隐私保护:拴在一条绳上的蚂蚱

网络时代,我们越来越无法孤立地看待问题了。以隐私为例,我们倾向于从个人的角度出发来看待“隐私”:我的数据、我的个人信息、我和 Facebook 的关系等等。但现在看来,我们越来越需要从一个公共的、网络语境的角度来看待隐私权了,因为你的隐私就是我的隐私。以 Facebook 为例,照片圈人正在悄无声息地泄露着你的秘密:你的朋友的兴趣和个人信息会因为你的照片圈人而被泄露——我们已经被社交网络彻底地捆绑在一起了。

近期来自巴西 Minas Gerais 大学的研究者做了一个有关照片圈人的实地案例研究,他们收集了 664 个 Facebook 用户并在他们的帐户里安装一个算法追踪应用。他们发现照片圈人会让用户将他们的朋友甚至是自己的隐私至于一个危险的境地,该应用很容易就推测出了用户的性别、所在城市和国家甚至是年龄,如果这个人是你的密友,那么问题就更大了。

原文题目:On Facebook, Your Privacy Is Your Friends' Privacy

原文:

Examples of networks used in privacy attack algorithms. User u is the subject of the attack, f1::f6 are friends of u and f2::f5 have been photo tagged in u's photos. f2 and f3 have been tagged twice, f4 once and f5 four times. João Paulo Pesce, Gustavo Rauber, Diego Las Casas, Virgílio Almeida

We tend to think about privacy in personal terms: my data, my personal information, my relationship with Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest. As our social networks grow and normalize, though, it's increasingly more accurate to think about privacy as a communal affair, something heavily contextual and owned, collectively, by networks. Which means that privacy is something that all of us, as individuals and as a group, are responsible for.
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Take Facebook. Aside from the standard, personalized privacy concerns -- algorithms guessing your social security number, say, based on your profile information -- there are also the concerns that expand with network effects. Photos, in particular, can reveal not only a user's favorite places, vacation spots, and closest friends and family members, but also that same information for the other members of the user's network. For those who have an interest, commercial or otherwise, in figuring out users' identities and interests and overall persona on Facebook,  your data can reveal your friends' data -- and vice versa.

A new case study coming out of the University of Minas Gerais in Brazil suggests just how much tagged photos, in particular -- and our connections' tagged photos -- can actually reveal, and predict, about our identities. Sharing and cross-referencing images can bring "collateral damage," the report's authors note: "Users unintentionally put their friends or even their own privacy at risk when performing actions on social networking sites such as Facebook."

The researchers gathered a sample of 664 Facebook users, who, as part of their experiment, installed an algorithmic tracking application into their Facebook accounts. The researchers determined four specific user attributes to track using the app -- gender, current country, current city, and age -- and then tried to infer those attributes algorithmically, according to participants' social graphs.

What they found was that photo tags can work effectively as pieces of the identity puzzle, helping "malicious attackers" (and, in general, anyone who has an interest in figuring our user identity and preferences) to augment the picture painted by friends and photos alone. And that augmentation is particularly powerful when it comes to your closest friends and family members -- the people who tend to star in your Facebook photos -- because "homophily [the tendency of like to attract like] is higher among close friends than among distant ones."

Those are worrying findings, in particular because the tagging process as it currently works on Facebook cedes so much agency to users' networks, rather than to users themselves. You could tag a picture of me, on my behalf, without my knowing it; that tag would link the photo automatically to my Facebook profile. And it might be awhile, particularly if I don't check Facebook that often, before I realize that you've done the tagging. Which is fine if you've tagged a nice picture of me playing with an adorable kitten, but much less fine if you've tagged a picture of me out at a bar, and/or wearing a silly costume, and/or not playing with an adorable kitten. "In the current tagging mechanism," the authors put it, "the tagged user has no means to control the degree of exposure her pictures are getting, since the 'owner' is another user. Thus, although photo tags point exactly to the fact that the user is personally linked to the photo, this does not grant the user any right over it besides denying this link."

The upshot? "Photo-tags can threaten privacy burdens in an indirect way," the authors note, "by pinpointing the nodes in the social graphs on which privacy-attacking algorithms may extract information, thus enhancing their accuracy." The social networks themselves, the researchers suggest, could work to solve that problem -- by, say, creating a "hiding" feature that would allow users to disguise tags and prevent their unauthorized use without fully deleting them. Which would definitely be a nice thing to have. But the real solution, it seems, will be a social one, fit for the age of the social network. And it will start with users re-conceiving of themselves not simply as users sharing their own information, but as actors and influencers who are responsible for the network at large.

APR 26 2012, 2:27 PM ET
Read more from the Atlantic
No man is an island. Especially online.
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