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Privacy In Social Networks From The Provider Perspective

More often than not, social network providers are commercial enterprises. And because most of these services do not charge their users (despite the high costs of developing, bootstrapping, and running the thing), social networks instead opt for other revenue streams. However, many users do not question the consequences and meaning of this.




Most social network providers (particularly the non-business kind) run their services to create knowledge and content around the users in order to attract application developers and advertisers. And because only a small amount of users contribute most of the content, providers optimize these sites to maximize the flow of valuable user-generated content. Providers want content to have the most recipientes possible. But on the other end, most users want control and transparency over the reach of their information and content, and want to limit post´s audience.


Clearly several problems will result from these conflicting goals between providers and users. The following are a few problem areas from the provider side to be aware of:

Privacy Theater

Often, what is promised and what is actually provided are often two different things. The concept of “privacy theater” illustrates this difference, where networks provide a feeling of improved privacy but actually do very little to improve it. Research shows that networks might try to avoid criticism by including privacy control features, but these are difficult to actually find and use. What´s more, privacy policies are usually so jam-packed with legal jargon they become incomprehensible to ordinary users.


Misdirected Reach

For various networks, it is often unclear where content actually flows. Because every provider defines their own rules for information flow, it is hard to keep straight the complicated mix of friends, settings, and privacy policies. Due to this overall lack of transparency in terms of content reach, the control mechanisms offered are much less effective.

Lack Of Control Over Accessibility

Along with confusion over where content flows, it is nearly as difficult for users to effectively manage the accessibility of personal information. Networks rarely feature definable lifetimes for information and easy ways to delete it. Instead, controls and deletion mechanisms are hard to dig out from lengthy menus, and/or things are not even completely erased.


Multiple Privacy Damage

In addition to themselves, users can often inadvertently threaten the privacy of other individuals without even knowing it. Two common examples include uploading address books and identity linking (such as tagging another user in a photo).

Technical Issues in Data Protection and Security

Finally, other technical aspects could lead to problems relevant to user privacy. These could include implementation errors or security flaws from the social network´s side, or the use of group membership and friendship connections in computational attacks to confidential private information.


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Author : Giselle Bello

Giselle enjoys writing, traveling, and reading. She is a graduate student in public policy.

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