The perils of being social versus the perils of the web

The growth of social networking has been quite pronounced and almost everyone knows about it. However there is a very interesting dichotomy from different cultures.

In Europe, the Germans and the Scandinavians are very concerned about privacy. It is absolutely part of their national psyche.

In the UK and many other countries, the subject barely raises an eyebrow. The UK for example has more CCTV monitoring than any other country on the planet. In Asia-Pacific, the Nanny State mentality accepts monitoring via the web almost without question.

At a recent conference in Germany, I asked the audience of about 100 attendees at a technology session how many people were on Facebook.

I was surprised to see that the show of hands revealed that around two-thirds of the audience were not signed up with the premier site.

But interestingly, I have been noting a slight shift in the way that people are viewing social networking.

danger thin ice

There are now many tools that are available freely for you to track an individual. Both personal and web-based, it is increasingly easy to see who is doing what to whom, where people are going.

I am a member of Tripit’s system but I do not put all my schedules into the system. If I do, I often put them in post-fact rather than before I depart – leaving no time to push the data out.

I also know individuals who use the information to track the activities of people they are interested in. Cyberstalking is not just for creeps any more.

From some of my more paranoid friends, they are actively withdrawing from different sites. They do not want everyone knowing what is going on in their networks all the time.

From a purely practical point, I cannot abide all the updates of useless information, adding to the digital diarrhea.

I have opined before that we are developing too much useless information and pushing it out into so many channels just clogging our minds and our time.

But I see that others are feeling concerned that we have gone perhaps too far and therefore are now questioning the extent of social.

Lest we forget, once you commit something it can last forever, and the web is the place of the un-erased information.

It is also getting harder to enter or interact with any site without tracking cookies being placed on your system. The question of how cookies are used and the inability of the user to make any modification to a use policy of a site makes for an unhealthy relationship between the user and the site.

Once the user has no control, the site owner basically can operate with impunity.

The Wall Street Journal did some primary research on the topic of tracking cookies. The purpose of the study was to see if adult sites (actually in this case I mean ones for grown ups, rather than a euphemistic term for porn) and kids sites (ditto) differed.

Everyone should be alarmed at the findings.

“The Journal examined 50 sites popular with US teens and children to see what tracking tools they installed on a test computer. As a group, the sites placed 4,123 cookies, beacons and other pieces of tracking technology. That is 30% more than were found in an analysis of the 50 most popular US sites overall, which are generally aimed at adults.”

It is scary in just about every sense of the word.

What amazed me was the sheer number of tracking cookies being utilized and the seeming lack of control. I have asked several website operators if they could generate for me a list of the cookies that they have placed on my computer. So far no one has a way to easily tell me what they have enabled and allowed.


  • The site makes me sign a consent (or by use – there is implied consent) to accept anything the site cares to do. This is not modifiable or negotiable.
  • The site opens up its ads to allow remote advertisers in many – if not most cases – unfettered access to a user’s computer for cookies.
  • The site in general does little to address any restriction on the cookies and advertiser can place on a user’s website.
  • The site in general has few if any tools for monitoring the placement of these cookies.

Of course there are some good operators… but there are one heck of a lot of bad/lazy/ignorant/gullible/acquiescent operators who allow cookies to be so placed.

And, yes, I am guilty of allowing ads to do that on my own sites. I was shocked to learn that I have no real control over this except by removing all ads.

In the real world, one does not tell all of one’s friends about everything that you do. In cyberspace, social networking does not come with subtlety. That is something that many people appear to forget.

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Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

About the Writer :: Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

Timothy O'Neil-Dunne is the managing partner for venture firm VaultPAD Ventures– an accelerator devoted exclusively to Aviation Travel and Tourism.

VaultPAD also is the parent company for consulting firm, T2Impact. Timothy has been with tnooz since the beginning, writing in particular aviation, technology, startups and innovation.

One of the first companies to emerge from the accelerator is Air Black Box. a cloud-based software company providing airline connectivity solutions and in production with airlines in Asia Pacific.

Timothy was a founding management team member of the Expedia team, where he headed the international and ground transportation portfolios. He also spent time with Worldspan as the international head of technology, where he managed technology services from infrastructure to product.

He is also a permanent advisor to the World Economic Forum and writes as Professor Sabena. He sits on a number of advisory and executive boards



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  1. Tweets that mention The perils of being social versus the perils of the web | Tnooz --

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  2. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Joe.. hope you are good…. the problem I see is generic. And the two conditions you outline are both extant. In my view the complacency thus far with lack oversight becomes self perpetuating. I really am concerned that people are being lulled even duped into a false sense of security. There is another issue which is the manipulation of the data post fact. For example re-posting comments and/or moving UGC into a different context without the EXPLICIT approval of the user. This implicit vs explicit opt out to me is just plain wrong. But then who am I… a lowly blogger…. Cheers

  3. Joe Buhler

    Just read today that 30% of the Swiss are on FB now. A surprisingly large number in a country comparable to Germany when it comes to privacy issues. Granted, due mainly to history, some Central and Northern Europeans, are more sensitive in this regard, however, I am of the opinion the dividing line is less geographical than globally between those who are more inclined to be concerned about the issue and those less so. There also seems to be a difference between what is voluntarily revealed by individuals on social networks, often ignorant of the implications this can have, and the tracking via cookies, which a lerge number of web users are still unaware of and look for in the bakery section at the supermarket. Concern is certainly justified, for some even paranoia. It’s all a matter of degree, I guess.

  4. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Just ask the City of Los Angeles… the entire City workforce’s salary amount are available in naked public.

    My issue is not that Social is directly tied to behavior our countries. But I can assure you Scandinavians are WAY more concerned about data privacy than say their US colleagues. That doesn’t mean that they dont use FB – it does mean they are far more responsible in using it. Note these are generalizations.



  5. Sam Daams

    “In Europe, the Germans and the Scandinavians are very concerned about privacy. It is absolutely part of their national psyche.”

    Although I am not 100% sure about the rest of Scandinavia, on a per capita basis, Norway has the (one of) the highest penetration of FB users worldwide. My Swedish colleagues tell me they aren’t far behind. If I am not mistaken, there is a rather large German social network that might be hampering FB usage. In the Netherlands for example Hyves is the premier play.

    I’ve certainly never seen privacy as a concern in Norway. I don’t know many other countries where everyone’s income is published online for all to look up F.O.C. 🙂


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