Debate has once again surrounded social media and the topic of whether individual’s should be able to post anonymously and give false details when creating a social media account. Andy Smith, head of security at the Public Sector Technical Services Authority, caused controversy by advising internet users that giving false details to social networking sites was a “very sensible thing to do”.
In an age where our personal information is becoming more and more valuable as a commodity, it is clearly sensible that people don’t share data unless it is absolutely necessary. The answer to the problem is that internet services need to reassess how much personal information they request from a user, for instance is it really necessary for a social network site to ask for your full birthday and gender?
The BBC reports that Smith’s comments, made at the ‘Parliament and the Internet’ Conference, acknowledged that personal information, such as addresses and names, “can be used against you” by criminals. One Labour MP, however, has described his advice as being “totally outrageous” and “the kind of behaviour that, in the end, promotes crime.” The remarks by Helen Goodman MP were based on concerns that anonymity on the internet can help facilitate cyber bullying and abuse of children.
Although most social networks do not allow you to enter false details and will delete your account if you have been found to do so, other websites make it a policy to encourage anonymity online. For instance, mumsnet.com actively allows users to change their nickname as often as they in order to protect the privacy of users when asking for support on sensitive topics.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, recently announced his intentions to release guidelines on prosecutions relating to social media. In a recent statement the DPP said that “the time has come for an informed debate on the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media.”
Only time will tell as to how open and informed the debate will be on the many uses of social networks and the many consequences, whether linked to identity theft or freedom of speech, which it can have.