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22 January 2014

I’m as excited as anyone about the potential for organizations and governments to use the ever-increasing amounts of data we’re ’sharing’ (I prefer the less value-laden ‘giving off’) because of our love of smartphones and the like. So I enjoyed this presentation by Tom Raftery about “mining social media for good”.

(Slideshare ‘deck’ here)

And I am sure his heart is in the right place, but as I read through the transcript of his talk a few of his ‘good’ cases started to seem a little less cheering.

Waze, which was recently bought by Google, is a GPS application, which is great, but it’s a community one as well. So you go in and you join it and you publish where you are, you plot routes.

If there are accidents on route, or if there are police checkpoints on route, or speed cameras, or hazards, you can click to publish those as well.

Hm – avoid accidents and hazards sure – but speed cameras are there for a reason, and I can see why giving everyone forewarning of police checkpoints might not be such a hot idea either.

In law enforcement social media is huge, it’s absolutely huge. A lot of the police forces now are actively mining Facebook and Twitter for different things. Like some of them are doing it for gang structures, using people’s social graph to determine gang structures. They also do it for alibis. All my tweets are geo-stamped, or almost all, I turned it off this morning because I was running out of battery, but almost all my tweets are geo-stamped. So that’s a nice alibi for me if I am not doing anything wrong.

But similarly, it’s a way for authorities to know where you were if there is an issue that you might be involved in, or not.

To be fair Tom does note that this is “more of a dodgy use” than the others. And what about this?

A couple of years ago Nestlé got Greenpeace. They were sourcing palm oil for making their confectionery from unsustainable sources, from — Sinar Mas was the name of the company and they were deforesting Indonesia to make the palm oil.

So Greenpeace put up a very effective viral video campaign to highlight this [...] Nestlé put in place a Digital Acceleration Team who monitor very closely now mentions of Nestlé online and as a result of that this year, for the first time ever, Nestlé are in the top ten companies in the world in the Reputation Institute’s Repute Track Metric.

Are we talking about a company actually changing its behaviour here or one using their financial power to drown out dissent?

You should definitely check out this talk and transcript and if we’re going to have all this data flowing around about us it does seem sensible to use some of it for good ends – there are certainly many worthy ideas outlined in it. But if even a presentation about the good uses of social media data mining contains stuff that is alarming, maybe we should be asking the question more loudly whether the potential harms outweigh these admitted goods?

8 March 2012
Filed under:Academia, Privacy, social media at4:38 pm

The excellent folks at the Pew Internet and American Life Project have recently released an update of their 2009 report on reputation management and privacy attitudes among US internet users. The ‘top line summary’ says, “Social network users are becoming more active in pruning and managing their accounts” but I would be cautious about suggesting that from the data. True, 63% of them have deleted people from their “friends” lists, up from 56% in 2009 and 44% have deleted comments made by others on their profile, up from 36% in 2009 but since these are measures of “have ever done” one would expect figures to have risen given more than two years have passed.

It’s worth noting that from the report that (consistent with other research) young and old have the same likelihood to set their profiles to be private.

4 February 2011

1) I started my new job as Senior Lecturer in the Division of Journalism and Communication at the University of Bedfordshire this week and have enjoyed meeting my new colleagues (and collecting my new Macbook Pro).
2) I just met my editor at Palgrave and agreed to write a book (my first full-length academic one) provisionally titled “Sharing Our Lives Online: Risks and Exposure in Social Media” – likely to be delivered in 2013. I plan to blog about it as I write using the “Sharing Our Lives Online” category, so keep an eye on that…
3) On my way back from that meeting I discovered that my wife has also just found a position for when her current one finishes, which given the turbulent situation in the NHS where she works is a big relief.

Of course I would be open to receiving further good news but these three bits of news are certainly enough to be starting with!

19 October 2010

Trust-e, a private organization which promotes and monitors internet industry self-regulation, has produced a survey of US teens, social networks and privacy it entitled The Kids Are Alright. As its title suggests, its conclusions are broadly soothing. Facebook posted a status update about the report saying that it found “the majority of parents and teens understand how to protect their privacy and think their controls on Facebook are easy to use.” This is not true – it found that the majority of parents and teens believe or state that they understand how to protect their privacy. But as Sonia Livingstone’s work with teens and parents found (for example), teens may have difficulty understanding privacy settings without realising it and parents may underestimate the degree of risk their children encounter.

