Privacy in this newest digital age

The Press Ombudsman and Press Council had an event in Cork last Friday and I was asked to talk for 15 minutes on privacy and blogging though I instead talked about what is happening online and thoughts on privacy.

I talked about Twitter and Facebook pumping out tens of millions bits of data every day and after the recent privacy changes on Facebook, these bits are public. Twitter mostly throws out 25 million 140 character chunks of text each day as well as links to websites and 100s of 1000s if not millions of cameraphone photos. Facebook 10s of millions more. So perhaps 100 Million chunks of data be they links, text or photos are now shared with the web. Once shared, they’ll be found. Google and Facebook already tie directly into Twitter now. Facebook and Bing are tied together and Google has some access to Facebook. Oh and by the way, Facebook and their privacy changes have lots of people up in arms. Facebook were going to be wiped out if they did not react to Twitter and sites like Tumblr who already default to public. A generation has already been won over by this. A generation that will fuel our wages.

Fox masks
Photo owned by panina.anna (cc)

Privacy was about control of you
Victorian era dictating your looks, what you say, how you sound, how you dress and so on. The idea of privacy back then seemed to force people into doing certain things. One was expected to shroud oneself in shroudiness (not a real word). Now we can opt in or opt out on sharing of data. We don’t have to Twitter, upload photos that are public by default. We have granular control in Facebook. We now have amazing control of how we share and to who we share. One definition of privacy is that it is a personal choice/control we ahvea right to.

I previously talked though about not having any privacy in public when I was off Twitter. Despite not being on it, people reported where I was seen, what I was wearing, they talked about when I was doing media interviews or where I checked in for food on Foursquare. Do I have any rights to demand privacy in a public place or a private place that the public can see in to? Not everyone has a legal team like Princess Caroline. If I upload photos of myself on Twitter then do I have the right to complain when someone takes one of me and uploads it?

At the talk was a very good example of what the kids saw as a privacy violation. A friend of theirs died and they left messages to their friend on his/her Bebo page. The messages were quoted in newspapers. The kids felt this was a breach of their privacy. Perhaps the equivalent of talking to your friend and their grave and having the comments printed. So findable text could be seen as private even in a public space? I notice this was done on the Brian Lenihan support Page on Facebook where his under 18 year old son left a thank you message and it was quoted in the media.

How can libel laws exist with a networked world?
So here’s another thing. Libel laws and defamation laws were great in an unconnected world. Word couldn’t spread that far and you could find the source and legally smother it. In a world where everyone is connected, news and lies can spread in the backchannels and there isn’t much you can do. That might have traveled in an unconnected world but it would be slow. Just via email. Facebook mail or private messages on Twitter, we all get to know all the gorey details of the Irish Robinson hoopla, much more than the press were able to print. So while the press here and perhaps even bloggers can be strongly influenced by the libel laws, what about those just copy and pasting 140 characters from one private message to another? We already saw the web getting around an injunction against the Guardian.

Even in public, when you retweet (resend a message from someone to your network) who gets sued for libel? The final person in the pass-me-along, the originator (if you can find them), every person that re-sent it or the people who have the most contacts?

Also, with the whole worry about kids making themselves look stupid and in the future they’ll need jobs and this will damage their chance. Do we forget that these kids are going to be OUR employers?

6 Responses to “Privacy in this newest digital age”

  1. Christian says:

    Food for thought for sure – still trying to figure out exactly where I stand on the question (not issue) of online privacy and social media

  2. facundo says:

    Definitely a lot to think about. I was having a chat with a colleague last time regarding the granular control over one’s privacy on Facebook. The point was that in offline “life” if there’s a person you don’t like and who happens to be best friends with a group of 5 of your friends, you can try to prevent that person from knowing X thing/update from you , by getting your 5 friends to swear secrecy or simply by not disclosing or partially disclosing stuff, etc.
    If you try to do this online for instance in Facebook, the “friend-of-friend” settings are only granular up to certain extent. Of course you can block people, but just as in offline life, sometimes you do want to have people somewhat close but not too close. This thought doesn’t even consider what you described on people talking when you were off Twitter! Having said that, this goes back to your article Damien on whether existing online structures/rules should be mirrored online. Maybe order comes to everything and soon we’ll have facebook victorians imposing what is correct, or the crowd will. Really don’t have an answer but I am eager to read people’s comments on this!

