- To what extent is the data that we disclose on online social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Second Life etc really in safe hands? This data, by its nature, can be easily stored and re-accessed on corporate servers. When we candidly reveal personal information, either in our public profiles or shared with other selected users, we often do so in an atmosphere of openness, safety and trust. But do we really question the consequences of what could happen if this information was disclosed to third parties, without foreknowledge or consent?
- Given the current trend of governments and corporations towards
- Ever-increasing culture of surveillance
- Monitoring of citizens, employees and consumers
- The collection and sale of ever-more detailed demographic and market data
- The post-9/11 shift towards declining enshrinement of civil liberties
- The creeping emphasis on individuals to be accountable to authority at all times
would it be naïve to expect that social networking sites could not or would not be used by either of these entities for data collection purposes to suit their specific agendas?
- If we accept that is is indeed likely that this type of data would be valuable to and sough-after by both government and corporations then it is wise to ask ourselves how great is the risk that this information could be misused? Are there instances where it might be dangerous to us as individuals to disclose information in the apparent safety of online environments?
- There is an often-cited argument which regularly comes up in relation to such privacy issues and that is ‘If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to worry about’. However, this puts a tremendous amount of faith in the automatic benevolence of governments and corporations – against the evidence of history. Information relating to a person’s ethnicity, sexuality, religion or political persuasion to name a few examples can and has been misused historically, and continues to be in the present time.
Some more obvious examples include:
- Pinochet’s Argentina
- Modern day China
- McCarthy Era
- Modern day Burma
- All of the above political examples share a common factor: that of malign authority, and disdain for civil, political and human rights. In all of the above examples, personal data obtained by government has been used to persecute and discriminate, and in many cases imprison, torture and kill.
- Although many might assume that in modern-day ‘democracies’ these issues need not concern us, what actual assurance do we have that our stored data is protected from getting into the wrong hands? Those of us that still believe in individual privacy as a right need to ask ourselves ‘What in fact ARE our digital privacy rights’? Do we really know or investigate the extent to which our personal user data files are confidential, once on a company server?
- The above points are relevant to anyone with data privacy concerns. However, there are issues here, which are of particular concern to anyone using social media networks as tools for online activism and political organising. Given the previously outlined global political climate, it is vital that activists are fully mindful that any details they are sharing in online environments can be recorded, stored, and could have the potential to be used against them in the future, should the political climate continue its apparent trend towards increasing authoritarianism. In the absence of legal assurances that their data is protected – it is strongly advised NOT to share any information online, which you would not wish to be disclosed to unknown third parties without your consent.