Dan O'Connor

Dan is responsible for translating social media research into the analytic and conceptual frameworks which underpin the team’s product and service development. He is particularly interested in how social media has changed the ways in which people exchange information within networks, and the impact that these changes have had on traditionally top-down information systems, such as those prevalent within the health, education and NGO sectors, where he leads RMM’s activities.

Dan’s focus upon health and education stems from his background in academia: He has a PhD in History and, as well as being Head of Research at RMM, he is a member of faculty at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. He has published and lectured widely on the ethics of social media use within healthcare systems, and is involved in the application of social media in medical education at Johns Hopkins hospital.

Dan likes cooking, martinis, and irony. Frequently at the same time.

6 responses to “On Privacy: Thinking about the Ethics of Social Media”

  1. Charles Frith

    Amazing post Dan. Really comprehensive. To take a contrary position though, if we are culturally moving from secrecy to transparency shouldn’t we build the rule book for the future rather than evolve incrementally from the past. Radical transparency diminishes the hold any individual or corporation has. I’m probably talking rubbish and certainly need to reread this post.

  2. David

    Dan – this topic is clearly very important to me. Your post is very well thought out and I enjoyed it.
    I think the transparency is important, but it cannot really be the solution because of the passive nature of consumers. Legally, it is the consumer’s problem, but as you point out, ethically, it is a different story. There needs to be some fair exchange of information – an explicit, easy and understood bartering of user information for user utility. The current model purports to accomplish this by saying “you get to use our service and we get to collect, mine and exploit all your information” but the user doesn’t and can’t really understand the implications of giving up control over that information. Additionally, the stated exchange: “if you want to use our service, you must accept our terms” is not as fair as publishers would like to have users believe. Sure, users don’t HAVE to use social media, but they should have access to it, if they want it and there is no viable social media that does not collect information. While one ‘could’ be created, the value of the existing networks makes any newcomer a dissimilar and, perhaps, inferior option for those of us who don’t want to expose and lose control over all of our profile and behavioral information. So, I would suggest that structured or standardized transparency is the answer – a fair and understood way to control what information users give up and what they get in return.

  3. Ben

    This debate comes at a pertinent time, with GCHQ announcing their desire to monitor all electronic traffic from their big doughnut in Cheltenham.

    I think you’re right that so much of this is an ethical issue before it is a legal one. I don’t have a problem with a company using my online behaviour and profile data to make better judgements about what services it offers but if it links that data directly to my identification, things get uncomfortable.

  4. Matt Rebeiro

    Very intersting and pertinent for the reasons Ben supplied and the news that China likes to spy on people’s Skype chat.

    Few thoughts:

    a) Its not MyGooglebook’s fault people are too lazy/apathetic to read T&Cs.

    b) Depends what people understand by free I guess but ultimately I think people would rather have a banner than directly pay forMy Googlebook. If you don’t wanna be advertised to then don’t sign up – I don’t see an ethical dilemma here. Its not like people are being duped, conned or tricked – and if that *is* how they feel then, like I said, they can close their account. No harm, no foul.

    c) The only time I can see targted advertising being a problem is if its degrading or upsetting to the user: for example MyGooglebook realisess you weigh 500 pounds and thusly provides you banner ads suggesting you drink a slim-fast or get lipo. Ordinarily however I’d rather have banners offering me cheap gig tickets at ticketmaster than 2 for 1 on evening primrose oil at Boots.

    With both point a and b there can be no ethical dilemma as people have actively decided to not read the T&Cs or sign up (and remain signed up when they discover they’ll be advertised to). It is only with point c that there is a level of passivity and it is there where ethical debate might lie. That said, more and more people are being asked to opt-in to targeted advertising schemes (cf. BT and Phorm).

  5. The possibilities of scheduling

    [...] There is a clear advantage for a brand to encourage scheduling in social media; it will allow the brand to build up details on schedule users. However, some may have ethical concerns about this type of behaviour, and it those concerns which Dan considered earlier this week in a related post. [...]

  6. Charles Frith

    I’ve thought about it. Screw the T&C that nobody reads.insensitivity on the part of data gatherers is much more easier to police than the volume of users. I care little if Google know my ablution patterns. But if they share that data, even with me, my permission is needed. No?

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