16 August 2007
How Safe is ‘Social Networking’?Myspace, Twitter, Facebook – Social Networking is the web success story of the new century. The statistics are mind-bending – Myspace claimed its 100 Millionth user in August 2006. But a recent ENISA workshop put the question - “how safe are social networks?”
According to the experts, there is a lot to be concerned about; from specialised social networking worms spreading through Myspace profiles to identity theft, extortion, spear-phishing and even recruitment of terrorists – social networking has it all. But the biggest threat is to personal privacy.
“Thousands of young people are revealing the most intimate details of their personal lives for everyone to see,” says Alain Esterle, Head of ENISA’s Technical Department. “Social Networking sites create a sense of being among friends – but often a potential employer might be interested in the fact that you were arrested or which drugs you took yesterday. Added to this, new technologies like online face recognition and Internet archives make it very difficult to hide or remove such information once it is posted online.”
This sense of intimacy has been exploited by advertisers with fake profiles selling goods, by child predators infiltrating networks with false profiles and even terrorist organisations to find recruits from a particular social group. So called cyber-bullying campaigns to intimidate school pupils or even teachers via social networking sites have received a lot of attention. Josie Fraser from the UK’s Childnet explained that many students do not report the bullying which occurs, because they feel their teachers do not understand Social Networking technologies.
But the news is not all bad.
“We do not allow our users to reveal contact information such as zip codes – users who do so will be banned” says Lien Louwagie from Netlog, a Belgian Social Networking site with 25 million users. “Netlog places abuse-reporting buttons on almost every item – we take these issues very seriously”. “Careful use of moderation tools can help a lot” adds Maz Nadjm of Rareface, a London based social networking company. And according to Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University, “Awareness is key”. His study of Facebook found that users were more careful after answering a survey about privacy on Facebook than beforehand. “The very fact of answering questions about their privacy made them more cautious”.
ENISA will be publishing a position paper on Social Networking in October 2007. “The aim is to benefit both users and providers of social media by encouraging a safer environment on Social Networking sites” says Andrea Pirotti, ENISA’s Executive Director.
For further background info seehttp://www.enisa.europa.eu/doc/pdf/Workshop/June2007/Report_eID_Workshop%20Paris.pdf
or contact Giles Hogben, ENISA Expert,
or Ulf Bergström, Press and Communications Officer,
The EU is constantly barracked on supposed luddite attitudes to the Web but this sounds like them doing their job in raising the Risks + contemplating practical ways of dealing them.