Social media's dark side: The privacy dilemma

Federal agencies have made strong inroads in using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and GovLoop. But significant privacy concerns are just now starting to emerge.

If your military command held a discussion on homosexuality on its Facebook page, would you publicly air your views? If a federal health agency offered assistance in identifying and treating alcoholism to all who respond on Twitter, would you tweet a response? Would you sign your name to a GovLoop open discussion sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service on tips for identifying tax delinquents?

Those hypothetical situations all point to a common concern that is increasingly becoming a hot topic in social media circles: protection of privacy, both for members of the public and federal employees and officials.

Federal agencies have made strong inroads in using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and GovLoop, in addition to similar tools such as wikis and blogs. Twenty-two of 24 major federal agencies are applying social networking tools to engage the public, industry and employees, the Government Accountability Office reported July 22. A survey of 321 federal employees by Market Connections released July 27 found that 60 percent of the workers were using social media at work or home.

Yet the significant privacy concerns related to social media are just now starting to emerge. A coalition of consumer privacy groups has written to Congress asking for stronger protections. Federal privacy policies for social media are still in the works, and privacy concerns have yet to be fully examined and addressed, GAO said in its July 22 report.

“We have to make sure that agencies limit their collection and use of personally identifiable information,” said Gregory Wilshusen, director of information security issues at GAO.

The problems are being exacerbated because commercial entities with mixed privacy records run many social networks. Facebook caused a stir recently when it unilaterally changed privacy settings without notifying members. Members, once informed, could choose to opt out. Government Web sites should always carry a disclaimer when they link to a nongovernment site such as Facebook because the privacy rules are looser at nongovernment sites, said John Simpson, an advocate at Consumer Watchdog.

However, many government agencies are not posting those disclaimers. Even the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held a hearing on social media July 22, linked its hearing video directly to YouTube without a disclaimer, though YouTube has cookies that track consumer use of the site, Simpson said.

“Congress is just starting to become aware of the situation,” Simpson said. Two social network privacy bills are pending.

Aside from consumers, however, there are undercurrents of concern about federal employee privacy on social networks. One of the General Services Administration’s unions recently halted collective bargaining because of a proposed new social media policy that the union said would create censorship and compromise privacy. The GSA policy, in part, asked employees to comport themselves like employees on social media, with no expectation of privacy. “This is like Russia,” said Charles Paidock, a union spokesman. A GSA official said talks will resume shortly, and the agency is hopeful the two sides will reach a resolution.

Other scenarios are troubling, too. If a federal employee’s supervisor notices photos on Facebook of the worker at a Gay Pride parade or notes that the worker’s friends are commenting from drug abuse rehabilitation centers, there is a risk of personal information leaking out that the employee might prefer to keep hidden.

“There is personal information, perhaps sensitive information, and other government employees may have access to it,” Wilshusen said. He said federal employees should be trained to safeguard against “a blending of personal and professional roles” that sometimes occurs on social media sites.

Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop, said the scenarios demonstrate that all social media carries privacy risks, just as e-mail, video and many other technologies do.

“I’m sure you can find a downside,” Ressler said. “But the solution is not to avoid being on Facebook.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.