Social Networking Sites Create Privacy Concerns

Every time you search online for the best restaurant deal, share good news or bad with your Facebook friends, or tweet to your followers, your "audience" is bigger than you know.

That's because your every online move leaves cyberfootprints that are becoming fodder for research without you realizing it.

Using social media for academic research is accelerating and raising ethical concerns along the way, as vast amounts of information collected by private companies -- including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter -- are giving new insight into all aspects of everyday life.

Consider that mining online communication has already helped Microsoft identify women at risk of postpartum depression. It's also allowed Facebook to study how parents and kids interact. The possibilities appear limited only by the imagination of the researchers, which is why such issues were in the spotlight recently at a meeting of social and personality psychologists.

They gathered to concentrate on what's ahead amid concerns that some users may not like having their behavior under the microscope. Even as this mining of huge digital data sets of behavior is on the rise, the word "caution" is coming from all sides.

"Be aware it is a space that is watched," says social psychologist Ilka Gleibs, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics, whose study about social networking sites for research has been drawing attention since it went online January's Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.

"Facebook is transformed from a public space to a behavioral laboratory," says the study. It cites a Harvard-based project of 1,700 college-based Facebook users in which it became possible to "deanonymize parts of the data," or cross-reference anonymous data to make student identification possible.

"Sometimes it's easier than we think to identify this data," she says. "I'm not saying no one should ever do this research, but I'm saying...

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Social Networking Sites Create Privacy Concerns

Every time you search online for the best restaurant deal, share good news or bad with your Facebook friends, or tweet to your followers, your "audience" is bigger than you know.

That's because your every online move leaves cyberfootprints that are becoming fodder for research without you realizing it.

Using social media for academic research is accelerating and raising ethical concerns along the way, as vast amounts of information collected by private companies -- including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter -- are giving new insight into all aspects of everyday life.

Consider that mining online communication has already helped Microsoft identify women at risk of postpartum depression. It's also allowed Facebook to study how parents and kids interact. The possibilities appear limited only by the imagination of the researchers, which is why such issues were in the spotlight recently at a meeting of social and personality psychologists.

They gathered to concentrate on what's ahead amid concerns that some users may not like having their behavior under the microscope. Even as this mining of huge digital data sets of behavior is on the rise, the word "caution" is coming from all sides.

"Be aware it is a space that is watched," says social psychologist Ilka Gleibs, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics, whose study about social networking sites for research has been drawing attention since it went online January's Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.

"Facebook is transformed from a public space to a behavioral laboratory," says the study. It cites a Harvard-based project of 1,700 college-based Facebook users in which it became possible to "deanonymize parts of the data," or cross-reference anonymous data to make student identification possible.

"Sometimes it's easier than we think to identify this data," she says. "I'm not saying no one should ever do this research, but I'm saying...

Comments are closed.