Friday, February 01, 2008

Privacy Issues In Social Web. A Good Real Example is Us!

Few days ago, Dr. Chen sent me an invitation to the Weekly Blogging Assignment spreadsheet. It looked kind of strange to me. Because it contained UMBC Capus IDs instead of just the email IDs. Later I was told that it was done for privacy reasons.

Well, it was a good decision to go this way. But maybe he should not have trusted the app he chose to host this file. Yes, Google docs could reveal some information anyway.

There are more than one ways to know which ID belongs to which user. First, when you open the document and open the "Discuss" pane on the right, it shows a color box in front of the user(s) who is currently editing the document. And the area on the document that this user is editing is also shown with the same color. Assuming that users work only in their respective rows, one can know which Campus ID belongs to which user.

Another more easy way to reveal this is by viewing the "Revisions" to the document. This is self explanatory.

Thats why I say, we need security first.

Another minor issue: I am able to see unpublished drafts some people have saved on blogger. Beware, others might steal your posts/ideas :)

If someone's IDs got revealed because of the picture above, or there are any serious implications please let me know and I will delete this post.


Harry Chen said...


Good observation. I guess Google Docs is not ideal for editing shared docs when users don't want to reveal ID to other editors.

Perhaps there is a market for a Web-based Doc editor that targets collaboration between anonymous users.

I think we should continue to use Google Docs to edit the "Weekly Blogging Assignment" doc. The worst possible scenario is that everyone knows everyone's weekly blogging behavior and progress. This is something that anyone can infer just by inspecting our public blog page.

Paul Swenson said...

I suppose one of the caveats of getting into the social web/blogosphere environment is that you are inherently giving up a certain degree of privacy just by posting or putting up any information/pictures, etc.

Depending on how paranoid you are, this could be either a good or bad thing. On one hand, it makes it so much easier to connect with other people and put information out there. But you are losing a certain degree of privacy. So is it worth it? I think that is a question that each individual has to ask themselves. Sure, you probably don't want to post stuff online that could be traced back to you if it is material that could potentially hurt your chances of getting a job in the future or something like that. But at the same time, some people are seemingly too paranoid about modern social networking technologies, and are missing out on many of the advantages that come with using them.