Friday, April 22, 2011

Facebook - The Privacy Virus

How many times have you heard someone (probably someone over forty) say, “Kids these days don’t care about privacy”? Facebook is their Exhibit A: over four hundred million users and growing, telling the world all sorts of scandalously personal details. And it’s not just keg stands, either. There are things federal law considers so private it’s illegal to ask you about them in a job interview. Age. Sex. Birthplace. Religion. They’re all questions on the first page of the Facebook profile form. Yea, verily, privacy is dead and the kids these days killed it.

It’s a neat theory, except for one inconvenient detail: the actual behavior of Facebook users. If “privacy” is on the list of words nobody uses any more, Facebook users didn’t get the memo. College students spend the wee hours of weekend nights untagging photos of themselves on Facebook, removing the evidence of their drunken revels earlier in the evening. A “Facebook stalker” is a creep, not a contradiction in terms.

In fact, as you look closer and closer, the idea that Facebook is privacy’s tombstone becomes stranger and stranger. If over four hundred million users don’t care about privacy, why are they using a site that allows them to reject friend requests? If they wanted to broadcast every last detail about their lives to everyone everywhere, why don’t you ever see credit card numbers on Facebook profiles? And why did hundreds of thousands of users sign petitions protesting Facebook’s decision to introduce real-time news feeds? For people who allegedly don’t care about privacy, Facebook users sure spend a lot of time worrying about it.

Challenge a Facebook skeptic on the lack of evidence for her claim and she’ll usually retreat to one of a few related backups:

1. Actions speak louder than words. Anyone can say they care about privacy, but when it comes time to actually doing something about it, there they are on Facebook, posting incriminating photos and salacious stories.

2. Actions have consequences. Wanting privacy on Facebook is like training for a marathon by drinking gasoline; you’d only try it if you hadn’t thought things through.

3. Youthful indiscretions. Facebook users care about privacy only after they’ve learned their lesson the hard way.

These replies may sound more plausible, but they all have something in common: contempt for Facebook users. If you say you care about privacy but don’t, then you’re a hypocrite. If you don’t reconcile your desire for privacy with the facts of Facebook, then you’re stupid. If you haven’t yet had a bad experience on Facebook, then you’re young, lucky, and foolish. These attitudes— which, to be fair, are rarely stated so baldly and insultingly—all presume that Facebook users simply haven’t seen the truth about privacy that the dismissive skeptic has. She’s right, you’re wrong, end of story.

Actually, it’s the skeptic who has things wrong about privacy on Facebook. Facebook users do care about privacy, and they do try to protect it on Facebook. The skeptic goes wrong when she assumes that “privacy” can only mean something like “keeping things secret.” It doesn’t—privacy is much richer and subtler than that. Privacy is a key component of being free to be yourself, building healthy relationships, and fitting into a community that values you. Facebook users care about contextual privacy: they want others to respect the rules of the social settings they participate in.

Source of Information : Open Court-Facebook and Philosophy 2010
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