I first blogged about this during my early blogging days. The reason why I have come back to this is because of recent coverage of Facebook’s announcement regarding the compulsory Timeline, and due to the announcement from the EU Justice Commissioner regarding the reform of data protection within the EU. I strongly recommend reading the FAQs on data protection reform from the EU.
Not so long ago, I zapped my Facebook account. Most of the people who I was ‘friends’ with had long since ceased interacting with me in any meaningful way. In the five years I had that account, I changed significantly as a person – to the extent that the way that I was using social media then was completely different to how I use it today. Even considering incorporating such an account into my current activities was a non-starter – as I explained to the few people who queried why I was closing it. The fact that only a handful of people asked why I was closing it showed that in recent times at least, my interactions on Facebook were the equivalent of shouting very loudly in a forest surrounded by nothing but the trees.
So I chose to be forgotten.
I’ll need to create a new account though – primarily for business/work purposes. I’ve already had inquiries about delivering training that incorporates Facebook. This is a challenge in itself. What do you do if you want to move away from a certain platform that your potential customers are asking you to deliver training on?
But what price privacy?
This was something Leveson dealt with today when cross-examining Richard Allan of Facebook today:
Having dealt with the product in outline, and the corporate structure, can I ask you, as I did with the witnesses from Google, a little bit about Facebook’s approach to privacy in principle, please. Can we start with the document at tab 11 of the bundle. It’s an article published by the Guardian on 11 January 2010, so just over two years ago, reporting the words of the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and he was saying that he thought that privacy was no longer a social norm.
He’s quoted as saying — I’m looking at the third paragraph: “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” Can I ask you: what it is Facebook’s approach in principle to the privacy of information? [See Leveson 26 Jan 2012]
Allan (for Facebook) responded:
…Our core raison d’etre is to give people the ability to share personal information with others. But crucial to that is the notion that the individual controls what information they’re sharing and who they may share it with, so they control both the content and the audience.
I have a number of issues around this. The first is the awareness that people have of what others can do with the personal information that they share. It may seem counter-intuitive for Facebook given the above, but I think the firm has a wider social responsibility to help educate people on issue of information security.
This is not just about personal safety – vitally important though it is. It’s also about how firms can use personal data and information that people have put up on their social media accounts to target them with adverts, or taking the mainstream economics concept of price discrimination to an individual level. Online behavioural pricing – a firms’ dream and a consumers’ nightmare. In a nutshell firms using your internet history to decide which goods and services you are statistically more likely to pay more for, and upping the price accordingly – and doing so for each person individually. I really hope it does not come to this.
There is also arguably a cultural issue (reflected by the differences in the legal systems) between Europe and the USA on privacy and personal information. One of the things that has tripped up a number of American firms in the past is over jurisdiction on their activities. Whose law applies? Yahoo vs France over the issue of war memorabilia is a classic case. One of the other things that causes friction between the EU and the USA is data protection. EU laws are much stronger – something reflected by the air passenger data negotiations that have only recently been resolved.
What about people who have grown up with social media?
Young people who started their social media accounts while still at secondary school are now starting to graduate from university, or are already in or looking to enter the workplace. How many firms have done internet searches on candidates that have applied for their vacancies? Are you aware of any candidate who has been dropped like a stone because of a dodgy message on a web board or social media platform, or perhaps a compromising photo from freshers’ week? I’m used to ‘competency-based’ interviewing styles as far as job applications are concerned. Amongst other things, it’s crystal clear as to what criteria you will be assessed against. Should prospective employers make it clear in their job adverts that applicants will be subjected to internet searches about their past as part of the assessment process? On one side it could be a gross invasion of privacy, while on the other hand it could reveal where a candidate has been lying in their application form. The line becomes blurred. Emma Barnett of The Telegraph goes into further detail saying that we must fight for the right to be forgotten online.
For those of you who have or know of children who are at school/college, please point them in the direction of the Information Commissioner’s Youth Advice pages. Help them to protect themselves.