As you might have noticed, we’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past year looking at the privacy issues surrounding social networks.
While we released the report into our investigation of Facebook in July, in recent weeks we have also made public other research we have commissioned.
Last week, it was a report on a series of focus groups examining Canadian’s attitudes towards privacy on social networks. These were originally held in December 2008, and seem to confirm observations made in the U.S. and Europe: the users of social networks will say they are concerned about their privacy online, will argue that they have taken steps to protect their privacy, but will gradually admit that they don’t invest too much time or thought into the process.
This week, we are releasing a research paper that examines the privacy protections available on social networks popular with Canadians: Facebook, Linkedin, Livejournal, MySpace, Hi5 and Skyrock.
This paper, by Jennifer Barrigar, was not meant as an exhaustive examination of these networks’ privacy practices: instead, it should provide users with a general indication of the protection each network provides. It also lists a number of steps social networks of any stripe can take to make themselves more privacy protective and respectful of the information their users make available.
As I note in a foreword to the paper, Jennifer originally finished her work in February 2009. As we all know, many social networks and online services regularly revise their privacy policies and improve the protections they make available to their users. As a result, you will likely find that this paper is out of date in places (say, the Facebook section).
Nevertheless, we are releasing the paper because we feel it is an important contribution to an ongoing discussion about privacy protection in social networks – and on many other online services. Jennifer’s observations serve as a useful reminder to these services that their users are increasingly expecting more from their providers.