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Social networks are the defining cultural movement of our time, empowering us in constantly evolving ways. We can all now be reporters, alerting the world to breaking news of a natural disaster; participate in crowd-sourced scientific research; and become investigators, helping the police solve crimes. Social networks have even helped to bring down governments. But they have also greatly accelerated the erosion of our personal privacy rights, and any one of us could become the victim of shocking violations at any time. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest nation in the world. While that nation appears to be a comforting small town in which we socialize with our selective group of friends, it and the rest of the Web are actually lawless frontiers of hidden and unpredictable dangers. The same power of information that can topple governments can destroy a person's career or marriage.
As leading expert on social networks and privacy Lori Andrews shows through groundbreaking research and a host of stunning stories of abuses, as we work and chat and shop and date over the Web, we are opening ourselves up to increasingly intrusive, relentless, and anonymous surveillance by employers, schools, lawyers, the police, and aggressive data aggregator services that compile an astonishing amount of information about us and sell it to any and all takers. She reveals the myriad, ever more sophisticated techniques being used to track us and discloses how routinely colleges and employers reject applicants due to personal information searches; robbers use postings about vacations to target homes for break-ins; lawyers readily find information to use against us in divorce and child custody cases; and at one school, the administrators actually used the cameras on students' school-provided laptops to spy on them in their homes. Some mobile Web devices are even being programmed to listen in on us and feed data services a steady stream of information about where we are and what we are doing. Even if we use the best services to get our personal data removed from the Web, in a short time almost all that data is restored.
As Andrews persuasively argues, the legal system cannot be counted on to protect us. In the thousands of cases brought to trial by those whose rights have been violated, judges have most often ruled against them. That is why, in addition to revealing the dangers and providing the best expert advice about protecting ourselves, Andrews proposes that we all become supporters of a constitution for the Web, which she has drafted and introduces in this book. Now is the time to join her and take action -- the very future of privacy is at stake.
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LORI ANDREWS is a law professor and the director of the Institute for Science, Law, and Technology at Illinois Institute of Technology. She has served as a regular advisor to the US government on ethical issues regarding new technologies and was the chair of the federal committee on ethical and legal issues concerning the Human Genome Project.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I Know Who You are and I Saw What You Did
When David Cameron became Britain’s prime minister, he made an appointment to talk to another head of state—Mark Zuckerberg. Yes, that Mark Zuckerberg: the billionaire wunderkind, the founder of Facebook. At the meeting at 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Cameron and Facebook President Zuckerberg discussed ways in which social networks could take over certain governmental duties and inform public policymaking.1
A month later, Zuckerberg and Cameron had a follow-up conversation, later posted on YouTube. Cameron, dressed in suit and tie, chatted with Zuckerberg, who wore a blue cotton T-shirt.2 “Basically, we’ve got a big problem here,” Cameron pointed out to Zuckerberg, describing the U.K.’s financial woes.
Zuckerberg outlined how Facebook could be used as a platform to decrease spending and increase public participation in the political process: “I mean all these people have great ideas and a lot of energy that they want to bring and I think for a lot of people it’s just about having an easy and a cheap way for them too to communicate their ideas.”
“Brilliant,” Cameron said.
Within a year, Zuckerberg had a seat at the table with government leaders. In May 2011, he attended the G8 Summit, the annual meeting of key heads of state (named after the eight advanced economies—France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, and Russia).3 The media reported that world leaders from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to French President Nicolas Sarkozy were more in awe of Zuckerberg than he was of them.4 Zuckerberg summarized how Facebook had played a role in worldwide democratic movements and pressed his own policy agenda—urging European officials to back off of proposed regulation of the internet. “People tell me on the one hand ‘It’s great you played such a big role in the Arab spring, but it’s also kind of scary because you enable all this sharing and collect information on people,’ ” Zuckerberg said.
Is it odd to think of Mark Zuckerberg as a head of state? Perhaps. But Facebook has the power and reach of a nation. With more than 750 million members, Facebook’s population would make it the third largest nation in the world. It has citizens, an economy, its own currency, systems for resolving disputes, and relations with other nations and institutions. After watching the video chat between Cameron and Zuckerberg, I became intrigued by the concept of a social network as a nation. I began to wonder, what kind of government rules Facebook? What are its politics? And, if it is like a nation, should it have a Constitution?
People are drawn to Facebook, as early settlers are drawn to any new nation, by the search for freedom. Social networks expand people’s opportunities. An ordinary individual can be a reporter, alerting the world to breaking news of a natural disaster or a political crisis. Or an investigator, helping cops solve a crime. Filmmakers and musicians at the start of their careers can find large followings through social networks.
