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Don't Drink and Tweet: Privacy and Social Networks #igf10 #ws82

Social Networks and Privacy: Working Session 82 Report, IGF2010, Vilnius, Lithuania #igf10 #ws82

Summary: The participants of the Working Session 82 focused on the most immediate and important social media related questions: those of privacy and data protection. The important change in the understanding of agency in data protection was noticed, namely, that unlike in traditional media - were data control is attributed only to the source of information - in social media all users become potential data controllers, both subject to violations of their own private information and sources of risks to violate the privacy of others. The need to improve the privacy protection on social networks not only by means of imposing relevant legal constrains but by means of education of users also was recognized as a way to go in this increasingly complex and relevant subject.

Main controversies and discussions: privacy, data protection, social media, social networks, user education, accounting for technological innovations.

Key points:

  • Every one who uses social networks becomes a data controller as well as a data privacy subject: users need to act cautiously while deciding whether or not to make their personal information available on social networks.
  • Preventive measures should be favored rather than the punitive sanctions.
  • Given the fast development of online technologies, all legal solutions should leave space to incorporate future innovations.

Connections to other relevant IG issues:

  • Freedom of expression
  • Privacy
  • Customer protections
  • Cybercrime


It is not for the first time that IG related issues reflect a need for a fundamental change in thinking about governance in general. In case of social networks and social media it only seems that problems reflect this need in such an obvious way that makes them almost an immediate focus for necessary changes in approach to governance. As Richard Allan of Facebook noted, “... that the growth of social networking has generated is particularly tricky is that every one of us who uses a social network potentially becomes ... a data controller as well as a data subject.” This insight opens a direct path to innovations in governance that should lead to a more adequate management of data protection and privacy issues, namely, that legal frameworks, on the behalf of governments, and their implementation (including usaibilty issues) on the behalf of social media businesses, will not be enough to cope with potential violations of privacy on social networks. Users of social media must become a part of a socially distributed, cooperative approach to privacy protection. This can be achieved only by means of their education, as noted by Ceren Unal of Bilkent University Faculty of Law, Turkey: “Law enforcement needs to combat privacy violations through appropriate training and along with other public parties they need to work for international cooperation which is a key element for combating any kind of illegal online activity as a whole. Users also need to act responsibly. I keep remembering the bumper sticker saying: Don't drink and tweet. They have to act cautiously while deciding whether or not to make their personal information available online”.

As Ivo Correa of Google noticed, one important problem related to privacy protection on social networks is related to technological innovations, imposing additional challenges on the development of adequate legal frameworks that should be planned in accordance with possiblle future changes of social media they regulate.

The session was moderated very efficiently by Mr. Jänis Karklinš, Assistant Director General of UNESCO in charge of communications and information. The presence of representatives from the business sector (Facebook, Google) alonside with the representatives of national governments and non-governmental organisations helped guide the discussion that was very focused on the immediate issues, not leaving a minute of a 2 hour format for digressions or uneccesary abstractions. As a remote participant who followed only a video web-cast of this workshop I was able to say that one could get a complete information on the most important problems related to privacy and social networks from this workshop only. I strongly recommend reading the archived transcript of the session available at http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/transcripts/649-82

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