Privacy of Social Application

Privacy of Social Application







Privacy of Social Application


The main topic being researched is the loss of privacy within social networking applications. The first section contains the introduction that offers detailed information into the extent of privacy loss within the most popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In this section, the challenges that face increased privacy are addressed in detail. Included in this part are the description of the main issues and objectives of the research paper. The section concludes with several statistics that emphasize the extent of social networking usage as well as the consequences involved. The next section is the literature review that contains information collected from various sources on the definition, nature, characteristics and concept in social privacy. This section also contains the existing works written by various researchers on privacy in social applications such as theories and case studies. The last section covers the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) analysis in detail after which the paper concludes with a conclusion summarizing the main points.


Social media has been defined by Michael Haenlein and Andreas Kaplan as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010).” In addition, social media operates on web-based technologies and mobile applications to develop vastly interactive platforms that link together people and groups, generate, chat about, and alter user-generated material. Social introduces significant and invasive transformations in the communication between companies, groups and people. Organizations seeking bigger opportunities have turned to social collaboration devices that have transformed it into a $42 billion market. These organizations use social networking applications for nearly all functions including recruitment, advertisements and promotions and for maintaining customer relationships and satisfactions.

In this paper, the hidden or complex relationship between the front end user, third party application organizations and social networking sites is elaborated in depth. With the widespread use of social media by communities, organizations and individuals, several privacy challenges have emerged. Most of these challenges were initially present but the development and introduction of Web 2.0 served to pronounce them to significant levels. Through the usage of Web 2.0, social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Orkut and Facebook have not only thrived exponentially, but they have also encouraged the development of third party developers who use the social applications to release their own applications (Politis et al., 2009). Most of the privacy challenges are caused by these third party applications as they are awarded the same privileges as the owner of the accounts. Social media networking sites have also stated in their policies that these third party applications have full access to personal information.

However, this has not deterred social media users for providing their full information. However, part of this behavior can be attributed to the services offered by these companies that make the access to personal information a mandatory requirement before anyone can finish the installation process. Individuals are, therefore, unaware of the large amount of information that these third party applications because of the hidden nature of the relationship. This paper also discusses the addiction and effects of excessive usage of these applications on individual’s productivity, health and privacy. Privacy issues within social networking sites have been not only identified, but also vast amount of investigations are underway to respond to the risks that accompany the provision of personal information of social networking users (Politis et al., 2009).

Some of the challenges within online social networking applications include cyber stalking and tracking and disclosure of individual’s locations. Several third party applications within most social networking sites border on stalking the users that subscribe to their services. A classical example is the application ‘Creepy’ that can allow its users to track people’s location using photos uploaded on Orkut or Twitter (Ruff & Winn, 2010). Advanced devices can even narrow down the location using longitudes and latitudes. This poses many possible risks to users who distribute their personal data to a large number of friends. The ‘Places’ application in Facebook works in the same way and has the same effect of exposing one’s geographical location to the rest of the followers on his or her account. Social networking applications have also been cited as being misused by data aggregation organizations that make use of the social data to make their own financial and administration decisions (Huijsman et al., 2012). These organizations engage in social profiling activities that are partly supported by social networks (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010).

Because of the liberal subscription policies in the creation of social network accounts, most sites report numerous cases of illegal or prohibited activities that involve underage account holders. Teenagers and preteen account users in Facebook and Twitter have been the subjects of sexual abuse, indecency and theft perpetrated by corrupted users (Ruff & Winn, 2010). While there are age restrictions, the implementation of these measures has been largely minimal. Lastly, law enforcement agencies such as FBI and CIA are permitted by law to impersonate different people in social networks. These privacy challenges have made social networking applications the topic of many researches and studies.



Issues and Objectives

The privacy tool within the social network environment acts as an important security device. There are instances when intruders attempt to mine private information from one’s profile without their permission. In such occurrences, the privacy aspect on social network applications becomes the main concern. The unauthorized intruder can access critical information such as images, contacts and names from a user’s account. Other sophisticated cyber criminals access the private information from different users and use it to engage in criminal activities. Handling the issue of loss of privacy within social networking sites is very difficult due to its nature.

