Tag Archives: online privacy

Can we still quit Facebook?

"How to split up the US" by Pete Warden

I’ve been thinking a lot about an essay I wrote last year on the failure of Quit Facebook Day. It was one of the most popular articles I’ve ever published on my personal blog. I think the piece holds up well, given the passage of time, and given recent changes at Facebook, it may become relevant again.

Over at Mashable, Christina Warren writes that “You won’t quit Facebook” in a new op-ed. (Side note: Mashable is a media partner for Facebook’s social news reader. I was surprised that neither Warren nor her editor disclosed that in her op-ed and will leave it to Micah Sifry to ask whether Facebook’s media partners can cover it objectively.)

I’m not so sure of Warren’s larger point. Comments there suggest a few Mashable readers have left, which is minimum an interesting data point, given the rather social audience we know visits the site. BrianBoyer left tonight and livetweeted his exit, linking to a post on “why logging out isn’t enough for partial explanation.

As a news application developer – a so-called “hacker journalist” – Boyer has a different relationship with technology than many members of the media and public. He makes the platforms and works at a newspaper company that sells ads against them. He’s commented on journalists using Facebook before and now has acted on his convictions.

Whether many others follow, I think, will depend upon whether there are substantive harms to users that result from the changes that are subsequently publicized by print and broadcast media, changing the perceived risk around usage. When whether anyone in the social journalism group would quit Facebook (closed group), the overwhelming answer was: no. That’s not surprising from that particular cadre of the media, of course. There’s a vibrant discussion around this post over at my first draft on Google Plus where others feel differently. (The convergence of Google and online privacy deserves its own post, which I have written elsewhere.)

I’m not predicting that will happen but I can foresee several different scenarios where unexpected sharing of reading or socializing behavior could have consequences to work, employment, education or relationships. @Mat Buchanon of Gizmodo explored the new Facebook integration more eloquently than I and at some length here:

There are significant benefits to be gained from social sharing, as my publisher Tim O’Reilly has outlined at Radar and in his talks. I have enjoyed many of them, given my frequent user of social media, and expect to continue to do so, with care.

That said, I do not want to have all of my actions online shared, nor would I wish those of marginalized segments of society to be made public if it endangered their safety.

I’ve talked with senior executives at Facebook several times, including its CTO and chief security officer and chief privacy officer. My sense remains that they all want to do the right thing by the people on their network, providing them with better tools to share information, keep them safe and give them better privacy controls… although the persistent cookies that remain upon logout pose an issue on the latter counts.

All that said, I can’t help but wonder if these changes will tilt the balance for more users. We’ll learn more over the coming months.

Caveat Lector

If you use Facebook, you need to read this New York Times article on new changes and think carefully about how much of your activity online you want to share here publicly.

From reading to listening to watching to buying, anything connected to Facebook will be tracked, logged and added to the growing body of information about your life online.

As with so many other aspects of our lives, we all owe it to ourselves to be educated about our digital choices.

Digital privacy is about much more than Facebook

To be clear: while Facebook is the biggest social network on the planet, with some 800 million users that spend more time on it than any other site, the issue of digital privacy is much larger, as anyone who has read the Wall Street Journal’s “What do They Know?” series or followed the issues knows well.

I covered all of last year’s FTC privacy hearings and was reminded of just how broad and deep the issue of digital privacy runs. New online privacy frameworks are lagging far behind industries that are crunching unprecedented amounts of data to try to target and personalize everything we buy, read, eat or watch. Location-based services have new bearing on online privacy. Last year, online privacy debates heated up in Washington. Expect more of the same.

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Filed under blogging, journalism, social media, technology

Supreme Court rules on workplace sexting, upholds 1987 decision on electronic privacy

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court released an important decision on electronic privacy in the workplace today, which I’ve embedded below.

In the case of City of Ontario, California v. Quon, the court unanimously upheld a 1987 decision that recognized the workplace privacy rights of government employees.

“The case involved the use of text pagers issued to officers by the city police department,” said Jim Dempsey, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s vice president for public policy.

“When one officer consistently went over the allotted limit on messages, his supervisors obtained stored text messages from the service provider and found that many were personal, not work-related.  The officer claimed that the search violated the Fourth Amendment.  The Supreme Court held that the police department’s actions were reasonable, and thus did not violate the constitutional rights of the police officer.

“What is significant about the Supreme Court’s opinion is what did not happen,” said Dempsey. “Faced with an opportunity to curtail workplace privacy (or electronic privacy generally), the Court noted, applying a 1987 precedent, that government employees generally retain their Fourth Amendment privacy rights, and it assumed that government employees may have a reasonable expectation of privacy even in communications they send during work hours on employer-issued devices.

The case could have had very far-reaching implications because of the way in which work-related and personal communications have become so interwoven, in both the government and the private sectors, as employers expect workers to be always available by cell phone, text and email.  The Court recognized this trend, but declined to set any new rules.”

The New York Times also has published analysis of the ruling,” Justices Allow Search of Workplace Pagers.”

“This ended up as a workplace privacy case for government employees,” said Dempsey. “The message to government employers is that the courts will continue to scrutinize employers’ actions for reasonableness, so supervisors have to be careful. Unless a ‘no privacy’ policy is clear and consistently applied, an employer should assume that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy and should proceed carefully, with a good reason and a narrow search, before examining employee emails, texts or Internet usage.”

The Supreme Court opinion is online at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1332.pdf.

CDT and other privacy advocates filed an amicus brief, cited by the Court in its opinion, urging the Court to tread carefully and avoid casting any doubt on the privacy of new communications technologies. PDF: http://www.cdt.org/files/pdfs/08-1332_bsac_Electronic%20Frontier_Foundation_et_al.pdf.

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Filed under cyberlaw, technology