By Naweed Chougle
Social networking has become an undeniable part of our lives nowadays. Internet, as well as mobile users, are driving the mushrooming popularity of social networking sites. Even with a myriad of options available, the appetite for new sites shows little sign of abating. When the Internet and its possibilities were first envisioned all those decades ago, the dream was to build an information super highway that connected, informed, and educated. The latest trends in the development of the World Wide Web lean towards the Semantic Web, a quasi intelligent network that feeds on itself and its own knowledge and gleans meanings from this information while improving our experience of it. Social networking sites, because of the way they process information, will rely on the Semantic Web for improved functionality.
The ability to share information is definitely a good thing. But what about the information that one would rather keep to oneself, or privy to a select group of people? Few people realize that personal information, once out in the realm of cyber space, cannot be recalled or erased. There is always a chance that it will turn up when you least expect it. Familial rifts over Facebook rants are not unheard of, and neither, for that matter, are terminations of employment as a result of boasted exploits. Companies and colleges are turning to the Internet for character studies of prospective employees and students, and credit check companies are even scouring through friends’ lists to determine a person’s suitability for acquiring credit. So the next time you receive that request to add a friend, think again.
There is no doubt that social networking is here to stay, and we are turning to it in ever growing numbers as Internet access becomes more widespread. Recognizing its extensive use among young people, educators are even testing social networking in schools and colleges. This is perhaps a good thing as young people are more prone to sharing private information online, little realizing the far-reaching effects of their actions. By using social networking in an educational environment, students can be taught about some of the dangers of careless or impulsive information sharing.
The debate on privacy versus information sharing will no doubt continue as long as people need to connect to each other online. Even with the great success of sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, etc., there are very real privacy issues that need to be addressed for information security. The story of Facebook’s recent troubles is just one such case in point. While companies have the responsibility of informing their clients clearly, we can exercise some caution ourselves in order to protect our privacy. It might turn out to be a small price to pay for avoiding a greater pitfall somewhere down the line.
Naweed Chougle is a programmer and blogger for topbits.com, which has an impressive library of answers to frequently-asked questions and helpful guides to the world of technology – from proxy list to who invented the internet.
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