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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Internet, Social Media and Privacy

Very recently, Google signaled its intent to begin correlating data about its users' activities across all of its most popular services and across multiple devices. The goal: to deliver those richer behavior profiles to advertisers.

Likewise, Facebook announced it will soon make Timeline - the new, glitzier user interface for its service - mandatory. Timeline is designed to chronologically assemble, automatically display and make globally accessible the preferences, acquaintances and activities for most of Facebook's 800 million members.

Combined with the addition last week of some 60 apps specifically written for Timeline, consumers can provide a detailed account, often in real time, of the music they listen to, what they eat, where they shop - even where they jog.

The driver: advertising revenue. What this tells us is that there is a lot of money at stake here. The global on-line advertising market is expected to swell to $132 billion by 2015, up from $80 billion this year, according to eMarketer. As such, it is too dangerous for 2 companies to have so much personal data. What this also tells us that there is a significant shift in the way we interact with the Internet and social networks or 'publics' in general terms, today.We are in the middle of three trends.

1. From Anonymity to Real identity

Social media has become a part of our daily lives. The things we do on social networking websites and mobile devices is increasingly about who we are.

2. From wisdom of crowd to wisdom of friends

Earlier, the Internet gave you the information in an anonymity way or the information was not personalized for you. But these days, we are more influenced by the wisdom of our friends that the wisdom of the crowd.

3. From being receivers to broadcasters

Going back in time, one had to be rich or powerful or famous in order to have a voice. But now, the power of being a broadcaster is with everyone.

How do these trends affects us? As with most changes, this freely available freedom of expression has its goods and bads.

The Internet and the social media has given us a powerful tool to speak out and be heard. Information is personalized and quickly available. Reaching out to unknown people is simple and quick. Collaborating and sharing ideas has never been so easy.

But more disquieting are the negatives. What is shocking is that some are not even aware of it. Those who are aware of it choose to silently ignore it. Some create barriers, requiring effort to understand the published information but still go on to publish. Importantly, once the information is published, regardless of our expectations, it is available and mostly remains that way. Thus, publishing personal information has become our second nature. Teenagers are most vulnerable to negative efforts of social networking.

These social networks (and malicious softwares, ISPs etc) keep track of all interactions used on their sites and save them for later use.  It is now possible to reconstruct a persons life without paying a dime or hiring a detective agency. Apps like Timeline is all you need.

A complete user profile can be created and sold to advertisers. Richer personal details are very beneficial to identity thieves and cyberspies, as well as to parties motivated to use such data unfairly against consumers, such as insurance companies, prospective employers, political campaigners and, lately, hacktivists.

With the advent of social networking website or 'publics' in general, we have become more uninhibited and often let others know more than what is really required. Mature users practice self-governance but a fair percentage of users do not. "I just checked into a restaurant!" - Well good for you, but did you ever think about a possible security threat?

“The Breakup Notifier” is another example of a Facebook “cyberstalking” app that has recently been taken down. Essentially, the application notifies users when a person breaks up with their partner through Facebook, allowing users to instantly become aware of their friend's romantic activities. Thousands had used the app within 36 hours of it's launch.

Facebook recently made sharing even easier by automatically sharing what you're doing on Facebook-connected apps. Instead of having to “Like” something to share it, you'll just need to click “Add to Timeline” on any website or app, and that app will have permission to share your activity with your Facebook friends. What activity, you may ask? It could be the news articles you read online, the videos you watch, the photos you view, the music you listen to, or any other action within the site or app. Facebook calls this auto-sharing “Gestures.” Be careful for it may cause you embarrassment.

In the web usage mining parlance, these companies are already using Clickstream for marketing (by cloaking it under the term 'relevant content') but now they are openly publishing this data for everyone to see. And thats called killing two birds with one stone.

The commonly used phrase 'Your reputation precedes you'. Knowing someone and forming opinions has become quicker.

Well, one thing is for sure and that is we will be served with relevant advertisements soon!
[For those who don't know, in September of 2003, adjacent to a New York Post article about a gruesome murder in which the victim’s body parts were stashed in a suitcase, Google listed an ad for suitcases.Since that incident, Google has improved its filters and automatically pulls ads from pages with disturbing content.]

Also read: Managing your virtual social world trail.

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