The power of people is harnessed in new ways on social networks. Art itself is redefined as bands and novelists post early works and use crowdsourcing to change the music, lyrics, and story lines. Anybody can be a scientist, participating in a crowdsourced research project. In the Galaxy Zoo project, members of the public classify data from a million galaxies and publish the results in scientific journals. Facebook itself uses crowdsourcing to translate its pages into foreign languages.
Social networks also provide new ways for people to interact with government. The White House asked its Twitter followers for comments on a tax law.5 An official from the National Economic Council then posted a blog with links to questions raised by the Twitter followers, eliciting a discussion about the direction tax policy should take. In 2011, the social network created by the city of San Francisco introduced a phone app that allowed citizens to take photos of potholes and other things that needed maintenance and upload them directly to the proper city office to order repairs. Through that same network, people with CPR skills can volunteer to help in an emergency. If someone has a heart attack on a golf course, a smart- phone app will recruit volunteers in the area based on their GPS position and ask them to rush over to Hole 7 to render aid.
And when people get fed up with their government, they can use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to incite others to join them in the streets to protest. While previous forms of political protest required a charismatic leader, that leader could be killed or his headquarters destroyed. It’s much more difficult to stop a widely dispersed group of antagonists such as the citizens of Facebook Nation. It’s harder to put out thousands of revolutionary fires burning across the Web.
Social networks have enormous benefits, helping us stay in touch with people from our pasts and introducing us to people who share our interests. They create a much-needed comfort zone. As philosopher Ian Bogost points out, “Public spaces in general have been destroyed, privatized, and policed in recent decades, but the public life of teens and young adults has been particularly damaged, due to additional fears of abduction, abuse, criminality, and moral corruption.”6 According to Bogost, social networks provide a place to hang out, akin to the main drag or the video arcade of the past.
Social networks have become ubiquitous, necessary, and addictive. Social networking is no longer just a pastime; it’s a way of life. People expect to be able to log on to Facebook or Myspace wherever they go and to tweet their every thought. Until recently, cell phones and internet use were banned in certain places, like courthouses, but now social institutions have largely abandoned their efforts to keep someone away from their Facebook friends or Twitter audience. As a result, there’s a whole new set of issues, with judges friending defendants, jurors looking up witnesses’ Facebook pages to assess their credibility, and lawyers blogging about confidential interchanges with their clients.
The military held out for a long time. In August 2009, the U.S. Marine Corps formalized its ban on marines’ use of Myspace, Facebook, and YouTube on its networks.7 The military’s concern was the same as it is with many of us—phishing, hacking, and other security breaches. But the stakes were much higher. It’s a hassle when you have to get a new credit card because your American Express number is hacked through PlayStation.8 But it’s much more serious if military design secrets are stolen by other countries or soldiers die when confidential battle plans are revealed.9
The military ban made sense except for two things. It was hard enough to get people to enlist in an all-volunteer armed services. But morale sank even lower when they were cut off from Facebook friends and Myspace family members. And the technology of armed conflict itself was demanding a link to the Web. For certain weapons to be used most effectively, soldiers need access to smartphone apps—such as iSnipe and Shooter—to estimate bullet trajectories. Another app allows soldiers to see the positions of friendly soldiers and enemy combatants on a map updated in real time.10 There’s even an app—Jibbigo—to translate a particular Iraqi dialect of Arabic.11 And another, Telehealth Mood Tracker, to measure a soldier’s mental health.12
In February 2010, the U.S. military embraced social networks in a big way. The military reconfigured its internet grid, NIPRNET (Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network)—the largest private network in the world—to provide soldiers access to YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and Google apps.13 The army began issuing smartphones to soldiers to test the apps’ effectiveness both in and out of combat.14 In war zones, wireless networks on which to run the apps are brought into the field attached to vehicles, planes, or air balloons.15
Not just our soldiers but our global enemies are taking to social networks. A 2010 Department of Homeland Security Report entitled “Terrorist Use of Social Networking Sites: Facebook Case Study” found that jihad supporters and mujahedeen are increasingly using Facebook to propagate operational information, including improvised explosive device (IED) recipes in Arabic, English, Indonesian, Urdu, and other languages.16
A 2,000-member militant Islamic Facebook group includes informational videos on “tactical shooting,” “getting to know your AK-47,” “how to field strip an AK-47,” and so forth.17 Facebook pages for other extremist Islamist groups contain propaganda videos featuring wounded and dead Palestinians in Gaza, links to Al Qaeda YouTube videos, and videos promoting female suicide bombers, all of which can be accessed by the public without becoming a “fan” of the groups, “liking” the groups, or “friending” the Facebook pages.
