Privacy is privacy

This week’s readings are focused on privacy issues with user-shared information – our personal data streams. We’ve been talking quite a bit lately about all the data available for mining of the internet – the extent to which is beyond our current ability to fathom. And as we were all beginning to have the urges to cover our webcams with post-it notes, here comes several articles to show that we might actually still have some control over at least some of the information we release.

This Mashable article gives some advice on how to handle a situation in which your employer asks for your Facebook password. The second article deals with the legal questions of such a request. I would follow the advice int he first one and tactfully decline access to anything other than what is publicly available. I would not surrender the passwords for my social media accounts, not because I’m trying to hide anything, but because I would put my family and friends at risk of privacy invasion, jeopardize misunderstandings of harmless posts taken out of contexts (from five years ago, nevertheless), and expose my private life that I prefer remains private.

The final paper explores the possibilities of enabling participatory privacy in a personal data stream. This paper simultaneously applauds the Code of Fair Information Practice for setting some guidelines for sharing personal data, and highlights its deficiencies. Privacy is defined as controlling the personal flow of information, but with more information available than we even know what to do with, privacy becomes a murky matter. Take mobile phones for example. The article said that mobile phones are “the most widespread, embedded surveillance system in history.” Heck, even I have glanced at my cell phone sitting beside me in the car while I belt out what I believe is the most perfect Christina Aguilera imitation in the history of the world, and wonder if “THEY” have chosen to listen in at this particular moment and are all as amazed with the perfection of the imitation as I am.

There are many fantastic positives about tracking information like geolocation with phones. If I get lost in the woods with my phone, perhaps my rescuers will be able to track me down. If I signed up to participate in PEIR (Personal Environmental Impact Report) I could discover and reduce my carbon footprint on the Earth. If I had a heart defect and my doctor could monitor my condition daily without my having to go to the office every day, that would be amazing. But misunderstanding or misjudging the risks of putting so much information out there could be detrimental to my overall personal privacy. I don’t even make my “MapMyRun” app log entries public because I don’t want to reveal my times and routes on running days to the world. (That info screams “Come attack me at this specific time at this specific place because there are few witnesses!”) This idea of a PDS with a Personal Data Vault is very appealing and shows that we’ve just tapped the surface of data security. A personal vault gets inserted between you phone and the application that collects data, becoming customized data sharing filters. This would be similar to what Chris mentions in his Week 15 blog, but without having to feel like a secret agent. With control over what you share with whom, and clear expectations on why you are sharing that information and where it’s going, you can don a co-investigator hat and work with very helpful data collection to improve many vital areas of our world, like environmental impact and medicine.

This week several people have been asking whether we’d share our FB passwords. I want to know under what specific circumstances you share personal information online? What criteria have to be met for you to feel safe enough to share private information?

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7 thoughts on “Privacy is privacy

  1. I think only in case of emergencies would I give out my personal information and only to a handful of close family and friends that I would trust with my life. Facebook password is still an invasion of privacy, however, it is more on the bottom of my list compared to bank or credit card passwords. I think only my mother and my future husband would have the privilege of having my online personal information.

  2. I agree about limiting who I give out private information to, but the other day I was paying a medical bill over the phone and cringed at the thought that I had just given a complete stranger my credit card number and personal information. I know it was the billing office, but how do I know what kind of people they employ and who might be listening in on the conversation that is being “recorded for quality assurance”. The more I think about all this stuff, the more paranoid I get. No, I wouldn’t give out the passwords, but who’s to say they can’t get around that with the right people and tools. (Is it too late to move to a cabin in remote Montana and have all my supplies air-dropped?)

  3. The only person I really share my passwords with is my fiance, and occasionally my mom I suppose. If for some reason I do have to share a password with someone (say for a work account) then I have a separate on that use unlike my others.

  4. In terms of determining which information I share… the first criterion is who’s going to see it. Who am I trying to share with? Do I have a way to filter who gets to see that information? For something like Facebook, I don’t mind sharing my phone number, because I can set the filters to allow only this specific group of people to see it. For something like Twitter, where even accounts that require follower approval aren’t totally private–your tweets can still be quoted, for example–, I will not post that kind of information there.

    I have only given select passwords to select people. I share a video streaming account with my sister, for example. I’ve given my very close, extremely trusted best friend a password so he could sign in and register me for classes when I couldn’t get to a computer in time. Mostly, even my parents don’t get my passwords. Whether I share passwords with a one-day husband or not… I don’t know. I’m not comfortable with the idea now, so it will probably take some compromising and convincing, and it will depend on which accounts we’re talking about and why he wants access to them.

  5. I don’t really share personal information online at all unless it’s to boost one’s business or just be a forum of social networking to keep in touch with friends. I don’t even like LinkedIn all that much because a few years ago you were supposed to keep your resume private… now it’s for everyone to see and contact you about. There’s obviously pros and cons to data sharing but I think it should always be controlled by you and you only.

    I did recently have to share my facebook password with my boss so that she could access a client’s account for me with my terrible WiFi in the TCI but I trust her and changed it right after the task was done, haha.

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