According to Tynan (2005, p. 72), 70% of online users are concerned about their online privacy. Many users of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter complain about how these sites do not have the appropriate settings to prevent online threats such as identity theft and the invasion of privacy. They believe that it is the responsibility of social networking sites to safeguard users’ privacy. However, users often forget how willing they are when it comes to revealing intimate details and information of their lives on these sites.
This willingness to give out their personal information invites the online privacy ‘troubles’ that users often complain about. With all these information exposed to hackers, identity thieves are given a green light to tap into users’ database when users decide to reveal their information online. Thus, we can say that the users of social networking sites are the biggest threat to their own online privacy and cases of identity thefts. There are three main reasons why people choose to reveal their personal information on social networking sites.
Firstly, people use social networking sites to connect, and to do so, they have to reveal personal information about themselves. As Andrews, L. (2011, p. 2) has said, “Social networking has enormous benefits, helping us stay in touch with people from our pasts and introducing us to people who share our interests. ” These information includes their name, age, city they are staying in, company or school they belong to and etc. The information they provide will help long-lost friends connect with them, help them make new friends with common interests and perhaps even help them find a love interest.
Another reason why people choose to reveal information about themselves is to create identity. This ‘identity’ is like the information sheet of how the user is like. Users might even want to post their every thought and actions even places they have been to, it becomes a part of their life to log on to social networking sites and post their current status (Andrews, 2011). Writing about the groups and activities a person is involved in for example, tells friends and people around him what are his interests and helps people to understand him better. Lastly, people reveal personal information to gain access to certain websites.
These include gaming sites and articles provided by social networking websites, and they often request for the user’s personal information. Users might find it worth it to reveal their information in order to enjoy the entertainment provided by these sites. Thus, they might decide that since their information will be kept confidential, it is safe to provide their personal details without a second thought. It is understood that people choose to reveal their personal information online in exchange for the benefits of using social networking sites. However, they might want to think twice after hearing what dangers they are putting themselves in.
Users should be aware of how they are putting their Internet privacy at risk when they reveal personal information about themselves; there are three major threats that users should be wary of. First of all, there is there is the threat of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is a serious problem among teenagers and it might cause mental illnesses such as depression to the victim. It can happen when a bully gets hold of the content a user posted on the Internet. Unlike normal bullying, where the victim can escape home to safety, the victim can get bullied even at home as it happens on the Internet.
The bully can even get hold of the victim’s home address or phone number if the victim had posted it online. One of the most famous cases of online bullying is the “Star Wars Kid”, Ghyslain Raza, whose homemade video of him fighting with a pretend light sabre was leaked and had more than 15 million downloads. He had been so affected that he was admitted into a child psychiatric ward (Johnson, 2004). We can see from this case study how badly cyber bullying can affect a victim, and this started from a post that the victim had not expected would be leaked.
All of these threats occur because people choose to post their details on the social networking sites. While social networking sites are growing, more people are online than ever before and this includes the bad guys on the net (Viega, 2009). Thus, we have to be even more careful about the threats that we might face online. Other than that, users should also beware identity theft. Identity theft is the use of one person’s personal information to commit fraud or other crimes (Columbia University Press, n. d. ).
This can happen to users who reveal too much information on the Internet for an identity thief to pose as him or her. As Waldrop, B. (2011) has said, “A case of identity theft can be as serious as having your entire bank account to be wiped out. ” This can be a very serious threat and users should beware of it. Finally, there is the lack of privacy online. The thing about social networking websites is that it has the weakest data link and was even rated by The Cocoon Blog as the second biggest online privacy threat in 2011.
With a weak data link, it is easy for even non-users of social networking sites to hack into a user’s database and gain access to what the user has posted. In fact, Mark Zukerberg, the founder of Facebook himself had hacked into the email accounts of two Harvard Crimson reporters using data obtained from TheFacebook. com’s logs (Carlson, 2010). This shows how information is easily accessed on social networking sites. People often believe that it is the responsibility of social networking websites to safeguard its users’ privacy.
However, here are some of the reasons why users have a major role to play in protecting their own online privacy. Firstly, social networking sites can only protect their users to a limited extent. Social networking sites have really weak data links and they have too many users to be able to take care of all of them. Facebook for example, would be the third largest nation in the world if it were a country (Andrews, 2011, p. 1). We can think Facebook as the government and its privacy settings as the law. In a real country, there would be people breaking rules despite knowing the laws.
A weak data link is like Facebook’s version of a weak police force, being unable to prevent data from being stolen. Hence, users cannot choose to rely solely on social networking sites to protect their privacy. Secondly, it is the user’s responsibility to provide his or her loved ones. Some of a user’s information such as home number or address is shared with his or her non-user family members. Thus, revealing information as such might bring harm to the family. An example would be if a burglar decides to break in to a user’s house, whose address he found on the Internet.
If a social networking site user had revealed his address and phone number online, all the burglar has to do is to type in phone number or address in Google Search and it will direct him to the user’s home (Tynan, 2005). Finally, it is important that users are aware of what harm information they post can bring. This is so as the information that had been posted cannot be taken back. Even if the user had used the best services to get all of his data removed, the information can be reinstalled within a short period of time (Andrews, 2011).
Hence, users are considered the biggest threat to their own online privacy as they are the ones who have a final say on what information they choose to post on the Internet. As mentioned in Cocoon’s 2011 List of the Top 10 Internet Privacy threats, the weakest link in the privacy chain could be the users themselves. Everything that Internet users do online leaves a digital footprint from search engine tastes to browsing patterns and social interactions. Therefore, users should be responsible for what they choose to do on the Internet, as they will never know who is watching and what online privacy threats awaits them.
While enjoying the benefits that social networking websites provide them with, they should also be aware of the threats they are facing and learn to protect their own privacy. I strongly believe that the best way to do so is for users to limit the amount of intimate information they reveal online. Privacy settings on social networking sites might help but only to a certain extent and it is better to be safe then sorry. All in all, users should understand that while they are limiting the amount the intimate information of themselves online, they are also protecting themselves from their greatest Internet privacy enemy- themselves.