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Social Networking Sites and Privacy

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June 2009

Online, you really are who you say you are. The things you say or write take on a life of their own. They form your identity.


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Online, you really are who you say you are.  The things you say or write take on a life of their own.  They form your identity.

But the social networking sites where we express ourselves don't just focus on individuals. Instead, they make money repackaging user data into trends and patterns.

Personal data has become a hot commodity and social sites are the public face of a much larger commercial operations.

Knowing your hometown, favourite TV show or politics is where the money is.

And once information is added to the database, users have little control.  Check out one such user agreement …

"By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant … the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license … to use, copy, publicly perform, display, reformat, translate, excerpt … such User Content … for any purpose ..."

On social sites, it really isn’t all about you but your data.  Businesses trade in the information we enter: what we like, where we live, what our interests are.

Then advertisers can target us for products.  Today’s technology makes social sites a gold mine of information for marketing companies, or political interest groups, or potential employers.

As data about you is shared, what will it mean?  More catalogs on your doorstep?  More email adverts in your inbox?  More questions during your next job interview?

The ways personal information can be used, repackaged and sold are virtually limitless.

As social sites become more popular, every time you add more data about yourself, it’s as though you've answered a survey.

And on the basis of that information, others may make decisions about you.  About your employability? About your work ethic? About your preferences?

All without your knowledge, or consent, or ever actually having been asked … so next time you update your information online, ask yourself some tough questions first.

For more information, visit the website of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada –


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