Pulse of the Profession

Friday Five: Social Media and Data Sharing – Striving for Privacy in a Very Public Space

Big brother is watching…and listening, and therefore, concern over data privacy and the social networks is increasing rapidly. Users across the globe are plugged into a multitude of social platforms where we make a very public display of our very private lives. As we offer up our personal information to every social platform we plug into, it should come as no surprise that this data is being collected somewhere and could quite possibly be accessed by a number of sources. However, it wasn’t until the NSA made a very public announcement, outing numerous companies and their willingness to comply to sharing data, that there was a public outcry to hide what (to a certain extent) is already out there for the taking.

In this week’s PRSA “Friday Five” post — an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary — we look at a number of social networks and giant tech companies impacted by the NSA’s announcement regarding data sharing. We will explore the various approaches to remain transparent with users while steadily cleaning up a reputational hazard that many of these companies never saw coming.

Twitter CEO Says Company Wants to Disclose More Specifics About Data Requests (The Washington Post)

Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo wants to be more transparent when it comes to disclosing specific information about data requests from federal intelligence officials. Over the last few weeks, a number of social networks have been questioned over their involvement with the NSA and their willingness to offer up information deemed private by users. While Costolo has yet to comment on his company’s involvement in the National Security Agency Internet surveillance program known as PRISM, Twitter was one of the few prominent tech firms not listed in a PowerPoint presentation that disclosed various companies participating in the program. Costolo has remained open about his company’s desire to protect the privacy of users and supports greater disclosure on government requests.

Here’s What Facebook Was Hoping You Didn’t Hear About Its Latest Privacy Scandal (Ad Age)

Facebook announced on its blog, late last Friday night, that due to a bug, the personal contact information of more than six million users was “shared”. Facebook’s word choice seems a little absurd to other tech experts who found different ways to express the turn of events at Facebook. Tech site ZDNet ran a post which they titled “Anger Mounts Facebook’s ‘Shadow Profiles’ Leak in Bug,” discussing the mounting privacy concerns. Computer security expert Graham Cluley took to his own blog to sum up the events at Facebook in a post titled “Facebook owns up to serious privacy breach. Tells world late on Friday night (again).” Despite Facebook’s attempt at disclosing information about the bug, the issue of privacy left the company open to increasing criticism of their poor attempt at maintaining an open and honest relationship with users.

Social Media Tools Weaken Email Privacy (Huffington Post)

Social network expert Marc A. Smith explained that the same technologies used to visualize social networks may be used with email data as well. As the U.S. has no data protection laws, employers in the U.S. have greater access to information supplied via employee email. Smith goes into further detail about how social network analyses can provide information on associations with others but in terms of your company, any data gathered through your Microsoft Outlook email system can be used to determine who is at the center of a social network and who is at the periphery. In a company where engagement and interaction via social media is ranked as a high priority, this could certainly point out those employees driving successful business outcomes and those who simply do not contribute.

Microsoft Joins Google in Demanding to Disclose FISA Requests (The Gaurdian)

In the midst of growing concerns over the collection of data and privacy risks, Microsoft joins the list of companies looking to resolve rumors about their involvement with NSA programs looking to gather data. Microsoft is looking to disclose Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests to prove it does not permit access to users’ information. Microsoft, like other major tech companies, is denying claims made earlier this month by the NSA about access to data via its PRISM system. The company denied claims that NSA had direct access to their systems. These recent events have caused Microsoft to push for a change in their dealings with FISA orders, which is still pending a decision. 

Here’s a Handy, Side-By-Side Comparison of the Data Collected by Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon and Yahoo (Upstart)

Upstart’s Alex Dalenberg highlights an infographic by e-commerce company Baynote that shows the similarities between some of the biggest tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Yahoo when it comes to collecting personal data. As these giant tech companies lap up your personal data, it may be helpful to see what exactly they are interested in collecting and how much of influence your click-thrus have on this data.

Nicole Castro is the public relations associate at the Public Relations Society of America.

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