Privacy Online…Does it really exist?

Facebook is watching you

In the offline world or the real world as it’s often called, teenagers across the globe cite their right to privacy and insist their parents stop reading their diaries. Most parents respect this request after all, everyone has a right to privacy don’t we?

What about in the online world? Privacy online is a huge interest to me personally, mainly because it I’m not sure if it actually exists. If it does exist, it’s certainly not in the same form or to the same degree as privacy offline. Why? Well, frankly we don’t expect it and privacy in its loosest form has no place online. The essence of interacting online and using social networks is to share information about ourselves and our opinions. Isn’t that what Web 2.0 is all about?

Its undeniable that we use the internet incessantly and we actually enjoy it. However, what do we pay to use Facebook or LinkedIn? Sure, there’s premium accounts with extra features but the majority of us pay nothing to use social networks and we don’t expect to be charged either. We’ve got used to everything being free online from photos to email, videos and music. But these providers of music, video and social interaction  are not on this earth to make our lives easier. No. They are, at their very core businesses. And what do businesses aim to do? Make Money.

So, if we aren’t charged in euro for these experiences, what is the currency of the online world? Information. Personally identifiable information like our phone number, email, address or PPS number. Information on everything from what music we like, to what TV shows and movies we watch. This leads to the question of why. Why do companies in the US care what 22 year olds in small towns of Ireland are interested in?

If we look at Facebook and Google specifically, they both try to integrate our experience online. Facebook allow us to share what music we are listening to on Spotify or what movie we are watching on Netflix with our friends. They give us the ability to share our thoughts on clothes and other products online and provide our friends with a link to these products. Google allow us to remain signed in on our Google + account while using the google search engine or browsing on Youtube. Why do these Internet powerhouses want to provide us with a seamlessly integrated, customised online experience? The answer again is information. The volume of information these companies are collecting on us every day is astronomical. The number of uses for this information for them is also huge. Both Facebook and Google generate a significant proportion of their revenue through advertising. The more data they collate on us combined with personally identifiable information allows them to create a digital profile of each individual. This in turn enables them to sell extremely targeted advertising which one can assume advertisers will pay a great deal for. So, for Facebook and Google, as with any company it comes down to money.

At the heart of privacy is the issue of the privacy paradox which faces each individual when operating online, even if we aren’t aware of it. So, we must decide what information to share in order to use the various services available online. The majority of us would give away personal information in order to attain a free trial of certain software or to enter a competition for a free iPad. And we do it without a second thought as to what this information is being used for.

Despite, Europe’s more stringent approach when compared to the US, privacy laws online are at present practically non-existent. After all posting online on blogs or social networks is in essence publishing information thus, rendering it available to the public. Facebook do own this information. So, what can we do? Well, a lot of the time we can’t be wholly sure if our data is being sold and what our data is being used for. For now, the most important thing is to be aware. Facebook and other companies will follow laws that come into place such as the newly proposed EU data regulation. However, they are businesses and they exist to make money. They will possibly give us the option to opt out of certain features but that would require us being aware that we were automatically opted in. Instagram recently announced that from January 2013, they will begin selling user’s photos. This echoes our need to be aware and proactive.

I don’t believe we will get all the privacy we desire online and by choosing to participate in the online space we are forfeiting some control. It is therefore, more necessary than ever to be informed. Consider what information you want to share and what information you aren’t willing to provide to be with a chance to win a holiday in Cancun. My advice as always is to be extremely careful when operating online.

When will we learn how to behave appropriately online?

Photo of a keyboard with the Word safety on return key

This week’s post is a follow on from a previous post entitled ‘What does your Facebook say about you’ which aimed to give some tips on managing our online profile. I have repeatedly discussed the power of social networks to connect people and the continual growth of these social networks.

Facebook has over 800 million users worldwide. Twitter users exceed 200 million thus, we cannot deny the fact that, it is the norm to use social networks. Also, worth mentioning is the age at which people join these social networks is decreasing. Younger generations will and are growing up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram playing a major part in their everyday lives.

There are many issues and effects of this dependency on social networks, they decrease our ability to interact on a face to face basis, they give rise to cyber bullying and there are an abundance of associated privacy issues and concerns.

