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.


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.

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

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

Are you a true Digital Native?

Are you a true master of digital media, a mass user of digital media or an old-fashioned media consumer? Find out by answer the following questions.

1) To sell a car or rent an apartment, you use …
a. the classifieds
b. Craigslist

2) You’re planning to go to the movie and want to see what’s playing, so you …
a. look in the newspaper
b. go online

3) Its time for a news update, so you…
a. watch the television news
b. open your feedreader service or find a news site on the Web

4) You enjoy listening to music…
a. sometimes and mostly from your cd-player
b. all the time and mostly from your iPod

5) When being online the majority of your time is spent on…
a. consume content, eg. reading mails
b. constantly creating or changing content

6) You go to YouTube…
a. to check out a video you’ve heard about
b. throughout the day to find out what’s new

7) You buy a new gadget and…
a. get out the manual
b. just use it

8 ) When in a car you with several passengers, you mostly…
a. talk to the other passengers in the car
b. are sending texts messages to the other passengers and your friends

5 A’s or more
: You are probably an adult born between 1946 and 1976. You are a aggressive communicator who are media-centered. For you radio, TV, film and the Internet is non-specialist media, available for everyone’s use to package information and put forward their perspective. Despite the energy you put into be updated on the tech front you just don’t have the natural affinity for technology as the real digital natives have.

5 B’s or more: You are a true digital native and probably born between 1977 and 1997. You have a natural affinity for technology that seems uncanny. You instinctively turn first to the Net to communicate, understand, learn find and do many things. The ways you use media is determining the future of digital univers.

4 A & 4 B’s: It seems like you’re learning a lot about the new media these days. But a real digital native is not you. You are more like a parent or grandparent to the digital natives, and born between 1946 and 1976.

Thanks to Don Tapscott – and the book Grown Up Digital. The abovementioned questions and answers are based on Tapscotts description of the Net Generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X. Not that I agree with his descriptions, by the way.

This test is for fun. Please don’t interpret as anything other than what it is: a test for fun.

I am now a PhD Student

Actually, I’ve forgot to announce it public (how could I?).  I have got a position as a PhD student at the IT-University of Copenhagen in the division of Innovative Communication. I’m thrilled.

Everything up to this joyful event of getting the PhD position went wrong. First, I was struggling with a tight agenda in my company Digital Storylab leaving only 8 days to write the application, even though I had planned writing it for months, almost years. Then I waited appr. 2 months. Waited and waited. For all this time I was living in a non-place where time was standing still. No past, present or future – almost no me.

A Thursday afternoon I received the invite for the interview scheduled for the upcoming Monday. I was left with 3 days to do my presentation. I want to write I did a good job in preparing myself for the interview, but that would be a lie. I was paralyzed by the possibility to make my dream come true.  So I must admit  the interview was the worst time of my life. I was unprepared, nervous and angry at myself for not having done a good job. Ohh well, it did turn out well. So here I am, sitting in my office at the IT-University, preparing the next 3 years of my life.

Time has started over again.

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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