  3. markofu says:

    Interesting article Damien with some great points. It will be very interesting to watch how the whole ‘social networking’ thing will evolve.

    From a security point of view, there are numerous concerns but we’ve seen how powerful and useful social networking applications/sites can be with so many companies using Facebook, Twitter etc to create or improve their business (e.g. Komplett are incredibly helpful on Twitter). Twitter is also brilliant at diseminating or sharing information – ‘viral’ as the experts would say! Possibly too much information (as you recently posted).

    On the security side of things, Twitter has been the target of several high-profile attacks, most recently by the Iranian Cyber Army 🙂 in reaction to Twitter being used extensively by the Iranian pro-democracy groups in 2009. Facebook has had countless worms and nefarious applications/widgets written for it.

    I know of several companies where all job applicants have their Facebook/Bebo/MySpace/Twitter pages reviewed and many are rejected immediately because of the inappropriate pictures. Is that invasion of privacy or is the best way to treat information that you want to keep private simply “not to upload it to social network sites”? Quite often the only people in an organisation with Internet access to Social Networking sites are those in HR or Legal 🙂

    Interestingly, there was a Christmas Security Challenge on where the primary purpose of the attack was to abuse the trust relationship between friends to view supposedly private items.

    I think in the end, business and communication will win and security/privacy will be in the background. People want to get back in touch, communicate, trade, advertise their business and for most, security/privacy is not their primary thought with many believing it will never happen to them. At the end of the day, money talks and easy access or less restrictive controls will be a greater facilitator of business.

    Regarding ‘libel’, I’d never really thought about that! I’m sure there’ll be a landmark case soon where the privacy advocates will be up in arms but will they win?

    I’ve no idea if that made sense……

  4. Ronan Lupton says:

    Damien – UK Facebook Case:

    Applause Store Productions Ltd v Raphael [2008] EWHC 1781 QBD

    The Claimants alleged that the defendant set up a Facebook profile in the name of the second claimant containing personal information about him and a group page alleging tha the claimant owed a substantial amount of money and were not to be trusted in the financial conduct of their business. The defendant, a former friend of the second claimant before they fell out, admitted using Facebook but denied that he was responsible for setting up the profile and group. At trial Richard Parkes Q.C. (sitting as a deputy High Court judge without a jury) held that the defendant was responsible for setting up and, hence publishing the profile and the group page. The extent of the publication was estimated at less that 100 people. The Deputy Judge awarded the second claimant, UK Stg 15,000 damages for libel: and the first claimant UK Stg 5,000 damages for libel. He also awarded the second claimant UK Stg 2,000 for breaches of his privacy.

    UK Blogger Case:

    The Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Limited QB [2009] EWHC 1358 – Eady J Ruling: The author of the NightJack police blog, which has revealed details of cases and engaged in criticism of ministers potentially in breach of police rules, claimed that The Times should be stopped from naming him. He said that the newspaper owed a duty to keep the information confidential, and that he had a right to privacy.

    Newsprint v Web:

    Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd. [2009] EWHC 2375 (QB) – 2nd October 2009.

    A newspaper which continued to publish a defamatory article on its website after its subject was cleared in an investigation lost its right to claim a special journalistic defence against libel, the High Court has said.

    The ruling makes it clear that while responsible journalism is given some libel protection, that protection can evaporate if the crucial facts of the case change. Web archives of stories must change to reflect this, the ruling said.

  5. Anne says:

    The bottom line is this…and it’s what I say to anyone who asks me about the Internet. If you want to keep something private…say it over the phone or face to face. Once it goes on the Net it’s not private any more..I think the important piece is getting people to realise this. Then they can choose if they want details of their lives online or not.

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