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Privacy in Social Media and Location Based Apps

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Information Technology
Wordcount: 3222 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Privacy and digital Age:

“With the advent of social networking, individuals are seen voluntarily disclosing personal information in various forms” (Benson et al. 2015, p.426), disclosure of personal information by users on social media platforms should be a concern for individuals. Individual’s privacy is at stake socializing on these sites in one-way or other. Privacy is, “the claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others” (Westin, 1967 p.7 cited in Houghton & Joinson 2010, p. 76). While keeping that information to themselves is the responsibility of individuals, which in digital world is no longer manageable by them (Conger et al. 2013, p. 401). But the concept of privacy and control this by individuals is always a complex phenomenon for researchers to describe and Web 2.0 give this a new direction. Social networking sites came into existence after Web 2.0 technologies became popular in the world. Initially these sites gave users to experience new ways of interaction and communication in closed environment like Facebook, which start operating only among the students of Harvard. Interpersonal relationships went beyond physical boundaries and users familiarize themselves to a new way of communication with peers and the people they meet through these sites.

SNSs and personal Information Privacy:

These SNSs Social networking sites allow its users to create content in the form of status updates, sharing of photos and videos, following of like-minded people and interact with them through likes and personal chats. The participation by the users is became possible due to networking opportunities, create personal presence, make online relations, instant communication, shared content, competitive intelligence, photo-slide sharing and to engage in community discourse (Venkatesh 2016, p. 379). A range of personal information is being uploaded on SNSs like profile photos, date of birth, hometown, relationship status, email address and vice versa and this information is by default visible to all other members of these networks unless privacy settings are customized and in some cases users are unaware to whom they are disseminating their personal information (Houghton & Joinson 2010, p. 76).

Social media engagement and privacy consequences (Vankatesh 2016, p.381)

Provision of this information is a pre-requisite to become a member of these sites. Users trade their personal information for different services and goods to exchange like online banking (Smith et al. 2011). Problems arise when this personal information is being stolen, shared with third parties without the consent of information holder, or otherwise compromised (Conger et al. 2013, p.402). These personal data collections by owners of these SNSs are the major concerns of the users of these websites. “Individuals claim that data about themselves should not be automatically available to other individuals and organizations, and that, even where data is possessed by another party, the individual must be able to exercise a substantial degree of control over that data and its use” (Clarke 2014, p. 177) and users assume that SNSs providers should not provide this information to third parties for any business or research purposes. But information privacy of individuals is no more in control of them but remain at the disposal of the organizations they share it with; contradictorily it is assumed that this information privacy protection should extend to secondary use, share, control, access and vise versa by the organizations holding this personal information (Benson et al. 2014, p.427).

The figure below explains the personal information shared by individuals and different stake holders for that information and how it can circulate with various parties.

Expanded Privacy model (Conger et al. 2013, p.405)

The questions arises how much users are aware about the disclosure of their personal information to others. After the following statement of Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, “People have really gotten comfortable no only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something has evolved over time”, (Kirkpatrick, 2010 cited in Boyd & Hargitttai 2010, p). Boyd & Hargittai in their study concluded that revisions to privacy settings have been improved during the timespan when Facebook privacy policy was in hot debate; frequency and how consumers use Facebook and Internet are correlated with privacy settings changes (ibid). This shows the increasing concern of individuals while using social media platforms and is aware about their privacy setting. Posey et al. (2010) stated online self-disclosure is improved by online trust and social influence while self-disclosure is decreased by privacy risk behavior.



Privacy and locative media:

“Locative media entails processes in which a user’s geographic location is encoded, usually along with an exact time stamp, translating this data into information that not only persists but can be aggregated, searched, indexed, mapped, analyzed, and recalled in a variety of ways for a range of purposes” (Crawford 2012 cited in Leaver & Lloyd 2014, p. 162). SNSs check-ins or notification updates are based on these location-based encoding of data. There are various reasons for using location-based features of these SNSs. Users are engaged in mutual relationships through these sites by overcoming great geographical distances; moreover these sites offer incentives to the users in case of checking in, including points, badges or mayorships or getting virtual cash to buy or rent location in-games (Farman 2012, p.60). This spatial mobile culture enables users to be present at multiple places, by blurring the line of online and offline, resulting in increased connectivity by creating new form of experiencing locale.

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This spatial culture is closely related with privacy of its’ users. “With the rise of web-based media, social networking, and the rapid take-up of mobile devices and apps, notions of privacy are being modified at a commensurate rate for media audiences” (Dwyer 2014, p. 121). “ Higher privacy risks arise when identifiable personal information gets combined with geolocational data, which then may be accessed by sharing networks such as Facebook Places, Foursquare, and other such platforms” (Ibid, 125).  Access to geolocation of the device is possible due to GPS, part of every smart phone. On the basis of turning on your location while moving around in city, you continuously get notifications for nearby places or ask to rate the places in your close vicinity. Thus social media platforms and location-based check-ins arises multi-layers of privacy threats for users. User’s location can be used to form detailed summary of movements of them over time revealing the habits and patterns of their lives and use it for advertising patterns or business opportunities, a serious privacy risk for individuals (ibid, p.131-132). This sensitive personal information about individual’s privacy can be used for identity theft or scam in the name of that person. The commercial environment of media does not provide sufficient protection or guidance for an increasingly location-centric behavior and developing a sufficient legal disclosure about privacy (Meese 2014, pp.144-145).

