the modern world since the Internet came to prominence. However, with the advent of social sites and networks like Facebook, Twitter and the like, the amount of horror stories, privacy violations and very misadvised user behavior has skyrocketed exponentially. People that have been victimized, either by bad security policies or by users' own silly or stupid behavior, range from average everyday people to prominent national figures such as executives and politicians. The companies behind social networks do have a duty to close and prevent security holes and lapses but users need to arm themselves as well. The internet is a vast echo chamber that spans the entire world. Once certain things are done or said online, it is difficult to impossible to undo the damage that has been done. As such, users need to very careful of what they themselves do as well as watching out for con artists that will victimize and/or embarrass them without a second thought.

Social Networking Privacy

The internet, as a usable tool for the public at large around the world, has not been on the forefront of world culture for all that long. Indeed, as recently as the early 1990's, the internet was not widely used by the average person. Since then, however, that has changed drastically. The World Wide Web came first and literally changed the way we exchange information, talk to each other, connect with each other, shop for consumer goods online, as well as many other activities.

There were certainly dangers relating to identity theft and viruses, but those dangers pale in comparison to what is possible now given the advent of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Research quite easily bears out that social networking sites are not always the best at protecting their users and users are often very shoddy at protecting themselves, either assuming that the companies whose software they are using will protect them or they are simply ignorant and uninformed as to what can truly go wrong given a moment of indiscretion.

Online Retailers & Advertising

There is a wide array of different events and implications that have been raised by social networking. One example is the use of social networking by retailers. Many consumers embrace retailers marketing to them through social networking and other online mediums while others are very skeptical and suspicious. Some users are also extremely averse to online advertising in general even though it is a common tool used by social networking sites to offset or eliminate the cost to the users themselves (Tang, Hu & Smith, 2008). Questions as to the apparent willingness of users to undergo this have been posed (Awad & Krishnan, 2006). Research bears out that retailers are not the big evil entity that many special interest groups make them out to be but users can protect themselves with software tools and personal tactics if they are concerned about their privacy as it relates to online retailers.

In a similar vein, Facebook has caught a lot of heat for trying to monetize its user data by selling it to advertisers and/or allowing advertisers to use user data to market particular ads based on what is in a user's profile (Lyons, 2012). Many people have characterized this and any other similar behavior as a "march" against privacy (Rethlefsen, 2010). Others have preached about how companies have a modicum of social responsibility as they work online (Pollach, 2011). Standards have been proposed that would hold advertisers to certain standards and prevent them from engaging in certain behaviors (Stanaland, May & Miyazaki, 2011). Again, users can protect themselves and research bears out that there is nothing insidious about retailers trying to make sales. Users have ways to protect themselves but if they are too disengaged or lazy to arm themselves, that is not the fault of the retailers. At the end of the day, no one makes an internet user buy an iPod.

Civil & Criminal Implications

Another broad implication that has had a lot of people talking is the use of public visibility settings by government and law enforcement agencies as well as users going to court of social networking sites like Facebook (Semitsu, 2011). One example of this in action would be a law enforcement agency using a public Facebook post to locate a fugitive or finger someone for a crime that is being investigated. Another example would be a party in a civil lawsuit claiming harassment using screen captures of Facebook posts by the accused party (Sun, Hichang, & Sanchez, 2009). On this topic, research bears out that law enforcement agencies and other entities conducting legal research are just using the tools and tactics legally made available to them by social media and the aloofness of the people that these agencies and people are seeking out. Unless or until the agencies or other entities are using illegal means to accomplish their tasks, they are not doing anything illegal or unethical. They are just being opportunistic and they have an obvious motivation to be that way.

Social Media Company Lapses

The overall verdict from courts regarding Facebook and Twitter has not always been positive for those companies. Many courts have assailed Facebook for improperly exposing private information of its users and/or not allowing users to effectively management the visibility of their online data (Cortland, 2012). Research bears out that users are often responsible for over-revealing their personal information and that is no fault of Twitter or Facebook. if, however, these companies expose information improperly, they should indeed be held accountable.

Student Use of Social Media

College is a huge breeding ground for abuse and misuse of social media given the very social nature of a typical college campus. Indeed, several studies have been done that specifically look at social media use on campus. One study found that ninety-six percent of students responding to the survey had a Facebook account (Garner & O'Sullivan, 2010). A study of pharmacy students found that many of them were in groups with very explicit names or content pieces on their "walls" (Williams, Field & James, 2011). The universities themselves have also been targets of derision due to data being compromised online (Culnan & Carlin, 2009).

Heavy use of Facebook is of no surprise to anyone keeping track but the anecdote about the pharmacy students is telling. This is yet another instance of users making use of social media without either not knowing or not caring about the conclusions that others may draw about what is appearing on their "walls" or the people they associate with. Some may view such review of people's Facebook activity as unethical or unfair but research bears out that there is no doubt that it happens every day and all of the time.

Political Implications

While use of social media sites is taken for granted in places like the United Kingdom and the United States, it is a whole different story in areas Iran and China, where the Internet and all of its faculties including social media are censored, banned, or otherwise controlled. Social media was widely used during the recent revolution in Egypt but the results have been much more mixed in areas such as Iran where it is hard to tell what is truly going on due to the oppressive amount of government control (Morozov, 2009).

Many of the alarmist talk that occurs in academic journals and news services can be dismissed as unreasonable or untrue. However, if one knows what is truly going on around the world, the picture is much clearer regarding areas like China and the Middle East at large. Social media frameworks mean so much more to people in those oppressive regimes as one can easily tell when reading research on the matter.

Employer Use of Social Media

Employers have made use of Facebook in a number of ways. Many companies have Facebook accounts that are used to connect with customers and as a means to get their name out there. However, employers have also used Facebook and similar social media sites to look into the activities of employees and prospective hires.

Some employers have gone so far as to require employees or potential hires to divulge their usernames and passwords to social media sites like Facebook as a prerequisite check of an employee's activity before they could be hired. Such a tactic was the subject of a law in a portion of the United States when the state of Delaware enacted a law that specifically prohibited the practice of private or public employers requesting or requiring such information. The law also specifically outlawed any surreptitious means of gaining the information including asking friends or family of the person that was the subject of the inquiry (Randall, 2012).

This subject brings up the same question that many other sections of this report could easily coax and that is who owns someone's personal data. It is easy enough to answer that question if… [END OF PREVIEW]

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