The Internet and new technologies, like social networks, have changed the way people communicate with one another. Users of social networking sites like FaceBook, Instagram and LinkedIn are able to provide up-to-date commentary about the details of their daily activity from their smart-phones. While social networks provide access to unprecedented amounts of information and a new medium of communication, they nevertheless provide challenges to the application of laws that have traditionally governed in the brick and mortar world; particularly, the application of privacy laws. Social networks have added a new dimension to the way that organizations search or investigate people. More and more employers and law enforcement agencies are using the sites for various search and investigation purposes. Concerns are growing about organizations’ access to personally identifiable data and users are increasingly worried about privacy on social network sites. The main threat with data gathering is not only from where they are gathering it, but also where it goes afterwards. Privacy policies should be improved and privacy laws should be enforced to regulate social networking searching. One definition of privacy as it relates to social networking or other internet sites is defined as personal information that an individual deems important and unattainable by the general population. Privacy also involves the individual’s right to control the dissemination of personal information. When contemplating issues of privacy, there are two important considerations to keep in mind: the intent of the information shared and the expectation that it will remain private. I support strengthening policies, because when an individual uses privacy settings to prevent most users from viewing his or her information, the user has an expectation that this information will remain private. This differs from e-mail, where the sender intends the information to be sent to a specific individual, although this information too can be accessed by others. Understanding privacy as it relates to social networking sites requires understanding how personal information may be shared and the intent of sharing it. Individuals feel that it is within their rights under the First Amendment to post information on a social networking site. The First Amendment protects an individual’s right to speak, write, and gather freely so far as it does not cause harm or incite violence.
Both Facebook and MySpace provide a clear privacy statement to inform users about the limits of protection that the site maintains for the information shared, as well as how the site will use the personal information provided. These privacy policies do not delineate who can access the information posted on the site, but outline the actions that are taken by the site’s administrators. The focus of these privacy statements is on what information will be shared with a third party, but does not speak to who else may access the information posted. Little is known about whether individual users read and are aware of privacy settings.
Social networking sites are being used to search people at random and seek information for employment, surveillance or investigation. Moral obligations should prevent many hiring managers who use social networking sites to seek information on job candidates. The most used site is Facebook, followed by LinkedIn and MySpace and Twitter according to a recent survey. The survey also found that 35% of these managers decided against hiring a candidate based on information uncovered from social media sites.
University administrators may use social networking sites to learn about their students and their students’ activities. They may take evidence posted to bring formal disciplinary charges against students. For example, police officers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign arrested…