Thursday, July 29, 2010

Social security

There’s a lot of talk about security and privacy on social networks.

Recently this has involved foursquare, and how users log in at home thereby identifying the location of their home to the public. This then results in thieves knowing when they are or aren’t at home, leaving them vulnerable to break ins and theft.

Of course, this is terrible news. Inevitably, there’s outcry. How can this be allowed to happen? What a huge failure on the part of social networks that this takes place. We should reconsider the whole concept of geo-technology and social networks.

But should we – as users – not start taking responsibility for our actions?

I wonder whether users are considering the consequences of what they do online. The reason I say this is that online security is not a new phenomenon. It’s been an issue for along time. Viruses, malware, cookies, online banking, keylogging etc. All these buzzwords have been in the public consciousness for a long time. We’re always encouraged to guard our data and self-police our online activity.

Are we carrying these principles into our social networks? I’d argue we aren’t.

There seems to be a feeling that the information we put on social networks should be guarded. Protected for us. Private. But why? Where has this assumption come from? We’re placing an unreasonable amount of trust in technology and in companies/individuals that we really don’t have any rational reason to trust so much.

The Internet is arguably the single greatest invention there has ever been. It has connected the world in ways we would have thought unimaginable even ten years previously. Its accessibility, however, is a double edged sword. There should be no reason to put anything online that you would be wary about others finding. Use the same security principles you’ve always lived by offline, and take them online.

Would you ever leave your diary and home address details open in public? No? Then don’t tell the foursquare world when you will and won’t be at home, and where this home is. Would you leave photos of you and your friends on a night out all over your local town in public? No? Then consider leaving them off facebook too. Would you put a note up in a local store about how you’ve pulled a sickie off work knowing your boss frequents the same store and could see the message? No? Then don’t befriend your boss on facebook and put this on your status.

It’s common sense. Unfortunately, most of this is being left on the login pages of social networks.

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