The loss of privacy when operating online is a huge area of interest for me, personally. People’s willingness to freely give out personal information online leaves me dumbfounded. Take this example, if someone stopped you on the street and asked what your phone number was or even what your name was, would you tell them? I know, I wouldn’t. However, when we are online the degree at which we freely offer up information is increasing. The majority of Facebook profiles, provide the users real name, date of birth and city of residence at the very least, with many users making their phone number and intimate details available for all to see.

I will admit that sharing information is becoming a part of everyday life. A 2011, study  by the European Commission which analysed people’s attitudes to data protection found that while 74% of Europeans believed sharing information was a part of life, 43% stated they believed they had often been asked for more information than they deemed necessary.

Facebook have recently been instructed to make a number of amendments to their privacy policy following an audit by the Irish Data Commissioner. These amendments related to their retention of user data and the sharing of user information with third parties. The Deputy Commissioner’s involvement reassures me slightly with regard to privacy.

Last week at a University open day, students were given the opportunity to tweet their questions throughout various talks. Their tweets would then be displayed on a large screen in the lecture hall.  I was horrified by the number of tweets which could not be displayed due to their inappropriate, offensive nature. This made it clear to me that, regardless of our increased presence on these social networks, we are still not using them properly.

The repercussions of misusing social networks, while not always obvious, do exist. A recent study found that 86% of employers use social networks to screen candidates. This is just another reason to be careful when operating online. A mere 26% feel in complete control on social networks, if we don’t fully trust the social networks we use then surely we need to be more careful.

All I can advise people to do is be cautious. Exercise caution when posting online, when shopping online, when uploading pictures or videos online and when sharing any information online. 

There is plenty more fish…and they’re online

Picture of a couple connecting using computers

“There’s plenty more fish in the sea” or “Don’t worry you’ll find your true match” The reliable words women around the world use to reassure and instill hope in their heartbroken friends. Generally, coupled with a speech detailing the reasons why he wasn’t good enough in the first place, these comforting words help rebuild the confidence of scorned women worldwide preparing them to go back into the world of dating.

The internet, offers a new arena for dating to take place. Online dating, while it may not be a brand new phenomenon, it’s certainly one which has continually grown in size. Increasingly, online dating is being hailed as the perfect way for newly single people to get back out there. The popularity of online dating is evidenced in the sheer volume of dating sites currently operating and the success they are experiencing. Match.com for example has attracted over 10 million users in the UK. eHarmony, an American dating site which operates in 150 countries worldwide, generated $1 billion in revenue in 2009.

Despite its popularity, upon merely mentioning the topic, the majority of people retort about how online dating is full of weird, creepy, unshaven, 47 year old men residing in their mother’s attic. Well, I happen to think unshaven men can be quite handsome and generally speaking, I try to maintain an open mind. I can’t see ten million users of Match.com all being strange 47 year old men. How can a platform which allows people to meet other singletons with similar interests within their locality be a bad thing? It just can’t. Not surprisingly, couples that met on eHarmony account for 5% of new marriages in America.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that online dating is a completely, safe, 100% guaranteed way to meet the man or woman of your dreams. I’m sure there are some, shall we say odd people, on these sites and I’m sure there are some horror stories as well but, we cannot totally ignore or disregard this phenomenon. There are people online who, lie about their relationship status, their age, their career and probably what they look like. I’m sure many a woman, has arranged a date online with a man she thought drove a Mercedes, lived in Dalkey and looked like George Clooney only, to be greeted by an overweight, middle aged man with his t-shirt tucked into his trousers. However, this has been happening since the dawn of time. Think of the awkward, failed blind dates, speed dating or going on a date with that guy you met in a bar, who you remember being a lot slimmer and more attractive.

Off-putting as the chances of that happening with online dating may be, we cannot forget the 542 people getting married every day after meeting on eHarmony’s dating site. While, I haven’t tried online dating myself, I’d never try convince someone else not to. I say, what’s the harm in trying? It may not be the conventional way to meet someone but, traditional is boring. Who wants to marry the boy who threw muck at them in playschool? Online dating enables people to set up a profile and matches users with people who have similar interests, beliefs or goals that they may never have met if it weren’t for online dating.

