My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Facebook and “radical transparency” (a rant)

At SXSW, I decided to talk about privacy because I thought that it would be the most important issue of the year. I was more accurate than my wildest dreams. For the last month, I’ve watched as conversations about privacy went from being the topic of the tech elite to a conversation that’s pervasive. The press coverage is overwhelming – filled with infographics and a concerted effort by journalists to make sense of and communicate what seems to be a moving target. I commend them for doing so.

My SXSW used a bunch of different case studies but folks focused on two: Google and Facebook. After my talk, I received numerous emails from folks at Google, including the PM in charge of Buzz. The tenor was consistent, effectively: “we fucked up, we’re trying to fix it, please help us.” What startled me was the radio silence from Facebook, although a close friend of mine told me that Randi Zuckerberg had heard it and effectively responded with a big ole ::gulp:: My SXSW critique concerned their decision in December, an irresponsible move that I felt put users at risk. I wasn’t prepared for how they were going to leverage that data only a few months later.

As most of you know, Facebook has been struggling to explain its privacy-related decisions for the last month while simultaneously dealing with frightening security issues. If you’re not a techie, I’d encourage you to start poking around. The NYTimes is doing an amazing job keeping up with the story, as is TechCrunch, Mashable, and InsideFacebook. The short version… People are cranky. Facebook thinks that it’s just weirdo tech elites like me who are pissed off. They’re standing firm and trying to justify why what they’re doing is good for everyone. Their attitude has triggered the panic button amongst regulators and all sorts of regulators are starting to sniff around. Facebook hired an ex-Bush regulator to manage this. No one is quite sure what is happening but Jason Calacanis thinks that Facebook has overplayed its hand. Meanwhile, security problems mean that even more content has been exposed, including email addresses, IP addresses (your location), and full chat logs. This has only upped the panic amongst those who can imagine worst case scenarios. Like the idea that someone out there is slowly piecing together IP addresses (location) and full names and contact information. A powerful database, and not one that anyone would be too happy to be floating around.

Amidst all of what’s going on, everyone is anxiously awaiting David Kirkpatrick’s soon-to-be-released “The Facebook Effect.” which basically outlines the early days of the company. Throughout the book, Kirkpatrick sheds light on why we’re where we are today without even realizing where we’d be. Consider these two quotes from Zuckerberg:

  • “We always thought people would share more if we didn’t let them do whatever they wanted, because it gave them some order.” – Zuckerberg, 2004
  • “You have one identity… The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” – Zuckerberg, 2009

In trying to be a neutral reporter, Kirkpatrick doesn’t critically interrogate the language that Zuckerberg or other executives use. At times, he questions them, pointing to how they might make people’s lives challenging. But he undermines his own critiques by accepting Zuckerberg’s premise that the tides they are a turning. For example, he states that “The older you are, the more likely you are to find Facebook’s exposure of personal information intrusive and excessive.” Interestingly, rock solid non-marketing data is about to be released to refute this point. Youth are actually much more concerned about exposure than adults these days. Why? Probably because they get it. And it’s why they’re using fake names and trying to go on the DL (down-low).

With this backdrop in mind, I want to talk about a concept that Kirkpatrick suggests is core to Facebook: “radical transparency.” In short, Kirkpatrick argues that Zuckerberg believes that people will be better off if they make themselves transparent. Not only that, society will be better off. (We’ll ignore the fact that Facebook’s purse strings may be better off too.) My encounters with Zuckerberg lead me to believe that he genuinely believes this, he genuinely believes that society will be better off if people make themselves transparent. And given his trajectory, he probably believes that more and more people want to expose themselves. Silicon Valley is filled with people engaged in self-branding, making a name for themselves by being exhibitionists. It doesn’t surprise me that Scoble wants to expose himself; he’s always the first to engage in a mass collection on social network sites, happy to be more-public-than-thou. Sometimes, too public. But that’s his choice. The problem is that not everyone wants to be along for the ride.

Jeff Jarvis gets at the core issue with his post “Confusing *a* public with *the* public”. As I’ve said time and time again, people do want to engage in public, but not the same public that includes all of you. Jarvis relies on Habermas, but the right way to read this is through the ideas of Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics”. Facebook was originally a counterpublic, a public that people turned to because they didn’t like the publics that they had accessed to. What’s happening now is ripping the public that was created to shreds and people’s discomfort stems from that.

