Nav: Home

Researchers aim to safeguard privacy on social networks

March 31, 2015

LAWRENCE -- At the end of 2014, Facebook reported 1.39 billion monthly active users. In the meantime, 500 million tweets were sent each day on Twitter. Indeed, social networks have come to dominate aspects of our lives. But all our social sharing comes with a price. Last year, the Pew Research Center found 81 percent of Americans feel "not very" or "not at all secure" using social media sites when they want to share private information with another trusted person or organization.

Now, a researcher at the University of Kansas' Information and Telecommunication Technology Center is investigating solutions that could shore up personal privacy on leading social media sites.

"Part of the problem is the business model," said Bo Luo, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. "Social network providers aggressively expand their user bases and promote socialization and sharing. They're not really motivated to protect user privacy until the privacy concern becomes significant enough to impact the growth of their business."

Now, with a pair of three-year grants from the National Science Foundation amounting to about $500,000, Luo and Dongwon Lee of Pennsylvania State University, are developing technology to shore up user privacy.

The project will hone methods to detect the discrepancies between users' information-sharing expectations and actual disclosure; design a user-centered yet computationally efficient formal model of user privacy in social networks; and develop a mechanism to effectively enforce privacy policies in the proposed model, according to the researchers.

Luo said many users of social networks remain unaware that shared information isn't necessarily kept to their intended group of contacts and that parties with malicious intent easily may gain access. Researchers call this privacy problem a "leaky boundary."

"Large amounts of personal information are voluntarily posted to social networks," he said. "Often, the true audience of such information is much larger than the data owner perceives. That is, when 'Alice' posts a message to a social network, it's intended for selected users -- for example, she thinks, 'I want my friends to see this' -- however, many more users, including adversaries, may have access to the message."

Thus, seemingly trivial sharing on social networks could leave users open to "undesired information disclosures" and "information aggregation attacks."

"Each single message only contains a very small amount of information," Luo said. "However, by aggregating all the posts from a certain user, the adversary learns a lot about this user."

Luo sees a prevalent contradiction -- privacy concerns voiced by users who are at the same time playing fast and loose with their own data -- as a call to action.

"Studies have shown a massive disconnection between users' privacy perceptions and their behaviors -- widely known as the 'privacy paradox,'" Luo said. "That is, most users do not take appropriate actions to protect their information, although they express concerns on the privacy of such information."

To help with the problem, the researchers plan to design a formal privacy model that will restrict information sharing to users' social circles.

"Social circles of a user's network are hidden structures of closely connected clusters," Luo said. "For instance, a user's high-school friends may constitute a circle, while his or her colleagues belong to a different circle, and his or her family members constitute yet another circle."

Luo and his team will develop a real-time privacy enforcement tool that would provide privacy protection across several sites and detect leaky boundaries that allow private information to travel beyond social circles.

Lastly, the researchers will carry out user studies to shrink the gap between perceived and actual privacy on social media and improve decision making in sharing personal information.

Until then, Lou suggested that users of sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ choose the strictest privacy protections available on those sites, even though "many of the existing privacy protection mechanisms are somehow difficult to use."

"Users should always employ privacy protection functions provided by social network providers," he said. "Users should also be conservative and think more about the possible consequences before they post any potentially sensitive information."
-end-


University of Kansas

Related Social Media Articles:

Exploring the use of 'stretchable' words in social media
An investigation of Twitter messages reveals new insights and tools for studying how people use stretched words, such as 'duuuuude,' 'heyyyyy,' or 'noooooooo.' Tyler Gray and colleagues at the University of Vermont in Burlington present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on May 27, 2020.
How social media platforms can contribute to dehumanizing people
A recent analysis of discourse on Facebook highlights how social media can be used to dehumanize entire groups of people.
Social media influencers could encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines
Public health bodies should consider incentivizing social media influencers to encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines, say researchers.
Social grooming factors influencing social media civility on COVID-19
A new study analyzing tweets about COVID-19 found that users with larger social networks tend to use fewer uncivil remarks when they have more positive responses from others.
Using social media to understand the vaccine debate in China
Vaccine acceptance is a crucial public health issue, which has been exacerbated by the use of social media to spread content expressing vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccine misinformation and social media
People who rely on social media for information were more likely to be misinformed about vaccines than those who rely on traditional media, according to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
How social media makes breakups that much worse
Even those who use Facebook features like unfriending, unfollowing, blocking and Take a Break still experience troubling encounters with ex-partners online, a new study shows.
Teens must 'get smart' about social media
New research indicates that social media is leading young adolescent girls and boys down a worrying path towards developing body image issues and eating disorder behaviours - even though they are smartphone savvy.
Social media use and disordered eating in young adolescents
New research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that social media, particularly platforms with a strong focus on image posting and viewing, is associated with disordered eating in young adolescents.
STD crowd-diagnosis requests on social media
Online postings seeking information on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on the social media website Reddit were analyzed to see how often requests were made for a crowd-diagnosis and whether the requested diagnosis was for a second opinion after seeing a health care professional.
More Social Media News and Social Media Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Processing The Pandemic
Between the pandemic and America's reckoning with racism and police brutality, many of us are anxious, angry, and depressed. This hour, TED Fellow and writer Laurel Braitman helps us process it all.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Invisible Allies
As scientists have been scrambling to find new and better ways to treat covid-19, they've come across some unexpected allies. Invisible and primordial, these protectors have been with us all along. And they just might help us to better weather this viral storm. To kick things off, we travel through time from a homeless shelter to a military hospital, pondering the pandemic-fighting power of the sun. And then, we dive deep into the periodic table to look at how a simple element might actually be a microbe's biggest foe. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster, and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.