Sunday, 5 February 2012

How much should we share on social networking sites?

A rather interesting article appeared in the The New York Times on 5th.February, 2012 on page Sr.7 of the New York Edition of the Newspaper. The Headline of the Article read,  "Should Personal Data Be Personal?"The article described how an Austrian law student requested his own Facebook File and was astounded to get a file which had, 1,222 Pages! It was a smorgasbord of information, but some of it was unsavoury including things he had not himself entered in his personal file! Personal data on most social networking sites continue to be retained even after we have deleted our accounts, and we have started coming across stories of breakups in marriages, people driven to commit suicide, cases of sexual abuse, and what not, caused by the sharing of personal information on the web. In some cases it is the result of exposing our vulnerabilities to unscrupulous organisations/ individuals out for a killing! In some cases, it is just a case of identifying the web users interests so that advertisements of the best offers in town may be sent to him or her. In any case, in the words of the law student, all that information stored in the social networking sites is, “like a camera hanging over your bed while…!”
People in Europe are worried about this indiscriminate sharing of information on social networking sites and are actively campaigning against indiscriminate use of  “personal” information by  them. Now there are regulations put in by the Governments in Europe which try to introduce an element of control on how this personal information is used, and whether the individual’s permission has been sought. In the United States, people have not yet woken up to the enormity of the situation. We, in India are still to reach the state of affairs in Europe and U.S., but I am sure we will soon overhaul both and reach the point where we too realise that  our private lives are no longer private! The recent scrutiny of some web giants by the Government of India for   allowing the posting of material which causes tension among communities material that derides communities is a sign that the Government is waking up to the problem in hand. For people in India, the Internet, and social networking sites have come like Manna from Heaven and they can’t have enough! It is  means for gaining popularity and fame, and nothing pleases us more than these!
Today, more and more school children in India are logging on to the net, and sharing personal information on social networking sites. Some are smart enough to use aliases while others are innocent enough to use their own personal names! Unfortunately we fall prey to the assurance by the website that our,”E-mail Id will not be shared by anyone,” or that, “personal information will not be shared with anyone!” To see what kind of personal information might be on the web you could also type your name on the search bar of one of the search engines and you would get a list of third party websites carrying information about you. People are however going to continue to use social websites as a means for expressing themselves, including their hopes, desires, disappointments and joys. Social Networking Sites have become an effective means for maintaining contact with acquaintances, friends, and family members. It is cheap, takes little time and doesn’t require long periods of time waiting for the post! You can blame it on our laziness to write letters, our dependence on technology, or perhaps a hectic life style offset by the need to progress. My only advice to the member of the Social Networking Site is to think carefully before submitting his or her personal information, knowing well that it could be used wrongly, if not by the social networking site, then by a third-party website!

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