RSA: Beware Social Networks, Warns Schneier


Facebook and other social network sites are exploiting people’s urge to share, says BT security chief Schneier

Social networking is undermining our perceptions of security and privacy, claimed security expert Bruce Schneier at the RSA Security Conference in London.

Cryptographer and author Schneier, who is hief security technology officer at BT, pointed out that there are serious social changes happening. “We are witnessing massive invasions of privacy and businesses are deliberately manipulating this,“ he said at the RSA Security Conference in London.

Social networks are the problem

Social networking sites are at the root of the problem because they gather information and store it for their own purposes, said Schneier.

“Don’t think you are users of sites like Facebook. We’re Facebook’s product that they sell to their customers,” he said.

Schneier separates the data that gets posted to the internet into six categories: service, disclosed, shared, incidental, behavioural and derived. Service data is the basic information about a user used to open an account. Disclosed data are posts and blogs. Shared is what you write on other people’s walls. Incidental is what is said about you on other people’s pages. Behavioural is the record of sites visited exposing your interests. Derived data is information implied by, other information – for example, if your friends centre on one geographical area, this might imply you live there too.

Any of this information can be correlated and sold to commercial concerns with scant regard to privacy because there is no fine-grained control on security, he said.

Schneier asserted that managing privacy is not a natural act for most people. Socialisation is the driving force. If someone finds all their friends using a particular social networking site, they will gravitate towards it regardless of privacy controls – or the lack of them.

“The death of privacy is a fallacy. The CEOs [of social networking sites] are killing it because technology is changing the balance of privacy,” he said. “The social norms are being set by businesses with a profit motive.”

The comments echoed – somewhat ironically –  those of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who said that people’s expectations of privacy have changed. Other recent Facebook moves that have been questioned on privacy grounds include Facebook Places. Although Facebook has made improvements to its privacy poilicy, stories still regularly crop up, for instance of burglars using Facebook information.

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