Privacy and the Users of Social Networking Sites

Privacy and the Users of Social Networking Sites

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Since their advent, Social Network Sites (SNSs) attract a lot of attention from different groups. Technical experts, Businessmen, Social Activists, and Researchers try to find out the structure of SNSs, and at the same time take advantage of those sites as normal users of these SNSs occasionally. In other words, SNSs now are an inseparable part of people’s life.
Among all the concerns in social web, privacy is hotly debated between researchers, legal officials, and social network operators. Although, providing privacy on the web environment always is a big headache for stakeholders, the magnitude of these concerns is more tangible after considering SNSs characteristics which are number of users, virtual proximity of them and huge pile of unprotected information about them, shared with the minimum restrictions with known and unknown entities.
Besides annoying nature of targeted advertisements, there are much more privacy issues threaten personal information such as Stalkers, child and family abusers, employers and even governments (Jacquie Bowser, 2009). The open nature of social networks allows information seekers to find their targets easily by powerful search tools, impersonate themselves as somebody else or do some identity theft to bypass privacy options, and finally gather and analyze information about their targets by using profile info, comments, joined groups, and even his/her contacts preferences.
In this paper, there is an attempt to consider different dimensions of privacy and find out to what extent members of those sites are vulnerable to different social attacks. Additionally, based on a sample set recruited for this survey, it is tried to find a relationship between unique characteristics of respondents (e.g. Age, Gender and Education) and their level of vulnerability and awareness about privacy enhancement enablers available in SNSs.
Among researchers there is a common understanding about social networks but based on (Boyd 2007, p. 2) a SNS is a web-based environment that allows users to (1) create a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) construct a list of users in that system with whom the user maintains connection, and (3) view connection lists (her/his own or connection lists) and traverse between other connections’ profiles.

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By taking this definition into consideration, some online applications such as AIM, (AOL Instant Messaging System) and other messengers cannot be considered as pure social network but only a part of their structure. However, there are lots of bindings and integrations between available social networks and these systems (O'Hear 2007) (Oiaga 2008). On the other hand, there is not a common way in these environments to satisfy the third element mentioned above in terms of traversing between profiles.
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