Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

Responsible Use of Third Party Information

[Published in the OSALL newsletter of May 2013]

When it comes to growing old, gracefully or otherwise, Mick Jagger remains among those who just don’t seem to submit to the process at all. Looking at others like Bon Jovi and Steven Tyler seems to imply a link to the music industry but this theory is short-lived :  had I attempted a musical career my life expectancy would have instantly assumed a span measured in minutes rather than decades. As I come from a line of musicians, my paternal grandmother and I being the notable exceptions, we look to the one-formerly-known-as-the-Teen to solve the mystery. She is pursuing a career in genetics and science may answer the conundrum where family despair and introspection have failed. At six years of age, showing a maturity beyond my years, I abandoned any attempts to guide me into this field ; to be honest, it had more to do with a horror of making adults cry again than maturity. Well, adults to whom I am related : seeing my music teacher reduced to a similar state not too long afterwards had a strong element of satisfaction as she was the one who’d insisted I take my turn at singing in front of the class despite my justified modesty.

Returning to Jagger, it was with interest that I read he has taken to Twitter in a truly brilliant interaction with fans1. Although next month marks the Glastonberry festival ‘s forty-third year and,  for those of us who don’t mos[s] remember their early days, the Rolling-Stones have been around for fifty-one years, this is the first time the twain shall meet. In a move that allowed input from anyone who cared to make it, Jagger asked his 450 000 Twitter followers for suggestions in compiling the set list for the festival. This coupled with the news that he and his family intend to join the campers should do magical things to the attendance figures.

Another magical figure : Twitter handles four hundred million messages a day. New security measures were implemented in April in light of recent high-profile hacking of media accounts in particular (an example : the compromised Associated Press account tweeted about an explosion at the White House, which piece of misinformation impacted even on financial markets) 2. Users now have access to an optional “login verification” service. Browsers require users to enter a six-digit identification code ; those accessing the service via PCs and smartphones use an auto-generated temporary password. This hasn’t reduced the importance of secure passwords and obviously cannot be a deterrent if a device itself is hacked : whoever controls the device controls the account.

Another social media service that has made significant changes in recent weeks is LinkedIn3. It has updated its user privacy policy, partly to explain the way it collects and uses personal data. One of the features to be aware of is LinkedIn Contacts which interacts between contacts on a device and those on LinkedIn : think carefully of what information you may be making accessible to others. WebTechLaw director Paul Jacobson cautions anyone who uses LinkedIn to be aware of the implications of the indemnification clause in the user agreement. Even closing your account may not undo past decisions to submit personal information of third parties ; as Jacobson says “LinkedIn reserves the right to retain data after you have closed your account . . . you should factor this into your planning when you share information”.

I wasn’t aware that LinkedIn and Facebook are the only two “pure-play social sites” to be publicly listed4. In the year since it was Listed, Facebook’s share price has halved. It is perceived to have a limited life span and there has been a negative response to advertising content in news feeds. It seems to have been unprepared to make money from its shift to mobile. On the other hand, LinkedIn’s per share profit is higher. Chris Gilmour, Absa Investments analyst, says its business orientation gives it “a tangible reason for existing”. All is not lost for Facebook though as Goldman Sachs is expecting it to double its revenue by 2015.

Do you geddit? I don’t yet but the more I read about reddit the more I wonder why I haven’t already been tempted through its portals. Reddit describes itself5 as “a type of online community where users vote on content” ; “anyone can create a community (called “subreddits”). Each subreddit is independent and moderated by a team of volunteers” ; “comments can be posted on every story on reddit. Comments add information, content and humour”. Its blog6 is even more illuminating : “reddit is not a single community ; it’s an engine for creating communities”. It adds “reddit is proof that everyone’s contributions, from creating a community to simply clicking a vote button, can have a massive effect”. In case you too wondered : an answer to the faq “what does the name “reddit” mean?7 It’s (sort of) a play on words – ie, “I read it on reddit” “.

Reddit has been in the spotlight a couple of times in the last month or three. It started when someone wondered if an image on Google Earth taken near his home showed a murder scene. The picture of a trail of water leading along a jetty was examined in minute detail by self-appointed sleuths around the world via reddit ; it was eventually establisheded that the wet trail was left by a golden retriever who loved jumping into the water and running back to repeat the exercise rather than a body being dragged along the jetty8, 9.

An item on the CBS News website10 says “crowdsourcing in the Internet age has taken the public’s involvement in solving crimes to a new level”. The Reddit Bureau of Investigation started in 2012 “to use the power of reddit to solve crimes/mysteries and catch criminals”. A recent count indicated 11 133 subscribers and 775 unique threads11.

Although one of reddit’s few rules states “witch hunts and the posting of personal information are forbidden”, the repercussions following the explosions at the Boston Marathon highlight the downside of unreserved public  input. Speculation about the identity of likely suspects abounded. As it happened reddit users did not alight on the individual/s whom the authorities identified in due course but it seems innocent people were implicated with tragic results in at least one case. This lead to the general manager of reddit, Erik Martin, issuing an apology for the unintended consequences of the use of the service.

Putting the matter in perspective, reporter and crime novelist James Renner says : “it’s not a reddit problem. It’s a public perception problem. Readers need to understand that this is part of the process of reporting and not to attach stigmas on the people identified in the posts” 12.

Law enforcement agencies are benefitting from this application of social media : we read frequently of people being traced when they post photos of their cars, homes, illegally acquired possessions or environment on social media sites. Posts have also provided evidence in cases of cyberbullying.

The use and abuse of information is nothing new but it would be prudent to think thrice before submitting personal information pertaining either to yourself or a third party, after which you have no control of its application.

Until the next column, I’ll continue applying myself to non-musical hobbies and keep an eye out for Google Earth’s eyes in the sky.

1 Jagger tweets to ensure fans get full satisfaction. Daily Telegraph on Times Live. 24 May 2013
Twitter beefs up security. Reuters on ITWeb. 23 May 2013
Read carefully before you get LinkedIn. Christine Greyvenstein. ITWeb. 16 May 2013
LinkedIn’s star rising past Facebook. Nicola Mawson. ITWeb. 23 May 2013
5 reddit. About
6 How reddit works. Blog.reddit
7 reddit. Faq
8 Google Maps ‘murder scene’ in Almere, Netherlands is water trail from golden retriever. Sara C Nelson. The Huffington Post. 18 April 2013
9 Google Maps ‘murder scene’? Reddit users debate Almere, Netherlands picture. The Huffington Post. 13 April 2013
10 Boston Marathon bombing “crowdsourcing” : how citizens are using the Internet to help solve crimes. Casey Glynn. CBS News. 21 May 2013
11 The Internet is actually surprisingly good at fighting crime. Tim Murphy. Mother Jones. 26 April 2013
12 [Update] Boston Marathon bombing investigation attracts amateur reddit sleuths. Gothamist. 17 April 2013
13 Using social web sites to solve crimes. Red Orbit. 20 April 2013
14 20 infamous crimes committed and solved on Facebook. Alissa Skelton. Mashable. 1 March 2012
15 5 awesome vigilantes who solved crimes better than the cops. Juan Arteaga and Tracy V. Cracked. 26 November 2012

Mary Bruce

Opinions expressed in this column are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.


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