As services become ‘social’ the ability to seamlessly share things with your colleagues and friends becomes widespread. For example, Facebook allows users to connect their music services and share what they’re listening to with their friends.
In general, this type of sharing is considered largely innocuous, unless you count those occasions where your friends catch you listening to something embarrassing (though some services do offer a ‘private listening’ mode). However, it seems that users who take advantage of this kind of frictionless sharing might inadvertently be eroding their rights. At least in the USA.
An article in a student law journal makes some intriguing points about ubiquitous sharing, privacy law and social readers (which automatically share what you’re reading online). You may feel that sharing individual reading items is probably of little consequence but as all the major social networks have demonstrated, pieces of information can combine into valuable datasets.
… reading choices that seem innocuous to you can cumulatively be indicative of patterns, intent, or allegiances …
A fact already known to the American Library Association, who have been advocates of reader privacy since since 1939.
The question of rights arises when you consider what information the government can collect about you. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution guards against unreasonable searches and seizures and also relates to the “reasonable expectation of privacy”. It’s this expectation of privacy where the issues comes about.
In cases where the Fourth Amendment applies, the Supreme Court may need to decide what’s reasonable and whether warrants are required before the government can collect information. The fact that ‘expectations’ are involved necessarily means that cultural norms play a role in such decisions. If courts believe that sharing information through social networks with hundreds of ‘friends’ reduces the expectation of privacy, then warrants would no longer be required. In addition, law enforcement could argue that content was shared with the platform itself, thus no longer considered private. This is where individual rights begin to erode.
Overall, this is another indication that technology and behaviour are evolving much faster than the judicial process. People will still share articles and music choices but this shouldn’t imply that such items are de-facto considered as public.
Although the above refers to the US legal system, the discussion is still relevant for the UK. As our lives grow to include more digital interactions, the legal framework we operate in needs to adapt. Both to afford protection for individuals and also provide due process for law enforcement.