User Beware: Privacy Settings just a Facade

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By Brenda Curtis, Ph.D.

Social media platforms continue to improve and refine their privacy settings as the demand for advanced user protections increases. Although enabling catered privacy settings to online profiles allows users to indicate who they would like share personal information with, it does not necessarily protect them from the platforms – i.e. websites and apps – themselves. Since social media accounts provide users with a sense of control over personal data, users assume that their information is safe. However, no matter what settings or privacy protections are applied to personal profiles, users do not generally have control over the online platform itself. What this means is the website or app being used usually shares information from accounts with third parties like advertising agencies or other databases. This data sharing is widespread throughout the industry, but it is not generally known by the public. This is partly because the disclosure of this sharing is done in the social media platform’s “Terms and Conditions” Which are often skimmed over or ignored.

Aside from social media websites, there are several other websites and apps that access your personal information via this information sharing to create a single database for everyone in the country. This is generally called data aggregation. One such site that has been in the news recently is FamilyTreeNow.  FamilyTreeNow is explicitly a genealogy site, and compiles information from various legal online sources to create a database full of personal information for genealogical research. This site pairs information from public records such as police records and court documents with the information collected from social media and address databases to create a sometimes way too revealing profile. Not too long ago, most of this information would only be accessible after exhaustive research, but Now FamilyTreeNow makes this information as easy to find as a click of a button, and publicly accessible.

Although the website might be fascinating for someone with genuine curiosity about their own family tree, the danger of anyone having access to information to a person’s age, birth year, address, family members and even public records is something that cannot be ignored. In today’s world, access to this type of personal information makes crimes like identity theft much easier to conduct and can provide the basis for access to financial accounts, credit records and other accounts and assets. For years we have been cautioning users against posting too much information online, but increasingly, due to data aggregators like FamilyTreeNow, this information is being posted without our knowledge or consent on publicly accessible sites.

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What are we ready to risk? Academia, advocacy, and activism

Over the weekend, Fordham University Center for Ethics Education Postdoctoral Fellow and Program Administrator for the Adolescent Scientific Access Project Dr. Miriam R. Arbeit graduated from Tufts University with a Ph.D. in Child Study and Human Development, and served as the student speaker for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Doctoral Hooding Ceremony.

Entitled, “What are we ready to risk? Academia, advocacy, and activism,” Dr. Arbeit’s speech addressed the concept of solidarity and risk sharing, particularly in an academic context.

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Womb transplantation: if it can be done, should it?

By: Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.

Nine women in Sweden have successfully received transplanted wombs donated from relatives, in what was the first large-scale experiment to determine whether this procedure could someday result in pregnancy. Was this experiment ethical, and if so, should it continue?

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A Lesson From JPMorgan Chase on Accountability, Fear and the Trustworthy Organization

By: Robert Hurley, Ph.D.

Sometimes performance-driven organizations, with their intense focus on accountability, can be breeding grounds for fear and other problems. JP Morgan Chase is about to pay an 800 million dollar fine to settle a variety of violations with the big one being the London Whale fiasco where employees at the company were found to have deliberately hidden losses from senior management, regulators and the markets. The trust violation here is that JP Morgan Chase engaged in high-risk trading to increase profits, called it hedging and, when the bets went bad, they failed to report this material information in a timely manner to regulators and investors.

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