While I mostly use facebook to occasionally look up contact information rather than do the sort of social networking it was designed for (that’s what email, blogger, and twitter are for in my humble opinion), I liked this recent interview with Ryan Singel on NPR’s On The Media about the dynamics of Facebook’s campaign for personal non-privacy on the internet.
What I particularly noticed is the point Singel makes about our society’s supposed desire for less and less privacy. There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the media about young people (“digital natives”) being less and less concerned about personal privacy. But what if it’s less a personal inclination and more that they (we) feel that loss of privacy is the price we pay for using the medium of the internet, which is inceasingly indespensible for moving through the world socially, politically, economically.
MARK ZUCKERBERG (audio clip): The Web is at a really important turning point right now. Up until recently, the default on the Web has been that most things aren’t social and most things don’t use your real identity. We’re building towards a Web where the default is social. Every application and product will be designed from the ground up to use real identity and friends.
RYAN SINGEL: Mark Zuckerberg likes to say that Facebook is just reflecting the changing privacy norms of the public, but Facebook is, I believe, forging that change, not so much reflecting it.
I think it’s a little self-serving of him to say that, you know, we’ve all become more public people. A large part of that has to do with default settings that Facebook gives us. We’re sort of being pushed into revealing more information. And now that Facebook is the place that these conversations happen, we kind of have to buy into that bargain just to be part of the conversation.
By and large I don’t move around the web anonymously: I blog under my own identity and comment on others’ blogs using my “annajcook” screen name which is just a mushed-together version of my real name. I use photos of my actual self in profile images.
However, I’m a big fan of this being my choice, and of knowing — when I sign up for a service — that I am able to understand the level of privacy or not-privacy that service is offering. And that I have a choice to opt in rather than opt out when those privacy settings change (which, let’s face it, on the web is pretty much inevitable).
I find it a real accessibility issue that we’re moving toward a web where “the default is social,” where the default is using one’s real identity, when more and more vital information is accessed through the internet — including information that people may not wish to seek out while embedded in real-life social networks. Information about getting out of an abusive relationship, for example, or answers to a question related to sexual activity or identity.
This is definitely a conversation taking place in the library community — how to help patrons navigate the new world of internet privacy concerns. I see it as a feminist issue as well, given the intersection of feminist politics with politics of vulnerable groups whose ability to maintain their privacy when desired is a legitimate safety concern in the real world (see the response to Gmail’s launch of Buzz earlier this year). Social networking on the web is an awesome tool, but it’s important that we enable folks to choose not to participate — without making them opt out of using the internet entirely.
Update: The week following the story shared above, On The Media again visited the issue of facebook and internet privacy, asking what the price of expecting anonymity of data might be.
The Cost of Privacy
May 28, 2010
Facebook changed their privacy settings this week after much vocal criticism. The settings are easier to control and more people will presumably change their settings to private. The media unanimously decided that this was a good thing, but Bob asks whether it’s that simple.
The two stories make an interesting comparison study, and once again I think OTM proves that it doesn’t settle for the media meme.