Few people seem to realize or care about the dangers social media brings to our lives. Our online habits are changing rapidly from a closed, private behavior towards an open and sharing culture. While this brings us lots of good, it seems to me we are still very naive about its possible dangers.
Let me provide you five dangers that arise due to our changed online behavior. These dangers should make us realize that when (not if) we move into an era where data becomes currency, we will need to develop better privacy and security measures to go along with that. There are many more dangers that can be thought of, but I’ve just picked 5.
1. Identity theft
Stealing another person’s identity is easier than you think. We are not aware of the information we share on the web. And we often do not realize that Google never forgets. We can find names, birth dates, family members, school and work history, and much more on anyone. We can find e-mail addresses, credit card information, and from there we can get access to bank accounts and identity information. Honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to steal a person’s identity online. Right now this often has financial repercussions (people buy stuff on your credit card), but the consequences may be more severe. When important aspects of our lives are moved online identity theft can do us more harm. Think about someone committing crimes in your name. And it can be done so easily. All you need to do is sign up for a new cool web 2.0 social networking thingy. This is a harmless example, but you can imagine what can be done.
2. Everything known about you can and will be used against you
Remember that college party where you had a great time and posted a few pictures of you and your friends on the web? Remember that post you wrote where you talked about your political views, your religion, sexual preference, or point of view on various issues? Remember that you friended a person that turns out to be a criminal? Or it happens to be someone that is a bit more explicit, has really different political views than yourself. Often we are not aware what others can find about us. Part of the problem is that we have almost no control over the data that is stored on the web about us. But once it is out there it can and will be used in ways you hadn’t thought about before. How about a status update on Twitter or other social network. “I’m off to the web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco’. Harmless right? Not if you realise how easy it is to figure out the address you live at and then empty your house while you are away in San Francisco.
3. Everything is traced to you as a person
If there is one difference between the online and physical world is that data online can be traced to individuals more easily than in the physical world. We are often not aware how much information we give away that can be directly related to us. Social networks have millions of of profiled users in their database. Google has Google accounts. Every time we log into such profiles the data that is collected is directly related to our identity. It isn’t anonymous, it is traceable to ourselves. And that data is used, often for commercial purposes, but sometimes for evil purposes. It may take new laws, new governments, a change in a management team, or a war that can get the wrong people have access to your profile.
4. You have no control over your user data
Web 2.0 services live and thrive by your user data. Facebook exploits your and your friends data and creates revenues from it. Any web 2.0 company that has advertisement as one of its core business model elements will use your data, your interactions, your friends, to create revenues. You get privacy settings that protect you from other users, but who protects you from Facebook itself?
5. Who are you talking to?
Everything becomes social. As a result we can friend thousands of people on the web. In most cases we do not know who that ‘friend’ is. We are not aware that social networking services have a business model in which the network (the no of users connected) is way more important than the individual users. So ‘friending’ is dead simple and encouraged. It seems less important to actually know someone than to ‘friend’ anyone that comes along. Quantity over quality. And while this works out fine in many cases this certainly provides dangers for children, relative less experienced web users, etc. Who are you really talking to?
I do not think that sharing, social networking or social media are necessarily bad things. I do mind that current practice ad business models make sharing more important than privacy and security. The current financial flow doesn’t allow us to develop better privacy or security measures as there is no one interested in investing in it. Privacy is losing ground to social media while they should be developed hand in hand. I often hear the argument “I have nothing to hide, so what is the fuzz about”. I find that a naive view on this subject. This shift in behavior caused by social media services with data becoming the most important currency is a development that is unstoppable, and it calls for immediate action.
In fact, this isn’t new. Identity theft (or other problems connected to a lack of privacy and too much information) was something that occurred frequently up untill the 19th century. Things evolved, we had to adopt a surname and give it to our children, carry ID’s around, have a registered autograph,… things that seem redundant at this time, but were effective.
So I reckon privacy policies will change for the better, all will evolve, but sadly things have to go seriously wrong before they do.
@Tom, I hope so. The problem now is that when everything moves online we will find that anything that isn’t there simply doesn’t matter anymore. So our online identity may become far more important than our physical identity. Your passport is useful for traveling, but for bank services, acquiring new passports or driving licenses, jobs, etc. our online identity may well become more important. The scale of it is staggering 😉
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