Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Every little thing you do...

One of the more exciting trends in social networking is the ability to use software on your phone or iPod to report your location to your favorite social network account so your friends can see where you are. Personally I don't think it's a good idea, but I'm into protecting privacy. I do think people are not thinking enough about what they are revealing about themselves as they surf the web, and now they're making it easy for the obsessive, the stalker, the thief to track them down. Last spring a reporter tracked a women using the positioning data that was being posted by her phone at set intervals - he never met her and did not know her, but was able to see where she went and even view what he thought was her apartment through a webcam - and he knew the location of the apartment because it was fed through her cell phone. He didn't even have to dig, she was giving it all up voluntarily. Imagine if he had been a serial criminal of any sort. She was handing herself to him.

I was reading two articles, one in the Examiner about the nifty things that are so useful, but potentially so invasive to our privacy, and one at TechCrunch that talked about attaching your location to your Twitter, Facebook or MySpace account. Both point out that as we move to an online society it will become harder and harder to keep anything to ourselves. And most of us apparently don't understand that we are giving it up voluntarily. From students at Oxford to teachers in North Carolina screaming "invasion of privacy" because they got in trouble for pictures and statements on their Facebook pages, it is becoming more an more obvious that the average person online does not realize that once it's online it is out, and it can't be put away again. Is the answer stricter privacy controls? Is it tighter oversight of the social networks? I don't believe it's either. I believe it's education. Children and adults need to learn to keep some things private. They need to know that, while it might be neat to have your whereabouts posted where your friends can see them, unless you can make sure that only your friends see them, it can be painting a target on your back.

Tomorrow we'll start looking at ways to make that target a little harder to see.