Privacy Issues in Social Networks

Privacy Issues in Social Networks

Alexandros Papanikolaou (Technological Educational Institute of Larissa, Greece), Vasileios Vlachos (Technological Educational Institute of Larissa, Greece), Periklis Chatzimisios (Alexander Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece) and Christos Ilioudis (Alexander Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3926-3.ch008
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The inherent human need for communication and socialization is the reason for the ever-increasing use of social networking services. Social networks are a very powerful communications tool that also has the ability of aggregating large volumes of information. However, if this user-related information is exploited in certain ways, it can have harmful consequences on user privacy. This chapter defines what privacy is in the context of social networks, demonstrates how user privacy can be violated, and supports these claims with examples of real incidents. Furthermore, it presents various countermeasures, as well as directions for future research with the common goal of the protection of user privacy.
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The evolution of the Internet and the computer technologies in general, have given birth to the so-called Web 2.0, which features user-centered design, participatory information sharing, interoperability and collaboration, as well as a rich collection of web applications. A Web 2.0 site allows users to interact and collaborate, generate and/or publicize content or knowledge in a virtual community. Given this social aspect of Web 2.0, it focuses on three main aspects: a) Information management, which deals with finding, evaluating and administrating the content, b) relationship management that involves the creation and maintenance of contacts and c) self-management that deals with the presentation of personal information (Pekárek & Pötzsch, 2009). Generally speaking, Web 2.0 follows the Web-as-a-Platform model, where a user requires only a web browser to access various web applications, regardless of Operating System type (e.g., Microsoft Windows, Linux, MacOS X), without the need of specific client software, thus loosening the dependency on a particular desktop computer.

Perhaps two of the most representative examples of Web 2.0 are social networks and collaborative workspaces. Social networks are virtual societies where users create and manage their profiles, communicate, interact and establish connections with other users, view their connections’ profiles and traverse through their connections’ contacts. Examples of the most popular social networks are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Collaborative workspaces provide the required infrastructure to facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among users or user groups. File-sharing systems, online collaborative editors, wikis and so on are some examples; Google Docs, for instance, is a popular and free collaborative workspace available to all Google subscribers. Both of these communities feature some common functionality, such as the organization of contacts in groups/workspaces, the ability to monitor a user’s activity or be notified (usually via e-mail) when a certain event or user activity occurs. Examples of other communities that have emerged through Web 2.0 are Mobile Social Networks (namely, social networks where the individuals connect to each other through their mobile phones and/or tablets) and cloud communities (such as Dropbox for file storage and Amazon EC2 for computational power).

As the popularity of such online communities increased, counting hundreds of thousands of users, privacy concerns arose. The notion of privacy is rather polymorphic and depends heavily on the context it is found in, as well as on the individual himself (Nissenbaum, 2004). Generally speaking, privacy is directly related to the protection of personal data, whereas confidentiality is the prevention of information disclosure to certain individuals or groups. Hence, privacy is a subset of confidentiality. There are three main rights that social network users should demand, in order to be able to protect their privacy (Opsahl, 2010):

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