Globally, there are numerous social network accounts that can almost double the number of people in the world given that an individual may have an account in each site (Facebook, Twitter, Orkut etc.) (Leitch & Thomas, 2012). Therefore, regulating the activities of these social networking applications is capital intensive considering the scope of the activities that include organizations, communities and individuals. There is also a problem concerning the best approach to take in handling the privacy issue in most social networking applications. This is because the purpose of these sites is to encourage networking and bring social circles closer to people. These activities demand that a user provide their information. Furthermore, social networking has been transformed into a multi-million business and this has introduced other stakeholders that have to be consulted in the process of executing any reforms concerning privacy (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010).





The main objective of the paper was to discover the state of privacy within social applications and seek out ways to solve these issues thereby improving the quality of service in social networking. Many users of social media do so with the expectation that their personal information will be exposed to a limited and selected number of users. The responsibility therefore lies with the social network provider to put into action privacy devices that are both straightforward and adequately assessed to allow users to have sufficient control over whatever material they make public. Therefore, a successful privacy device has to address the following dimensions of a permissions approach, the objects exposed in the public domain, the main actors in the social networks and actions can be taken once users can acquire these objects.


The advancement of social networking sites have served to open up the world to new possibilities in communication and networking. However, they have also revealed the grave setback of increased internetworking and public contact in the loss of privacy. For prominent social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, offering one’s identity and other personal information as a way of creating an online profile are the main activities promoted by the site (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). This information may include an individual’s date of birth, home address, and mobile contact(s).

Some social network applications even for greater information on personal preferences and activities for example, interests, pastimes, preferred literature or movies, and the status of one’s relationship. While this is true for most social applications that encourage networking, the same cannot be said for social applications such as online dating sites, where anonymity is highly desired. In these unique cases, it is difficult to link someone to their ‘online profile’. These advancements have created a culture of people who have lost all meaning of privacy and have therefore increased the amount of private information to very many people. However, there are several issues with the provision of such sensitive information to social networking sites and these issues shall form the core of this paper.

Literature Review

Extensive research and investigation into issues relating to privacy in the Internet and its subsidiaries such as social networking sites has been done with excellent outcomes that have guided future decisions in handling privacy issues. The issue of security and social privacy has had the largest impact on the popular sites than smaller, less known ones (Trepte & Leonard, 2011). However, it is important to separate the aspects of security issues and privacy issues. However, both types of problems are closely related when it comes to social networks. The issue of magnitude emerges when the impending damage to a user occurs in a renowned social site having many users. An example is a Facebook user having 2,000 friends and belonging to 40 groups who can be categorized as being more vulnerable compared to someone having 10 friends.

Legal Implications and Aspects of Privacy in Social Applications

While the social networking and media craze continues to transform the existing environment and become the standard method of advertisements and communication for organizations, communities and individuals, it is increasingly important to deal with the legal risks linked to social media use effectively. The marketing model based on the application of social media involves direct contact with and collecting vital information about, consumers and clients in order to more resourcefully and successfully deliver their promises. Highly detailed and precise data on different social media users is naturally more valuable to the company collecting it. Logically, as they collect and apply data on social media usage, companies are exposed to personal information belonging to those users.

The most common areas containing legal privacy obligations are in the terms of use for specific social media platform. Social media platforms endeavor to limit privacy threats to their users against commercial parties by prescribing detailed conditions and limitations concerning the compilation and utilization of personal information. For instance, third party applications developed to be used in Facebook, companies cannot extract information from a user’s friends list outside of the application. Companies are only permitted to use the Facebook API to replicate, modify, develop copied works, share out, trade, relocate, publicly display and perform, transmit content. Regrettably, the failure to adhere to these privacy-related conditions of use has regularly put companies into legal difficulties. The problems can emerge directly with the social media service provider as a ban or a lawsuit concerning actions that breached the contract. Additionally, an infringement of the responsibilities prescribed in the terms and conditions of use may be assumed as the grounds for court cases against organizations using social media.

