Public Today, Private Tomorrow

Privacy on Facebook is about being private in public

In February 2010, a 16 year-old-girl from England was layed-off from work after updating her Facebook status with a description of her job as boring. In the same month year eight college students in the US were disciplined after photos of them drinking were posted on Facebook, an act violating the school’s code of conduct. Two years earliere a high-school student created a Facebook group dedicated to “hating” a teacher at her school. She took it down after a few days but two month later she was suspended for cyberbullying her teacher.

A few days ago a Danish man was sentenced 10 days of prison for setting up a hating group. Why do we see these trials popping up in the news? I believe is due to the way users distinctly perceive Facebook as a private space in public. A private space where information is intended for a specific audience and not the whole world, even though the whole world of Facebook users sometimes have access to a given users profile.

As when you are in a bar on a Friday night with your colleagues, you don’t expect that what you share with your colleagues this particular night, ever will get to desk of your boss. It is the norms of appropriateness that rules in a situation like this. The social norm that apply to a Friday night in the bar with the colleagues tells us not to bring the gossip on to the boss. On Facebook it is different, or is it? I do believe that Facebook is just a much a place for being private in public, as on the bar Friday night or anywhere else.

Dansk privacy-by-design lever i MyMome

Victoria på 11 år arbejder på en online collage med billede, tekst og videobidder fra den fantastiske sommer på Bornholm med bedste-veninden Emilie. Hun uploader sommerferiebillederne fra mobiltelefonen og tilsætter løbende tekst, omrokere og tilføjer, indtil hun endelig efter flere dage kan dele mindet med Emilie. Forældrene har løbende kigget Victoria over skulderen og været lidt bekymret for, om alle billederne nu endte på det frådende internet. Men det behøver de ikke, for alt indholdet er per definition privat på det nye danske websted MyMome, som Victoria har brugt til hendes sommerferieminde.

myprofile

MyMome er et nyt dansk websted for danske teenagere, hvor de kan uploade mobil-billeder og tekst, og dermed lave såkaldte “minder. Disse minder kan deles med venner og veninder, eller gøres offentlige for alle. MyMome er det første danske sociale netværk, som er baseret på privacy-by-design-tanken, og jeg har fået lov til at følge med på sidelinjen.

Det bliver spændende at se, hvilke informationer brugerne vil dele på MyMome. Vil det være andre informationer, end dem vi ser delt på Facebook? MyMome er i sin spæde opstart og tiltaler en forholdsvis ung målgruppe (11-14 år), så med stor sandsynlighed vil brugerne også ændre adfærd, efterhånden som de bliver flere brugere, de ældre kommer på og sociale konventioner opstår.

For mig er det helt unikt at få muligheden for at kunne følge med i, hvordan brugernes privacy vil blive modificeret og rekonfigureres af de øvrige brugeres adfærd, teknologien og deltagerne.  Det kan hjælpe os til at forstå, i hvilke situationer information opfattes privat eller ikke-privat.

Påmindelse om privacy ændrer brugeradfærd

Forskere ved Carnegie Mellon University har i juli måned bevist, at hvis brugerne bliver påmindet om deres privacy, lige inden de afgiver private informationer, er de langt mindre tilbøjelige til at afsløre personlige og private informationer, end de brugere som ikke påmindes (Asquisti et. al, 2009). Interessant nok skyldes den ændrede adfærd, at påmindelserne fremkalder en frygt for at miste muligheden for et privatliv.

Læs mere om undersøgelsen her (forksningsartikel)

What is privacy really?

How can you discuss privacy, when you don’t even agree on the term? Apparently, its not an obstacle for neither journalists or scholars in Denmark.

Privacy is a hot topic due to the increasing use of social networking sites such as Facebook and thereby the changes in private and public life.

I find it interesting, that the discussion about privacy goes on in the public domain as well among scholars, without having a precise definition of privacy. In fact, there are no precise definition of privacy in Danish nor in English.

Let me give you a short overview:
In the US the first definition of privacy appeared in 1890 by Waren & Brandeis. Privacy was here defined as: “the right to be left alone” (Warren & Brandeis 1890).  Half a century later privacy was defined again this time as the “the control of personal information” (Westin 1967).