Even criminals use the Web for everything from figuring out who to rob by checking Facebook posts containing the word “vacation” to using a search engine to train for murder. Sometimes virtually the whole crime can be reconstructed from a search history, as in the case of a nurse who killed her husband after Googling “undetectable poisons,” “state gun laws,” “instant poison,” “gun laws in Pennsylvania,” “toxic insulin levels,” . . . “how to commit murder,” “how to purchase hunting rifles in NJ,”. . . “neuromuscular blocking agents,” . . . “chloral hydrate,” “chloral and side effects,” and “Walgreens.”18
Facebook even facilitates real-time broadcasts of crimes in progress—and allows criminals to seek aid from friends. When Utah police tried to serve a warrant on Jason Valdez, a member of the Norteños gang, he barricaded himself in a motel room, taking Veronica Jensen as a hostage. With SWAT officers outside his motel room and in the adjoining rooms, Jason used his Android phone to post six status updates to Facebook, add 15 friends, respond to numerous comments on his wall posted by friends and family, and post a picture of himself and his hostage with the caption, “Got a cute ‘HOSTAGE’, huh?” A Facebook friend posted on Jason’s page that a SWAT officer was hiding in the bushes: “gun ner in the bushes stay low.” “Thank you homie,” Jason replied. “Good looking out.”19
Eight hours later, Jason posted his last update: “Well I was lettin this girl go but these dumb bastards made an attempt to come in after I told them not to, so I popped off a couple more shots and now were startin all over again it seems.” The standoff ended when SWAT officers used explosives to blast through the front door and through the wall from an adjoining room. The hostage was fine, Jason ended up in intensive care, and police are considering whether to charge Jason’s friend with obstruction of justice for warning him about the SWAT officer.20
It’s easy to understand why people flock to Facebook and other social networks. But it’s harder to anticipate what will happen to you when you become a citizen of this new world. If you were to move to a kibbutz in Israel, teach English in Japan, enlist in the army, or move to a rural farm, you’d have some sense of what you were getting into. When you join Facebook, you don’t know enough about the ramifications of social network citizenship to understand where that decision will lead and how it might transform you and your life. The governing rules of Facebook—its terms of service—shift rapidly and without warning. One day, it promises you that your friends are private; the next day, it makes them public.
One might think that Facebook enhances the Constitutionally protected freedom of association since it allows groups to form. Class of 1995 Reunion Committee. I Love Justin Bieber :)). Free the West Memphis Three. Yet people’s Facebook associations have been used against them. Judges have been disciplined for “friending” lawyers on Facebook, even though it is completely acceptable for judges to be friends with attorneys in real life. In one case, a prison guard in England was fired after he friended prisoners on Facebook.21
And a crucial part of the freedom of association is the right not to reveal your associations. In 1958, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the civil rights organization for African Americans, the NAACP, to keep its member list secret from the government of Alabama. The NAACP argued that compelled disclosure would “abridge the rights of its rank-and-file members to engage in lawful association in support of their common beliefs.”22 In deciding not to compel disclosure, the Court held that people might be afraid to exercise their freedom of expression and engage in collective action to further those beliefs if their membership in the organization was known. Exposing a person’s membership in a group could lead to “economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility.”23
Yet social networks have revealed associations that people had expected to be private. When, without any notice, Facebook changed its policy in 2009 so that lists of friends and affiliations were made public and no longer subject to people’s privacy controls, the repercussions were felt around the world. In Iran, authorities questioned or detained the Facebook “friends” of Tehran’s U.S.-based critics. People were beaten. Americans traveling to Iran were detained and had their passports confiscated just for having a Facebook page.
Unlike in a democracy, Facebook is unilaterally redefining the social contract—making the private now public and making the public now private. Private information about people is readily available to third parties. At the same time, public institutions, such as the police, use social networks to privately undertake activities that previously would have been subject to public oversight. Even though cops can’t enter a home without a warrant, they scrutinize Facebook photos of parties held at high school students’ homes. If they see the infamous red plastic cups suggesting that kids are drinking, they prosecute the parents for furnishing alcohol to minors.
You might think you are posting information just to family members, but with a modest change in computer code, the privately run Facebook can send that information anywhere. Both inadvertently and through conscious decisions, Facebook and other social networks have put private information, including medical test results, credit card numbers, and sensitive photos into the wrong hands.
Unlike Vegas, what happens in Facebook doesn’t stay in Facebook.
The precursors to social networks were multiplayer online games, where people interacted through avatars they’d created that often bore no resemblance to the real person they represented. But what you do in today’s social networks doesn’t involve playing a role. And the implications are much greater than winning and losing loot, treasures, and experience points.
Unlike games and previous social networks, Facebook asks the user to submit his or her real name and email address. And the actions taken on Facebook and other social networks have real world consequences. Women have been fired because their Facebook posts showed them wearing provocative clothing. Straight-A students have been expelled from school for criticizing their teachers on Myspace. When, the day before a criminal trial, a cop posted on Myspace...
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