I would always stress the importance of safety and vigilance when sharing information and meeting new people online and I’d recommend the same when engaging in online dating. To those of you, who want to try online dating but are apprehensive,  just give it a try. Start by setting up a profile on any dating site like match  or eHarmony and take it from there. To everyone else, don’t begrudge those who are trying online dating and never rule out trying it yourself!!

Cupid is back, stronger than ever and in the form of online dating.

The Internet, a new platform for bullies?

Over the past number of weeks, I have discussed numerous topics pertaining to the usefulness of technology today. However, there are not only disadvantages associated with these technologies, there are also dangers. To reiterate a key point I’ve highlighted before, the power and premise of Web 2.0 is user generated content. By entrusting web users to create the content, how can we ensure the content is safe and not harmful to others? Or can we?

This problem is directly related with the topic I want to discuss this week, cyber bullying. Firstly, what is cyber bullying? Cyber bullying is essentially bullying through the Internet or mobile devices. As the pervasiveness of the internet grows, so too does this worrying social phenomenon. There are many ways which the internet can be used and is being used to psychologically taunt, intimidate and humiliate teenagers in Ireland and indeed all over the world. Like ‘traditional’ bullying which may take place in the classroom, cyber bullying can involve the humiliation and intimidation of others via social networks.  Cyber bullying also allows for exclusion of victims, the impersonation of victims and the spreading of rumours all in real time.

Recent research conducted by  the Anti- Bullying centre at Trinity college found that one in four girls and one in six boys have been involved in cyber bullying either as the victim or the bully. This number is both astonishing and terrifying. It’s evident that cyber bullying has a detrimental effect on the victim.  Victims can become withdrawn, nervous and afraid of those bullying them. The recent suicides of two young teenage girls in Ireland have highlighted the seriousness of this problem. These  teenagers were users of a social networking site called ask.com which gives users the option of anonymity which leverages their power to post anonymous jibes and taunts at others.

Fortunately, I have never been the victim of these cyber-attacks so I can only imagine the impact they have on one’s confidence and daily life. Consider this, every morning when you wake up your greeted to a different vicious taunt or rumour. Every time you check your phone or your Facebook there’s something new, each as bad as the one before. Our widespread use of the Internet facilitates this constant, iterative, bullying cycle these victims have to endure.

So what can be done to stop this ever-increasing problem? The recent deaths of two Irish teenagers have prompted the Minister for children Frances Fitzgerald to implore the Tánaiste to request ask.com to investigate the safety of the site.

For parents with concerns about social networking sites and their children’s involvement, there are numerous sources to explain cyber bullying.  It’s unlikely, parents can prevent their teenagers from using social networks in today’s world, for example there are over 400,000 teenagers in Ireland.  Hotline’s guide to cyber bullying is an extremely informative and useful document which offers parents tips on ensuring their children’s safety online.

For teenagers themselves, I would like to offer some quick tips:

  1. Only accept people who you know and who are your friends.
  2. Don’t allow anyone else access to your password
  3. Don’t post hurtful things about others
  4. Ensure your profile is private.
  5. If you feel you are being bullied, report it

There are currently many campaigns and efforts to stop cyber bullying including the Irish Sun’s Delete Cyber Bullies campaign. Cyber bullying is a real, increasingly prevalent problem which requires everyone’s attention and everyone’s participation to stop it.

Picture of safety tips for Facebook

What does your Facebook say about you?

Let me start by saying, I love that you can find out all you need to know about a person by quickly glancing at their Facebook page. My biggest concern is what does my Facebook profile say about me? More importantly, how can I control the online representation of Grace Kenny?

There are ways to exert some control over your presence in the online space. Here are my tips!

Online friends

It goes without saying that, there is a difference between the people you consider your friends in the offline world and your friends in the online world. For a start, who among us actually knows all our Facebook friends? Now, I don’t mean you spoke to them at a Halloween party when they were dressed as Chewbacca. I mean actually know them. I would like to say I know all my Facebook friends well enough to call them when I fancy a chat or go for a casual coffee but that wouldn’t be the truth. In the past, I have been guilty of accepting those random friend requests from people with a car as their profile picture.

