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Has social networking removed anonymity from the Internet?
People and society by
Posted on Mon, Feb 4, 2013 at 15:05 IST (last updated: Mon, Feb 4, 2013 @ 15:17 IST)
Consider the following: Today, almost all your online activities are linked to either FaceBook or Google. Most of us do not bother to log out of social networking sites when visiting other websites. Almost every website these days have a plugin to comment or "Like" via FaceBook or Google, which most people use. End result: Your activity on third party sites can be followed and tracked by your social networking 'partner'.
I am not paranoid by nature. But seeing the recent boom in social networking, I think that (certain) governments and corporates around the world rejoiced at and had a hidden agenda in promoting social networking, leading to a huge spurt in the number of people who conduct their online activities through their real names and leave behind a large trail of identifiable information. Sure makes tracking them much easier.
It is easy to blame people for using social networks in the first place. Here's my reply to that. Social networking as an isolated service is not particularly harmful. In the not-too-distant past, you logged in to your social network just for the purpose of finding out what your old school and college mates were doing in life. What has compounded the issue is the fact that what began as single, disconnected services have mushroomed into entire suites of sophisticated online applications with integrated, unified logins to social network providers who link your identity to the service. Gmail is a good example of how a simple service provider can take an online identity based on e-mail and turn it into a full-fledged social network complete with your real name, photos and details, holding not only personal data but also tracking online browsing habits.
I am not sure that most non-tech savvy people could have seen this coming (and I am sure there are tech-savvy people who still don't realize the security and privacy implications).
What I do think is that, most of us adopt a don't-care attitude to privacy issues (the "I am not a criminal, therefore it doesn't matter" line) and some of us made the mistake of revealing our real identities without understanding the privacy implications. For peace of mind, we prefer to think that we are one in a million (or billion) and that we go under the radar of Big Brother. However, the recent arrest of certain individuals who posted "offensive" FaceBook comments (or "Liked" offensive pages/content) makes me feel even more uncomfortable about social networking's future implications on privacy and freedom of speech.
The truth is social networking and integrated online login to multiple services, have robbed people of their thin cloak of online anonymity. It may or may not be harmful in the long run, but these are some of the effects we've already begun to experience:
- Social network providers have full control of the data you post on their sites. They can either remove it arbitrarily or keep it forever. Terms of Service ensure that your data is effectively in their control.
- Privacy controls on social networks can be by-passed by a court order or even simply a Government diktat.
- Social network providers are linking their services to other providers/services and this includes commercial entities trying to sell you goods and services.
While most of us aware of the same, we have accepted these as the cost of "progress". Yes, progress is important, but privacy has taken a huge hit in the process.
Everybody should care because privacy is something that is lost only once, but never retrieved in the world wide web.