Friday, 6 November 2015

Social Media And Changes In Privacy Laws

One area significantly impacts by social media is privacy.  It used to be that what we did in our private lives remained private unless we talked to someone about our activities.  Today, however with the advent of Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter, many find is easier and easier to post tidbits about their daily lives that perhaps, should have remained private.  Bottom line, social media is dangerous to privacy.

While all this sharing is helping to create communities of like-minded individuals, it is also destroying their expectation to privacy.  While Susan’s new bikini is just the thing for the beach at St. Tropez, it may not be something her boss needs to see.  The same is true for pictures posted on Facebook of friends drinking at a party.  Once these images are online, they are online forever and should circumstances change, say a spouse sues for child custody or a rival at work is seeking an edge over another employee, these images could pose significant problems. 

One of the big dangers of posting personal information online is that the internet is crawling with criminals who are just looking for an opportunity to score.  If we post when we are leaving town or that we have inherited a bit of money, we make ourselves vulnerable to exploitation.  Criminals are experts at trawling social media sites looking for information about vacations, nights out, etc., and identifying an easy mark. 

What was once the wild west of personal information is slowly beginning to see some regulation.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is slowly beginning to enforce new and established privacy policies on social media sites and using these to sue the transgressors.  It has even been able to force transgressive sites to settle and have included agreement to allow the FTC a tighter grip on a specific site’s policies. 

One of the most notable cases occurred in 2011 when the FTC accused Facebook of lying to its users.  Facebook allegedly continually told its users that their personal information would remain private, yet Facebook repeatedly allowed this same personal information to be shared with the public.  Facebook ended up settling this claim and agreeing to a 20-year consent order.  This agreement mandates that Facebook must first have the consent of the user before any personal information may be disclosed.  What is interesting is that two years later, the FTC accused Facebook of violating the 20-year consent agreement when it proposed new privacy policies.  FTC said that Facebook’s intention to use members’ pictures and names in advertising products included an automatic assumption that parents of teenage users on Facebook agreed to this, although Facebook had no written confirmation of this agreement.

These types of victories and restrictions allowed the FTC also to receive 20-year consent agreements from MySpace, Twitter and Google.  In reality, though it is the states that are leading the way in developing regulations and laws to protect people’s private information.  California, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Illinois, and Michigan have all passed laws specifically restricting an employer’s access to their employee’s social media sites.  These are all steps in the right direction in controlling access to private information on social media.