Popular social networks (author Gavin Llewellyn)

People in general underestimate the magnitude of rights given to them in order to avoid unauthorized usage of their informational self-determination. Do you rank among them or not?

Article 7 of the Charter of fundamental rights and freedoms specifies rights related to personal privacy, or more precisely, rights regarding the protection of personal data in accordance with articles 10, 12, and 13 of the Charter. While the law clearly states that citizens have rights that protect their personal information, it is important to ask whether or not these laws mean anything when people all over the world do not feel that their rights are being protected by the current legal system? Have you ever thought about how much information you provide to the third-parties on the internet, whether intentionally or unintentionally? Or the number of profiles you have on social networks? Have you ever thought about the number of email addresses you have? All of these profiles and accounts contain some amount of personal information about us, and when combined, have the potential to make privacy an idea of the past.

The beginning of the twenty first century brought the rise of various social-media networks, and the number of networks continues to grow. What started with Xenga and MySpace eventually developed into Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. There are even state-operated versions of social-media sites in countries such as China. The generation born in this new millennium cannot imagine life without the Internet and the easy access it provides for people all over the world to communicate with one another in seconds. Advancements in technology are made every single minute, and the common user or consumer is simply not aware of the ability that third-parties have to collect personal information. Most online services require users to agree to “Terms of Service,” but how many people actually read these service agreements, or more importantly, understand them properly?

Almost all devices today collect data. These include paying by card abroad, using GPS in your car or smartphone, web traffic or navigation patterns, web searching, bonus systems in supermarkets, expressing your opinions via social networks, or even making ordinary requests for shopping discounts. The volume of information being shared and stored today is difficult to comprehend. On example of dramatic information sharing is that every hour people upload 60 hours of video on YouTube.

We can easily demonstrate this collecting of information in an example of everyday life. Let us assume you are in a supermarket at the cash register. If you participate in a bonus system and have a personal membership card, all your purchases are collected and later analyzed for patterns, which draw a very clear picture of your preferences and your lifestyle. This information can be leveraged for advertisements sent to your home, or even for commercial material sent to you via Facebook.

Companies like Amazon, Facebook, YouTube, and Google use all of the obtained information primarily to influence your purchasing behavior. But a more disturbing consideration is that these companies are developing the capacity to influence you in other ways. The challenge is not just that these companies can collect your personal information and evaluate your behavior patterns, but that these companies can also control what information you have access to. Imagine a situation where you are looking for information and you enter certain “key-words” into Google’s search-engine. Google saves such data in your web browser history and subsequently shows you only data it considers to be relevant to the topic. It could be simply said that Google shows you only the information it wants you to see. It can easily manipulate your access to information and provide you with information you may not need at all. When searching for information on Google, how often do you look beyond the third page of search results? Many individuals do not even reach the second page.

Facebook generally interprets the right of the protection of personal information in a slightly diferent way than is ordinary and customary in the law of the EU. Laws of the member states of the European Union state that it is necessary to obtain an individual agreement from each user of a social network regarding the use of their personal data. Facebook holds a much wider view of this interpretation. Facebook believes that until an individual says „no“ to specific information-sharing components in its network, that the user is „in agreement“ with it. Is this legal? Or is this a circumvention of fundamental rights? As far as I am concerned, I find this assumption of agreement by Facebook absolutely wrong. At the very least, it is a misinterpretation of the law. If such an attitude should be ligitimate, I cannot imagine how many times I would have to say „no“ every single day.

Furthermore, drawing a comparison between Facebook and Google+ regarding their respective terms of services, we find that Google’s terms seem to look generally much better in content than the terms of Facebook. Most importantly, it does not appear that Google manipulates personal data or provides information to third-party subjects without a user’s explicit permission. Nevertheless, it is inevitable to share personal data through social networks, which is why they present the greatest challenge to protecting personal data. Is it not essential for a social network to collect data about its users? Creating a virtual profile, uploading photos, and customizing users setting are fundamental to the social network experience. These networks help to connect people who share the same hobbies, sports, allergies, or any other interests in life.

