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Too much social networking could lead to Big Brother fears, agency says

An ENISA report warns of the dangers of 'life-logging'

Europe's biggest cybersecurity agency, ENISA, has warned that social networking could lead to a feeling of being continuously under surveillance and paranoid behavior.

The agency made the comments in a report that looks ahead to 2014 to predict positive and negative effects of online "life-logging." While accepting the many potential benefits of social networking, ENISA was concerned about the great risks of personal data breaches and called on European Union member states to consider introducing "real sanctions."

The report also advised the European Commission to "utilize the consultation on revisions to the data protection directive as a mechanism to anticipate the regulatory frameworks required as a result of increasing use of life-logging devices and services."

The report examines the impact on a fictional family of putting ever more personal information online. To access the benefits of the Internet, people have to upload personal data over which they have little control, the report concluded. "This implies threats to privacy, loss of personal data control, harm to your reputation and the possibility of psychological damage from exclusion or the feeling of constant surveillance," said the report.

"For commercial organizations, there is the risk of breaching data protection laws, resulting in legal sanctions and irreversible damage to reputation. Governments may suffer losses of public confidence if they are perceived not to be properly protecting their citizens' personal information," it continued.

However, despite the doom-laden tone of the report, ENISA also pointed out that "for citizens across Europe, the benefits of sharing information through social media, access goods and services via new applications are immense." Families and friends can stay in touch, reducing individuals' sense of isolation, government services can be accessed through new applications and people can also benefit professionally by building their reputations online.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.


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