Social Media and the law, how websites will reveal your data

Following up from the news story regarding the US governments legal challenge to get several prominent wikileaks people’s data. I thought I would expand on my tweet about the EFF‘s summary document regarding the process by which some social media companies will disclose your data. Far from this article being about the “Shock horror – Companies will give up your data” I want to use it to praise the companies for being open about how they will give up your data of requested. I would prefer that companies are open rather than be secretive. Indeed, I respect twitter for their court action to get a secret request for people connected to wikileaks’ account details public. Far worse would have been simply to not fight and just release the data.

So what is the significance of this ? well it really is a wake up call to all of you about the potential dangers of social networking ( and other sites that you upload your data to). Never before have people shared so much data so publicly and so openly. There are plenty of horror stories about people sharing images and comments on Facebook ( and elsewhere) and loosing their jobs or being denied entry into certain countries. There are plenty of times where the media has seized upon pictures and information from social networking to get pictures of the accused, journalists must be happy that they don’t have to go door to door for a grainy picture anymore. Now just just hit Facebook and go from there. There are also examples of where the police have over gathered evidence, once this happens who knows where your data can end up. Then take for example the case of ACS-Law, whilst not law enforcement, the data they gathered ended up being spread far and wide, an extreme example. However when you look at a recent post from Brian Krebs, you know that some law enforcement bodies have to be fully owned. Who knows what happens to the data once they have it ?

So where will this lead ?  I strongly believe that there is and will be a growing market for, repudiation companies. That is, a company that will look through your online presence and remove any area that you feel may be of issue to you. Why might you want to do this ?  either you are looking for a new job, attempting to move countries or just embarrassed about those pics you posted whilst drunk. These companies will use a mixture of techniques to remove content that you do not want to be present. When will they rise to prominence ? well Facebook started in February 2004, and Myspace started in August 2003. Assuming you were 18 in 2003, by 2013 you will be 28, just at that time where you are going for the new “big” job. So by 2015 these companies will be fully in operation and serving their clientele.

Note that there has been some movement on this front recently with a German company showing a technology called X-Pire. The technology claims to be able to “expire” an image after a given time, sounds too good to be true ? well it really is. The product depends on a FireFox (only for now) plug-in that decodes the image, this means that the website showing the image would have to be able to work with encrypted images ie no manipulation of images on the site ( eg resizing or cropping on the particular site). There are also a few other limitations,

What can X-pire! not do?

  • X-pire! is a browser plug-in for Firefox – the programme does not work without Firefox. Extensions to other browsers are in the making.
  • X-pire! does not offer protection against the intentional copying of images during the period they are valid (for example a screenshot), i.e., the use of this software does not give total free reign – protection of one’s own privacy sphere still requires the conscientious and sensible handling of all personal data online.

So nice try but not really ready for the mainstream yet. Which brings me back to the point above, there will come a time in the generation Y ( or Z) people lives when they realise that the pics of them drunk at a party ( or even just with a drink) , or imbibing dubious substances might not be a good idea for future job opportunities. This is where the repudiation companies will come in, for a fee I suspect they will offer complete removal, editing or ( taking it one step further) engineering of a social media past. The last point reminds me of a film I once saw

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