Thursday, November 8, 2012

Vulnerabilities To Be Addressed To Safely Utilize Online Social Networking: Unremovable Content

All content posted onto a social networking site is released permanently, for the intents of a technically knowledgeable user. Whether that content is in the form of thoughts, images, videos, or otherwise, once it is made available to a second user it is out of the control of the poster. Often misunderstood, even by those that should know better as shown by the prohibition on downloading content in the YouTube terms of service (YouTube, 2010), is that all content displayed to the screen of another user has been downloaded by them. That content, technically rather than legally, is then the property of that other user to do with as they will. If it has been viewed, even if the poster tries to delete it, then it has been distributed.

Once distributed, the poster no longer controls where their content is sent, no longer controls how it is used. Social networking sites often provide visibility or access control options which limit the initial distribution, but these do very little to impact the vulnerability to privacy. First, the default settings tend to lean toward open, rather than closed, because “creation and preservation of this social capital is systematically built upon the voluntary disclosure of private information to a virtually unlimited audience” (Debatin et al, 2009, pp. 87) Thus, having users broadcast their content to the greatest audience in turn leads to the most people joining the audience. Secondly, the sites themselves tend to have controls built into them to allow those with viewing permission to directly share that content to an audience of their choosing. Posting content to only be accessed by a select group of people does not limit the audience at all if one of those recipients in turn just forward the content to the public. Thirdly and lastly, the recipient audience can claim the content as their own and directly post it themselves to the site, or even to a different social networking site. With such a sharing, the sharer may not even provide proper attribution to the content.

Debatin, B., Lovejoy, J. P., Horn, A. K., & Hughes, B. N. (2009). Facebook and online privacy: Attitudes, behaviors, and unintended consequences. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 15(1), 83-108.

YouTube (2010). Your Use of Content. Terms of Service. Retrieved November 3, 2012 from

Vulnerabilities To Be Addressed To Safely Utilize Online Social Networking

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