Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Updates : OxII Social Networking Conference, and Phorm

Pangloss had an interesting time at the OxII /Ofcom conference on Social Networking on Monday (7 April 08). I believe powerpoints and presentations will shortly be available on that site. The conference launched the Ofcom report on social networking which was partly produced to feed into the Byron report (see previous post on this blog). The report confirms with empirical evidence a number of common regulatory and legal assumptions about social networking - notable that "From Ofcom’s qualitative research it appears that concerns about privacy and safety are not ‘top of mind’ for most users" and "all users, even those who were confident with ICT found the [privacy] settings on most of the major social networking sites difficult to understand and manipulate."

What was slightly less predictable was that almost equal numbers of children and adults would equally fail (or not care enough to) use any privacy settings to safeguard their personal data (41% of children aged 8-17 who had a visible profile had their profile set so that it was visible to anyone, as compared to 44% of adults). Also interestingly, the report admits that while many respondents cited potential for abusive use of data revealed on SNSs, few examples of actual harm were in fact reported.

Pangloss's own view is that the report supports the view that protection of users - especially young users - on SNs s cannot be achieved solely by education of users - or "media literacy" - alone. Too many drivers - popularity, peer pressure, ignorance, inertia, technophobia, lack of incentive for SNS sites themselves to protect privacy, because advertising revenue is derived primarily from disclosure - drive SNS users towards unthinking disclosure, rather than rational protection of their personal data. In Pangloss's view , education of users needs supported by regulation (perhaps co-regulation) of SNS sites, in the form of code regulation that would minimise privacy harms. This will form the subject of a Pangloss paper coming real soon now :)

One of the prevalent themes of the conference (rather than the report) was how people use SNSs to further intimate relationships (oo er vicar). Apparently 6% of married Internet users first met their partners online. This seemed high to Pangloss, but it also includes people who met through chatrooms, IM and presumably, blog sites, although these were not name checked, as well as conventional dating sites. 20% of married Internet users admit to checking their partner's emails and 13% to having checked their browser history. Partners seemed to extrend similar levels of surveillance to each other. Pangloss wonders how many have worked out how to use passwords and Clear History commands.. (indeed how many couples share passwords - almost more intimate than sharing a joint bank account these days..)

Pangloss however had to take a pinch of salt at the persuasive man from who insisted on line dating was no different from off line dating, merely more effective. I felt forced to point out the clear difference is that there is a great deal more lying at the start of on line relationships than is possible in the real world..

Meanwhile in the world of commercial rather than interpersonal stalking, Simon Davies of 80: 20 passes this info on.

"80/20 Thinking is holding a Town Hall meeting on Phorm this coming Tuesday, 15th April, between 18.30 and 20.30 at the Brunei Gallery lecture theatre, SOAS, University of London.

Details are at

Please do spread the word as much as possible. The meeting is open and free, but we ask people to notify us if they want to come so we can keep track of numbers. Again, those details are on the 80/20 page."

Sadly I can't go but I look forward to hearing about what emerges.

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