Normally, I respect what Preston Galla writes about over at Computerworld, but yesterday’s article just seemed like a whole lot of FUD to me.
The BBC reports that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin were able to take completely anonymous data from Flickr and Twitter, run an algorithm on it, and from that reconstruct people’s real names and addresses. They were able to do that to a third of the people who used both social networks.
Now add Google information to the mix, and you can imagine how easy it would be to personally identify people, and then match them not just to their interests and surfing habits, but actual conversations and what they do in their everyday lives, as revealed by Twitter.
First of all, just on first blush the fact that researchers could take anonymous data and match it to a real name a third of the time doesn’t really surprise me at all. How many people link to their websites from Flickr and Twitter, thus giving easy access to anyone to figure out who they are from the information on those sites? I’d actually guess it’s higher than a third! Seriously, if you took identifying information out of my Twitter and Flickr streams, you’d still be able to figure out how often photos from my stream show up on this site, and how often my Twitter stream links to this blog, right? It’s almost as if I want you to know who I am!
Granted, I’m not overly familiar with the study, this is just a gut reaction not an overly informed opinion of the study’s methodologies.
Speaking of which, Preston’s last line that I quoted is downright confusing. as a commenter noted on the article:
I thought people used Twitter so people would know what they were doing? If you don’t want people (including Google) to know then don’t post. Problem solved.
Yes, it seems that Preston, in the midst of his privacy zeolousness, has forgotten that the point of social networking sites like Twitter, is to share information! If there’s information I don’t want Google, or anyone else, to know I don’t post it to Twitter!
There are plenty of real privacy issues, with Google and many other areas of life, that people should be concerned about, let’s not ruin that capital telling people how horrilbe it is that a site who’s whole purpose is to share information you post, is actually sharing the information you post!