Social Networking Sites (SNS); are we helping in the shrinking of our own privacy?

On: September 28, 2009
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About Sander Leegwater
Hi, I'm Alexander (or Sander for friends) Leegwater – a Multimedia Designer, Bachelor in the Interactive Media at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam – and currently working on my Masters of (New) Media at the 'Universiteit van Amsterdam'. Besides schooling, I'm working as a part-time 'front-end' web-developer at www.digital4u.nl.

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Social Networking Sites (SNS) are commonly known to just about everyone nowadays or so it seems, who doesn’t at least own a FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Hyves, Ning account or combinations of these and many, many others! But do you know who has access to them? What’s exactly on them? Are you sure their isn’t some hidden fact which you’d rather not share with the world?

Privacy has become increasingly lower with the arrival of SNS but people seem to be more then ever willing to ignore that fact and have the idea that its better to be ‘open’. “If you’ve got nothing to hide… it shouldn’t matter” seems the common approach to the subject but the real issue is “In which situation or context shouldn’t your privacy matter”. Data-mining is an increasingly growing field and with more data on a certain person it can be easier to make a completer picture of someone, adding data found from network A to those found in your Electronic Patient Dossier (EPD) B to make conclusion C, which still might be completely wrong but is based on ‘facts’. This picture is used by companies to target specific messages and governments try to predict if you will be a ‘threat’ to them, the public or some other entity. To this end the Telecommunication centres have the obligation to retain certain data for at least six months up to an period of 2 years.. “for the purpose of the investigation, detection and prosecution of serious crime, as defined by each Member State in its national law [1].”

It is no secret that certain civilians are fed up with the way they are treated and some even try to make an example, by trying to get their ‘rights’ back, such as with FaceBook who allegedly violated the privacy of users by sharing information with ‘befriended’ third-parties. “.. the suit, filed in the Superior Court for California in Orange County, says. ‘Users may be unaware that data they submit … may be extracted and then shared, stored, licensed or downloaded by other persons or third parties they have not expressly authorized,’ the suit reads.” Your writings and photo’s are protected by law – so sharing without explicit permission from the owner infringes their rights and is therefore illegal – and this will be the basis for the lawsuit. Furthermore the suit describes how FaceBook has been slowly evolving from an regular SNS towards a huge data-mining empire which collects, analyses and redistributes content without permission. But of course FaceBook “.. said that it sees no merit to the suit and plans to fight it.”

The Dutch Internet provider XS4ALL made a movie about the subject called ‘Privacy Matters‘, which can be viewed below (with English subtitles, which can be turned on by the ‘captions’ (CC) option in the lower right corner of the screen) and started the Dutch website, privacymatters.nl. Watch the movie, its really interesting, looks nice and is only about 10 minutes long. It is from a ‘private’ corporation but I really do feel they handle the topic fairly and make some good points about the situation nowadays…

1. Wikipedia:Telecommunications data retention, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecommunications_data_retention.

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