The BBC are running a story about Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the woman at the centre of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's sex scandal, and how personal information she posted to her MySpace page has been picked up by news agencies worldwide. In it, the author makes several sweeping statements which may be untrue and only serve to confuse the already somewhat complex situation of social network privacy.
When people post material on MySpace, Facebook or Bebo, they may not intend for it to be consumed beyond a specific group of friends or family. There is no reason to protect the privacy of the content. However, anyone can see the information, if they are looking for it.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! Let's break that down.
...anyone can see the information, if they are looking for it.
Nobody can see your Facebook profile unless you specifically authorise them. MySpace on the other hand is designed to be 'outward facing' and it's always clear that the content you are posting is available to all. That's why bands love it as a promotional tool. Even so, it's a simple matter to hide your MySpace profile so that only your 'friends' can see it. I am not acquainted with Bebo but I believe it follows the Facebook model of private profiles. OK I lied slightly about Facebook: by default, anyone else who is a member of one of your 'networks' (e.g. 'London' or 'University of Manchester') can see your profile, even if you do not know them. This may have made sense in the early Harvard days of Facebook but it's a privacy nightmare now which ought to disabled by default.
[Users] may not intend for [the content] to be consumed beyond a specific group of friends or family. There is no reason to protect the privacy of the content.
Most people's social network 'friends' are not the same set of people they would normally refer to as their friends. Therefore privacy is always a concern. There is certainly an argument for better education of users of social networking sites. Whenever posting anything online - be it a photo, a video, some text or anything else - people need to give a thought to who will be able to see it. In many cases the answer will be 'everyone'. But this is equally true in the real world. How often have you accidentally let slip a secret by telling the wrong person? Or left a note for someone which was read by someone else? Or sent a text message to the person you were talking about? Your audience is potentially much larger on the internet but it's the same issue.
The way the media feeds on the personal material on social media sites raises questions about what can be considered public or private in an Internet age.
Not really. Information is public if it is accessible by everyone without breaking any laws or impersonating a third party. Otherwise it's private.
There is also a membership in her name dating back to January on RateMyBody.com, where she leaped up the rankings as her name hit the headlines.
In her own name?! That's not just asking for trouble, that's actively seeking it. Call me a cynic but there's little doubt in my mind that Ms Dupre - an aspiring R'n'B singer - and her lawyer are loving the media attention. Threatening litigation against major news agencies is a great way to ensure that attention lasts just a little bit longer.