Posts Tagged ‘Privacy’

Online Privacy Is A Matter Of Trust

November 27, 2007

ESRCLast week, the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council reported on research it funded into ‘self-disclosure’ of personal information online:

Internet Users Give Up Privacy In Exchange For Trust

The research […] revealed that internet users will reveal more personal information online if they believe they can trust the organisation that requests the information. ‘Even people who have previously demonstrated a high level of caution regarding online privacy will accept losses to their privacy if they trust the recipient of their personal information’ says Dr Adam Joinson, who led the study.

Self-disclosure is currently a big issue, not only on social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, but also personal banking sites and in internet shopping.

Dr Joinson found that when a website is designed to ‘look trustworthy’, users will be more likely to divulge personal data. But more important than website design is the reputation of the company behind the website. This is closely tied to whether or not the user trusts the company, and therefore whether they will give over personal details.

I recently registered for free with New York Times online, and I was put off because of the level of personal information requested — why do you need to know our household income just so I can read a news article? Although NY Times is a large and (potentially) trustworthy organization, this level of detail seemed like prying to me, and I chose ‘prefer not to say’, which — incidentally — is at the bottom of the drop-down menu — another subject touched on in this report.

This is a particularly timely report, given that it comes days after the unprecedented loss of CDs containing the personal data (names, addresses, dates of birth, and bank details) of 25 million people. If we can’t trust the government with our personal information, should we really be happily entering it into Facebook — or maybe you trust corporations like Facebook more than the government…

Facebook Opens Up

September 6, 2007

Okay, everybody and their uncle has blogged about this, so why not? It’s even on the Beeb:

Facebook Opens Profiles to Public (BBC)

Facebook2Facebook has made its search function public. What does this mean? Well, right now, it means that anyone can visit Facebook.com and search for members. Previously, you had to register to view search results, but Facebook now wants to give people who have never visited before the opportunity to stalk “find their friends”.

But that’s only half the story: in just under a month, people will be able to find your Facebook listing from widely used search engines like Google and Yahoo. At a stroke, Facebook has cut out the middle-man “people search engines” I blogged about just a couple of weeks ago.

They’ve also added fuel to the fire of the long-running debate about online privacy. Blogger Om Malik has weighed in with his opinion — his feet are firmly in the “bad idea” camp:

“Think broadly however, this is yet another small step in the overall erosion of personal privacy, thanks to the ever growing popularity of the social networks. I don’t like the direction where all this is headed… We are slowly leaving digital litter all over the web, and some day it is going to cause problems.”

To be fair to Facebook, they do allow you the option to opt out of any of this. In fact, by tweaking a few options on the privacy page, you can make your profile so private that not even your friends can see it! Personally, I’ve opted for a halfway-house: I’ve removed the ability to search for my profile from Google etc., but left it open to anyone visiting Facebook’s homepage. However, I think Facebook’s decision to make the default option the least private is highly dubious: i.e. if you do nothing, then in one month anyone can search for your profile from Google.