Danah Boyd has posted an essay called Facebook’s “Privacy Trainwreck”: Exposure, Invasion, and Drama that is an incredible analysis of a very interesting situation. From her blog post about the essay:
The key points that i make in this essay are:
* Privacy is an experience that people have, not a state of data.
* The ickyness that people feel when they panic about privacy comes from the experience of exposure or invasion.
* We’ve experienced the exposure hiccup before with Cobot. When are we going to learn?
* Invasion changes social reality and there is a cognitive cap to being able to handle it.
* Does invasion potentially result in a weakening of meaningful social ties?
* Facebook lost its innocence this week.
Her essay has completely changed my mind on this issue. I think the reason I didn’t feel about the issue the way hundreds of thousands of others did is because I’m not an avid user of Facebook and don’t see a huge utility to it, and so because I wasn’t already using it on my terms my life wasn’t upset by those terms being changed abruptly, without warning, and without recourse.
Danah also makes good points about how the internet mediates gossip as just another form of information, but throws out of whack the whole notion of gossip as a way of communicating and forming relationships. She mentions feed readers (aggregators that let one read many blogs at once from a convenient interface) as an awful invention that ruins the paradigm, and I can’t disagree — my feed reader feels much more like an obligation than an enjoyable way to catch up on what people are doing. Furthermore, she hints at the information overload problem that comes with aggregating so much data in one place — I thought I liked Facebook better now, but today when I logged in I started to feel that same sense of dread as I realized how much of my “News Feed” I would have to read through to see what has changed since last I visited.
And one final point. When I logged into Facebook to check out the new News Feed, I noticed Luis was using the Facebook “Notes” feature to syndicate his blog posts. I liked the idea and followed suit, and now even that is starting to make me feel icky. Random blog posts in someone’s information stream with no context or background is a bit creepy. They can’t turn it off, so in some ways I (with Facebook’s help) am pushing my thoughts at them against their will, and I cannot control who starts seeing little snippets of my life with no background or context. Icky indeed.
Read the article, it’s worth it.
They can, you know, not be your friend 😉 Seriously, I think a big part of the problem here is that Facebook’s concept of friendship is brutally non-granular, and the bar is very low. And for obvious reasons they don’t want to make friendship granular- so they have to hack around that lack of control in other ways.
But wouldn’t making granular friendship cause even more problems? In real life we all lie to ourselves and others about friendships and it is the fuzziness of the boundaries and the lack of obvious indications of granularity that make social networks work. I completely agree that the usage of “friend” in the online social network context is fundamentally flawed, but given the option to actually have to think about and specify levels of friendship on a linear scale, I doubt many people would feel comfortable trying to do it. John is “more” of a friend than Mary, Bob is a friend but only during work hours. Not to mention how these things change over time and depending on the context.
I’m still waiting for the information agents that analyze personal behavior and use the data of one’s life to make intelligent connections based on contextual relationships and various trust metrics, but I still see that as very me-focused. My agent can figure out from all the data it has on me whose movie recommendations I take more seriously, who I’d rather be spending my time with on a particular date at a particular time in a particular location, and it can decide based on my mood what sort of music I want to hear, whose calls I want to come through, and on, and on. But how to do take something that personal and put it into a shared, social context? Who controls the data? What are the benefits to the participants? How can the system be protected from gaming? It just boggles the mind.
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