Who’s giving out your digits?

Posted: February 7, 2009 in technology and the future
Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s not that I ever meant to give Facebook your contact information.  I wanted to know if you were on the site, and if you weren’t, I wanted to invite you because a lot of other people I knew were there, and I thought you’d have a good time too.  Like inviting you to the party where EVERYONE ELSE is.  Who doesn’t want to be invited to the party?

I always like to come back to issues that we don’t seem to talk about much, such as privacy and the use of information on the web.  There was an interesting post awhile back by Roger Kondrat about privacy on the web.  His post brought a few things to light that I’ve never really thought about before, and that I’m sure many people don’t think about.  The issue of how we share each other’s information so freely in social networks, sometimes without the permission of the owner of that information.  Who decides who shares your information?  Certainly not you… surprised?

Is it too much to ask for a feature where you get to decide right off the bat whether Joe can give your email address to Facebook (using their address book through the social network to search for other contacts and grow their network) or Sally can send you a spammy email chain letter that you’ve seen 500 times before?  Because you’ve signed up for the service, does that automatically mean you have to put up with it?  Is it buyer beware?  Or should we even really care?

From my perspective, the internet so far has remained relatively governed by the people using it.  When the masses don’t like something, typically a change happens.  When the masses remain apathetic, behaviours continue on the way they were going.  So far, some people may have been mildly irritated by requests they get from friends and solicitations to join various networks, but enough people haven’t been irritated enough to warrant any action.  What are the implications of passing along someone’s email address so freely?  Sure, if I’ve been passing it out, it’s free game.. like that phone number on the bathroom stall.  But what about my private number, the one only a handful of people are allowed to know?  What do I do when they start passing that out?  I get calls from the gym they signed up at, from the Mary Kay lady, from a random business contact that I didn’t ask to receive a call from.

My friends have the courtesy (at least they seem to) to ask me before passing along my phone number to anyone.  They ensure I’m comfortable with who they’re given my number to and generally tell me the reason why.  I haven’t seen the same etiquette shown with regards to email addresses and the likes.  Is it because the internet is such an open and sharing place anyway?  Because email addresses don’t seem quite as personal as phone numbers?  Because we are connecting with hundreds of people everyday that we may never meet in person?  What is it that makes this behaviour okay online?  And is it something we should be concerned about?  Should the big companies put in some measure of control for the user over who is sharing their information and who they are sharing it with?  The technology certainly exists…

I haven’t figured out what my stance on this is yet.  It’s opening up a whole can of worms that the internet has avoided so far (like how we control what’s going online, who’s laws apply… do we need a governing body?).  What I cherish about the internet is the fact that it can be so many things.  And so many people are able to connect and converse about virtually anything they want.  It has the power to do so much good, yet if things get out of hand, the potential to become locked down and so ridiculously corporate.  So far it’s been about the citizens taking control.  This is our place to have a voice, to band together and make a difference on so many social issues.

So, is control over your information important to you?  Or is it okay to let others decide with who and when they share what they know about you?

I’m not sure what the answer is here, but I think it’s definitely something worthy of discussion.  What do you think?

  1. John Tyler says:

    Wendy, a great post!! I think it’s all about keeping control of our own information. Here are some of my thoughts about how we use Twitter and our current lack of control!

    Is Twitter Secure?

    Think of each person’s Twitter account as a two-way radio and each person has their own frequency. Every general tweet you make will broadcast on your own frequency, and only the people following that frequency will receive the message. At the same time, you can follow other frequencies and even re-broadcast received messages back out on your own frequency = retweet. The analogy works really well. The really big difference between a real radio network versus the Twitter network is that tweets are persistent, and the radio network is usually federally regulated. The government has rules that must be followed by anyone using the radios, and not anyone can buy or get on a two-way radio- as each person or company must have a license.

    What this means is when you talk to someone on the radio network, you know who they are and that they are authorized to communicate on the same network. For example: in my job, I use radio to communicate with people all over the country. Only field employees in the same company will have access to the same radio network. And if I want to talk with someone- I establish positive identification then proceed with my job. How unsafe would it be if anyone could jump on the radio and start broadcasting and causing interference?

