Unnerving narrative about the misuse of personal online information—without our knowledge—to track, judge and harm us in innumerable aspects of our lives.
Social-network executives often dismiss online privacy concerns: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it,” said Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy. But the constitutional freedoms of millions of people posting personal data on Facebook and other networks are violated routinely, and the law has not kept up with the new technology, writes lawyer Andrews (Institute for Science, Law and Technology/Illinois Institute of Technology; Immunity, 2008, etc.). Noting that social networks make their profits on users’ data, she describes the multibillion-dollar industry of data aggregators who mine online data for the advertising industry, often “weblining” people, denying them certain opportunities due to observations about their digital selves. Most users have no idea how much information is being collected about them: “People have a misplaced trust that what they post is private.” The results can be devastating: A Georgia teacher posted a photo showing her drinking a glass of Guinness at an Irish brewery, and she was forced to resign after the photo was e-mailed anonymously to her school superintendent. After seeing a mother’s MySpace page showing her posing provocatively in lingerie, a judge awarded custody of her young children to her husband. “Virtually every interaction a person has in the offline world can be tainted by social network information,” writes the author, who proposes creating a “Social Network Constitution” to govern our lives online. Her governing principles would protect against police searches of social networks without probable cause, require social networks to post conspicuous Miranda-like privacy warnings and set rules for the use or collecting of user information.
Authoritative, important reading for policymakers and an unnerving reminder that anything you post can and will be used against you.