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The Ethics of Privacy in Social Media

Last week a class action lawsuit was filed against 18 companies with mobile applications, the most notable being Path, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare. 13 individuals who allege that they have experienced a loss of privacy, data value and battery life among other things have filed this lawsuit. Which brings me to the question, who is really responsible? Is it the companies, who mined the data that was openly available for them; or the people for using these apps and allowing them access to their social networking profiles?

There are two sides in this argument; let us first take a look at the companies that provide these apps. Take the example of Facebook – it has already been at the eye of the storm for many privacy violation lawsuits and can be taken as a veteran for navigating this gray zone – and if we look at it with a more critical eye, we know that we are in no way forced to sign up for Facebook. It is completely out of our own volition that we sign up and share content. Once stuff is online it is fair game for anyone and it would be naive to assume otherwise. And let us be honest, we do feel special when we get offers and coupons online from our favorite brands, offers that have been customized just for us. Where do our favorite brands get the information to serve us better? It sure isn’t from a crystal ball, and how come we don’t complain so much then? And lets face it, these apps have to make money somehow; aren’t we being unethical by throwing a spanner in the works for their revenue stream?

Now, comes the people side of the equation. According to the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), social networkers are more likely to believe that questionable behaviors are acceptable. But just because we don’t mind it so much, doesn’t mean that the social media apps can just run with it, does it? There is an idea that social networkers maybe more unethical just because of the anonymity that the Internet provides. This is absurd; in fact active social networkers may have a better idea of ethics due to their strong online communities and networks. So is it right on part of the social networking sites/apps to use this data that we trust them with? Shouldn’t they be more conscientious about how they use all this information that we provide them with? There is a reason why they have all these privacy regulations and it is the job of these social networking sites to ensure compliance.

Ethics is a very gray zone and needs to be navigated very carefully; it is more about the perception of what is right and wrong and for different people these perceptions will be different. There are more questions than answers and there is no definite end to this argument; in the end it really comes down to the user and the provider to define the boundaries. What do you think? Where do you stand in terms of this argument about ethics in social media?

Author: Joanita Bora

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