What I find most fascinating in all of the discussions of transparency is the lack of transparency by Facebook itself. Sure, it would be nice to see executives use the same privacy settings that they determine are the acceptable defaults. And it would be nice to know what they’re saying when they’re meeting. But that’s not the kind of transparency I mean. I mean transparency in interface design.

A while back, I was talking with a teenage girl about her privacy settings and noticed that she had made lots of content available to friends-of-friends. I asked her if she made her content available to her mother. She responded with, “of course not!” I had noticed that she had listed her aunt as a friend of hers and so I surfed with her to her aunt’s page and pointed out that her mother was a friend of her aunt, thus a friend-of-a-friend. She was horrified. It had never dawned on her that her mother might be included in that grouping.

Over and over again, I find that people’s mental model of who can see what doesn’t match up with reality. People think “everyone” includes everyone who searches for them on Facebook. They never imagine that “everyone” includes every third party sucking up data for goddess only knows what purpose. They think that if they lock down everything in the settings that they see, that they’re completely locked down. They don’t get that their friends lists, interests, likes, primary photo, affiliations, and other content is publicly accessible.

If Facebook wanted radical transparency, they could communicate to users every single person and entity who can see their content. They could notify then when the content is accessed by a partner. They could show them who all is included in “friends-of-friends” (or at least a number of people). They hide behind lists because people’s abstractions allow them to share more. When people think “friends-of-friends” they don’t think about all of the types of people that their friends might link to; they think of the people that their friends would bring to a dinner party if they were to host it. When they think of everyone, they think of individual people who might have an interest in them, not 3rd party services who want to monetize or redistribute their data. Users have no sense of how their data is being used and Facebook is not radically transparent about what that data is used for. Quite the opposite. Convolution works. It keeps the press out.

The battle that is underway is not a battle over the future of privacy and publicity. It’s a battle over choice and informed consent. It’s unfolding because people are being duped, tricked, coerced, and confused into doing things where they don’t understand the consequences. Facebook keeps saying that it gives users choices, but that is completely unfair. It gives users the illusion of choice and hides the details away from them “for their own good.”

I have no problem with Scoble being as public as he’d like to be. And I do think it’s unfortunate that Facebook never gave him that choice. I’m not that public, but I’m darn close. And I use Twitter and a whole host of other services to be quite visible. The key to addressing this problem is not to say “public or private?” but to ask how we can make certain people are 1) informed; 2) have the right to chose; and 3) are consenting without being deceived. I’d be a whole lot less pissed off if people had to opt-in in December. Or if they could’ve retained the right to keep their friends lists, affiliations, interests, likes, and other content as private as they had when they first opted into Facebook. Slowly disintegrating the social context without choice isn’t consent; it’s trickery.

What pisses me off the most are the numbers of people who feel trapped. Not because they don’t have another choice. (Technically, they do.) But because they feel like they don’t. They have invested time, energy, resources, into building Facebook what it is. They don’t trust the service, are concerned about it, and are just hoping the problems will go away. It pains me how many people are living like ostriches. If we don’t look, it doesn’t exist, right?? This isn’t good for society. Forcing people into being exposed isn’t good for society. Outting people isn’t good for society, turning people into mini-celebrities isn’t good for society. It isn’t good for individuals either. The psychological harm can be great. Just think of how many “heros” have killed themselves following the high levels of publicity they received.

Zuckerberg and gang may think that they know what’s best for society, for individuals, but I violently disagree. I think that they know what’s best for the privileged class. And I’m terrified of the consequences that these moves are having for those who don’t live in a lap of luxury. I say this as someone who is privileged, someone who has profited at every turn by being visible. But also as someone who has seen the costs and pushed through the consequences with a lot of help and support. Being publicly visible isn’t always easy, it’s not always fun. And I don’t think that anyone should go through what I’ve gone through without making a choice to do it. So I’m angry. Very angry. Angry that some people aren’t being given that choice, angry that they don’t know what’s going on, angry that it’s become OK in my industry to expose people. I think that it’s high time that we take into consideration those whose lives aren’t nearly as privileged as ours, those who aren’t choosing to take the risks that we take, those who can’t afford to. This isn’t about liberals vs. libertarians; it’s about monkeys vs. robots.

if you’re not angry / you’re just stupid / or you don’t care
how else can you react / when you know / something’s so unfair
the men of the hour / can kill half the world in war
make them slaves to a super power / and let them die poor

- Ani Difranco, Out of Range

(Also posted at Blogher)

(Translated to Italian by orangeek)

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95 comments to Facebook and “radical transparency” (a rant)

  • I just had the opportunity to read through your statement. All I can say is “thank you.” John Warren has a similar conversation starting to form on, of all places, his Facebook wall. However, that discussion seems to be moving towards user responsibility and utilization of privacy settings. In any case, I think I am going to have my CMC students read your ideas here. Again, thank you!

