Privacy and identity

In my research regarding social networks and privacy, I am finding a lot of information about security and identity. In one aspect, users want to keep their personal information (whether it be information regarding one’s e-mail, birth date, address…etc.), safe and protected from being used by third-party Web sites or marketing scams, In terms of identity, users are faced with a question. Should they put as much information as possible online so that they can make valuable connections that will potentially aid and/or influence their future? Or should they assume another role in order to protect their “true self;” in other words, an online personality that serves as an alter ego?
Perhaps there is a middle ground, in which users are able to pick and choose which information is available—either giving that information only to personal contacts online, or leaving it off the Web venue altogether. But there are negatives to this middle ground. By protecting your full identity, you are automatically limiting your connections and becoming more difficult to reach. “Friending” the CEO of a social networking site may not be possible if that person screens their friend requests and cannot decipher who you are.
With businesses moving online and many companies conducting basically all transactions and communication in the online world, can one afford to omit personal information thereby shutting themselves off from an ever-growing and expanding community? In other words, is privacy really obsolete? We are not yet to the point where most of our lives occur online, but it is only a matter of time before everything we do during the day occurs via a Web connection. Privacy issues regarding social networks are currently significant due to third party Web sites who use personal data for advertising and cookies that automatically download to locations where they may never be used.

In speaking with Mihir Kshirsagar, a lawyer and former fellow at EPIC who worked with privacy issues and homeland security, he mentioned that many of these third-party sites that obtain personal data do not need most of the information that they collect. Some do not need any. Therefore, this information is made available to people ultimately for no reason. It is frightening to think about one’s personal information being read by a complete stranger—someone whom you have never met and never will meet. Many of the advertisements on Facebook pages are placed there due to one’s personal information being downloaded by advertisers. They scan your interests and tailor ads accordingly. For example, my Facebook page features ads about college loans, Elon University and events or companies in North Carolina. In many ways, my thought process with this kind of advertising is the same as subliminal messages (which are illegal in the broadcast world).
When I see these ads on Facebook, they automatically trigger something in my memory because they are familiar. I am becoming interested and compelled to click on them simply because they unexplainably reminded me of something appealing or important in my life. As technology improves and becomes more advanced, computers will be able to tell what we are thinking. I wonder how this might apply to online advertisements. Will they soon be able to change instantaneously with our thought process of wants and needs?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Privacy and identity

  1. andersj

    When Facebook was in beta testing on using ads on the site, I wrote to them and told them that people should be able to vote on whether they like or dislike the types of ads they are shown on their profile pages. I don’t know if they had had this idea in their plans all the way along, but I did think it was neat to see that when the final version of the redesign came out that people were able to choose thumbs up or thumbs down on the ads they get exposed on their profile pages.

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