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The simple fear of harm to oneself or one’s reputation is perhaps the fundamental motivator behind calls for online privacy, and the serious nature of the ethical considerations involved. On the internet, ‘harm’ once again takes on a more blanket meaning.
We could be talking about harm to yourself or property, perhaps if you use Foursquare to Tweet that you’ll be out of the house all week and unwittingly supply every burglar in London with your daily schedule. Your reputation and your job could suffer harm if you decide to Tweet about what you really got up to on all those sick days you took. People misquoting your posts about sex discrimination in the workplace could line you up for all sorts of trouble. Even in the case of ‘private’ emails, as Wikileaks discovered, your views on the Russian president’s dress-sense could prove seriously embarrassing.
This does of course beg the question: Why on earth did you tell everybody on Twitter that you thought Peter was clinically obese and your modus operandi this month was ‘hungover’. It was decided in UK court on February 9th 2011, in the case of Sarah Baskerville, that Tweets were publically available information, and could be used as such.
We could also be talking about ‘harm’ as the appearance of any inconvenience to you brought about by giving away your information online, from credit card fraud to a thousand offer emails each week from every online store you’ve ever browsed in. While the internet makes the transfer of information easy, it isn’t always secure.
Can we convince people they’re safe? In the case of their personal details and sensitive information - perhaps not, and a heathly dose of caution is advisable. Besides the obvious places like Twitter, as Wikileaks has shown, even private information can be accessed. Beyond the obvious sources of harm there are also the ‘unknowns’ the internet throws up, the new scams, the latest hacking, that threaten people’s safety and privacy.
However, this poses interesting questions for the world of social media research. Here there is no criminal intent, but as researchers we are still keen to understand who is saying what. And typically, as we will be conducting research on behalf of another we’ll want to share that with our client.
Over the next few posts, FreshMinds Research will explore the different areas of online privacy and discuss it’s implications for those currently using the wealth of online content for commercial purposes.