    Cheers! Adam.

  • AliCeleste

    I absolutely have to comment about the Mark Z quote referencing two identities as having a lack of integrity because it makes me so incredibly angry.

    This is, quite simply, crap. One of the reasons I absolutely hated Buzz (and if I recall, the reason a lot of people hated Buzz) is because it merged every contact, from every source, and showed them everything about your life.

    Suddenly people you only associate with on a professional level are privy to your personal blog. And ex-boyfriends and parents are now able to interact with your professional contacts. This is absolutely unacceptable.

    I have a personal Facebook account that is just that – personal. My Twitter is for professional purposes and trust me when I say that the friends I go to concerts with don’t care at all about the latest email marketing service I’m investigating. (In fact, I often find myself apologizing to IRL friends about my abundance of work-related, industry-specific tweets that hold zero value for them.)

    Am I lacking integrity because I want to upload photos of myself and friends having a beer on the beach without showing those same photos to everyone I work with?

    No.

    I would venture to say I have MORE integrity because I CONSIDER the influence I have with people across many verticals and I value EACH of my relationships enough to know what is, and is not, appropriate for my separate groups.

    I do NOT have separate identities but I AM a multifaceted human being, and it is with the utmost integrity that I compartmentalize my life-style.

    Thanks for letting me vent. :)

  • Part of the solution may be not having central figures involved in operating these system. This is one aspect of many that would make decentralized, open source systems like Diaspora* interesting. The ‘creators’ have nothing to lose and hold nothing over everyone else. They’re not going to get rich, gain power, they don’t have exclusive access to ‘private’ content, they don’t need to serve the advertisers to keep their giant server farm and rooms full of techies going. Once it’s released they have the same access as everyone else, and others are very likely to pick up the torch for a while, create their own clients and content. They’re just solving a problem, scratching an itch, their involvement will be low key and honest ,the kind of communications you see from Linus Torvalds or Randall Munroe. This still leaves issues around ‘privacy,’ but in a more appropriate, pure way that can truly form part of the modern person, without compromise.

  • As ever there’s very little left to add. I’d just observe that even the privileged are vulnerable because sadly we can never envisage the worst case scenario until it rears its very ugly head. We’ve all seen it happen and accordingly even the more public of us act with caution born of healthy scepticism and self-sufficiency.

    Those who advocate default openness don’t realise it but they’re implictly acting as guarantor for the good behaviour of the entire community. And, sadly, that’s an untenable position

  • Dane

    “It’s a battle over choice and informed consent.”

    And, what of “parental consent” that FB are appropriating our Minor’s data w/o permission? That data is more permanent than a Tattoo. Yet, State Law requires a parent to be present and provide written consent for a Tattoo of a child under 18?

    Regardless, the ultimate fly in the ointment for FB is that it’s largest growing demographic are Females/50+. The next generation of Tweens/Teens will find some new digital playground, because, FB (like all good web properties) is going to reach it’s shelf life date soon and start going stale as it becomes a place for Mom, Dad and Grandpa Bill…

  • I’ve consistently maintained that the reason more people like Facebook over Twitter is that they feel it’s where they can connect with their REAL close friends and family in a private environment. Twitter is far too open and strange for many people.

    As I’ve presented this difference in my speaking engagements about using Twitter for business, I’ve always said that Facebook would continue to be larger than Twitter *SO LONG AS THEY MAINTAIN THAT PRIVACY*!!! Well, in an effort to compete with Twitter, they’ve shredded that privacy, and now users (some via the media) have begun to take notice.

    I completely agree with you. Facebook needs to make this right. If they don’t, they do so at their peril because they’re opening up the possibility for some other network to challenge their dominance that DOES take privacy seriously. Plus, it’s the right thing to do!

  • Great rant, Danah. On the money. At Web 2.0 Expo the other week I had several discussions with folks about content privacy and control, and there were two predominant viewpoints. The first was that, “Duh, it’s public, if you want to use it, expect it to be read by everyone.” And the second point was, “Who cares. I benefit from being open and sharing, it’s done wonders for my personal and business life.”

