Posts Tagged ‘Social Networking’

Not all email contacts are friends

February 18th, 2010 Comments off

Google Buzz, a new social networking site, was launched last week. Originally, it was an opt-out service, which meant users of Gmail were automatically signed up and their most frequent email contacts were automatically added as friends. These contacts were automatically granted access to Readers – including any comments – and Picasa photo albums. Furthermore, Buzz revealed the real names of many people using pseudonyms in email contact.

This caused a huge outcry. People were not pleased with having their information exposed to the world. While some people were simply annoyed their contacts found out about the embarrassing blogs they subscribe to, others faced huge risks by having their information exposed.

Many of those outraged were journalists who wanted to protect their sources and contacts. Protecting the confidentiality of sources is an important part of journalism and something journalists in Canada are fighting to protect at the Supreme Court.

Others faced a very real threat to their safety, especially people who are trying to keep their location and other information private from abusive ex-partners. Someone may have their abuser as an email contact, but that does not mean they want to share personal information with them.

These are not small concerns. One of the LRC sites which has seen a large growth in visitors in the past six months is VIOLET: Law & Abused Women. One third of all homicides in Alberta are related to domestic violence and one of the most dangerous times for someone in an abusive relationship is when they leave. Email contact can present a safer way of communicating with an abuser, but not if your information is exposed.

To its credit, Google has responded to the criticisms and taken steps to improve Buzz’s privacy. However, it may be too little, too late. Chief Executive Eric Schmidt may claim “nobody was harmed” by having their contacts, blog subscriptions, and photos made available to the world, but many people disagree.

In the US a class action lawsuit has been launched and a complaint has been made to the Federal Trade Commission.

Here in Canada, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart released a statement asking Google to explain how it has addressed privacy concerns since its launch.

“We have seen a storm of protest and outrage over alleged privacy violations and my Office also has questions about how Google Buzz has met the requirements of privacy law in Canada,” Commissioner Stoddart said. She also chastised Google for not consulting with her office before launching Buzz, “My Office has a variety of resources available to help companies build privacy into their products and services. When companies consult with us at the development stage, they can avoid the problems we’ve seen in recent days.”

In my last post on privacy issues and social networking, I wondered if people wanted to protect their privacy on the Internet, or if social networking sites were changing the way people feel about it. Based on the reaction to Google’s recent foray in to social networking, I’d say privacy is something people want – and in some cases need – to protect.

Click here for information on how to disable Google Buzz


How private is your profile?

February 1st, 2010 Comments off

It was a Canadian decision, released by Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart in July 2009, that made Facebook change its privacy policy, but do Canadians know how – or even want – to keep their profiles private?

When Facebook’s privacy settings changed in December, users were given the option to keep their custom privacy settings or switch to the new defaults (check out Terms of Service Tracker for an excellent breakdown of the changes).  The new default settings, however, are not very secure. Users must customize various settings if they want their profiles to remain private. A recent article in the New York Times explains The 3 Facebook Settings Every User Should Check Now (h/t

That is, of course, only if you want to make your profile private. According to Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook, not everyone does. In an interview with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington at the recent Crunchie Awards,  Zuckerberg claimed that social norms have changed and people are no longer as concerned with privacy as they once were.

Is this true? And if he feels this way, why has Zuckerberg made his own profile so secure? After the changes were made on December 9, Zuckerberg’s profile was briefly open to everyone. Whether this was on purpose or a result of a lack of understanding of the new default settings remains unclear. On December 11, he wrote on his fan page:

For those wondering, I set most of my content on my personal Facebook page to be open so people could see it. I set some of my content to be more private, but I didn’t see a need to limit visibility of pics with my friends, family or my teddy bear :)

Despite the lack of  “need to limit visibilty of pics”, Zuckerberg quickly changed his settings and his profile remains secure, with only his Wall and Info visible.

So does online privacy matter? Or is it true that are people are becoming less and less concerned? Some bloggers have claimed Zuckerberg is “more right than wrong”, while others have disagreed and raised questions about the motives behind the statements.

