The future of social networks and rise of related privacy concerns online
Currently, social networks are among the most-visited Web sites online. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter rank in the top 20 most popular sites at www.alexa.com. After a year in existence, Facebook had obtained just over 12 million unique visitors, and MySpace’s audience increased by 20 million viewers between December 2005 and March 2006 (Cassidy, 2006). With more users developing profiles on social networking sites, concerns about privacy are at the forefront of social network research. Personally Identifiable Information, or PII is leaked on the Web to third-party sites, allowing users’ addresses, names, records and other user-specific facts to be seen by advertisers and outside sources (Krishnamurthy & Wills, 2009). Krishnamurthy & Wills suggest that PII is spread on the Web through two main avenues: HTTP header information that gives details about user identification, and cookies that are obtained by third-party Web sites such as advertisers (Krishnamurthy & Wills, 2009). Current research stresses the importance of privacy on the Web and the need to protect one’s anonymity.
The future of social networks will only enhance anonymity concerns on the Web and provoke further privacy research as new issues arise. A 2007 Datamonitor report about the future of social networks reported that 2009 would be a peak year for all social network memberships, and that in 2012, memberships on social networking sites would plateau (Lomas, 2007). While social network membership increases have been slower in recent years (Cassidy, 2006), new research suggests an innovative change of direction for social networks.
My research will focus on this change of direction and will also include information about new privacy issues that are expected to arise with developing technology. Various experts in the field have deemed ubiquitous social networking as the next step for Web 2.0 sites (Preibusch et al., 2007) (Li, 2008). The day that users will possess one universal identity, as opposed to multiple profiles for different Web site accounts, is not far off. Ubiquitous social networking will move toward a seamless integration into the everyday lives of society. Computers will be able to add “friends” and recognize acquaintances without the help of the user (Li, 2008). Facebook has already begun moving toward that goal; the Web site has a section of “suggested friends” for each user, which are collected by comparing mutual friends of that user and their personal network.
This paper will not merely rehash pre-existing futurist studies, but it will seek to combine current studies with original research and interviews from experts in the field, thus providing a fresh perspective on the future of social networking and privacy issues associated with it. In conducting preliminary research, I have collected the names of several companies involved in social networks that would add value and insight to my research. eUniverse, Facebook and rSitez are companies that I am working to get in contact with. In terms of my privacy research, I will be seeking out privacy departments at Google, Facebook, EPIC and potentially someone from the federal government to discuss new issues. Aside from interviews, I am looking to provide an analysis of current studies, while tying together implications about the future of social networking and privacy issues for the bulk of the research paper. Depending on the direction of my interviews, I hope to conduct a survey or focus group to better illustrate and develop the ideas presented in discussions with experts. These quantitative and qualitative research methods will include questions about social network usage and more specifically, questions about the types of personal information users are making available on the Web. I hope to also include a focus on privacy awareness, in which I will ask users about their knowledge of cookies, third-party Web sites that gain access to personal information and additional ways that PII can be transferred, with relative ease, outside of online social networks.
Cassidy, J (2006, May 15). Me Media; How hanging out on the Internet became big business. The New Yorker, 82, Retrieved September 3, 2009, from http://www.lexisnexis.com:80/us/lnacademic/search/homesubmitForm.do
Krishnamurthy, B. and Wills, C. E. (2009). On the leakage of personally identifiable information via online social networks. In WOSN ’09: Proceedings of the 2nd ACM workshop on online social networks, pages 7-12, Retrieved September 6, 2009, from http://conferences.sigcomm.org/sigcomm/2009/workshops/wosn/papers/p7.pdf
Li, Charlene (2008, March 6). The future of social networks: Social networks will be like air. Retrieved September 5, 2009, from Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies Web site: http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2008/03/the-future-of-s.html
Lomas, Natasha (2007, October 19). Analyst: Social Networking faces uncertain future. Retrieved September 5, 2009, from CNET news Web site: http://news.cnet.com/Analyst-Social-networking-faces-uncertain-future/2100-1025_3-6214355.html
Preibusch, S., Hoser, B., Gurses, S., & Berendt, B. (2007). Ubiquitous social networks’ opportunities and challenges for privacy-aware user modelling. In proceedings of the Workshop on Knowledge Discovery for Ubiquitous User Modeling, 2007, Retrieved September 6, 2009, from http://vasarely.wiwi.hu-berlin.de/DM.UM07/Proceedings/05-Preibusch.pdf
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