    On the later point — I like the way that you refer to it as being “privileged” to be open, and not fear what the repercussions may be immediately after, or further down the road, for sharing thoughts on a social network. In a recent talk with a tech pal of mind on this topic, I told him, “There’s a gaping disparity in the reasons that Sally the Sixth Grader and Dave F*cking McClure utilize social networking. The consequences for sharing personal thoughts and views openly on Twitter and Facebook are also very different for these two people.”

    We really need to keep the light on this topic. Right now it’s a hot button issue, but based on the responses I get from people during in depth discourse, I’m discouraged. Discouraged that people just accept the current “terms of service” and “privacy policy” (and the changes), shrug their shoulders and throw up their arms in apathy.

  • anonymouse

    I know this is a serious topic, but I feel like facebook’s approach to privacy and exposing people is best summarized by a silly video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qma9KhLlCzc
    We may laugh when watching it, but it’s not nearly as funny when you’re the one on the toilet.

  • Sean Cafferky

    No mention of Diaspora? The open source social networking upstart has raised US$150,000 from 4,000 individual donors in only 3 weeks. Clearly, people want control over their social networking experience and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. A rare feat!

  • “Author…author…”

    I agree with just about every word you said. Hope you already listened to the great Leo Laporte TWiG podcast from Wednesday, he and Jeff Jarvis et al. were really tickling out the finer points, and Leo was also pointing out the Orwellian language inherent in what Facebook is putting out there.

    I pointed out the same thing to Paul Buchheit on a heated Friendfeed thread, but he and some of the others in the “pro-Facebook” camp either just don’t get it, or don’t want to get it because it entails their own economic interests.

  • K

    Just talked with a fellow SF State worker yesterday, and an important piece of this conversation needs to be, what will the alternative be? Diaspora is one potential option when it launches in Sept. What are some other viable options?

  • The key issue for me here is not privacy per se but choice, as you rightly say.

    I want interface stability and predictability. When I do X I want to know what the consequences are. If those consequences are Y I want to both know that, and I want to know that the consequences are still going to be Y tomorrow and in ten years time unless it would be entirely unreasonable to assume that.

    And that’s the problem. When I put something on Facebook I’ve really got no idea who’s going to see it now or in the future. I don’t have time to research the privacy settings and to work out how to tweak them to reflect my preferences. I certainly don’t have time to keep revisiting that exercise as the privacy and default goalposts shift.

    I could treat everything I write on Facebook as public to the whole web, forever, but then that defeats the purpose of the whole exercise. If I’m not bothered about privacy at all I might as well blog it or put it on Twitter.

    Which, indeed, is what I generally do.

    So what do I need Facebook for? Not a lot, frankly. It’s a mass-market product that you need to be an expert to use safely and effectively. Its long-term prospects are pretty bleak if they carry on like this.

  • danah:
    So well said.
    I’m looking for an app developer who wants to make a “mirror.” ie: Go to a page and click “like” and see what information the site magically gets – and show it to the person.

    -Howard

  • I second Baratunde:
    standing
    ovation

  • Craig Woods

    I’ll echo Baratunde: a standing ovation for you.

    “Zuckerberg and gang may think that they know what’s best for society, for individuals, but I violently disagree. I think that they know what’s best for the privileged class. And I’m terrified of the consequences that these moves are having for those who don’t live in a lap of luxury.”

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been more talk of this point yet. Zuck or FB just doesn’t seem to understand (or care) that it’s dangerous for many people to be ‘transparent’ in today’s society. The bubble of Silicon Valley seems to warp their perception of how much of the rest of the world lives.

  • This blog post is a tasty eclair of AWESOME.

  • Spot on, and I’m just glad that the public discourse is finally shifting to face up to some of the myths that have been going unquestioned for too long (youth don’t care about privacy, etc).

    I followed up from my interview of ‘youth concerned about privacy’ (for nyt) with a longer blog post, since not too much made it to the actual article: http://www.samjackson.org/college/2010/05/09/recent-thoughts-about-privacy-online-and-facebook/

  • As an interaction designer myself, it’s hard to look at Facebook’s incredibly complicated privacy settings screens in the midst of this mess without feeling bad. I’d love to redesign it to be more understandable, more transparent, and more useful. I don’t understand why they aren’t doing as much as they can as quickly as they can to correct those interface shortcomings. It feels like a relatively simple problem to solve, at least in the short term.

  • Bravo! What bugs me is the tendency among the digital natives to call this a “screw-up”. Not really. Given Facebook’s track record and DNA, it’s hard to see how they would have done it any other way. So unlike Google Buzz which looks more like a screw-up than conspiracy, Facebook is all about an elegant execution of an evil, plan to change an open deeply federated web into Facebookville with semantic markup. One’d really have to be dumb not to notice that.