Analysis & Discussion:

After discussing the privacy on social media its consequences and privacy while using location-based apps, researcher design a survey to check the respondents’ awareness/perception about their privacy on social media and check-in features of SNSs. Researcher purposes questions regarding basic measures to maintain privacy i.e. changing password, update privacy settings, check-ins, access to mobile data and accepting terms and conditions etc. All the respondents (55) residing in Australia, from different cultures but all of them are active users of social media.

First thing to protect their privacy while using social media is frequently change passwords. More than half 60% changed their passwords yearly or when they forgotten, which shows how fewer respondents are concerned about their basic way to protect their privacy on SNSs. Though there are people who are very much concerned about password protection and change them quarterly or weekly not to be guessed or used by anyone who have access to their devices.

There is divergent behavior of respondents about their awareness about privacy setting on social media. Majority of them (62%) check their privacy setting either frequently (every month) or on regular basis (quarterly). While remaining respondents either did not bother about privacy setting or cant remember when last time they check what’s public or what’s for friends on their social network accounts (includes sharing profile photo, getting friends request, who can see or comments your posts and search your wall). Another important factor about privacy perception is how often people revise their privacy setting when updated or change by social networking sites. Almost same percentage (63%) of people immediately or within a week update their privacy setting accordingly as soon as they receive notification about change in privacy policy from social networks officials. Analyzing the results in depth shows that the respondents who frequently check their privacy setting are the same who reset their privacy settings when changes or updated. This could be said that perception of users are changed about maintaining their privacy after the circulation of news regarding the provision their online behaviors by platform owners to third parties for business or research purposes.

Considering the perception of respondents about their privacy while using social networks to log in to other websites and apps, 86% respondents use it to log in to other websites or apps (14% always, 34% most of times, 38% sometimes). The reason for this behavior according to respondents is that it’s easy to log in with Facebook/twitter/instagram instead of signing in as new user. Though there are remaining 14% never use it to log in to other accounts because this linking of two accounts may disclose their social networking behavior to these apps and websites, which they don’t want to show because its quite personal for them. This login with Facebook, Google+ or twitter directly enables those sites to analyze your online trends and push you notification about your browsing history of behavior.

An important factor about privacy is accepting the terms and conditions whenever you download an app on your personal device. More than half (63%) rarely or never read the terms and conditions, contrasting to that 16% respondents always reads the terms and conditions and remaining respondents read them when they have time. Important thing related to privacy is accepting or rejecting these terms while downloading. Almost all of the respondents (96%) accept these terms and conditions because they want to use these apps whether they personally disagree with that. Only 4% respondents refused to accept these terms as they consider it a privacy breach. The noticeable thing about the perception of people about this feature is they are well aware about the access of these apps to their personal devices but to be connected with their friends and family they accept it. Smith et al. (2011) states that individual trades private information about himself as a kind of currency in exchange for anticipated goods and services, such as online bank transactions. Applying this definition to respondents, here they trade their privacy with connectivity and vise versa.

Check-in feature in SNSs is specifically associated to location-based services. This feature accesses your location, records it and gives you suggestions when the stagnant location of the device changes to a new location while using wi-fi or mobile data. This monitoring of location via mobile phones is necessary for making and receiving calls (Scassa & Sattler 2017, p.102) and this access of mobility of individuals arise severe privacy concerns. Respondents have different views on using check-in services. Quite aware of check-in that it transmit very personal information about them, 35% respondent never update their location while hanging out with friends or visiting restaurants and markets. While 27% update their check-ins with location all the times. While remaining 39% update their check-ins in case of visits to very unusual and significant place. When checking about the notifications respondents got while visiting shopping centers, fast food chains and restaurants approximately all (95%) got notifications to rate that place (46% always, 30% most of the times and 18% rarely), its parking and facilities. Only 5% said that they never got location-based notifications. Interestingly those respondents always got notifications who update their check-ins with their locations. By closely analyzing the results, it could be said that location check-ins are directly associated with getting notifications about rating places, considering their history of check-in habits.

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Another way to analyze people awareness about privacy on social media and using location-based media is to ask about the behavior they consider breach of privacy by social networking sites. 66% respondents consider that sharing their online behavior (likes, share, comments)’ which can’t be controlled by users through privacy setting, with third parties is violation of their privacy policy. Second highest option (62%) as privacy tort is getting notifications on their online behavior and browsing history on social media. Interestingly, getting notifications on the base of their location and check-ins are least considered as privacy tort, only 27% think that’s not a privacy breach.

To some extend, users of SNSs are aware of privacy concerns arises from socializing on these platforms as shown by the survey conducted by the writer of this essay. These apprehensions are always in debate among researchers as well as elaborated above in privacy and social media. Tsay-Vogel et al. (2018) illustrate that socializing on Facebook develop relaxed privacy attitudes and growing self-disclosure in both offline and online environment and negative relationship between privacy concerns and self-disclosure reduced across time. But Benson et al. (2015) asserts users’ awareness and security notices can positively enhance information disclosure in social networking contexts. For individuals privacy concerns always a point to ponder on SNSs but that is alarming for those who are not active users and don’t go for check in updates and behaviors of these platforms.



Benson, V, Saridakis, G &Tennakoon, H 2015, ‘Information disclosure of social media users: Does control over personal information, user awareness and security notice matter?’, Information Technology & People, vol.28, no.3, pp. 426—441, DOI:10.1108/ITP-10-2014-0232, accessed through UNSW library

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