As most of you know, Justin and I have conducted some studies on the youth use of social networking sites. Our primary intention was to determine if and how adolescents are rendering themselves vulnerable to victimization based on the content (diary entries, personal information, pictures, video, etc.) they post within their profile pages. This content can conceivably be used by cyberbullies, predators, and pedophiles to bring embarrassment or harm (both in cyberspace and in the real world).
We’ve also pointed out how individuals can unwittingly open their friends up to victimization by posting or revealing personal information or pictures about them to social networking sites. This will continue to be a problem, particularly with new developments in technology. One example that stands out in my mind is Google’s new version of Picasa, their photo-editing and sharing software. They’ve implemented a facial recognition system that can analyze one picture and then scan for matches across hundreds or millions of others. As an innocuous example, I might want to upload a picture of myself, tag it as “Sameer Hinduja,” and then allow the software to be continually scanning other photo albums/galleries (e.g., Picasa or Flickr) to see if anyone else might have uploaded another picture of me. Apart from visual confirmation (when I look and verify if the person in those other pictures is, in fact, me), further corroboration can be made if they are tagged as well (either with my name or one of my fun nicknames!). Extending this logic, it is easy to envision how someone with malicious or perverse intentions could use this technology to stalk someone else, or even create a dossier of knowledge about that person (based on the pictures) useful for gaining their trust or developing a rapport. I am a bit concerned. And this is only the beginning as we move forward in this increasingly panoptic digital age.