Public vs. private: will Facebook kill privacy?

Week 5:

Analyse critically the following statement by Mark Zuckerberg while comparing it to privacy issues raised by online social networking collaborative practices:

Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on sharing (start at 0:26—stop at 0:39) (http://www.tubechop.com/watch/146252)

“When people have control over what they share, they’re comfortable sharing more. When people share more, the world becomes more open and connected. And in a more open world, many of the biggest problems we face together will become easier to solve.” (Zuckerberg, 2010)

Is privacy dead?

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Facebook wants to rewrite the rules of privacy. Or rather, erase them altogether.

The above video, however—released in response to Facebook’s disastrous efforts to make users’ default privacy settings more open—shows that Zuckerberg and Facebook still don’t seem to understand what privacy means to their users.

Let’s consider his two main points:

1. “When people have control over what they share, they’re comfortable sharing more.”

Agreed. Privacy is not about hiding everything; it’s about controlling what you share with whom.

On social networks like Facebook, however, this is not so straightforward. People are often ignorant of exactly what they are sharing, and, even more concerning, other people can easily share things about someone else without their knowledge. The recent Brocial Network scandal revealed the extent to which Facebook privacy can be exploited. Since all of the photos had been uploaded to Facebook by the girls themselves, everything the Brocial Network’s members did was technically legal. In fact, the obvious question is: if those girls didn’t want people to look at those photos, then why did they post them in the first place? (A very Eric Schmidt line of thinking). But it’s not that simple. Those girls may have been happy for their friends to stalk their semi-naked photos, but I doubt they appreciated 8 000 other randoms doing so. It’s hard enough to control what you share on Facebook, let alone what anyone else may. Until this can be sorted, it’s ridiculous for Facebook to try and force people to share more.

2. “When people share more, the world becomes more open and connected. And in a more open world, many of the biggest problems we face together will become easier to solve.”

Logical, yet idealistic and impractical.

Sure, a more connected world would be great, and if everyone on the planet was working towards solving the same problem, well, let’s agree that six billions brains are better than one. Yet, again in the context of social networking, this attitude poses problems. If everyone knows: where and when you go somewhere, and what and with whom you do something, that’s not only creepy, it can be dangerous. Online predators and offline stalkers are enough of a problem, without giving them a copy of your diary. (HINT: If you don’t want to be robbed, don’t status update your location.)

Thanks to the Internet, privacy is more important than ever. As Solove says, “reputations are forged when people make judgments based upon the mosaic of information available” (Solove, 2007: 30), and when drunken photos lose Uni degrees, and accidental YouTube stars are actually victims of cyber bullying, it’s hard to argue that decreased privacy will make life easier. Having 500+ friends can make it difficult to remember with whom you are sharing what, and often a little online over-sharing can lead to a lot of offline hair-tearing.

Whoops.

[Image: Courtesy All Facebook]

In any case, people aren’t ready for such an open world yet. Studies by the Pew Research Center, an American think-tank, have shown that in fact young adults are the most conscientious demographic when it comes to online privacy and reputation management. Over 70% of 18-29 year olds admitted having changed their social network privacy settings, to limit what information was viewable by whom (Madden and Smith, 2010). After all, reputation is one of our “most cherished assets”. (Solove, 2007: 30)

People have long been predicting the end of privacy. And now Zuckerberg wants to bring that about by making the world’s social network, well, more social. But if you’re listening Mark, take note:

People still want their privacy. They want it protected. And that needs to be respected.

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Words: 551 (excl. Zuckerberg quotes)

References:

Madden, M. and Aaron Smith (2010). Reputation Management and Social Media: How people monitor their identity and search for others online. Pp 2. (http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Reputation-Management.aspx) 26 May [date accessed 16 April 2011]

Solove, Daniel. J. (2007) The future of reputation: gossip, rumor and privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 30

Zuckerberg, M. (2010) Mark Zuckerberg on making privacy controls simple. Facebook. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWDneu_w_HQ&feature=player_embedded [Video: date first accessed 14 April 2011]

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