An overview of how privacy concerns came into focus, how they affect us now, and what they mean for subsequent generations.
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Evaluation: Past, Present and Future of Privacy in Social Media
The meteoric rise in the popularity of social media in recent years has resulted something quite substantial. The medium now boasts an almost ubiquitous societal presence and such influence naturally breeds change. Many of these changes have an unmistakably positive effect on the users involved; social networks have ushered in an era of unprecedented connectivity, where communication among peers has never been more clear or convenient. However, there are also aspects of mass-adopted social media present problematic questions.
The aforementioned era of connectivity is only a by-product of a much larger movement – the age of big data. This term is mostly self-explanatory; the idea began with – and has steadily grown since – computers were able to handle massive amounts of data. Just a few decades ago, such systems were referred to as supercomputers and their presence was limited to facilities of academia and research. However, the simple existence of these machines alone was not enough to accommodate the scale of information needed for social media to grow.
For the medium to flourish it took an outright validation of Moore’s Law. As computers grew exponentially more powerful, the kinds of systems necessary to facilitate large quantities of data soon became – financially – available to the public. From that point, it was a short jump to the so-called “dot com bubble” of the late 1990s which paved the way for the current digital grip that social media holds.
The introduction of Facebook in 2004 sparked what would shortly become a global phenomenon. The sphere of influence that Facebook controls is at the heart of these privacy concerns. If nearly everyone is willingly volunteering their own personal information onto Facebook’s servers, then that company soon wields a vast amount of power. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, were it not for Facebook’s controversial privacy policies.
It is now known that upon requesting a deletion of your own account, Facebook simply makes the corresponding profile impossible to reach, and keeps the information attached to the account to do with what they wish. The social network also dedicated considerable research to tracking what its users do across the web while logged in. But perhaps the most contentious move the company has made to date is deciding to hand over compiled data to the Government.
Facebook, however, is just one example. This particular case may foreshadow more challenges to come as society becomes even more dependent on digital connections. Social media is unique among consumerist fascinations as it leaves no demographic unturned. As socialisation becomes a commercial pursuit, information becomes a commodity. For future generations, it seems imperative that society decides now how its own data can be bought, sold and manipulated.