thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Monday, February 18, 2008

Privacy in Social Networks: It's contextual, Stupid!

Moli is a new Social Networking Site that allows users to maintain different personae with different profiles, while still providing the ease-of-use of a single login and user name. I am happy to see that that companies are starting to experiment with the concept of privacy as contextual awareness, and Moli even has "control your privacy" as their corporate motto in the logo. This shows a growing awareness among SNS that (at least a significant portion of the) users get increasingly impatient witht the "give all information, share all, and with everybody" approach that many of the sites incorporate.

Michael Zimmer on the other hand points at a number of serious issues:
Moli, while pitching themselves as privacy-friendly, might actually pose a greater threat to user privacy than Facebook. Given that I have less control over who can see my profile at Facebook, there is some information I’m simply not willing to share on that platform. But since Moli provides me a simple way to manage multiple personae, it is perhaps more likely that I would divulge more personal information. If I can create 4 different personae (say, one highlighting my professional life, one detailing my music and cultural interests, one focusing on my sexual fetishes, and one for my family members), I certainly will be disclosing much more personal information than my single Facebook profile. And while I can set the privacy levels for each profile, Moli gets to see it all.
The general idea here is to have many silos on the same platform. Why can't we just maintain the silos un-linked? Part of the problem is not the front-end and what other users can see (there are already a number of SNS that allow me to fine-tune what each individual user can see about me), but the fact that all the different personae are linked by a single sign-on ID. And by the way: Nobody keeps me from setting up different personae at MySpace or Facebook anyway. The only difference seems to be the ease-of-use argument, and this will soon be non-existent if technologies like CardSpace with self-issued cards become more widely accepted.

More on this in Technology Review and a follow-up post by Michael, who was immediately contacted by Moli executives.

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