    *and gets up to clap*

  • Matthew B-M

    I’ve come late to the party (though maybe not that late – realising that the date is today’s), and hadn’t seen your blog before. I pretty much agree with every word you’ve said. I’ll add the reason that I’m still on facebook – there are lots of people that haven’t been on any of the other social network experiments, sixdegrees (remember that?), orkut (still limping along-ish) or other real social networks that came to facebook. In some of the cases I have little contact with these people outside facebook anymore, and in many other cases, facebook is the only online contact I have. Similarly, I found that the killer app for me was, and remains the photo tagging. I miss it in almost every other photo system online now.

    But thank you for expressing your points so well.

  • steve

    Here’s very clear breakdown of data any 3rd party (facebook connect) site can get from you: http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/Users.getInfo#Response

    It’s interesting that facebook.com/markzuckerberg has no personal information about him, not even his gender or sexual orientation. he posts status less than once month, and has aoom/;u. if he does have a secret profile page where he reveals everything that’d directly contradict his statements about integrity.

  • Thanks for this. As someone who is teaching tech to new users all the time, it’s so clear that they don’t understand anything about this brave new radically transparent world. I was so happy to hear someone talking about privacy and how people don’t understand these new environments and, most importantly, what the responsibilities are of people who “know better”

    Appreciate the rant; what’s really often transparent is privilege, and it’s something like this that brings THAT into sharp focus. I know it’s a weird thing to say, but I often see not having anything to hide as a privilege in and of itself. When you pressure other people into revealing what they may not want to reveal, or may not know they’re revealing, you’re exerting your power over them and it’s not at all cool.

    Society, to me, involves ALL its members working together to sort of make sure everyone has at least minimum (if not more) health and safety and security. I think this sort of thing erodes that, in the name of … business? Ick.

  • siliconcowboy

    Great article! I totally agree. Glad you called them on the assertion that only old folks don’t like the new privacy policy. I also think there is much more to this story, as I have suggested here http://bit.ly/cefGQL and here http://bit.ly/dcu1QT . Fundamentally, I think the end game is finding that “sweet spot” between providing advertisers with as much information as possible and pissing off users to the point that they start leaving in real numbers. At this point, it feels like they missed it and went to far.

  • I deleted my Facebook account Tuesday. I simply couldn’t defend being there. See http://bit.ly/prenot for more. But, you know what? Google is next. In the end, it’s not so much about privacy or security as it is about monopolistic business practices. You, working at Microsoft, should know that.

    Monopolies eventually get called on their monopolistic business practices. They back down just enough to get by the letter of the law, they pay the fines they have to pay to continue doing business, and they start donating huge sums of money to charitable causes.

    That’s really what’s going to happen here. Facebook will *quietly* do what they need to do with US and European privacy laws, setttle the lawsuits that they have to settle and continue competing to win aggressively with every fiber of their corporate being.

    That’s what happened in steel and oil, that’s what happened with IBM in the 1960s, that’s what happened to Intel and Microsoft. And that’s what will happen to Facebook.

  • Thank you Danah Boyd for sharing things worth knowing. Thanks Sheen Yap for passing this link around via friend feed. i third Baratunde and i also call ‘author author’ like Alex Schleber. Interesting article from Sam Jackson.

    Here is another perspective.

    Facebook Privacy and Bucks for Bytes – The Under 13′s Guide
    http://miteshsolanki.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/bucksforbytes

  • The most curious thing of this story to me is the outrage people have for something they can choose to leave, but mostly do not.

    I’m not saying Facebook should be free to do whatever they want. That’s not my point. I agree with much of the criticism here and elsewhere.

    My point instead is it has been made very clear in the last year what Facebook’s agenda is. Many users of facebook hate it. Yet they stay. I hate the direction, but so far I’ve stayed. If I’m willing to stay, exactly how outraged would i need to be to choose to leave?

    Either we’re not as outraged as we claim, or we don’t care as much about privacy as we claim. But for all the drama, I think most of us are one or the other.

  • Strong points here. Another standing ovation.

    It’s particularly wild that Facebook thinks only “weirdo tech elites” are pissed off about the privacy issues though, because really it’s the other way around – it was only weirdo tech elites who I ever heard babble that “privacy is dead” and that everyone should use “real” names everywhere online and attempt to collapse all their personality facets and presentations of self into one. I’m glad that ill-informed and dangerous trend amongst the tech elite is being brought to light and questioned in the mainstream because that’s madness to the rest of the world who we’re building tools and media for.