Now that I am slighter older and wiser, I only accept/add people that I know and have spoken to at least once. I also have my privacy settings adjusted so only my Friends can send messages or post on my timeline and only Friends of my friends can add me.

Photos

Another big issue is photos. No one really wants photos of them cartwheeling in Coppers all over Facebook. One way to prevent this happening is STOP CARTWHEELING IN COPPERS! At the very least, amend your privacy settings so that only your friends can tag pictures of you. I would also recommend using the review posts function which basically allows you to view all pictures and posts you are tagged in before they appear on your timeline.

Your biggest enemy is often yourself

Personal Information

Consider this, the personal information you enter when setting up your Facebook is available to all your friends and possibly the whole online world depending on your privacy settings.  Some simple things not to do:

  1. Don’t make your home address available – a simple status update or check in from a bar tells all possible burglars that your house is an open target
  2. Don’t put your phone number up – anyone who can see this – can contact you
  3. Don’t check in at ‘my comfy bed’ or ‘my cosy sitting room’ using the place function –that’s asking for trouble

Burglar on Facebook

Status Updates & Posts

I cannot stress the importance of Thinking before you post on Facebook and all other social networks for that matter.

Again a list of things not to do:

  1. I know we all have bad days at work and fancy a rant. One piece of advice, call your sister and rant over the phone about how you hate your job or how someone was rude to you. DON’T put up a status about it.
  2. Also, DON’T put up a status about how hungover you are – after you call in sick to work. Someone will see it!
  3. When you break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend – DO NOT take to Facebook to slate their looks, personality or integrity. Chances are you will regret it or at least be embarrassed by it at some stage.

Finally, the golden rule is don’t post anything that you wouldn’t allow your mother to read .

So, check your privacy settings or  use either social memories or Intel museum of me and see if you are happy with what is online about you.

If not, change it. Web 2.0 is underpinned by User generated content. We are in control, now is the time to take control.

Technology and me, you … and your granny!

Excuse the somewhat brash title, what I’m attempting to convey is that, technology impacts everyone in society. So, this does include your 14 year old son and your 86 year old grandmother. Society is experiencing a global phenomenon known as the ‘digital divide’ which is essentially, the gap between adapters of technology and those who are more adverse and sceptical with regard to technology adaption and includes the older generation of society and their adaption of technology.

As I’ve said previously, technology is changing all aspects of our lives regardless of age. Us ‘digital natives’ have grown up with technology so, we embrace it but, what about those who haven’t. Older members of society are facing the task of keeping up with new, faster and ever-changing technology and this can be daunting.  Lam and Lee (2006) introduced the idea of a ‘digitally inclusive society’ which advocates the creation of a world in which people of all ages, in all corners of the globe could readily access and utilise technology.

There are many reasons which underpin older people’s resistance to technology. The primary reasons include concerns about security and privacy, fear of the unknown and lack of confidence in their ability, all of which are valid reasons and all of which are possible to overcome (See NY Times article). There is however, a danger of being left behind if older people don’t attempt to keep up with technological advances. I’m not saying older people should start writing computer code, designing websites or attending the next Web summit but, introducing some element of technology can greatly improve the lives of older people.

Of course, there are a huge number of this older generation who already utilise technology and are eager to learn more. As part of my Masters in E-commerce at DCU, every week, I volunteer at the Intergenerational Learning Programme which aims to help older technology adjust to new technologies.   The learners attending this programme are truly inspirational in terms of adapting to change. In spite of any reservations or nerves they may be experiencing, they all fully immerse themselves in the learning experience and are open and excited at the prospect of developing new skills.

In today’s class, myself and Catherine (another Masters student) delivered a class on Facebook. The volunteers aided the learners in setting up Facebook, uploading pictures, adding friends and liking pages. I’m extremely happy to report that both the volunteers and the learners loved it.  Introducing social networking to older people is a great experience for me, as I believe that communicating through platforms like Twitter and Facebook enriches our interaction with friends and family and makes communication instant, constant and easy.