On a global level, several states and regional organizations including New Mexico and Utah have made the move to bar companies from forcing potential employees from giving out their social networking accounts before they are employed. Some of the main aspects in the Internet Employment Privacy Act (IPEA) include provisions that barred employers from asking for usernames and passwords and from taking unfavorable actions based on the results of their social networks. However, in deeper analysis, the IPEA initiative was partly unsatisfactory as it gave employers the leeway to access the employee’s account in issues that affected the company’s operations for example sabotage or corporate espionage. Misconduct among employees on the social sites was also subject to inspection by the employers. The only coercive aspect of IPEA was the monetary fine of $500 that would be awarded to any individuals who felt that this law was violated in their case. This penalty was by far a small cost that most companies could easily cover and continue violating this law.

Technical Implications and Aspects of Privacy in Social Applications

The invasion of personal privacy within social media applications has contributed to increased social insecurity. Social media might have entrenched itself as a dominant force, but consumers and organizations alike have intentionally overlooked the social security and privacy consequences of being part of these sites. There are quite a few security risks to consider when handling social media. One of the most apparent problems that almost all users of Twitter and Facebook experience regularly is spam mail (Ruff & Winn, 2010). While spam is definitely frustrating and can lower individual productivity, spamming in itself is a form of hacking. Account hacking and data leaks contribute towards a drop in productivity, customer loyalty, or confidential data loss to the rival companies. Most individuals who have had accounts in social networking sites for long periods have definitely experience hacking attempts. This may seem insignificant but for a company account, hacking poses a great threat to their image and data storage.

The recent hacking of the giant pharmaceutical company, Pfizer is a classical example of insecurity with the social networking environment. The Pfizer case involved a combination of a poor password composition and low accountability in sharing credentials. The hack tarnished Pfizer’s image making it look untrustworthy and disorganized. The hacking affected their business operations especially human resource activities involving requesting customers for their opinions and preferences. A study performed by an online security company, Bit Defender revealed that over 70% of company credentials were easy to locate in the social networking sites. Of these companies evaluated, a large number of them used the same password for their social media accounts as they used for their e-mail accounts. This made it extremely easy for rogues to make off with crucial data or taint the image of a company.

Another major security threat entails social engineering and malware. While the two elements are not related, the easiest technique of spreading harmful software makes use of social engineering. This type of intrusion normally comes in the form of a friend posting a link or an object on your account. Known as the Koobface worm, this is just one type of this type of social engineering being used. Apart from the loss of productivity when specialists have to eliminate the malware, these harmful programs can have extremely negative impacts on the data stored and the functionality of the actual machine and this results in significantly more delays and costs as these problems have to fixed.

Social Implications and Aspects of Privacy in Social Applications

Loss of privacy within social networking sites has numerous effects on the social status of individuals, organizations and communities. One of these implications is the loss of reputation or standing in the public arena. Social media mishaps can contribute to the disrepute of a company or an individual using their exponential nature of spreading throughout different social circles in a short period. Individuals have had pictures taken of them engaging in controversial activities being posted on Facebook and going ‘viral’ even though they did not post them in the first place. There are also instances of brand attacks that are characterized by a group of people who post controversial or incriminating material on social media sites with the aim of tarnishing a brand’s reputation. Nestle was the victim of such an attack in 2010 when a hacker posted destructive content on their Facebook account page.

To make matters worse, the PR official in charge handled the matter in an uncivilized way leading to further damages fro the company. On their part, Facebook did little to offer any assistance to the public relations problem apart from offering the opportunity for Nestle to remove or turn off the negative remarks altogether (Pierson, 2012). Without a doubt, these efforts by the company to cover up the drama resulted in an increased focus on the issues mentioned by the hacker and the evolution of newer groups that lashed out at Nestle. These mishaps points toward the need for a business to develop a strong social media policy in the event that a public relations catastrophe spirals out of control. Administrators of social media should realize when the situation calls the deletion of a comment or rescinding the rights offered to followers in a page or group (Mintz, 2012).

Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) analysis

The term Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P) refers to a protocol that permits websites to state publicly their planned use of data collected about Internet users. The protocol was developed to provide users with more control of their sensitive information when on the Internet. P3P is a product of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that was launched officially in 2002. However, after the initial launch, very little has been done to improve the quality and features besides minor improvements. Commercially, Microsoft was the only company to incorporate the P3P protocol in their web browser, Internet Explorer. The incompatibility, expenses and lack of value were cited as the main challenges that contributed to the failure of the P3P protocol (Tang & Yang, 2012).

Purposes of the P3P Protocol

With the transformation of the World Wide Web into a mainstream medium for the transaction of services and goods, stakeholders in the electronic commerce used different techniques to gather more information about the customers who bought their products. This need created innovations such as tracker cookies to assist in collecting consumer data. On their part, users perceived this as an intrusion of privacy and would, therefore, use proxy servers or turn off the HTTP cookies to maintain the integrity of their personal information. The main purpose of P3P was to offer web users more control over the amount and type of information they could release to the public. From the W3C side, the main aim of developing P3P was to enhance user confidence in the Internet through empowerment using technical methods.

Features and Mode of Operation

P3P is a program-specific language that eases the process of data management within different websites. Websites that operate under the P3P protocol function under a set of privacy policies that display their planned use for any information they might need from the user, and any site visitor. If a P3P protocol is being used by a client, he or she can set their own policies regarding the amount of information that can be extracted by the different websites. In the process of browsing in a website, the P3P compares the set preference by the user with that of the demands in the website. If the two match, the website will be tagged as ‘certified’ or ‘trusted’ and can be accessed by the user (McMenamin, 2010). In the event that the two do not match, P3P informs the user of the anomaly and asks if they are willing to offer more of their personal information when they enter the site.

Apart from the obvious benefit of additional security, P3P possess several other benefits that make it unique and useful. Through P3P, users are given the opportunity to comprehend the privacy policies in a basic and structured fashion rather than searching for additional privacy settings in the browser’s setting or the website. Therefore, each user can determine what cookies to allow and block any cookies that they may deem intrusive (Hogan, 2012). Through the P3P Toolbox, users can regain their confidence and trust on the Internet by implementing P3P fully (Bidgoli, 2009). The Toolbox provides a detailed explanation on how individuals and companies can access private information without seeking the consent of the user. Furthermore, these companies misappropriate this sensitive information by creating unnecessary notifications, spam (junk mail) and identity theft rackets. All these problems emphasize the importance of implementing P3P especially for regular Internet users. Despite the increase in browser use and the development of HTML, P3P has been structured to use technology to instill elements of individual preferences and data management behavior among Internet users (Drushel & Kathleen, 2011).


According to studies done by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the whole procedure of installing and implementing the P3P protocol was perceived as being too difficult and ineffective for regular users. The EPIC cited the level of complexity in the software and implementation process, and claimed that, for programmers and other computer experts, it was usable, but to the average user, it was not user-friendly (Agrawal et al., 2003). Most people were unfamiliar with the interface, the installation process and the updating procedures. Another related issue was that it was not compulsory for all websites to limit themselves to the P3P parameters. Therefore, P3P3 failed to take off largely because it was not needed by most websites. P3P served to work against their need to collect additional user information that would enrich their marketing and customer relationships (Tang et al., 2008).

Another criticism approached the P3P proposal as being misleading to the regular Internet user. From the definitions, P3P came out as a security measure that protected people’s privacy from online parties. However, in reality, P3P only controls the data management through the websites. P3P functions by letting the user choose what they deem fit to furnish to websites. In most cases, users do not comprehend the safe level of information they can expose to websites and end up setting the P3P parameters too low and in the process, exposing themselves to predatory websites (Tang et al., 2008). Therefore, the misperception that P3P is a security and privacy measure was wrong.