    Thanks for helping wake people up, and for making me think about this more deeply.

  • A brilliant, brilliant rant. Thank you. Earlier today I suggested – rather snarkily I confess – that I thought the backlash was getting a wee bit hysterical. I’m increasingly persuaded that I was wrong.

    I think what I worry about is just that in the midst of this valid backlash against Facebook’s disturbing actions we will see a resurgence or a kindling of fear of self-disclosure. The non-tech-savvy folks I know are in panic mode and everybody is sort of building on everybody else’s fears. And I think you are right that the bottom line issue people are upset about is control not openness, but I worry that openness will be collateral damage. I could be and probably am wrong.

    I’m also quite privileged – I’m white and I’m a professor with a PhD, and therefore I certainly am very open on social networks and as you say, I’ve benefited from it a great deal. I share your concerns about the more vulnerable. However – silence and the distancing of the personal from the professional, the political, and the public life has also long been one of the tools of oppression. Facebook is in the wrong, but will this hype end up setting us back?

    I’m having trouble being articulate about this since by and large I agree that opt-in and control are important and that big corporations deserve our utmost scrutiny. But I’m just worried about the undercurrent – that letting “anyone” have access to information about you is necessarily a bad thing. It has risks, sure, but there are also great rewards.

  • Let me be clear about one thing… Being public has benefits. Being open has benefits. But exposure (being forced into the public against your will) is a different beast. Choice matters. Having the choice to access publics is important. That’s where change happens. Being exposed in not a change agent. We need to create the infrastructure where people feel comfortable making their voices heard. But we need to give them the choice to do so and recognize that there are people for whom that’s not going to be beneficial.

  • bryan

    In 1996-2000 I ran some races for my high school. I have a totally unique name, so if you Google my name, you can find this out. I never consented to it, and I was a minor, yet that information (amongst other things) is out there for anyone to see whether I want them to or not. None of this ever bothered me, but I digress: the notion that Facebook is suddenly the thing that’s violating our privacy is silly. The fact is that any time you do anything even remotely social on the computer or not, people could find out about it. I don’t know why anyone thought that Facebook would be an exception to that. I want them to be more open about what they’re doing, but ultimately it’s a free website whose premise is to connect with people, and that includes corporate entities of which my company is one. It was naive to ever think that things you put on there were not going to be seen by anyone.

    Once again, YES, Facebook needs to be more open about some of the information they’re sharing, but there’s a difference between saying that and being outraged that people in your everyday life have seen things you wish they hadn’t. The latter is most likely your fault, honestly. The little girl who finds out about her mom’s ability to see her site learned a lesson she would probably need to learn sooner or later.

  • *applause*

    I’m a fairly public person and I share a lot online. But it’s by choice … and not because a “confusopoly” has foisted it upon me.

    Unfortunately, this is the end of the innocence for Facebook.

  • i think one fundamental reason for all this is a simple terminological difference. when zuckerberg says ‘one identity’ i believe he means ‘one single place to view/manage one’s entire network/social world/whatever’. that makes a whole lot of sense, in terms of interaction complexity. the problem is that’s a view from technology, and it’s that sense of ‘identity’ that technologists use.

    unfortunately for the rest of us, that conflates the technology/platform with the use to which it is put. it’s the same problem with saying ‘social network’ when what is really meant is the social graph.

    i wonder if we’re too late in talking about this. should we have started complaining & warning years ago? it’s not like any of this is hard-won knowledge or rocket science: everyone has an instinctive sense of what their identity is, and what consequences will arise by blurring boundaries between one’s social worlds.

  • Hey danah, great post/agree, but to me a) this has nothing to do with UI transparency and b) it’s nothing new from FB.

    Of *course* Mark knows that their Privacy settings screens are a mess. Most of FB is pretty well designed, it is absolutely no accident that those areas are super hard to use.

    This “privacy cheese” has been on the move by FB since they opened up to high schools way back in the day. And then they opened up to everyone. And then they *removed/defanged the Networks feature which had been the primary privacy firewall*. All of these things -way before Beacon- violated the Original Social Contract of FB which was, only my pseudo-safe circle at my school, and those I accept, can see me.

