Should we be trusting of social networking companies to protect our online privacy?


Sam Bowman

Like all firms, social networks can only succeed by giving customers what they want. If people want privacy, the profit motive will give social networks a good incentive to offer it to them. LinkedIn’s security breach this week will probably provoke new innovations in security. Social networks have to constantly innovate and compete with each other to stay alive. If ever there was a good reason for other sites to improve security, losing users – valued for Facebook at $121 each – is it. Getting the government involved would be a disaster. Markets are dynamic, with a strong profit motive to give the customer what she wants. Government is monolithic and, as repeated high-profile NHS and police data losses demonstrate, it is no better than private firms at protecting data. The big difference is that, with private firms, we can opt out.

Sam Bowman is head of research at the Adam Smith Institute


Nick Pickles

Let’s not beat about the bush. Personal information is the currency of the digital age. It’s the fuel that powers free services we all take for granted. Business models are already maturing to offer freemium services, trading your cash for enhanced privacy.

But this has come at a price. Companies now know more about us through a webmail service or social network than the government knows about us. Who can blame them in seeking to maximise the revenue that they can make from this easily accessible natural resource?That’s the trade-off – profit versus privacy. The problem is that when the time comes to make that decision, the companies already have the data. Until we can make an informed choice about how much data we hand over, empowered rather than confused by privacy policies, we can’t trust the companies collecting it.

Nick Pickles is the director of Big Brother Watch