Ning’s Privacy Issues

On: October 3, 2009
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About Tim van Essen
Built: 1987 Born: Amsterdam Company(s): Co-founder of and Student: MA New Media and LL.B (Law School). Particular interestfields: New Media (gadgets), debate on Piratebay, Intellectual property law, medialaw (internetlaw in particular) and Intelligence Studies. Besides that I play an active role in a local political party [HAP] in the Haarlemmermeer. Hates: People who adore Mac. Leisure time: What's that??


My background is not only media studies/theories but I’m also enrolled in the Bachelor program of Law at the University of Amsterdam. This post is about my critique on the interaction between privacy and user on

For class we had to do an assignment about the social networking site (SNS) Register, play and write about it. My first question was: what about the privacy on Ning? We all know the stories [1] [2] of Facebook, Myspace and Hyves that the creators (companies) are in total control of the network instead of the people (users). Is Ning different from others?
Ning – as Facebook, Myspace, Hyves etc. – gives you a feeling that you’re in total control. ‘Create, customize and share your own social network’ and ‘create your own network with specific interests with your own design, choice of features and member data’. Or for instance the name Myspace says enough. It’s ‘your’ space and you can do whatever you want. But is this true?

Yes and no. Some might argue that there are four aspects that creates the notion of/around online privacy on SNS:

1. Companies
2. Governments
3. Friends
4. You

The first three institutions are out of your control. Companies collect data and use it for economical purposes, governments check and create legislation and your friends are doing with data what they want. So you hardly can’t influence these three institutions. But what you can control, in a very limited way, is your own privacy.
SNS give you a feeling of total control. You have the freedom to post whenever and whatever you want, upload photo’s, make friends etcetera. Ning for instance even got an option ‘privacy’ where you can set the level of privacy of your personal data for other people. People assume that they are now in total control of their own data. But in my point of view they are wrong. It’s only a deceptive feeling.
Did you read the Privacy Policy or Terms of Service of Probably not. The Ning Terms of Service states:

“ all Network Member Data shall be the property of the applicable Network Creators. This being said, Ning needs to run Your Social Network on the Ning Platform. To this end, as a Network Creator, you hereby grant Ning a nonexclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, transferable, sublicenseable, fully paid-up, royalty-free right and license to (i) use, reproduce, store, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform and display the Network Member Data on or through the Ning Platform and in all current and future media in which the Ning Platform may be distributed; (ii) use and disclose the Network Member Data and related metrics in an aggregate or other non-personally identifiable manner (including, for use in targeting advertising in a non-personally identifiable manner through and in connection with the Ning Platform; and (iii) use Network Member Data for other purposes permitted by the Ning Privacy Policy.”

All your data thus become property of Whatever the privacy privileges you have in your own country. The servers run in the United States, so you’re subjected to US law. Since 9/11, CIA and FBI have the power to use your data in every way they want. (USA Patriot ACT) Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. The Act increases the ability of law enforcement agencies to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eases restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States. Privacy?? I don’t think so.

How are we going to deal with such issues about privacy?
Some say it’s a governmental issue and we don’t have to bother about privacy on the net. Governments or International organizations have to create one general kind of legislation that will protect the internet user. But I think that will not work. Governments always want some power to control data over their people and if one country is not cooperating with the international legislation it become totally useless. I propose that we must do it ourselves. We have to create more awareness of the functioning of the internet and in particular the working of SNS. Alot of the internetusers are using SNS but no one is really checking what they are doing and agreeing with. Most people think: ‘All my friends are registering to social network sites so I have to register also, but they don’t read any of the Terms of uses nor the Privacy Policy. What I would like to propose is too:

– Give children, in an early stage, education in media wisdom and teach them about privacy issues on the internet
– Learn from your own mistakes. Years ago we let our doors open, but we learned from it and now we have to lock our doors. May be this kind of evolution is the same for the internet.
– Create some kind of understanding or awareness of the use and working of SNS. We can do this ourselves but governments can also play a vital role (example of dutch government)
– Extend legislation for customer protection. Better protection of member data.

Public sharing of private lives has led to a rethinking of our current conceptions of privacy. hasn’t changed that. It’s not only a governmental issue – the government has the task to provide info and make legislation – but it’s a form of creating consciousness and awareness. We think we are more and more in control, but we’re losing it and may have to accept that. That’s why we must be more careful in putting info online about ourselves. But how are we learning that to the billions of people online?

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