A New Specification for Privacy In Social Applications

Increasing User Awareness on the importance of privacy

Transforming the perceptions of users of social networking applications is one of the approaches towards changing the state of privacy loss currently being witnessed in the social media. This behavior change has been witnessed in several age groups, but the youngest users of these sites have offered the best example. Recent studies have shown that most teenagers and young adults (19-25) are more aware of the consequences of posting sensitive material on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites (Strandburg & Daniela, 2006). Apart from watching what they post on these sites, these teenagers have also become more informed in maintaining the privacy over their information. This behavior was noticed after Facebook staff realized that most teenagers were ‘cleaning’ up their profiles by removing any compromising photos, deleting any negative comments and generally ensuring that their accounts were decent. This drastic change among the younger age group was triggered partly by the vast information on how to make their accounts safer. Therefore, informing people on the best way to hide sensitive information is a workable approach.

Closely related to the earlier point is the need for social media members to understand the privacy policies as well as the terms and conditions. Proper understanding of these regulations that guide the behavior of the individual, the social site provider and third party application is highly significant in lowering instances of privacy loss. While attempting to understand the relationship between these three parties may be difficult, knowing the basic roles played by each party is important. For instance, knowing the extent to which third party applications are allowed to reach concerning personal information will assist an individual in choosing whether to give that application the right to access his or her account (Tang et al., 2008).

Another key element that most people overlook is that the social site providers are not responsible for the actions of the third party applications even though they collaborate in one platform. Knowing these and other aspects of operation greatly helps in lowering cases of privacy violation. The responsibility to disseminate these sets of information lies squarely with the social site provider. The company should be responsible for ensuring that all its users understand the risks or threats that come with exposing sensitive information on the Internet. This issue of misinformation was one of the causes of the failure of the P3P initiative.

Government Enforcement of Regulations concerning Social Sites

            The government should take a front seat in the fight against the loss of privacy within social media sites. This can be done through formulation and implementation of policies concerning free speech, administration of social networking sites and company activities regarding the sharing of personal data. Just like any other activity within the state borders, social networking is also subject to different regulations encapsulated within the communication sector. The issue of businesses that use websites to retrieve personal information without the user’s knowledge is the most urgent. Government policy should be formulated regarding the conduct of businesses particularly companies that engage in data collection for projection or marketing purposes. The policy should restore the right to divulge sensitive information back to the user. Social media providers such as Facebook should also be held accountable for the lackluster approach concerning privacy in their services. While several states in America have adopted regulations on employee-employer relations concerning social media transparency in the workplace, much has to be done to ensure that all these activities are covered under law. However, while including the government in the effort to restore privacy in social media sites, it is crucial to acknowledge that the government may fail to be effective owing to the laissez faire structure of the social media environment, as well as the magnitude of the issue at hand.

Reforms by Social Media Providers

            Social media providers play the largest role in ensuring that privacy is restored to users of their services. These providers should assess whether the purposes being used for social networking are suitable. Most services offered by social networking sited are developed for communication needs but are normally used for other corrupted functions, and this changes the whole purpose of the service. For instance, Facebook has a ‘Pages’ service that has been manipulated by adult companies and other indecent organizations making it lose its meaning altogether. These providers should also stress on the importance of anonymity while using these services. While it is evident that the providers avoid any loss of privacy to the user, they offer little or no information to direct the users on anonymity (Andrews, 2012). Informing the members that their private information could be made public will be informative and helpful in averting cases of privacy loss.


Eventually, the current trends in the universe point towards an increased dependence on the Internet, computers and the social media to assist in advertising, marketing and communication. With this affirmed as a fact, it is evident that privacy and security issues will continue to plague individuals, communities and organizations within these social media networks. However, gaining information on security and privacy measures will go a long way in ensuring that an individual can shield themselves or their business from most of these negative aspects of privacy loss in social applications (Clark, 2010). The notion that businesses will continue to grapple for accounts in prominent social media sites such as Facebook, Orkut, My Space and Twitter is inevitable. It would be senseless and imprudent to write off the possibilities completely that social media can open up for a business. While making that statement, social media can also be the main factor creating losses and wastage of time for an individual or an organization given the rapid increase in privacy and security problems with the advancement of social media. In some cases, these problems are worsened by the approaches taken by social media companies making it a very insecure marketing tool.















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