Addressing Privacy Challenges in Social Media

Valeria Andreolli

01 September 2012

31 August 2015

EC funded project

The SocialPrivacy project aims to understand the issues of privacy at the level of users, commercial enterprises and society (Diagnostic Phase) and then to propose solutions (Generative Phase) which help manage the trade-offs inherent in allowing companies to access users’ personal data, while providing sufficient privacy safeguards.

In this project we have shown that people’s personal data is collected on a large scale; however, people are often unaware of this kind of access even though they must grant the required permissions upon installation, or provide explicit consent. In particular it is often difficult or impossible for people to understand the reasons behind this access and the relative usage (purpose) of the data itself. Even if there is a legitimate need for access the information, that access may be reused for other purposes completely unrelated to it. It is often impossible to determine if there are such secondary uses.

People’s personal data is accessed because they are not aware of it. After testing small improvements aimed at helping explain the type of access, we show that when people understand, they share less and make choices focused towards safeguarding their privacy. Preserving people's privacy might be technically challenging but we have shown it can be attainable with little to no effect on the performance of the tool itself (compared to similar and currently non-privacy sensitive tools). Current technologies and mechanisms are inadequate and do not show the information required by people to make informed choices about granting access to their data. Large and small corporations are able to collect this data because of the lack of this easy and clear transparency mechanisms.