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Social Network Constitution to protect the privacy of your digital self?

Nov 12, 20125 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

The next time you do a web search, sign into Facebook, make an online purchase, search Gmail, or write an email to a lover, "someone has invaded your privacy," warned law professor Lori Andrews. In her new book, she proposed that we adopt a Social Network Constitution.

Most of us know how everyone from third parties to government agencies are finding ways to track everything we do online and offline, if we post about it, as the boundaries between offline and online privacy become increasingly blurred. The article, “How a simple Gmail search could lead to an invasion of your privacy,” on Business Insider included an interview with Lori Andrews, law professor and director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Andrews illustrated her point by saying:

If over Gmail I say to my sister, ‘I’m thinking about getting a divorce,’ I could be offered less-good credit cards because people going through a divorce are less likely to pay their credit card bills. Google a medication for a friend or elderly relative, and people think you’ve got the disease.

Regarding how third parties can misinterpret the data from our social networking pages or web searches, Andrews said, “Organizations are telling life insurance companies, ‘Don’t get a blood or urine test; that’s costly. Look at the person’s social network page.’ If someone is an avid reader the notion is they’re too sedentary. But people read on a treadmill! Actual research shows that people who read a lot are less likely to get Alzheimer’s.”

She pointed out how a writer doing research might “Google” unusual topics and entire criminal cases have been built on web searches. (Surely you’ve at least disabled saving your Google web history and clear your cache when you close the browser?) Her example of how misinterpreted data could be damning included, as a mystery writer, she has searched the web for “the ingredients of date rape drugs.” Every writer has probably conducted some sort of research that could be misjudged and potentially come back to bite us as the boundaries between our offline and online selves increasingly becomes blurred.

Andrews has a new book, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did. On her site, she gives many more examples of how “virtually every interaction a person has in the offline world can be tainted by social network information.” Attorneys use Facebook and social media to vet jurors; some employers and universities ask for social network passwords. Government agencies monitor social networks and what you say online may eventually come back to bite you. While it may seem unethical, social media ‘private’ data is fair game for e-discovery in court. As an example, Andrews mentioned a “badly-injured woman who brought a products liability lawsuit in New York and was told by the judge that, since she was smiling in her Facebook photos, she couldn’t be that badly hurt.”

Andrews wants to help show “how people can fight back when what they post on social networks is used against them.” She believes that one of the key elements in how to “protect the privacy of your digital self” is to adopt this Social Network Constitution:

1.   The Right to Connect.

2.   The Right to Free Speech and Freedom of Expression.

3.   The Right to Privacy of Place and Information.

4.   The Right to Privacy of Thoughts, Emotions and Sentiments.

5.   The Right to Control One’s Image.

6.   The Right to Fair Trial.

7.   The Right to an Untainted Jury.

8.   The Right to Due Process of Law and the Right to Notice.

9.   Freedom from Discrimination.

10.  Freedom of Association.

Kirkus Reviews wrote that Andrews’ principles to “govern our lives online” would “protect against police searches of social networks without probable cause, require social networks to post conspicuous Miranda-like privacy warnings and set rules for the use or collecting of user information.”

Andrews’ version of an online constitution focuses more on privacy than the anti-SOPA inspired Digital Bill of Rights in which digital citizens have:

1. The right to a free and uncensored Internet.

2. The right to an open, unobstructed Internet.

3. The right to equality on the Internet.

4. The right to gather and participate in online activities.

5. The right to create and collaborate on the Internet.

6. The right to freely share their ideas.

7. The right to access the Internet equally, regardless of who they are or where they are.

8. The right to freely associate on the Internet.

9. The right to privacy on the Internet.

10. The right to benefit from what they create.

Regardless of if you agree with the Social Network Constitution, keep in mind that the next time you do a web search, sign into Facebook, make an online purchase, or write an email to a lover, “someone has invaded your privacy,” warned law professor Lori Andrews.

Image Credit: Google, opensourceway

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.