mitchellirons

rough notes

Spacebook, the internet, and identity

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I suffered a spacebook overload moment this morning and posted a “quiet rant” about the amount of information which this privately-held corporation holds on us. I do this from time to time, since I’ve never been wholly comfortable with my ongoing use of the website (witness, for instance, the fact that I don’t allow people to look at photos of me). Sometimes the pineapples thinks I’m turning paranoid – as if I’m not already – and going overboard on the internet privacy thing. Sometimes I agree with her, but most of the time, I do question why we often and so willingly hand over personal information to companies. For instance, Facebook does not need to know what my marital status is. Sure, my marital status is public knowledge and if Mark Zuckerbeg et al. deperately wanted or needed to know what it is, they could figure this out one way or another. But come on now – must we really tell the FB.com servers who we’re sleeping with? Most people do, and don’t even think twice about the action. I think the only real benefit to the end-user of such disclosure is FB.com’s re-prioritization of users in my account. So long as I don’t tell them who I am married to, the site does not immediately push the Pineapple’s name to the Top of the “P”s when I begin to send a FB.com Email to her.

This handover of information to sites like FB.com is not a case of “no harm no foul” at all. For now, it has little effect on our days (maybe I’d see less “zwickies” if I were to tell their servers I am married), but the foreseeable future that people always conjure or warn about is pretty-damn-well close to “being here” already. Facebook and Facebook Beacon routinely sells (or offers for free, if you take on an application) your stripped personal data to other corporations. Your name may not be transferred, but your email address and all the “vital stats” are. It is anonymous only to a certain degree. Imagine Mark Zuckerberg came to knock on your door and said he was collecting data on behalf of “Statistics Facebook” for their census. Would you let him in and tell him your name, income, address, marital status, education level, number of persons in your household, and whether or not you have pets? He will tell you of course that when he compiles the information he will not use your name, and will protect your name for 99 years, but the file is still there, on his servers, to do what he like with. That’s what we’re doing when we sign on to social networking sites like Facebook – handing over information that in any other circumstance we’d consider vital, private, and priveleged. Its frigging scary that so many people do it now, and so many people (myself included, sadly) do it with their real names. The astonishment never leaves me on this one.

I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of discussions are raised on this issue next year and the year after in the MLIS. The MLIS programme has promoted itself to me several times now as a school and site where current questions regarding information, identity, use, and abuse will be addressed. I would think that many academics involved in the MLIS are opposed to the nature and practice of social networking sites, but the application I completed for admittance suggested otherwise. I had to explain, in an essay of three to six pages, how I believe that recent developments in IT, and current “information technologies” themselves (they could probably use my proofreading services on that one) affect and enhance information science and information management. There was no explicit statement that “Web 2.0 Technologies Are Great!”, but there was definitely an implicit understanding that we surely can’t beat these advancements (I would read it as “infringements”) so we might as well join them. While I agree with this statement to a certain degree (it is possible to reform from within), I’m a worried that it shows a passive acceptance on their part that this is just “the way things are now” as opposed to accepting that even though we might be in the minority, we don’t necessarily have to march in step with the rest of them.

(This perhaps may be one the of the underlying differences between Dal’s MLIS and other schools’ MLIS’s. Dal pushes praxis over theory in their programme – this much i can tell four months before I even begin. We’ll see how it all plays out though.)

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Written by mitchellirons

April 13, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in internet, mlis

Tagged with , , , , ,

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