Social media: Exploring the privacy issues

Modern wireless technology and social media

With the huge increase in social media, agendaNi examines some of the privacy implications and considers the questions it throws up for employers and governments.

With the explosion of social media over the past decade, from Facebook to Twitter and Snapchat, privacy issues have increasingly come to the fore. In the digital age, where sharing videos of family events is common place to mobile phones that tell people where we are at any given time, the volume of data offered is immense and its uses vast.

In 2015 there was an estimated 14.8 million Twitter users registered in the UK, while Facebook has more than double that with 31 million users. And the demographic has shifted, with an increasing number of over 40s using both services.

There are a number of broad categories of social media. Facebook is primarily used for personal interactions between friends, relatives and groups, but also serves as a useful platform for strengthening professional relationships. Twitter is used to promote both personal and corporate views, while dedicated networks such as LinkedIn are used increasingly by recruiters to identify potential new hires.

The problem is, with so much personal information swirling around in cyber space, from what someone did at an 18th birthday party to their list of academic and professional achievements, what is and isn’t fair game for marketing companies to access or governments to demand to see? It’s a question that is made even more problematic by the use of social media by terrorist groups such as ISIS.

Last month, the British government launched a broadside against apps such as Whatsapp, which boasts even it doesn’t know the identity of its users or the content of their messages because of its encryption programme. The Home Secretary Teresa May has signaled she wants a ban of such methods in the interests of national security.

Where then is the line in the sand?
From a UK government viewpoint any efforts to uncover information from social media is bound by Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which address a person’s right to privacy. Tech giants such as Apple have made it clear they won’t co-operate with government plans to access their users’ data.

Those in support of more government intervention argue it is needed for security, those against that it curbs the privacy of citizens and provides the government with a platform to garner information, long after any terrorist threat has passed.

From an employer’s point of view social media can be no less challenging. Less than a decade ago few companies in the UK or Ireland had social media policies, now it is common place.

While a company’s work can be promoted via Twitter and so on, reputations can also be damaged. Furthermore a practice of gathering information on a potential employee via social media can be regarded as discriminatory and unfair, according to ACAS.

Moreover, the rapidly evolving nature of social media means that policies can quickly become outdated. Then there is the problem of the cost to the workplace of employees using worktime to engage in social media activities, with some estimates pointing to a cost of billions for U.K. companies in lost work time every year. At the same time checking on a worker’s social media activity can be regarded as a privacy breach.

There are no simple solutions to addressing privacy in social media, but it’s clear that it is an issue for businesses which will continue to grow.

Related Posts