Podcast – Privacy in Social Media – Cara Chaet & Nickolette Lannan

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The advances in technology today have impacted information privacy in a variety of ways involving the amount of personal information available, the speed our information can be transferred from one computer to the next, the duration of time that computers memory can retain our information, and the kinds of information available.

Has social media degraded our societal view of personal privacy?

Today, there are hundreds of social media outlets with billions of users worldwide, Facebook alone has 1.26 billion users, and Youtube’s 1 billion users watch over 4 billion videos per day.  Nearly 70% of Facebook users, and over 50% of Google users admit to being concerned about their information privacy, yet they still continue to use social media services, thus surrendering their rights to their information by publishing it for the world to see.

When new users create an account with Twitter, Google, Facebook, or any other social media outlet, you are directed to a page containing Terms and Conditions or a Privacy Policy.  These conditions and policies, commonly written by high-paid attorneys with an expertise in privacy law, are often difficult for the average social media user to fully comprehend. ”Consumers generally do not understand who’s getting access to their data and for what purpose,” says Ryan Calo, director of the Consumer Privacy Project at the Stanford University Center for Internet and Society.

Facebook’s current Data Use Policy states; “We use the information we receive about you in connection with the services and features we provide to you and other users like your friends, our partners, the advertisers that purchase ads on the site, and the developers that build the games, applications, and websites you use.” The policy goes on to include; “Granting us this permission not only allows us to provide Facebook as it exists today, but it also allows us to provide you with innovative features and services we develop in the future that use the information we receive about you in new ways.” Google’s Privacy/Data Use Policy uses similar language stating; “We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users.”

Unfortunately, majority of social media users agree to these lengthy terms and conditions before even brushing over the material covered.  Currently, iTunes Terms and Conditions is over 56 pages long! Social media has become so popular, and useful in our daily personal and professional lives that most users relinquish the control and flow of their personal information and autonomy without even understanding what they’ve agreed to.

To some social media users, their perceived sense of privacy and safety on Facebook and Google even cost them their jobs. Ashley Payne of Georgia, lost her teaching position, due to an anonymous email sent to the school board in 2010, for posting a photo of herself holding a glass of beer and a glass of wine while on vacation in Europe, she was of the legal age to drink, and she thought her profile had been set to private.  Sister Maria Jesus Galan was asked to leave her convent of 35 years, in Santo Dominigo el Real in Spain, just for simply having a Facebook. In an article from NBC Health a transplant team came to a crossroads with whether or not to allow a man to receive a liver transplant. The young man was set to receive a  liver transplant and had confirmed that he had not been drinking, a stipulation of being allowed on the recommendation list. The team was ready to make a recommendation for him to the liver transplant program, when they received an email with a picture of the patient surrounded by booze and hoisting a beer above himself. Should doctors be allowed to deny patients services based on evidence that the patient had not been honest about their habits? Currently, there are no laws preventing a doctor from basing their decision off on evidence they find on social media. However, social media provides an outlet for doctors to assess patients answers and behaviors outside of the exam room.

As social media becomes a more common practice for people we must continue to be  extremely careful about what we are posting and to accept the fact that various fields are starting to integrate social media into decision making like doctors, college admission boards and prospective or current employers. Though only about 4% of adults have experienced misrepresentation, embarrassing information leaks, or negative effects from social media online, the potential for our information to fall into the wrong hands is very high, even novice hackers can infiltrate our Facebook account or Twitter page, leaving us exposed and virtually unable to protect ourselves.  Is social media worth the forfeit of our information privacy?

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