If you spend much time working with computers then you’re likely familiar with metadata, or data about data. In the digital era metadata is relied upon for many of the tagging and categorization systems that are seen in popular web environments, such as Twitter, Digg, Delicious, Facebook, and so forth, and is more generally used to define, structure, and administrate data across all digital environments. I should state, upfront, that metadata is incredibly valuable: nothing that I’m going to write about should leave you with the suggestion that metadata should be removed from the digital landscape or could be removed. Instead I’m advocating for a responsible use of metadata.
In this post I will be drawing on a pair of examples to underscore just how much data is contained in popular metadata structures: the information divulged every time a person tweets on Twitter, and what your mobile phone operator may be giving up to third-parties when you browse the web on your phone. In the latter case, especially, we see that metadata is not just important for routing data traffic but also responsible for disclosing a considerable amount of personal information. I’ll conclude by noting, once again, that our privacy regulators, commissioners, advocates, and researchers need to additional funding if citizens are to have those parties regularly identify ‘bad’ metadata practices and seek rapid remedies before the data ends up being datamined for illicit or unjustifiable reasons.
I’m on Twitter all the time; it’s central to how I learn about discussions taking place about Deep Packet Inspection, a good way of finding privacy-folk from around the world, and lets me feel semi-socialized even though I’m somewhat reclusive. When I use the social networking service, I intersperse bits of ‘me’ (e.g. This wine sucks!) beside news articles I’ve found and believe would be useful to my colleagues, and add in some (attempts at) humor. In this sense, I try to make my Twitter feed feel ‘authentic’, meaning that it is reasonably reflective of how I want to present myself in digital spaces. Further, that presentation resonates (to varying extents) with how I behave in the flesh.
When you hear social-media enthusiasts talk about their media environment, authenticity (i.e. not pretending to be someone/something you’re really, absolutely, not) is the key thing to aim for. Ignoring the amusing Heideggerian implications of this use of authenticity (“How very They!), I think that we can take this to mean that there is a ‘currency’ in social media called ‘authenticity’. There are varying ways of gauging this currency. Continue reading
For the past couple of months I’ve been thinking about a post Sean Yo made about Facebook. The post was entitled Facebook and the Man, and looked at how law enforcement uses Facebook to preemptively dissuade illegal activities. In light of these ‘positive’ uses Yo questions whether or not the city of Toronto was justified in banning the social networking service from their networks without considering the technology’s possible beneficial uses. While not asserting that Facebook is necessarily suited towards governmental activities, without critically reflecting on the technology the city has lost a potentially helpful communicative medium that would let officials connect with the public.
Generally, I think that the privacy risks and challenges in establishing appropriate communications policies with Facebook are reason enough to avoid using the service for governmental activities. That said, the question of governments using Facebook has been lurking in my brain for the past little while and I’ve recently come across some posts that help to clarify some of my thoughts surrounding Facebook.