In the Danish language there are no direct equivalent term to privacy and privacy is not yet registered by the Danish National Language Council.  Though, some aspects related to privacy has existed in Denmark for centuries.

1795: the term personal life (privatliv) was registered by the Danish National Language Council
1849: The right to a private life (privatliv) is written into the Danish Constitution Act of 1849 along with the freedom to speech (ytringsfrihed).
1972: the Danish National Language Council registered private sphere (privatsfære) as the antithesis to public sphere (offentligsfære).
2009: Privacy is used 54 times in articles within the last year. But no one defined privacy.

So what are we left with. According to the above mentioned, no one has defined privacy, but according to Danish law we do have a legal right to have a private life and to speak up.

Please help me define privacy by answering these 2 questions on Twitter.

Is technology really that bad?

When doing research in privacy, I sometimes feel like being the only optimist. 99% of what is written on privacy is based on the assumption that the changes are monstrous, horrible and abnormal.

So seeing this YouTube video with the American Stand-up comedian Louis CK was putting my research into perspective. Well, we don’t have to be that negative on technology and the societal changes, I presume.


Louis CK: Learn to appreciate technology on YouTube

Er de unge dumme eller bedrevidende?

“Teenagers anses enten som en gene, der må kontrolleres eller en sårbar og påvirkelig befolkningsgruppe, som må beskyttes.” (danah boyd)

Denne opfattelse blev bekræftet, da Forbrugerforums debat om “Netsikkerhed i sociale medier” løb af stablen med Mikael Lemberg (Facebook konsulent) og Niels Elgaard Larsen (formand for IT-Politisk Forening) som ærværdige debatører.

Når vi diskuterer ungdomsgenerationens brug af sociale medier, vil jeg dog mene, at forståelserne af unge er en revideret udgave af danah boyds definition. Her bliver teenagers ofte fremstillet som ‘naturlige-IT-kompetente” (digital natives perspektivet) eller som den lidt uvidende og naive gruppe, som de voksne må passe på.

Debatternes rollefordeling var således, at Mikael Lemberg talte om ungdomsgenerationen, som dem, der vidste, hvad de foretog sig, og Niels tog den ansvarlige forældre-rolle for de sårbare unge:

Mikael: “Unge Facebook-brugere deler meget omkring sig selv, men de gør det bevidst. Ældre facebook-brugere ved derimod ofte ikke, hvad de deler på Facebook og hvem de deler med.”

Niels: “Unge er mere bevidste om, hvornår de ønsker at udstille selv, og hvad der tilhører deres privatliv. Men de tænker ikke så meget over, at om 10-20 år har både verden omkring dem og de selv ændret sig meget.”

Begge holdninger falder mig lidt for brystet. Jeg mener, hverken at det ene eller det andet perspektiv er sandt. Perspektiverne er simpelthen for sort/hvide. Det er holdninger, som placerer sig som poler på et kontinuum, hvoraf alt imellem endnu ikke er klarlagt – eller i al fald ikke dominerende i hverken medierne eller forskningen omkring unges brug af sociale medier.

Kender du til opfattelser af unges brug af sociale medier, som placerer sig midt imellem de to poler?

Gaydar is revealing your sexual preferences

Project ‘Gaydar’ is an MIT experiment which shows its possible to reveal personal information such as sexuality even though the information not is published in any networked public. Here is an overview of the experiment as it was reported in The Boston Globe.

The experiment

A group of MIT researchers was interested in three things people frequently fill in on their social network profile: their gender, a category called “interested in” that they took to denote sexuality, and their friend links.

Using that information, they “trained” a computer program, analyzing the friend links of 1,544 men who said they were straight, 21 who said they were bisexual, and 33 who said they were gay.
Then they did the same analysis on 947 men who did not report their sexuality. The analysis seemed to work in identifying gay men, but the same technique was not as successful with bisexual men or women, or lesbians.

The Homophily Principle
The idea of making assumptions about people by looking at their relationships is not new, but the sudden availability of information online means the field’s powerful tools can now be applied to just about anyone. For years, sociologists have known of the “homophily principle” – the tendency for similar people to group together.

