The Australian Police arrested Ben Grubb, a 20 year-old journalist working for Sydney Morning Herald. The day before his arrest, Grubb had published an article about how a security researcher could break into someone’s Facebook account and steal their private photos.
The Australian journalist got this information from security expert Christian Heinrich, who conducted a presentation on how to access photos from Facebook users’ accounts that were protected with privacy settings. The published story contained one of the photos "stolen" by Heinrich.
Ben Grubb was released a few hours after his imprisonment, but his iPad was confiscated in order to conduct an investigation. The Queensland police reported that "the investigation is looking at a hacking incident and the subsequent use of the property that was acquired as a result of that hacking".
The Wall Street Journal reported that application developers have been collecting Facebook users' private data and selling it to advertisers. Nowadays social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are very transparent. Almost anyone can easily obtain and misuse the personal information placed on these websites. Millions of people make this information available voluntarily, because they just don’t know about the possible consequences or they don’t pay much attention to them.
Users usually don’t worry about their web anonymity and the disclosure of their identifying data. Millions of consumers are openly publishing large amounts of personal information on social networks. Most people are tolerant to providing highly sensitive data with an authentication procedure if they know how the company uses it. Users understand the importance of protecting internet privacy only when their passwords or debit/credit card information becomes available to third parties. The advantageous offers of many websites are very attractive for users and they willingly provide the requested information in exchange for questionable advantages.
The USA government has already acknowledged the problem of online ID theft and has created a new Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. The chairman of this organization ,Al Franken Sr., said: “The boom of new technologies over the last several years has made it easier to keep in touch with family, organize a community and start a business. It has also put an unprecedented amount of personal information into the hands of large companies that are unknown and unaccountable to the American public.”
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Social networking is an open space for communicating. A user registers an account to express his/her opinion in blogs, to share comments, or to create his/her own pages. But it appears that the room for anonymity is narrowing in some social networks. Facebook, with about 600 million users, requires its new members to sign up using their real names and has a security team of more than 150 members to police its rules.
As Businessweek reports, Facebook has recently made a new attempt to create a ‘friendlier Internet’. It suggests a free commenting tool to Web publishers. With Facebook's new system, which is called “Facebook Contact”, publishers can link users’ comments to their social network accounts and display their profile picture and real name alongside their posts. The aim is to cut off anonymous acrid comments, making opinions of ‘real names’ more valuable. The new feature gave a new impulse to business lines too. It helps Facebook to better target it ads, and partner sites benefit from more page views.
Anti-Facebook message forum creator, Christopher Poole, advocates Web anonymity. His 4chan.org message boards attract 12 million unique visitors per month and are filled with comments and images which are sometimes near the knuckle. It is a place as well that has given birth to some of the well known trends in Internet. Poole’s idea is that web anonymity frees people to take risks that lead to innovation. So he received $625,000 from venture capitalists, including the Silicon Valley firm Andreessen Horowitz, to develop the business. The new version of 4chan is a place for images exchange and sharing. As Poole says, they use Facebook Contact to make sure a new user is a real person; but they do not show the user’s name or profile information, therefore protecting their privacy in Internet.
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This week a new regulation aiming to protect Internet privacy is being discussed in the European Union. According to it, social networking sites and search engines will have to report on the private information they have collected. The European Commission is also planning to introduce the “right to be forgotten” policy, which will allow users to withdraw the personal information they no longer wish to share from different sites and social networks.
These regulations will apply not only to EU residents, but to all products and services widely-spread among European citizens. Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has announced that any company operating in the EU market or any online product that is targeted at EU consumers must comply with EU rules.
To enforce the new regulations, the EU is planning to organize special comitees which will be endowed with powers to investigate and engage in legal proceedings against non-EU data controllers.
Along with legal measures, software development is going to be evaluated. This will include some privacy safeguards initially embedded into web products, for example the “do not track” option in Internet browsers. It will allow users to maintain a high level of Web anonymity.
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Facebook has banned a Chinese outspoken dissident, Michael Anti, for using a pseudonym. His account was cancelled in January, after he received the company’s email saying that Facebook had a strict policy about banning the use of pseudonyms. Michael Anti was asked to use his real name, the one issued on his government ID, if he wanted to continue using the site.
Facebook’s policy seems to be controversial because there are a still lot of accounts created by people using their alias. And it appears not only people. As Michael Anti discovered after he was banned, there is nothing wrong in having an account for a dog owned by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
Anti started his Facebook account in 2007. He established a network of more than 1,000 professional contacts, which is now blocked for him."This might impact on my journalistic career," Anti says.
It is not the first time that the activist’s account has been blocked. In 2005, his blog on Windows Live Spaces was deleted under the pressure of Chinese authorities.
Though Facebook represents “real name culture”, evidently people use it to create an online image that doesn't always correspond with reality. For some people this is the only way to speak and to be heard, since they write from the places where they are under risk of being prosecuted. So the anonymity provided by using pseudonyms is essential for them. And if Zuckerman’s dog has it, why shouldn't others?
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