    These 5 years have simply been a very calculated -and smart- strategy of lulling people into passivity by moving the cheese verrrrrry slowwwwly. Even now, FB is *still* way more private than a blog or MySpace or LinkedIn or pretty much anything else by default. So people still have that warm fuzzy remnant feeling of the FB privacy security blanket. But as you point out, it’s being yanked more and more blatantly.

    I’m angry too because some people have *serious* reasons that they need privacy.

  • prime

    divide your huge paragraphs into smaller ones.. no offense :)

  • Your righteous rant connects up nicely with Facebook is a feminist issue at Geek Feminism Blog. I think it’s significant and needs to be emphasized that when you say, rightly: Zuckerberg and gang … know what’s best for the privileged class that class is specifically *male*.

    At best, they are using the “reasonable man” standard, where “reasonable” = Zuckerberg. If someone wants to have a social networking system that actually has what I’d call *generally* reasonable privacy policies, they need to use a “reasonable teenage girl” standard.

    I guess that the lifetime risk of being stalked or systematically harrassed, for a teenage girl, is probably 50% or higher — that is, at some time in the present or future course of her life, she has at least a 50:50 change of having to dodge someone persistent, creepy, and potentially dangerous. Teenage girls are also very heavy users of social media. If the default settings on your social networking site aren’t what a forward-thinking teenage girl should choose, *you’re doin’ it wrong*.

    Facebook is clearly doing it massively wrong. I’d be interested to know if this is because they don’t imagine they’ll ever have a problem with Creepy Stalker Guy, or because they *are* him.

    I don’t know that Diaspora and similar projects are being built to the reasonable teenage girl standard, but they don’t deserve to succeed if they aren’t. The lack of current or former teenage girls on most of their teams makes me highly doubtful. This is why I like Dreamwidth.org, which is open-source and involves many former teenage girls.

  • Your righteous rant connects up nicely with Facebook is a feminist issue at Geek Feminism Blog. I think it’s significant and needs to be emphasized that when you say, rightly: Zuckerberg and gang … know what’s best for the privileged class that class is specifically *male*.

    At best, they are using the “reasonable man” standard, where “reasonable” = Zuckerberg. If someone wants to have a social networking system that actually has what I’d call *generally* reasonable privacy policies, they need to use a “reasonable teenage girl” standard.

    I guess that the lifetime risk of being stalked or systematically harrassed, for a teenage girl, is probably 50% or higher — that is, at some time in the present or future course of her life, she has at least a 50:50 change of having to dodge someone persistent, creepy, and potentially dangerous. Teenage girls are also very heavy users of social media. If the default settings on your social networking site aren’t what a forward-thinking teenage girl should choose, *you’re doin’ it wrong*.

    Facebook is clearly doing it massively wrong. I’d be interested to know if this is because they don’t imagine they’ll ever have a problem with Creepy Stalker Guy, or because they *are* him.

    I don’t know that Diaspora and similar projects are being built to the reasonable teenage girl standard, but they don’t deserve to succeed if they aren’t. The lack of current or former teenage girls on most of their teams makes me highly doubtful. This is why I like Dreamwidth, which is open-source and involves many former teenage girls.

  • Danah, as always you raise a number of excellent points. I think what you say about choice in “being visible” is very important, as is the idea that Facebook should be transparent about who is looking at your profile (why not a window showing everybody who has looked at your profile or accessed your data?).

    However I am puzzled by your invocation of the idea of privilege at the end of this essay. Who exactly are these non-privileged people you are trying to protect? And what sort of privilege are we talking about here? Financial? Educational? Or are we talking about people whose lives are normative enough that exposure doesn’t harm them (like Scoble with his “I’m a white straight guy and I’m not ashamed” stance)? People who have enough fame that aren’t harmed by notoriety?

    I was left confused and would love some clarification. Thanks!

  • Thank you for so eloquently wording what a lot of people have been feeling for a long time about privacy (I’m glad I found your blog to express my thanks ;-).

    I’ve been skeptical of Facebook since 2007 (their app platform design was an early sign that they would force exposure/monetization of user data not matter what people would say).

    Your point on “self-branding” of some influent tech bloggers is right-on. Their notion of “transparency” is very particular to them and they don’t seem to realize the rest of us are in a very different position.

    I also really appreciated what I could read from your talk at SXSW with respect to Google Buzz. I’ve been really upset by Buzz since they launched (they took unacceptable liberties with my private data, linking separate accounts without my consent). Their subsequent fixes didn’t address its core problems, which goes to show that Google is in a very similar position to Facebook & tech bloggers à la Scoble, they don’t really “get” privacy (at least concerning Buzz; today’s wifi leak episode seems to be handled much more seriously).

