Security and privacy in social networks

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Abstract

The research explored the issue of loss of privacy and breach of security on social networking sites and its effects on users and recommended ways of overcoming the problems. The research incorporated an interview where participants voiced their concerns regarding their security and privacy when using social media sites. The interviews also provided an insight into the social media habits of the participants and how their online conduct increased their susceptibility to loss of privacy or attacks. Social networks have increased in popularity with billions of active users each day. The security and privacy of internet users have always been contentious issues in information technology circles. Users assume that the security systems of the social networking sites are impregnable which encourages them to share private information. However, criminals and fraudsters who can use the information to commit credit card fraud and other illegal activities can access private information. Geo-location services on social networking can provide a way for criminals to track the location of a user and possible harm them. Cyberbullying can cause psychological harm leading to depression and suicide. Users should take steps to ensure their privacy while social media companies should strengthen their policies to protect user information and deter cyberbullying.

While the 20th century introduced the internet to humanity, the 21st century has been responsible for the rise and current prevalence of social networking. Social networking sites were born to fulfil the need for people to connect and exchange information during the internet age. Social networks enable users to create profiles, publish their thoughts, upload media, engage with other users, follow trends, and catch up with the latest news. Some of the most popular social networks include Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and LinkedIn. Social networking has become part of the contemporary culture. As of January 2017, Facebook reports over 1.87 billion each day while WhatsApp reports over 1 billion, Instagram with 600 million and Twitter has 317 million (Chaffey, 2017). The figures are a clear manifestation of how deeply social media has entrenched itself in the society. Despite the popularity of social networking, some problems have arisen due to the nature and use of social media sites. One of the primary concerns relates to the security and privacy of users on social media. The paper will examine the security and privacy challenges posed by social networking, the impact, and recommendations for tackling the problem.

Background

Security and privacy of social media users has always been a contentious issue in information technology circles. The problems have come to the fore during the age of social networking since users share large amounts of private and confidential information online. Security is a concern for users on social networking sites because of increased incidents of hacking and fraud. An increase in the number of social media users has also witnessed an increase in cases of cyberbullying. Social networking sites are also a haven for phishing attacks and malware intrusions. The key privacy issues are the storage and access of private or sensitive information provided by users on social networking sites. The issues relate to who can access the information and how they can use the information. Privacy breaches lead to unauthorized and unwarranted access to private information. Lack of privacy on social media has increased discussions about the ethics of the privacy policies followed by the social media companies. As far back in 2007, questions were raised about the level of trust that users bestowed upon the social networking sites and how the sites could exploit such information for financial gain (Dwyer, Hiltz, & Passerini, 2007). Based on this reality, it is necessary to research the area of security and privacy on social media.

Security and Privacy Challenges on Social Networking Sites

Private information is any detail that is highly personal and which a malicious person can exploit to cause harm or distress to the user. Social networking sites store private and confidential records of their users. Some of the data include the date of birth, gender, name, emails, telephone numbers, and place of work. Users spend many hours posting updates and updating their profiles. The process leads to a situation where users have large quantities of their personal data stored by the service providers and publicly available to other social media users. Many users have the assumption that the security systems of the social networking sites are impregnable which eases them into sharing private details and media. However, hackers and fraudsters (Elovici & Altshuler, 2013) could exploit recent hacking incidents on social media sites have indicated that the security systems of social networking sites are not absolute and vulnerabilities exist that. Most of the private information harvested illegally is used in credit card fraud.

The actions of the social media companies can place the security and privacy of the users at risk. Social media companies use the private details of users to manage marketing campaigns and enhance ad placement. Third parties who can then analyse the data to determine user preferences and habits as an aspect of market research can also purchase private user information. Geo-location services on social networking sites can provide a way for criminals to track the location of a user and possible harm them. The ability to track a person can facilitate harassment and blackmail. Criminals can also exploit information posted on social media such as knowing when a person is away from their home in order to break in. The ability of users to operate anonymously on social networking sites has resulted in cyberbullying (Spinelli, 2010). Cyberbullies harass and psychologically torment other users by sending intimating messages, posting sensitive information, spreading malicious lies, and stalking. Cyberbullying can also include such activities as posting rude comments, phishing, impersonation, and flaming.

Negative Effects

Hackers and criminals can exploit their access to private information such as credit card or bank data to commit fraud and frame the user. The fraudsters can commit illegal activities, which will then be traced back to the owner of the private information. The illegal activities can cripple a user financially, and it becomes impossible to regain personal identity online. Stalkers can use private information collected on social media to locate and harass a user. Loss of privacy on social media and cyberbullying can be psychologically harmful to a user since sensitive information can spread extensively across the internet. Such developments can drive some users to depression and even suicide (Hoff & Mitchell, 2009). Leaks of private data can also damage the reputation of social media users leading to loss or employment and a breakdown of interpersonal connections. Cyberbullying causes the victims of the attacks to feel worthless, isolated and exposed.

Improving Security and Privacy on Social Media

The first way of preserving privacy on social media is to ensure that users are aware of the risk of sharing confidential information on social media. Users should desist from sharing any information that could be exploited by other people. Users are advised to turn off geo-tagging information to deter tracking and stalking. Users are required to comprehend the privacy guidelines of the social networks before signing up or using the services. Users should take advantage of the privacy controls provided by the websites to safeguard their privacy and security (Spinelli, 2010). Users should report any suspicious activities on their accounts immediately upon notice. Social networking sites should have clear and enforceable privacy policies and practices to safeguard the private information provided by users. The sites should provide a platform for users to report incidents of intimidation or harassment. The government should introduce legislation and regulations aimed at ensuring that social media sites respect the privacy of users and guarantee security from any forms of cyberbullying.

Conclusion

Social media sites have grown in popularity as billions of people have signed up. Social media users have a certain expectation of security and respect for their privacy when they use the sites. Users spend a lot of time on social media and post large volumes of personal information. There remains the threat of unauthorized persons accessing the private information of users and using the information to harm or exploit the user. Therefore, users should take the initiative to protect their privacy when using social media. Users should be aware of the security threat posed by cyberbullies operating on social media. Social media companies should evolve with the changing times to guarantee the security of their users in this age when hacking incidents are ubiquitous.

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  1. Chaffey, D. (2017). Global social media research summary 2017.
  2. Dwyer, C., Hiltz, S. R., & Passerini, K. (2007). Trust and privacy concern within social networking sites: A comparison of Facebook and MySpace. Americas Conference on Information Systems.
  3. Elovici, Y., & Altshuler, Y. (2013). Security and privacy in social networks. Berlin: Telekom Innovation Laboratories.
  4. Hoff, D. L., & Mitchell, S. N. (2009). Cyberbullying: Causes, effects, and remedies. Journal of Educational Administration, 47(5), 652-665.
  5. Spinelli, C. F. (2010). Social media: No ‘friend’ of personal privacy. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 1(2), 59-69.
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