On the Security, Privacy, and Ownership of Personal Information/Data

In the age of online communication, there is a vast amount of personal information/data that is shared. Much of this takes the form of photos, blogs, videos, and even the connections we make (our friends list). To begin, I’d like to look at the sole purpose of our placing this sort of personal information on the Internet: to share it with the people in our lives. There is nothing inherently wrong here, in fact I would argue this to be a good thing. The problem arrises in the handling of this personal data by the Web site which acts as the vehicle to share it.

To explain, let me provide a different real life model of this. Suppose you have a photo album of pictures from your wedding that you want to share with your best friend across the country. One of your co-workers happens to be making the trip cross-country and offers to transport those photos to your friend. Your co-worker (the vehicle of transportation) is like the Web site hosting your data. Almost daily, you upload your personal data from your own personal computer to a Web site like this, placing a great deal of trust that the Web site rightfully handles your personal data. Thus your personal data goes from a secure environment of which you control, to an environment of which you have little control.

From the perspective of the Web site acting as the vehicle to allow you to share your data, they have an advantage in making you feel confident in the security of your personal data so that you feel confident in using their site. However, there is also a conflicting advantage in making that data public, which is that it will drive more traffic to the Web site. Often there is a sort of mixing of the two, where your personal data is only available to the members of the site. But there is still a question of who really has control of your personal data once it has left your personal computer. Upon digging deep down, many sites will try to suggest that anything you upload to their site will become their possession.

A social communication Web site should be founded on the idea that your personal data remains your personal data. Your data should be kept secure, so that only you have access to it – unless you choose to share it with certain specified others. Your data should be private from all outside, third-party, sources. Most important, your data should remain in your ownership. Giving your photos to your co-worker to transport to your friend across the country, does not make your co-worker the owner of your photos.

A stern emphasis on the security, privacy, and ownership of personal information/data should be ingrained into every decision a social communication Web site makes. The decisions regarding such important matters should remain unchangeable. You should feel comfortable uploading your proprietary work information (or any information for that matter) to share with a specific group of people and not worry about someone else gaining access to that information – it should be just as secure as your personal home computer.

-Sean

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This entry was posted in Business Philosophy, Online Communication, Technological Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

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