A common user is naturally assumes that their data is either kept safe or deleted, and that there is not an option to restore the content that they enter. Unfortunately, such common users are wrong. Disks contain more information than content generated by a user, so maintaining the capacity to store user data is not a challenge. Furthermore, documents can contain hidden information, information we often don’t realize is there. Deleted files can be easily accessed with the help of new technological recovery processes as well. Facebook keeps collected data from every user. It has a detailed database of each user’s moves. Every click you make, all of your Facebook activity is recorded by the server.

Data stored on computers, mobile phones, or in a “Cloud” on the Internet can be used in forensic investigations or cyber attacks. Deleted data and slack space, which is not used on the disc for documents, can be utilized for the extraction of information, even if files have been deleted. Some documents may be incomplete, but some amount of information can always be recovered.

Privacy is an important issue and should be treated as such. Everyone has the right to expect that certain quantities of information about them will remain private, even if they don’t consider certain aspects of their personal information to be critical. People have reasonable expectations that they will not be subjected to broad and indiscriminate surveillance. This is what we call The mosaic theory of privacy. Protection of privacy is an issue suitable for discussion. Only a few recommendations are given to those who want to protect their privacy at any cost. When an individual wants to keep his privacy on an unbreakable level then he should stop using standard technologies and create custom hardware and software with a strong focus on security. These two recommendations are applicable both for public and private institutions or individuals. You might know about the network intentions of China, Russia and India. All of these countries have already started developing their own versions of the Internet. Without question, there will be growing competition for virtual communication. Facebook and Twitter are two great examples of rival companies, and it may be difficult for another social network to attain the same levels of use. Google+ is an example of a social media network that has tried, but failed to match the reach of Facebook. The reality is that Facebook will be a very difficult competitor to beat. This is due to the fact that Facebook is something that people have grown accustomed to using every day. When people use something every day, there exists a minimal probability that they change their habits all at once and start acting otherwise. People are generally conservative and not able to make big decisions which have an immense impact on their everyday living. That is why people do not make major, life-altering decisions on a daily basis. The human race does not like chaos and fears the unknown. The law itself represents a form of order. Law is a system created by man in order to establish rules necessary for society to endure any kind of crisis.

Social networks are a real part of modern civilization, and people can choose what information they want to share with their “friends.” However, according to the terms and policies of Facebook, any content uploaded to this social network becomes property of Facebook Corporation and can be used for any kind of commercial. Facebook gathers information about its users and analyses these in order to get the most detailed and personalized profile. The more Facebook knows about the user, the more concrete it can be in focusing on users’ interest and overload them with recommended sites, loan offers, etc.

There is currently no feasible way to live in modern society and protect your personal data and your informational self-determination, and you simply cannot live a life without providing information to third-parties. The fact is that there are too many advertisers interested in convincing you to buy their products, and these advertisers have found a way to become a part of your everyday life through social networks. This is why it is essential for the law to clearly outline privacy rights, and why member states must verify that these rights are being protected. Measures should be taken to ensure that users actually understand the user agreements associated with Facebook, Google, etc., and companies should never be allowed to assume that users are in agreement to terms of service.1

Jiří Bálek


Článek pojednává o nedostatečné ochraně jednotlivce před zásahy obchodních korporací do jeho práva na informační sebeurčení. Tyto obchodní společnosti obcházením práva Evropské unie využívají uživatelových osobních údajů pro marketingové a jiné účely, což je obecně z pohledu uživatele nežádoucí. V první části článku vyvstávají obecné otázky týkající se ochrany osobních údajů. Dále dochází k porovnání uživatelských podmínek majoritních sociálních sítí a v závěru se pokusíme odpovědět na otázku budoucího směřování ochrany uživatele při jeho aktivitě v kyberprostoru.

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