Social media and cookies: challenges for online privacy

Jo Pierson (Professor at the Research Centre IBBT‐SMIT, Department of Media and Communication Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium)
Rob Heyman (PhD Student at the Research Centre IBBT‐SMIT, Department of Media and Communication Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium)

info

ISSN: 1463-6697

Publication date: 27 September 2011

Abstract

Purpose

The advent of Web 2.0 or so‐called social media have enabled a new kind of communication, called mass self‐communication. These tools and the new form of communication are believed to empower users in everyday life. The authors of this paper observe a paradox: if this positive potential is possible, the negative downside is also possible. There is often a denial of this downside and it is especially visible in social media at the level of privacy and dataveillance. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate this point through an analysis of cookies.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper illustrates how mass self‐communication in social media enables a new form of vulnerability for privacy. This is best shown by redefining privacy as flows of Personal Identifiable Information (PII) that are regulated by informational norms of Nissenbaum's concept of contextual integrity. Instead of analysing these contexts on a general level, the paper operationalises them on the user level to illustrate the lack of user awareness regarding cookies. The results of the research were gathered through desk research and expert interviews.

Findings

The positive aspects of cookies, unobtrusiveness and ease of use, are also the main challenges for user privacy. This technology can be disempowering because users are often hardly aware of its existence. In that way cookies can obfuscate the perceived context of personal data exposure.

Originality/value

The research shows how user disempowerment in social media is often overlooked by overstressing their beneficial potential.

Keywords

Citation

Pierson, J. and Heyman, R. (2011), "Social media and cookies: challenges for online privacy", info, Vol. 13 No. 6, pp. 30-42. https://doi.org/10.1108/14636691111174243

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Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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