Social Network Privacy Issues

We all like to think that companies guard our personal data. After all, that is what the Data Protection Act is there for. But is it ever acceptable for companies to share your data with others? Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google gave the contacts list and IP address data of Jacob Appelbaum, a WikiLeaks volunteer and developer for Tor, to the US government. An emotive law allows the US government to demand information from ISPs not only without a warrant, but without notifying the user. This means that data can be shared under a cloak of secrecy.

Internet Privacy Concerns in Relation to Public Safety

Our social networking is increasingly taking place online. This means Twitter, Facebook and Google are now rich sources of information for authorities. During the UK riots over the summer, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) became one of the main communication channels used by those involved and a number of arrests were made after the service was used to incite violence. RIM, the Canadian provider of the BBM service, has pledged to help investigators in any way they can.

UK Police have powers to access stored data and monitor social networks under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, but following the riots a number of MPs have called for BBM and social network sites like Facebook and Twitter to be temporarily shut down during such disturbances. It is now very likely that new considerations will be made to improve intelligence collection, halt criminal communication and collect evidence during such events.

The big question is at what point is it acceptable for authorities to access your private data? Do authorities have the right to put community safety above your Internet data privacy? I feel that criminals should lose their right to data privacy, but what about suspected criminals? If the data is needed before prosecutions can take place then which side of the line do you stand? What if you happen to be an innocent bystander in the vicinity of a crime – is it OK for authorities to tap into your data? The line appears to be turning more grey by the minute.

How to Protect Your Privacy Online

It’s good practice for everybody to pay a little bit more attention to social media data privacy. We seem to have forgotten that communicating online is different to communicating in person. We make throwaway comments, we say things about people, we make statements. Just because we can no longer see the text on screen doesn’t mean it ceases to exist. Don’t be naive about Internet privacy issues. Anything that is written down has the power to outlive you, regardless of how water-tight your social media network’s online privacy policy.

The best way to protect your online social network privacy is to think before you type. While you might trust Google, Twitter, Facebook et al to protect your personal data, the best way to protect yourself is to be cautious and think about every word before you type it.