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Analysis: Why social networking sites threaten security

Welcome to the weird world of zero privacy

We look at how the social networks that broadcast your location to the web, such as Twitter, Google Buzz and Facebook, are creating 'social insecurity'.

Why you can't know how much privacy you have

We now live in a world of online services where privacy is often violated by default.

To understand this and do something about it, you need to be an exceptional person. The average user or consumer can't or won't figure out how to safeguard his privacy.

A minimal safeguarding on personal privacy nowadays requires users to take intelligent action regarding deeply buried, little discussed, often confusing and relatively obscure settings in Facebook, Gmail, Profiles, Twitter and a world of other online social services - and most of all one's own mobile phone.

Are your Facebook photos set up to be public or private? When you post pictures of your kids or spouse on Facebook, are those pictures made available on image search sites?

Are creepy weirdos finding those pictures using Google, Bing or Yahoo image search and then reposting them on creepy weirdo websites?

When you post using Google's mobile Buzz app, are your tweets going to only the people following you, or the whole world?

Is your mobile phone's GPS location feature on or off? If it's on, is any service, company or individual person able to get access to that data?

I'd be willing to bet that more than 90 percent of users can't answer those questions. But even the most skilful users often can't know how much privacy is being violated.

For example, we know that Google's computers read all of our emails every day.

Special software scans the words we send and receive so Google can post ads next to the messages related to the conversations.

Do Google employees ever read those emails, maybe as examples for research or marketing?

How would we know if they did? And if we trust Google (and I do think Google is a trustworthy company), is the government reading your email?

How would we know if they did? And if you trust our government, is the Chinese government reading your emails? Hackers? Blackmailers? Your employer? How would we know if they did?

It's not that you don't know who's reading your email. It's that you can't know. You will never know.

As Scott McNealy famously said 11 years ago: "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it".

But it's not that simple anymore. He was talking more about concern over compromised privacy by companies and governments, which could potentially somehow use your private data for purposes you don't approve of.

But now, thanks to social services that didn't exist when McNealy uttered his inconvenient truth, the whole privacy issue has exploded.

We still have to worry about governments and companies, but now we must be concerned about employers, criminals and even family members.

NEXT PAGE: Five weird new ways your privacy can be violated

  1. Welcome to the weird new world of zero privacy
  2. Why you can't know how much privacy you have
  3. Five weird new ways your privacy can be violated


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