A comparison of privacy issues in collaborative workspaces and social networks

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A comparison of privacy issues in collaborative workspaces and social networks
Authors: Martin Pekárek, Stefanie Pötzsch [edit item]
Citation: Identity in the Information Society 2 (1): 81-93. 2009 December.
Publication type: Journal article
Peer-reviewed: Yes
DOI: 10.1007/s12394-009-0016-4.
Google Scholar cites: Citations
Link(s): Paper link
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A comparison of privacy issues in collaborative workspaces and social networks is a publication by Martin Pekárek, Stefanie Pötzsch.

[edit] Abstract

With the advent of Web 2.0, numerous social software applications allow people to publish and share information on the Internet. Two of these types of applications – collaborative workspaces and social network sites – have a number of features in common, which are explored to provide a basis for comparative analysis. This basis is extended with a suitable definition of privacy, a sociological perspective and an applicable adversary model in order to facilitate an investigation of similarities and differences with regard to privacy threats. Practical examples are derived from the use of Wikipedia and Facebook. Analysis suggests that a combination of technical, legal, and normative solutions should be considered to counter privacy issues. A number of potential solutions that may mitigate these issues are proposed.

[edit] Research questions

"This paper investigates whether and to what extent social networks and collaborative workspaces can be treated equally when trying to solve privacy threats, and suggests a number of potential solutions that may mitigate these issues. The scope of the analysis is relatively general, as it is not the objective to solve one particular privacy problem with one specific solution. Rather, the goal is to outline possible types of solutions that may be considered based on the particular features of collective workspaces and social network sites."

Research details

Topics: Ethics, Policies and governance [edit item]
Domains: Philosophy and ethics, Computer science, Information systems [edit item]
Theory type: Analysis [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Case [edit item]
Theories: "This description of general features is supplemented with a suitable definition of privacy, a sociological perspective and an applicable adversary model in order to have a theoretical basis for the comparison of both types of social software.

When interacting with other people or organisations, every individual plays a role that is appropriate in a particular situation. The behaviour of someone who is surrounded by close family members may differ substantially from the one displayed at work when interacting with colleagues or management. According to Goffman it depends on the context what part of one’s identity someone is prepared to show to the environment, where it is essential to keep these contexts separate: the term ‘audience segregation’ is coined for this phenomenon. Audience segregation can be defined as the ability of the user to have different partial identities to play different roles and portray the self to others in a way he chooses (Goffman 1959). Thanks to the careful segregation of the different audiences, the partial identities can be allowed to co-exist. Rachels states that this audience segregation “is an essential characteristic of modern (western) societies and allows for different kinds of social relationships to be established and maintained” (Rachels 1975).

The sociological theory concisely introduced above was drafted long before the advent of social network sites or collaborative workspaces, but the concepts hold up well online. On social network sites, the user profile is the image someone presents to his environment, and it forms the basis for his interactions with the other members of the social network site. However, the image someone presents is often only directed at a certain audience (e.g. someone’s closest friends), and may cause embarrassment when accessed by others. The theory behind context segregation and the risk of collapsing contexts form a powerful means to analyse the privacy issues in both social network sites and collaborative workspaces.

Another sociological perspective deals with the specific norms users of social software bring to the table. It was theorised that every social network comes with its own set of social norms (Tönnies 1965). Actions of members of these networks are based on assumptions about the norms that regulate the interactions. The mismatch between the user’s expectation of social norms and the existing practices in a particular network or workspace could be another source of arising privacy issues. The extent to which stakeholders in a network or workspace act in accordance with the normative expectations of other stakeholders forms a useful basis for analysis." [edit item]

Research design: Case study [edit item]
Data source: N/A [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: N/A [edit item]
Unit of analysis: Website [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia language: Not specified [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

"In general, the issues we have found arise mainly due to collapsing contexts, i.e. users’ personal data used in contexts other than the original and intended one. The finding that social software lacks fine-grained and user-determined access control options aggravates this source of privacy issues.

Serious privacy issues are not only the result of the breach of technical implementations, but may also be brought about through the disregard of social norms and legal provisions. Therefore we conclude that solutions to address privacy issues in social software can neither be only technical, nor only legal, nor only based on upholding certain social norms: it is necessary to find a comprehensive approach. A combination of all three areas is needed in order to improve privacy protection on the one hand without losing important functionalities on the other hand, whilst safeguarding the social usability of the application for the average user."

[edit] Comments

"It is necessary to find a comprehensive approach to improve privacy protection by combining three areas; technical, legal and social norms."

Further notes[edit]