So, what’s next for the ILP learners and all older people in terms of technology? Facebook is only the beginning in my view. Once, older people become comfortable using technology they can truly harness its potential.  It is my hope that they start to gain benefit from the use of technology. Staying in touch with old friends and family abroad is a wonderful element of technology but, it merely scratches the surface in terms of potential uses. Older people can use technology to make life more enjoyable and easier in many ways. For example; reading the news online keeps people informed and can save an older person from walking to the newsagents in the rain. Grocery shopping online, organisational apps, health apps and a whole realm of possibilities await older people. All they need to do is adapt.

The other side of, older people’s increasing use of technology is the potential for businesses. Retired people do have more free time to search the internet, to engage with companies via these social media platforms. This poses a huge opportunity for businesses to tap into and is one I hope to discuss next week.

In the meantime, I would encourage everyone to help their grandparents, aunts and parents engage in technology. Also, for more information check out the Intergenerational Programme on Facebook.

Older people and Facebook

2012. The year of…

2012. What have been the highlights so far? The London Olympics, Ireland’s dismal European Football championship performances and Britney joining the X factor. All interesting events in my opinion, but the Olympics take place every four years, as do the Euros and X factor is an annual competition. Basically, they are all regular world events. So, in 2012, what’s different?  It may not be immediately noticeable on a day-to-day basis but the way we communicate, report news, give opinions and gossip has changed.

Over 10 million tickets were sold for London Olympics and Paralympic games  which is undoubtedly a huge number. However, the number of people watching or talking about the Games across various platforms is astronomical. Over 1 million Facebook users liked the London 2012 page and the London 2012 Twitter account has over 1 million followers. People all around the world posted updates, commented on results and wished luck to various countries and athletes, 24/7 throughout the games. According to the LA times over 150 million tweets were sent during the 16 days of the games.

This is just one example which illustrates how we communicate today, on a global scale and volume. What is probably stranger and perhaps scary for some, is that this is the norm. In march, of this year Facebook had over 800 million users, a number which is still growing. Facebook and Twitter  have become our first port of call for talking to friends, discussing events and more recently reporting news. The whole power of Web 2.0 (The era of the Internet we are currently in) is that users have the power to create content. You don’t have to be a famous singer to post a video on Youtube. In fact, many artists have gained global support and attention by posting videos on Youtube. Justin Bieber got a record deal by posting the below video at the age of 12 which has over 40 million views.

You also don’t have to a journalist to report a news story. Twitter for example, is increasingly becoming a news platform with users reporting first on world events as they happen. On January 15, 2009, the first picture of the US airways plane in the Hudson river was posted on Twitter by a member of the public.

My life today, in 2012, is a lot different from when I was younger. It involves the constant, iterative use of technology. For example, on a typical day I would check my email, twitter, facebook, moodle and LinkedIn accounts before my first coffee. My day will include the constant completion and repetition of this cycle, before, after and during lectures, during meals, on the bus and before bed. It’s not a habit anymore, it’s an imperative part of my routine. If I didn’t check my Facebook, I might not respond to a comment, which would breach social network etiquette. I also have various websites I check throughout the day. For gossip, my bible is the Daily mail. For tech news and college, I tend to frequent WSJ, NY times and the Guardian’s technology sections which keep me informed.

It’s undeniable, my life revolves around technology. I’m never without my iPhone or Laptop and when I’ve no access to wifi, I feel uncomfortable. So, is it sad that we are so dependent on technology today? Or does technology enable us to live a richer life by connecting us to virtually anyone and anything in the world? There are sides to both arguments and research supporting both. I have grown up with technology, what about older generations who are learning to adapt to the introduction of technology in all aspects of life. Are older people affected different than 22 year olds? Do they share a different view with regard to the value of technology?

There’s also the issue of companies competing in this increasingly interconnected world. Of course, they are required to engage in some level of investment in IT and IS. But how much? What advantages does technology bring, if any? How does technology change the ways in which companies compete? Again, there is many views on all these questions and a large body of academic research which attempts to answer them.

What remains certain is that, everyone regardless of age, every company regardless of size and every country regardless of economic landscape is impacted by technology to some degree.

That’s all for this instalment of An Ode to Technology.

Coming soon: Technology and Businesses & Technology and different generations within society.

Globe with keyboard around

Feel free to comment.

-G

Grace Kenny, M.Sc.

PhD Scholar in Information Systems

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