Today’s lecture focused on my research topic, the future of social networking. My research has been extended to include privacy issues as well.
Out of all the sources I have collected regarding the future of social networking, Charlene Li’s prediction seems very logical. According to a blog post from Forrester Research (http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2008/03/the-future-of-s.html), Li writes: “Social networks will be like air.” She discusses ubiquitous social networking sites, attributing them to a necessity that will possess all of our connections. Key terms from the blog post include the idea of a universal identity, a single social graph, social context for activities and social influence defining marketing value.
But if social networks are everywhere, what will this mean in terms of security and privacy? There are already numerous issues related to social networks and privacy. Users are concerned about vague privacy policies and how their information is being used. I spoke with Mihir Kshirsagar, a former fellow at EPIC, who offered insight about how concerns about privacy will change over time: “Today we are still in the collection mode. People are still trying to understand the ways that their information is collected. But in the future it is going to be about how information is processed, and what decisions are being made based on the way that it is processed.”
According to Kshirsagar, defining privacy in terms of social networks is synonymous with defining control of information. Users want to be able to manipulate and use their own personal data in the ways that are useful to them. Kshirsagar discussed the fact that in the real world, information is collected for one use and one use only, such as a credit card transaction, but this information collection in social networks may not be for just one use. We are so quick to give out details about our lives on Facebook profiles because we think that it is going to be shared only between our friends.
Kshirsagar offered a real-world example to illustrate the ways that social networking sites can collect personal information from users and manipulate it to their advantage:
“I go to a Dunkin Donuts to get a donut. I know that the storeowner knows I am buying this. I give money and I get the donut. That information is being collected in a very specific context. Imagine if the same storeowner then collects information about how may donuts I have bought in a period of time. Then someone else comes and buys that information. Then they use it to market more things to me. Maybe they will sell it to my insurance carrier so they can see if I am at a risk of a heart attack.”
The fact that the above example could become a reality in the near future is startling. How can we maintain control of our information if it is being collected and exchanged amongst third-party Web sites without our consent?
Privacy laws in Europe and Canada have been re-worked and extended to include protection of privacy and personal information online. We have not yet adapted our laws in the U.S.; although the White House has hired a social media archivist and is clearly aware of the growing presence and importance of social networking sites. Hopefully these changes will happen soon, as more and more organizations such as EPIC testify before Congress and work to enact change.