    With Twitter, there are no controls! Each person is charge of their own messages, their own behaviors! We are our own moderators. There are no rules for establishing positive identification. In creating a tweet, only people following will receive the tweet, but don’t forget the open radio frequency. With the persistence of tweets, anyone one can find your tweet and start following you. It is the basic concept of Twitter. But do you want everyone in the world to know what you are doing right now?

    When I talk on the phone I like to know that whomever I am talking to is the only person listening. If someone’s phone is tapped and that conversation is publicly replayed- there is a great human cry about the invasion of privacy. Another good example is public transportation. People complain about cell conversations that are in such an enclosed public space that everyone around can hear the conversation. Yet we can go on Twitter and have a conversation that is broadcast to our followers and anyone else browsing Twitter.

    Most people are not trained for using proper radio communication procedures, instead we are used to using the phone, SMS, or email, in which we are accustomed to privacy and knowing who is on the receiving end of our communications. We move onto Twitter and it’s easy to think the same rules apply, but they don’t and that is where the problems can start. If you think you are having a private conversation you might say something that is only meant for that person. On Twitter once a tweet is sent, it’s out there. Yes you can delete your own tweets, but it doesn’t delete every cached copy of that tweet or the copies that people have already received. I know this as I have seen it myself! I tweeted a question to someone, then later decided to delete my tweet. But it was too late – the tweet was already on the network. The next day I got a response to my question – it was a harmless situation, but I had thought that when I deleted my original tweet that it was completely gone. If you can always imagine that you are talking on a bus and anyone can hear you and join in the conversation, while using Twitter, you’ll be in good shape keeping private conversations private and share only what you want to the general public!

    As I mentioned earlier there are no controls in Twitter. This new Social Media is a dream come true for hackers experienced in social engineering! You literally can become anyone on the Internet, through Twitter. Right now, I can sign up for a new Twitter account using any name, putting up any picture, and creating a reasonable sounding bio-line. With such an account you can be anyone. A business executive looking for new employees- an easy way to get someone’s contact information. Or how about a father or mother looking for advice on raising his or her kids, meanwhile learning more about you and your routines! On Twitter we trust so blindly that each person is truthful and that they are who they say they are, but there is no verification process in place in which to confirm our trust. This is why we need to learn to separate our private and personal lives from our public Twitter accounts.

    Fortunately we can still trust face-to-face, in-person human interaction!- which is a good start to a solution to the above problems.

    To quote Wendy Peters from her post “Who’s giving out your digits?” about the Internet:

    “It has the power to do so much good, yet if things get out of hand, the potential to become locked down and so ridiculously corporate. So far it’s been about the citizens taking control. This is our place to have a voice, to band together and make a difference on so many social issues.”

    We need to start working together to create a more secure Twitter environment so we can continue enjoying the many benefits Twitter provides and remain in control of our own information. I would hate to see Twitter shut down due to abuse of such great innovation!


  2. […] is an issue of privacy of information here and an issue of […]

  3. […] to share another person’s contact information.  Going back to my post about “Who’s giving out your digits“, today I saw my first real example from Reuters (I’m sure there are others) of a […]

  4. It astonishes me that people give out other people’s contact information with the click of a mouse button. Everyone in their Outlook folder – everyone in their Yahoo or Gmail account. Even more astonishing is that they fork over the passwords to these accounts.

    But, the sad thing is that there is something at work here that seems contradictory. We give Google and Twitter and Facebook the benefit of the doubt in handling unbelievably private information about ourselves – and about the people in our contact folders (who never agreed to have their information shared). At the same time we are watching the corporate leaders of other industries testify about their boneheaded and illegal activities. Do we really think that corporate leaders of tech companies are made from a different mold?

    Already, Facebook has hit the headlines for their stupid tracking with Beacon, not to mention other goofball antics. Google couldn’t figure out what freedom means in China – and on and on.

    This is a great, post, Wendy – asking questions that need to be asked. We need a lot more people like you who know the value of technology, without being mindless cheerleaders for it.

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