Controlling your online data and privacy

In the wake of the ‘Facebook data scandal‘ it seems a pertinent time to write a blog post I’ve been thinking about for a while – sharing my tips and experiences for controlling my online data and privacy.

Some people may not have thought much about this until the news broke that Facebook had shared and used people’s data in some dubious ways (shock horror!), however, many librarians and people in the information services industries have been harping on about these risks for years.

So, if you haven’t already, what are some simple things you can do to get on top of your data and maintain your privacy online?

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Online Privacy

Let’s start the new year with a topic I’ve been keen to write about for a while now; online privacy.

First, online privacy matters. Yes, even if “you have nothing to hide”. Because really, you do have something to hide in a sense, otherwise you wouldn’t have curtains or wear clothes (as Christopher Soghoian discusses in the TED talk/article). Amnesty International even goes so far as to label encryption as a human rights issue to protect and promote free expression (see Electronic Frontier Foundation).


According to Collier in Vocativ, “Plenty of people across Europe and the United States agree on the importance of keeping their data private. But according to a new survey, far fewer are willing to do anything to protect it.” Another article in Vocativ explains that many Americans are willing to give up their online privacy for more convenience in their online behaviour. Though these views seem to alter by age, and type of situation. For example younger people, especially when using social media, were more willing to accept the sharing of their personal information (for example to receive personalised ads).

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Open Access for Clinical Data

I am so excited by the open access movement and all the traction it is getting. The benefits of sharing research, and data, are immense. National Public Radio (NPR) in the US have recently had a segment (listen here), and written an article, about the proposal by leading medical journals to require researchers to publicly share their data.

The concept is relatively simple. If you want to be published, you must share the data collected in your clinical studies, which until now has been rarely done.

The article discusses the reasons researchers may not want to share, an interesting discussion detailing issues that I had not been aware of. However, from my reading, it seems these issues for the individual researcher are far outweighed by the benefits to the greater population.

For example, some “researchers have felt that they deserved the right to future papers for all their hard work gathering the original data. And maybe they didn’t want others examining their work.” Fair enough I suppose. But then, this “neglects the key role that independent scientists can play in bringing new insights and also in validating the quality of the data that were collected. Access is also central to the scientific method and the idea of replication to establish the truth.”

By not sharing, and protecting one’s own interests, scientific progress is impeded. Not only does sharing allow for greater possibilities of additional knowledge being gained, it also ensures an extra check and balance on those who may try to draw dubious conclusions.

I believe this incentive to share, provided by the medical journals, is an important move. I hope it is adopted by the medical community and extends to many other research fields. If you’d like to comment on this proposal, you can submit your feedback on the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors website.


A social networking site is not an open access repository

This article from the University of California entitled ‘A social networking site is not an open access repository‘ explains very clearly the difference between using an institutional open access research repository, and using an online platform such as ResearchGate or

As a Librarian I understand the importance of open access repositories for enabling the reuse and preservation of research data. However, I am sure for many academics and researchers this distinction may not be so clear – especially since a lot of it is in the platform’s fine print!

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