In the age of social media obsession, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to keep control over the images and related personal information being shared on social media and the world wide web in general. Privacy is becoming an increasingly contentious issue among the majority of social media users. As technologies are developing to facilitate the upload and sharing of images, the personal information in the public domain which we or other people, inadvertently or not, post is increasing. I will examine the privacy concerns on two levels – on a more personalised level, in the area of “small data” (data, in particular images, posted by an individual user) and within the context of “Big Data” (the data uploaded by other users).
The term “privacy” varies from person to person. Not everybody has the same notion of “privacy”. While software engineers view it in binary terms, most people have ambiguous and changing views of “privacy” (Highfiled, 7). It is interesting to note that a study carried out by Yahoo! Research Berkeley group, which examined Flickr users’ privacy settings and concerns, concluded that only 2% of the surveyed photos had the location information suppressed. This probably indicates that overall most people are not that concerned with their location’s disclosure. However, we cannot take this at face value as the default option on Flickr at the time of research was for the location to be included (Ahern et al, 361). Even if we take into consideration this fact, I find the percentage of photos revealing (inadvertently or not) location somewhat surprising. The location data attached to uploaded images reveals details of a person’s daily life which in turn can lead to concerns as to that person’s security or the physical security of their families and property. This concern prevents me personally from uploading photos of my child on social platforms. I also choose not to upload photos while on holidays as this could give away the fact that my home is vacant.
Furthermore, I believe that when we upload photos on social platforms it is important that we take into account that these photos affect our social image. For example, some employers perform background checks on Facebook and other social media when hiring new employees. Uploading a picture which is compromising in any way could mean loss of a job or other social opportunities. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that even if we control what images we post, there is the bigger problem – we do not have much control over what images other people are uploading of us. This concern leads us to the issue of privacy in the context of “Big Data”.
“Big Data” is the name given to large data-sets which are often collected and researched by companies and governments with the purpose of market research, targeted advertisement and national security (Smith). The amount of uploaded data is increasing on a daily basis at an ever-growing speed. A quick perusal of Instagram’s Stats page shows that more than 95 million photos/videos are uploaded per day on that platform alone. The existence of myriad social media platforms means that very often images of us can be uploaded by other users without us being even aware, especially if we are not users of that particular platform. Some social media platforms allow for tagging and inform the tagged person that an image of him has been uploaded but in a lot of cases the photos are not tagged. The fact that modern devices are capable of embedding geo-data and other metadata increases the threat to a person’s privacy, especially in cases of non-linked tagging of photos when the person is not made aware of the uploading of this image (Smith).
Overall, I feel that in our age of social media obsession, we, the social media users, remain over-exposed. Despite all attempts to defend our privacy, it is near impossible to prevent other people from uploading images and data about us. I remain of the view that we need to get accustomed to the idea of our diminished privacy, especially in cases where we voluntarily choose to make our photos available online. This seems to be the price we have to pay for the benefits of using social media platforms.
Ahern, Shane et al. “Over-Exposed? Privacy Patterns and Considerations in Online and Mobile Photosharing”, in Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, 2007, available from http://infolab.stanford.edu/~mor/research/chi241-ahern-mediaprivacy.pdf
Highfiled, Tim, and Tama Leaver. “A methodology for mapping Instagram hashtags”, First Monday, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1 January 2015, pp. 1-11, available from http://forstmonday.org/ojs/index .php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/5563/4195. Accessed on 26 November 2016.
Smith, Matthew et al. “Big Data Privacy Issues in Public Social Media”, Leibniz Universitat Hannover, available from www.dcsec.uni-hannover.de/uploads/tx-tkpublikationen/bdp.pdf. Accessed on 26 November 2016.