Some Facebook users do still care about privacy and were not impressed with the new defaults. On January 27, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) launched a new investigation in to Facebook in response to a complaint filed by an individual who claimed “the new default settings would have made his information more readily available than the settings he had previously put in place.”

Facebook had agreed to implement changes to address the concerns raised in the July 2009 report. According to the statement released by the OPC, however

Since then…changes to the site’s privacy information, settings and tools have sparked criticism from users who feel that personal information posted to the site is, in some instances, even more exposed now than before.

Perhaps social norms have not changed as much as Zuckerberg thinks.

What about you? Are you on Facebook? (The LRC is.) How secure are your privacy settings? Did you accept the new default settings? Is it important to keep this information private, or is it unreasonable to expect privacy online?

For more discussion on online privacy, including the implications of reduced privacy, check out this video (transcript) of Cory Doctrow, an author, journalist and technology activist, speaking at the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom 2008 Conference.


Canada changes Facebook

September 10th, 2009 Comments off

Canada has made international legal history with a recent decision by the Canadian Commissioner for Privacy.  Jennifer Stoddart investigated a complaint filed with the Commission by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic,  (CIPPIC) which outlined 12 privacy problem areas on Facebook.  Facebook Inc co-operated fully with her investigation and the result is an adjudication released on August 27, 2009.   (

Her case summary lists four areas in need of remediation: default privacy settings; disclosure of users’ personal information to 3rd party application developers; collection and use of personal information for advertising purposes; and the collection and use of non-users’ personal information. A major area of concern was the indefinite retention of information, even after accounts were closed. The Commissioner and Facebook have agreed that the company will have one year to address and fix these problems, and that the solutions will apply to the entire international Facebook community of over 200 million users and not just in Canada.

Michael Geist, a Professor with the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, and one of Canada’s foremost experts on privacy law calls the settlement “remarkable” and a “major success for Canadian Privacy.  On his website, he recommends reading the Commissioner’s letter to CIPPIC for the best summary of the Commissioner’s findings.

The letter is at

UPDATE: Michel Giest has written further about the case in his column at


Shooting Ducks with a Smoking Gun

August 10th, 2009 Comments off

 This week, I’m going to try to weave together two topics.  First, the archetype of the Stupid Criminal; and second: YouTube.  If all goes well, these two topics will merge together and my blog entry will be a brilliant little commentary on how the Internet intersects with the law, and the role of citizens in law enforcement, particularly in the wacky virtual world that is the internet.

First: The Stupid Criminal.  Everyone has heard stories about criminals that rob a bank and then leave their wallet on the counter or have read in the newspaper about burglars that took photographs of themselves inside the house they’ve broken into and then left the camera behind.

These stories usually have a few things in common: the criminal is not very intelligent, or (at very least) they didn’t plan their heist very well and inevitably blunder in a way that gets them caught.  Almost always, they leave behind a smoking gun that’s so obvious and ridiculous we almost feel sorry for them.  Of course, it goes without saying that the Stupid Criminal isn’t necessarily stupid.  Sometimes the smoking gun is left behind as a result of the criminal’s hubris – their overwhelming pride or arrogance that inevitably results in their downfall.   Read more…


Web 2.0 and you!

July 10th, 2009 Comments off

Hi there, Lucas Mitchell here, one of the LRC’s four intrepid summer students!

Obviously a big part of what the LRC does comes in the form of our web presence.  With more than a dozen websites created and maintained by us, we want to make sure that we are taking advantage of all of the possibilities that the internet has to offer.

So I just wanted to share with you some aspects of our web presence that you may or may not know about.

The first is obviously this blog.  As an organization that stresses the importance of interaction and the possibilities of Web2.0, Blogosaurus Lex lets us show people how effective this kind of medium can be, as well as help us even further understand the possibilities of this kind of informal communication channel.  Our blog is still taking its first steps, but I have a feeling it’s going to “evolve” into something really great. Read more…