Privacy at risk from technology


Published: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Reality TV, cell phone cameras and the Internet create an environment that changes 20-somethings' view of privacy.

"I would definitely say there's a difference between the way most younger people and older people view privacy," said Nadene Francis, assistant director of public relations for the Career Resource Center, a division of Student Affairs at the University of Florida. "I think it has to do with the way people access information. You had to be physically present in the past, but now it's all done virtually."

There are many factors that influence what information students post on social networks, she said.

"It's not as clear as saying someone's teeth turned green because they ate green M&M's," she said.

In a sense, people in today's world are more self-focused than those previously, said Ilan Shrira, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at UF.

"We know more about ourselves, and maybe that's why we're willing to put more information out there," he said. "We want to share that with others."

Extroversion, narcissism and anxiety have been increasing since the 1950s, according to Shrira. People are changing to reflect that society is becoming more individualistic.

Creating a profile page, for instance, is a good way to construct an identity, he said. It is a method of self-expression.

People are more interested in sharing themselves because they want to get attention or a reaction, said Jessica Rosas, a fourth-year psychology major at UF.

"What's the point of posting pictures on Facebook if you don't want someone to comment on how good you look?" she said.

In addition, students may post too much information because they are trying to get someone else to disclose that same information to them, said James Shepperd, a UF psychology professor. People post information they want to find out about others.

In addition, the technology available today has changed the way people share information, said Rosas, a research lab assistant for Shepperd.

"When I was growing up and my mom wasn't home, she had me tell people who called that she was in the shower or sleeping," she said. "Now, people post their apartment numbers on their Facebook profiles."

People tend to post more information due to the available Web logs, social networking Web sites and personal Web sites, Rosas said. These, along with other aspects of the Internet, were not previously available as ways to disclose information.

In general, adults do not really understand the scope of technology, and they often just assume it is dangerous, she said.

"An example of this is the fact that my mom shreds any document that has our home address on it because she's so nervous," she said. "It's really because she doesn't understand much about technology and how it works, so she's become paranoid."

With the presence of modern technology, people tend to be more paranoid than in the past when it comes to issues involving identity theft, Shrira said.

"A major issue that's constantly changing is what's socially appropriate to disclose and what isn't," he said. "Of course, this depends on the situation."

People tend to look at what others deem to be proper, he said. In terms of Facebook, people look at others' profiles to determine what is appropriate.

"Sometimes I will look at someone's profile and it is too much," Rosas said.

The Internet generation has different levels of privacy, she said. For instance, people can post parts of their profile to be seen exclusively by friends, but they will accept anyone as a friend.

"The ability to block aspects of a profile gives only an illusion that you are protecting yourself," Rosas said.

When a person participates in something that has negative consequences and nothing happens, he or she is likely to continue with that behavior, according to Shepperd.

The same theory applies with the Internet, he said. If someone posts information and nothing bad happens, he or she will be likely to do it again.

Some students are concerned about their privacy from a safety perspective, but many do not think about their day-to-day dealings as being private, according to Francis.

"I know students who post their schedule and their route to work and classes," she said. "They don't realize that some of the information they are sharing should not be shared."

It is common for employers to use the information posted online to evaluate potential employees, she said.

One particular employer has a practice of printing out pictures and information that applicants post on their profiles, she said. A few days later, the applicant is asked to print out the same parts of his or her profiles, and then the printouts are compared to see what inconsistencies exist.

However, it is possible for students to promote themselves on the Internet, Francis said. Students need to be clear about what their goals are, and they need to understand where all of their information is posted.

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