More examples

Murat Kantarcioglu, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Dallas, found he could make decent predictions about a person’s political affiliation knowing what groups people belonged to or their favorite music, were quite predictive of political affiliation.
Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park wanted to see what private information they could glean by simply looking at things like groups people belonged to, and their friendship links on four social networks: Facebook, the photo-sharing website Flickr, an online network for dog owners called Dogster, and BibSonomy, in which people tag bookmarks and publications.
Researchers could predict where Flickr users lived; Facebook users’ gender, a dog’s breed, and whether someone was likely to be a spammer on BibSonomy.

The media’s perspective on privacy
Privacy has become a growing and evolving concern as social networks learn how to deal with the fact that they provide a resource that brings people together, but also may endanger privacy in ways they did not anticipate.
Even if you don’t affirmatively post revealing information, simply publishing your friends’ list may reveal sensitive information about you, or it may lead people to make assumptions about you that are incorrect.
“You can do damage to your reputation with social networking data, and other people can do damage to you. I do think that there’s been a very fast learning curve – people are quickly learning the dos and don’ts of Internet behavior,” said Jason Kaufman, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University who is studying a set of Facebook data.
“Potentially everything you ever do on the Internet will live forever. I like to think we’ll all learn to give each other a little more slack for our indiscretions and idiosyncrasies,” said Jason Kaufman.

Note: The text is from the article about project Gaydar from The Boston Globe. I just rearranged it.

Privacy is bad (for?) business

Well, Facebook had a big piece of news to announce today (the cash flow is positive). And so do I. And its about Facebook and how they earn their money.

Facebook can celebrate the positive cash flow because they sell your personal information to companies (400.000 companies are working with FB) – such as information about your photos, videos, notes, groups, joined events, relationship status, etc. And they wouldn’t celebrate today, if they let you exercise your privacy rights at Facebook.

In my search for studies on privacy  I came across the findings of Leslie John, Alessandro Aquisti and George Loewenstein. They three gentlemen has made some clever experiments documenting privacy behavior online.

In an online survey they asked a group of people to answer a series of questions about their academic behavior. Half of the subjects were asked to sign a consent (samtykke) warning before filling in their answers to the questionnaire. The other half was not asked to sign any consent warning.

As the author Ben Schneider notes: “The results showed that people who are reminded about privacy were less likely to reveal personal information than those who were not.

The social networking sites don’t want to remind users about privacy, even if they talk about it positively, because any reminder will result in users remembering their privacy fears and becoming more cautious about sharing personal data.”

If you are young or a heavy media user you might think; is there a problem here? And the answer is yes. Because one of the few fundamental right we’re born with in the Western World is the right to privacy – the right to decide when, where and for how long we will share personal information with other people or companies.

When you sign up to Facebook you’ll sacrifice a fundamental human right – your privacy. And who isn’t on Facebook these days. I’m certainly am, because I wouldn’t miss the social life happening out there.

Read about Facebooks privacy policy

Digital Natives do not exist – or do they?

My favorite researcher and blogger, danah boyd, wrote this eye-opening talk for The Symposisum for the Future . I’ve cropped out the most significant sentences:

“Technology does not determine practice. How people embrace technology has less to do with the technology itself than with the social setting in which they are embedded. Those who are immersed in a techno-savvy, technophilic community are far more likely to embrace technology than those whose social world is shaped by other patterns of consumption and communication.

There are also no such things as “digital natives.” Just because many of today’s youth are growing up in a society dripping with technology does not mean that they inherently know how to use it.  They don’t.

Youth learn through active participation, but phrases like “digital natives” obscure the considerable learning that occurs to enable some youth to be technologically fluent while others fail to engage.” – danah boyds blog post

In the book I’m currently reading “Born Digital” the authors use the phrase ‘Digital Natives’ as a characteristic for anyone born in 1980 and after… which means I’m a digital native. I must admit I don’t feel like one. I still haven’t found out how to use twitter proberly  – here after 2,5 years. I have a hard time blogging on regular basis – because what is the real purpose of my writing? I sign up for lots of new features and services, and most of them I never use again because I cannot find the meaning with them.

Even though I feel pretty tech-savy (in the sense of mechanically managing digital devices and services) this doesn’t mean I was born with the ability to UNDERSTAND the social actions on the Internet. I’m still struggling big time with understanding and I would love someone to tell me the meaning of it all.

Who will be my teacher? I need to learn in order to understand what is going on.

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