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.

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

Facebook hva’ for noget?

Fra min dagbog om mit liv som forskningsassistent og praktikant på UC Berkely.

I går på vej hjem fra koncerten med Mew mødt Nikoline og jeg en anden studerende fra Berkeley. Dale introducerede os for Facebook, som mest af alt minder om MySpace, blot at det kun er for studerende.

Facebook me!

/Originally posted Son, April 08, 2007

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