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Personal Data and Ethics In Our Shiny Social Age

Let me start by saying, I don’t know what to think after reading an article today in the Times Online. it’s about all the hot buzz words, privacy, social networks, employers, snooping. What it adds up to is another ethical debate that social networking is unpacking for us.

Here’s the gist of the article: In the UK, child advocate groups want Parliament to ban employers looking at the Facebook sites of young folks. Why? The information published online people when they’re young and not thinking shouldn’t be used against them.

Frankly, I can understand this argument. Kids put up things without really thinking about the long term impact they can have. People’s data should be their own to control. We provide added protections for children in society as a matter of course.

And yet, if we accept that we’re in this new world, shouldn’t we accept that children need to understand early the consequences of putting that kind of information about themselves online? And the idea of owning your data only means you get to delete it or put up shields around it when you want. I don’t automatically take ownership to mean that the government should put up walls to protect your property if you don’t.

The ethics around data, like DNA or genetic engineering before it, is only going to become a larger point of contention and debate. It may seem that the time for debates about who owns what, who can see what are over. That’s so 1990s, we might argue. But what seems different now is that people now have more of a direct hand in what data they’re posting across the Web.

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