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Social Networking

Social Networking

Social Network Privacy

Social networking sites, on which users seek out and connect with other users, are by nature places that collect personal information. Indeed, networking socially online necessarily involves posting information about yourself, in one form or another, and sharing it with others. Although network users may, through privacy settings, limit who is allowed to see the information they post, the social network operator typically tracks both user content and user online behavior, and may divulge such information to third parties for commercial or other reasons. Network privacy policies usually make clear that a great deal of information is routinely collected, used and shared by the network host regardless of privacy settings.

What is a social network?

Online social networks are websites that allow users to build relationships with other network users. Social networking can be a way to stay in touch with friends, near and far, as well as a means for developing new relationships, usually based on shared interests and ideas. Social networks vary chiefly in terms of their subject matter emphasis. Personal networks allow the user to create an online story or profile that may include identity information such as name, gender, age, birthdate, as well as distinguishing information, such as employer, hobbies, opinions, and social group memberships. Access to information posted by a user is generally limited to a prescribed set of other users. Content sharing networks emphasize a user’s taste or selections of material displayed on the user’s network page. On content sharing sites, the user may post digital images, videos, music or other artistic materials selected by the user. According to an article on content, common interest networks facilitate communications among select groups of people with a particular shared background, pastime, skills set or other attribute shared with members of the network.

What is privacy with respect to social networks?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Privacy in general is “the quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others.” The word “private” comes from the Latin “privatus” meaning “not in public life.” With respect to online social networks, privacy is the state of having information you post or is collected about you remain “secluded,” whether from everyone else or just certain others. It is, in effect, about keeping some information out of “the public life.”

To this end, social networks typically allow their users to decide who sees all, some, or none of the information they post. This is accomplished through privacy settings that control, for example, whether just anyone on the Internet can access a user’s posted content or only their chosen contacts.

Also, social network operators tell their users how their personal data is used, and let them know the extent to which the information may be used regardless of privacy settings . This is accomplished via a “privacy policy” viewable in advance by prospective users of the social network.

What kind of data is available through a social network?

There are generally two kinds of information pertaining to the user of a social network: (1) user generated and (2) host generated. User generated information includes a user’s profile, communications made by the user or sent to the user from other members of the network; these are the news stories, photographs, magazine articles, videos, music and other digital data that the user comments on and/or links to on his or her profile page, as well as references and communications among users to and about each other.

In general, it is all the stuff you see on a site that wouldn’t be there but for a network member putting it there. Host generated information, on the other hand, includes the advertisements, third party links, and other visible information that wouldn’t be there but for the social network host putting it there. Host generated information also includes a great deal of information that is never directly visible to the social network user. This is data collected by the host about the social network user.

What kind of data do social networks collect?

In general, social network operators collect data that is useful to advertise the sale of goods and services to network users. Social network sites typically track the content of user generated information, for example, the fact that a user has discussed a particular topic; to the extent the topic lines up with a product or service of a “sponsor,” i.e., a business that has purchased advertising space with the network operator, a user may find an advertisement related to the content appearing on their network page.

Likewise, when a social network user clicks through to a third party web site, the user’s activity on that site may be recorded via a tracking cookie, a piece of code embedded at the time of clicking through to the third party site. Both the social network host, and the third party site, may collect information about the content viewed, which may be retained and typically used for targeted or “behavioral” advertising.

Social network sites typically assert that they do not share your actual identity with third parties, but it is debatable whether specific identity information can be gleaned from data automatically shared with third parties.

How can you protect your privacy on Social Networks?


Use the “View As” feature on Facebook to view your profile from other users' perspectives. If you don’t like what you see, change your privacy settings and run the test again. Keep checking back when new features are introduced, when you make changes to your settings, or when you add new information to your profile. See the Facebook Developer Page and Facebook’s Privacy Page for information on permissions.


Many users enjoy sharing not only thoughts and opinions on Twitter, but also share personal pictures and other private information. Take the time to learn about the difference between public and private tweets through Twitter’s Help Center.

What is behavioral advertising?

Behavioral advertising describes a kind of marketing that is based on data collected about a particular targeted customer. For example, while logged on to a social network, a user searches for a piece of sound equipment, visiting online vendors and browsing products. That user may later discover an embedded advertisement in their social networking site for the very product earlier searched for. Marketers like targeted advertisements because they are more likely to result in a purchase by a viewer than a comparable non-targeted advertisement. Social network operators prefer targeted advertisements because they command a higher price than ordinary advertisements

What is a privacy policy?

A privacy policy is a company’s formal statement of how it collects, uses, and discloses to third parties data it holds about the user.[7] Such data may include a user’s name, gender, birth date, social security number, marital status, credit information, health-related information, as well as consumer purchasing history and preferences. In the case of online social networks, a privacy policy will include a statement of how the user’s posted content may be tracked and used, the means and extent to which the user’s online browsing activities may be monitored and recorded, and how all information may be used for commercial purposes or divulged to government authorities.

Privacy polices also generally include disclaimers describing the extent to which the social network operator cannot or will not assure the safety of the user’s personal and online behavioral information from hacking by data thieves or other unauthorized persons outside the network.

A social network’s privacy policy will also set forth the extent to which posted or collected data may be affected by the user’s decisions regarding privacy settings, usually describing certain data that will be collected and used by the network host and its affiliates regardless of the settings chosen by the user.

Since each social network has its own privacy policy, it is important for users with privacy concerns to familiarize themselves with the specific policy that pertains to their use.

What are privacy settings?

Privacy settings are content filters built into a social network’s software program that sort information about a network user and make it available only to certain other parties. A privacy setting is usually a content box that is filled out by a social network user for the first time when setting up an initial profile, but may be modified at later dates. Settings may, for example, limit who can see a user’s full profile, who can access specific content posted by the user, whether to enable tracking cookies, and whether to allow the user’s location to be monitored.

The scope of privacy settings options is set by the social network operator. Many privacy options default to a broad setting that allows maximum divulgence of information. Such default settings must be affirmatively reset by the user to ensure that data availability is narrowed.

As with privacy policies, each social network will have its own privacy settings and it is up to the user to read and understand the options available.

Privacy Protection Tip

  • Understand how companies are using your information by reading their privacy policies. If you are not comfortable with how they are using your information, change your settings or find another provider.
  • Exercise available privacy and opt-out options. When you create online and social network accounts, you can often opt out of allowing them to share personal information.