In all but the most disconnected places, most of us are connected to our online social networks and contacts information throughout the working day and either side. Moreover, even in face-to-face meetings it is now common for people to check their mobile devices periodically. Research to be published in the International Journal of Ad Hoc and Ubiquitous Computing suggests that the online world is now increasingly facilitating new relationships in the offline world.
Antonio Sapuppo of the Center for Communication, Media and Information Technologies, at Aalborg University, in Copenhagen, Denmark and João Figueiras of the Telecommunications Research Center Vienna (FTW), Austria, suggest that that the information we can gather about a putative offline contact means that people who may not know each other but ought to can make each other’s acquaintance through a virtual introduction. However, such a notion may come at the cost of privacy, they add. “Given that sharing of personal information is an intrinsic part of ubiquitous social networking, these services are subject to crucial privacy threats,” the team reports.
They have now been inspired by the usability and privacy limitations of existing design solutions, to help them identify, describe and qualitatively evaluate four major drawbacks that ought to be avoided when designing new ubiquitous social networking applications. They explain that by addressing these drawbacks, the services can be made more functional but at the same time ensure the end users’ privacy. With such foresight, the long-term success of the technologies might be guaranteed and those face-to-face meetings improve to mutual benefit without either party being compromised.
The four drawbacks discussed by Sapuppo and Figueiras are as follows:
First, ubiquitous social networking should not disclose personal information without taking into consideration the human data sensitivity of the current circumstances. In other words, the technology must consider the “variation of human data sensitivity”.
Secondly, these technologies must avoid disclosure of users’ personal information to third parties, instead, sharing information only between end users to mutual interest and networking benefits.
Thirdly, connections between end users should not require excessive user intervention, the connection process should be transparent, within the initial boundaries defined by each user.
Finally, end users must retain control over all of their personal data even after any given piece of information has been shared.
The team points out that none of the current technologies in the area of ubiquitous social networking do not take into account all four drawbacks in their design and so end users are compromised to different degrees by the technology as it now stands. The team suggests that addressing these four concerns will not provide a total security solution for this technology but will, given , a non-malicious infrastructure, prevent incidental and accidental data disclosure. They have also now designed a general framework for a privacy-aware ubiquitous social networking (PAUSN) platform that overcomes the four drawbacks and so allows users to make informed data disclosure decisions, maximising potential networking benefits and preserving personal privacy.
Sapuppo, A. and Figueiras, J. (2015) ‘Designing for privacy in ubiquitous social networking‘, Int. J. Ad Hoc and Ubiquitous Computing, Vol. 18, Nos. 1/2, pp.102-119.