The trust-e survey did find that 18% of teens, “have been embarrassed or disciplined as a result of a posting”. 48% of parents and 41% of teens also did not agree that Facebook’s privacy settings are clear and easy to use, and the fact that 21% of teens never worry about their privacy when using Facebook should be a cause of concern not celebration. Other stats of note:
10% of parents admitted to secretly logging into their teens’ FB accounts to monitor their use.
10% of teens post things they would not want parents or teachers to see frequently or all the time
8% of teens accept all friend requests

27 September 2010
Filed under:Academia, Personal, Privacy, Weblogs at11:37 am

I have argued in my thesis (and hope to argue at greater length in book form) that protection of online privacy in practice is not simply a matter of offering the right controls but for users is a complicated balancing of different priorities and values. I would like to chronicle my children’s lives online for a select audience of friends and family but it’s not clear where and how I should do it.

Livejournal offers good privacy controls so I tried using that but I couldn’t get enough of the people I wanted to be able to read it to sign up and remember their passwords and visit.

Facebook now has enough of my desired audience on it to make it worthwhile to publish there and it does allow me to make sophisticated choices about who can read any status update I post, which makes it convenient, but it is also more or less transient (one can read updates well into the past but getting to them is not easy). I would like what I write to remain private but easily accessible and archived.

For me the best security solution so far for pictures and video has been Picasa’s which provides ‘good enough’ security through obscurity (non-search-indexed and un-guessable URLs but doesn’t require visitors to register to view.

What would probably be ideal for me is if there were a blog platform that to enable me to blog semi-securely Picasa-style and more securely (on a post by post basis) to friends who are registered using Facebook Connect or Google Accounts (which most of my would-be viewers have). Any free solutions like that out there?

16 May 2007

Just for a change neither of them have to do with terrorism. Eszter brought to my attention a feature in Popular Photography (US) about parents whose innocent (to them) pictures of their children were treated as suspicious by photo developers and resulted in their being criminally prosecuted. You can read the self-published story of a grandmother who fell foul of this culture of suspicion here.

The other story I heard on the radio this morning (listen to it here). Because (it seems) of arrest targets UK police have, a 13 year old child who shoplifted a single roll of candy worth around 40p was taken to the police station, cautioned, fingerprinted and had his DNA taken and stored.

I am not too worried about building up a DNA database per se but I am a little concerned that the fact that someone’s DNA turns up in the database could be taken by future employers or others as evidence of criminality itself, if one day it were to become public.

21 January 2006
Filed under:Email discoveries, Privacy, Spam at1:13 pm

Ever get an email from a stranger and wanted to know where they were? Or wanted to complain about a particular piece of spam? Here’s a guide that spells out how to trace an email (and how to then complain to the originator’s internet provider if appropriate).

28 October 2005

I have been involved with many discussions about rules for participation in virtual communities – Speaking to Me: Terms and Conditions does a great job of making fun of the kinds of “community rules” documents that result.

On a slightly serious note it does suggest some of the actual issues that may arise when increasing numbers of people blog their daily lives – eg:

6. By speaking to Tom Peyer, you grant the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, unrestricted worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display the material (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed, including in any parallel universes.

6 August 2005
Filed under:Current Affairs (UK), Privacy at9:41 pm

When fighting a ruthless enemy there is always a danger that democracies can lose the moral upper hand through over-reaction. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was bad enough but the latest UK government anti-terrorism proposals (full statement here) seem to be going a long way too far in an attempt to curb terrorism. Making “justifying or glorifying” terrorism anywhere an offence and “automatically refusing asylum to anyone with anything to do with terrorism anywhere” seem OK on the surface but are rife for misuse. As our mayor Ken Livingstone points out, twenty years ago these laws could have been applied to Nelson Mandela and his supporters.

The fact that some of the proposed rules may be applied retrospectively is also very alarming. And while many of the most draconian restrictions are applied to non-citizens resident here, Blair envisions the extension of powers to strip existing citizens of their citizenship for being “engaged in extremism”.

As with all such rash laws they may well be used initially to target people most of us would consider dangerous or distasteful (and the blurring of the distinction between the two is an important part of the problem). However there is no guarantee that such laws would not be misused by a future administration.

There has been a lot of alarm raised (by the BBC among others) about sites and people who publicise and glorify the terrorism of Al Qaeda and its ‘fellow travellers’ but rather than trying to stamp them out (probably a hopeless task) and criminalise writers and readers shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on those who are already involved and (as I noted earlier) shouldn’t we be trying to minimise legitimate Muslim grievances so the radicals eventually lose their moral ‘ammunition’?

28 May 2005
Filed under:London, Online media, Personal, Privacy at9:15 pm

To my small collection on Flickr. I have to say it’s pretty astonishing to me that my 44 pictures (mostly pretty rubbish or unlikely to be interesting for anyone but myself and family) have been viewed altogether 2153 times to date. Of course several of them were taken at a wedding which would help boost pageviews…

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