Social Enterprise

What NSA's PRISM means for social media users

The PRISM program brings an important point about social media use to the forefront: be discerning about what you post online.

The news about the National Security Agency's PRISM program has given people valid reasons to worry about possible overreach by U.S. federal authorities. Given the scope of tracking and the fact that a million-square-foot facility is being built in Utah to store the data, it's no surprise that a number of privacy advocates are up-in-arms about the possible abuses that may result from such monitoring.

With this in mind, many social media users are wondering about consequences of their sharing and if such information is secure within the company's servers. Moreover, the growing paranoia associated with online tracking has many users reconsidering the possible abuses by a corporate entity, and how marketing companies will use and spread such information.

If you manage the social media strategy at your company, you might get questions about social snooping and the NSA's program. The more you know about this topic, the better prepared you will be to address any grievances users may have.

Two different worlds: Public vs. private

Google and Facebook servers are private and protected. Google and Facebook have denied giving the NSA "direct access" to the information within their servers, though that conflicts with new information. It has been reported that Twitter is not on the list of tech companies that are participating in PRISM. That said, the Patriot Act allows federal authorities to obtain whatever information is needed in order to enforce Homeland Security; this leaves an open door for unsolicited tracking and possible exploitation. There are steps one can take to prevent such abuses, but given the scope of online sharing, the steps are extreme.

Even though the servers are private, users are asking questions about the information being tracked and recorded by social media companies. The process to collect such information is proprietary; each company owns the information. For Facebook, posts and "Likes" are tracked so ads can be tailored to the user's interests. For Twitter, widgets and buttons are used to track online movement, which assists the network with "who to follow" suggestions. (If two people have similar web searches, the company assumes they must have something to share with each other.) These tactics are designed to make the user experience personal. For Google, this is done on a macro scale and for the same reasons. Tools exist to limit private industry's ability to track, but they are not totally effective.

Enterprise companies collect information to improve user experience; federal agencies collect information to protect the user. Private industry is checked by the federal hand if and when the information is abused. Under the Patriot Act, federal agencies are checked by nothing, hence users' concerns. These two worlds are different and should be held to different standards.

Social is the transparent purse

Years ago, an FBI agent came to my college for recruiting purposes. During his presentation, someone asked about unlawful searches and seizures. The agent answered the question fully, and added a caveat to his answer by stipulating that if a person has a transparent purse that shows drugs or illegal weapons, the law enforcement official has the right to investigate.

The information shared in social is subject to similar scrutiny. As concerns over sharing and snooping grow, the obvious solution is not to share anything that could be called into question or be suspicious, even if it's a joke. If users post something on social that is illegal (such as a physical threat or an admission of a criminal act), they have no one to blame but themselves if there are legal repercussions. Basically, users need to be discerning about what they post on social media sites. With great power comes great responsibility, and in the digital age where everything that is posted online still exists (even if it has been deleted), this is truer than ever.

Social networking contributes to a personalized online experience because of the tracking already specified. Without it, the information that we would garner from online searches, social engagements, and connections would be random and difficult to navigate. Brands exist to solve problems; if the brand doesn't know what the problem is (through tracking), it can't engage the user who has the problem.

If there are concerns about online tracking, whether it's from federal or private sources, I think the fault must fall with those who readily supply the information being tracked: the user. Weigh in on this discussion in the comments section.

About

Joseph Parker has worked in management, supply chain metrics, and business/marketing strategy with small and large businesses for more than 10 years. His experience in development is personal, stemming from his work in mobile marketing and applicatio...

8 comments
DTCochran
DTCochran

It is interesting that the security/privacy discussion revolves around social media. I think there are implications here for cloud-based data as well.

jdayman
jdayman

I don't know - There's something about this that makes me wonder if people really know what "privacy" is. Users of Facebook and Twitter (and Google, FourSquare, or any number of other "Social" web tools) must be crazy if they are stressing about privacy. They have already surrendered their privacy by participating in these public media forums, and handing their data to Mark Zuckerburg, Sergi Brin, et al..

And not to give carte-blanche to NSA and other government spying agencies, but the author seems to be implying that commerical snooping gives certain benefits to the consumer. He touts the "personalized" web experience and the improved ability to search and use information online. I'm highly skeptical - commercial snooping and data mining is not designed to make the conumer's life better. It is a tool to maximize revenue for the company that is doing the snooping.

I hope that we'll figure out ways to balance our need for privacy and our need for security. Right now there is probably too much opportunity for government and corporate abuse. But make no mistake - we are willing participants if we insist on "checking in" everytime we go to the grocery store or restaurant. Consumers need to get much smarter about how we use social media, or whether we use it at all.

boucaria
boucaria

I would hate to think what would happen if someone was writing fiction that fell even in part under this area. How would someone explain themselves. I guess the key question is; has somebody either a novelist or a screenwriter been "caught" and then processed?

adornoe
adornoe

It's amazing that, the solution to the problem of NSA (or any other spying), is to, operate in fear that, someone is watching your every move. 


In what was to be a country with so many liberties, including free speech and the right to not be searched without due process, we have evolved into a nation in fear of what could happen if someone happens to utter something that could be misconstrued as a threat.  It's not just the fear of saying something that might be misinterpreted, it's also the fear of our privacy being violated, not just by internet entities, but by the government which is supposed to protect our liberties, and constitutional rights. 

josephpkr
josephpkr

@adornoe Thanks for the comment! I agree with you that to live or operate in fear is not a solution. One of the points within the article was to show the unchecked power of government surveillance and balance that with the reality that if you decide to share something publicly, its not longer a privacy issue. One unfortunately cannot have it both ways. In essence, its no longer private once you share it with everyone. With that power comes some responsibility.  I hope this make sense and hope you know I was not advocating the current practices of the NSA. This is an issue that needs to stay in the forefront so it can be addressed fully and resolved. Thanks again for the comment and for reading!

Robynsveil
Robynsveil

@adornoe I agree. Makes a mockery of: "Land of the free, home of the brave...", doesn't it?

hlhowell
hlhowell

@sissy sue @adornoe spent years in the military, to "defend the land of the free."  Ripped off of my best years by the deceit of this mockery of a free country.

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