Privacy in Social Networks

All of a sudden the privacy (or lack of) in public social networks has come to the fore of the public consciousness. The trigger has been the latest moves by Facebook to leverage its social graph to support its real customers; the advertising clients. These changes should not be surprising. The valuations put on Facebook have all been driven by a perceived ability to monetise its user data. At the same time Mark Zuckerburg has been extremely consistent in his opinion on privacy i.e. there doesn’t need to be any. This approach has been hidden behind a byzantine set of privacy controls that give the impression of control whilst simultaneously making it too complicated to apply it.

Now the dam has broken and even Mr Zuckerburg is suffering. It remains to be seen whether this will slow the growth of Facebook. Probably not, but it may deter the use of public networks to support relationships and transactions that require high degrees of trust.

Bruce Schneier is always worth reading by anyone interested in security in all its guises. Recently he posted on privacy and control and the key point was that privacy does not equal secrecy. Instead privacy is about control, the ability for the user to decide where, when and with whom to share their data. This control needs to be granular, obvious and comprehensive. The conclusion of the essay is that the business model of the public networks will always drive them down the road of eroding privacy. What is perhaps surprising is how long it has taken for people to react.

Companies now have the opportunity to provide trusted social networks, driven by the internal value of their communities and offering genuinely comprehensive and easy to use controls. For users looking for a haven in troubled waters this will become an increasingly reassuring alternative which will benefit the employer brand.

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