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In the last 4 years the growth of social networks has brought more and more of the developed world’s population online in all areas of life; from banking, to news, to search and not least to social networks. Social Networks especially has provided a new digital way of life. Social Networks have provided a digital platform where users connect and engage online. Any social network platform relies on its users to add as much data about them as possible.

Data in this form in not just personal information but also binaries such as images, videos and other digital media forms. Every time the user upload pictures, updates status or otherwise engages user data is added to build up the profile. The user is creating a digital identity on the social network. As such the users digital identity gets built layer by layer as more data is added to the social network.

The issue with facebook (or any social network) and privacy is more about how it is technological possible to managing two fundamental concepts in social networking: the need for users to add personal data vs. the need to manage this data in an open online environment. Social networks exists and thrive because we as users feel comfortable adding our personal information so it is up to the social network to provide the user with tools by which we can manage how our personal data is presented.

YOUR DIGITAL IDENTITY
The more data attached to a user identity the more optimized the identity is for other users to discover it. Social Networks take advantage of basic network theory and power law mathematics as applied to small-world networks.

Imagine each identity in a social network such as facebook constitutes a node in a network. By matching and monitoring communication and data patterns between nodes structures can be established. Based on these patterns subgroups will emerge within the network. Let’s explore the difference between monitoring communication patterns and matching data patterns:

Matching Data Patterns: For instance on my profile I would have added what high school I went to. Based on that piece of data I will have matching from other users who went to that high school. From this a subgroup of nodes can form into a small-world network within the larger social network. This model is what exactly makes the accumulation of user data so essential to social networks. The matching of data patterns provides for the creation of subgroups within the network structure.

Monitoring Communication Patterns: Adding personal images and videos invites users connected to my node to view and/or comment. Monitoring the communication patterns between nodes when my family would engage with the new baby pictures on my profile node it is again possible to create subgroups within the larger network structure.

Without user's personal data it would not be possible to establish connections between nodes in the larger social network. The free flow of information between nodes in the network is what makes social networks so compelling for users since it enables them to find friends, like-minded individuals and cluster them into subgroups based on data pertained in individual profiles. Social Network Privacy on the other hand seeks to throttle the free-flow of information between nodes. This in turn runs contrary to the benefits of social networks. What is more interesting is when the social network as a platform uses the personal data in digital identities to connect or integrate with other digital platforms. Suddenly the personal data from the user is considered public without providing any tools so the user can manipulate what data should fall into what sphere (public or private). This brings us nicely to the current issue of user privacy on social network platforms.

CONTROLLING INFORMATION; PRIVACY ON SOCIAL NETWORKS
The problem for users is that now that all their data is available on the social network they not longer have any real control over whether it is public or personal data, where it ends up or who will access it. These 3 issues will form the next part of this article and I will discuss each one in detail using Facebook as the primary subject.

Public/Private Data: All user data is personal to the user but it depending on the logic of the platform personal data can become public to other nodes in the network. The rudimentary controls that are in place on Facebook for the user to control what other internal users see are not inadequate. Currently public data constitutes:

- Current City
- Hometown
- Education
- Work
- Likes
- Interests and;
- Friends

This kind of personal data most definitely helps users form connection between other nodes in the network and hence Facebook of course would like to make this part of the public data. But in reality most of this information is extremely sensitive and personal. Firstly the user have not control over what other users in the network finds their personal identity. For instance if a user was bullied in high school they might not what to make education public data. In these cases the user should be able to control the way connections are made in the network rather than the platform.

Secondly most of this information would be valuable to mine data about specific users without their consent. The real problem is that Facebook has no real tools for users to control what to them constitutes public vs. private date to the network.

Storage of the user's private data: What most users don't know is that Facebook allows third-parties to store profile data for 24-hours. For development of applications and integration this is of course crucial that user data can be handled outside of the network. The main problem is how Facebook actual enforces that the 3rd party delete the data after the 24 hour period and that this data does not get moved on to a 4th party during the 24th hours. Also the user is not at any point informed that their data is being accessed and stored from outside the network.

Data between Platforms: Lastly Facebook would like to make personal data available to the wider internet. Its recently launched product “Instant Personalization” aims to a more connect web in general where additional platforms can access a user’s personal information, user friend lists as well as this list’s public information.

Face book’s Instant Personalization Product certainly fits into a commercial strategy for a social network wishing to provide a larger ecosystem where there data can flow to. The real problem here is when the social network allows for the access of other digital platforms to access what constitutes private information to the user.

What is common for all 3 issues is that they have root in network theory. A social network only works because user data is easily transmitted across the network and outside the network. The more data that is available the more optimized and relevant the network is. The contradiction is that the network is only the platform and does not in itself produce any valuable social data. All the valuable data on a social network is generated by users not the platform. The data is then inherent to the user. User engagement and data is essential to function of a social network without it a social network is nothing except a platform.

By this logic the social network platform will need to make the necessary tools available for users to manage their data. Because the alternative is that users take their data and engagement elsewhere. User attention can be very fleeting as seen on MySpace, Geocities, Bebo and other social networks platforms. Since if users don’t find the necessary tools on a specific platform they will go else where that has what they need.

 

 

 

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