    So again, thank you for voicing concerns shared by a lot of people.

  • thank you!!!

    I teach high school and middle school students, most of whom use Facebook, as does my own teen daughter. I have had conversations with them regarding the privacy issues. They all seem to be aware, but think it is not affecting them. I have asked what age they feel is “old enough” to be on Facebook? Every group, every age has replied that their own age is fine, but younger than them? No way. Yet they could almost all think of someone under the age of 10 who had an account.

    My daughter has been very careful with her privacy settings, and thought she was visible only to her friends. When I showed her what I could see of her page when I was not her friend, she was horrified. The thought of her future college peeking into her current silliness and drama was a shock to her system.

    What Facebook fails to realize is that this is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of our youth, who don’t like to feel manipulated. If things don’t change for the better, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook fall out of fashion and kids move en masse to another venue. Look how quickly teen smoking rates plunged when it became no longer “cool”. Facebook could become the next MySpace before they even know what hit them.

  • Awesome post. I’ve been reading a lot of articles on Facebook lately and although it seems pretty clear on where you stand I can’t help, but agree. I’m all for letting people share what they want to share. I think that’s really what Facebook and Zuckerberg have missed. When I send an email I know who it’s going out to (for the most part), in the Facebook world you just never know what will happen.

  • “Slowly disintegrating the social context without choice isn’t consent; it’s trickery.” I love your writing and agree with a passion. This is not about being public or private. This is about being robbed of our freedom to choose how we interact with others!!!

    If a company knows more about me, I lose bargaining power. If my son lives in the same space than my party boys, I loose his respect! The teacher who’s personal life become public to his students loose mental balance. And every single bit we loose, makes a golden sound in Facebook purse.

    As for Mark’s comment on the “one identity”, I dare him to drive his company to interact identically with his users, shareholders, clients, IRS, employees. No more competitive strategy, no more court time, just honest and public talk. R U willing Mark? Wanna publish your books on Google Docs? We also missed this week shareholders’ meeting, wanna send us the minutes?

    I agree that for most people, rich or poor, young or old, publicity means Pain not Fame. However I can only imagine what you experienced, that even for the few privileged ones, Fame comes with its share of Pain.

    All the best and thanks for another great discourse!

  • I heard a great quote on the BBC today (I didn’t catch who said it): “Facebook IS paying attention to its customers. Unfortunately WE are not its customers. We’re its product.”

  • “Facebook was originally a counterpublic, a public that people turned to because they didn’t like the publics that they had accessed to. What’s happening now is ripping the public that was created to shreds and people’s discomfort stems from that.”

    I think this is the crux of your argument, really. Warner describes counterpublics as combining aspects of both enclaves and the (dominant) public sphere—it’s formally open to anyone, but in practice it engages an intimate circuit of acquaintances—and so the feeling you enjoy as being part of a counterpublic is this delicate mix of 1) protection / specialness / supportive safety / solidarity, and 2) openness / dynamism / unpredictability / expansiveness. This was something Facebook could provide: when you posted something on your profile, you were addressing an anonymous crowd that just happened to be friends and friends-of-friends. The important distinction is that the obliquely-open address of counterpublic broadcasting feels very different from exposure to The Whole World. The Whole World rarely feels like a protected space and, increasingly, it can feel like a space of surveillance and discipline. People get understandably nervous when they discover that their intimate spaces are actually “transparent.” The question you (and others) ask powerfully is: transparency to whom? Who benefits and who suffers from a moralism of exposure?

    Lovely rant! It’s nice to encounter some public sphere theory out here on the interwebs once in a while.

  • Kethryvis

    Thank you for saying so well what i haven’t been able to get to come out of my mouth/fingers over all this. i may even break my long FB silence to post a link to this over there.

    There needs to be choice; the choice to expose what you want to expose, and keep back what you want to keep back. While i have always said “there is no such thing as privacy on the Internet,” i’ve always meant that more along the lines of “Don’t expect anyone to keep anything private you post for everyone to see.” If you’re selecting to keep things private and they *still* go out over everywhere because your provider (i.e. FB) decides they want to trade your info for a huge shiny sack of quarters, then i take huge amounts of issue.

    i need to do some more thinking about this, and i’m glad your post is giving me some jumping off points. As always danah, you rule the internets.

    (in other news, is it wrong that i’ve wanted to punch Scoble in the face for years? Oy)

  • Provocative. Yes, I don’t think FB has assessed the potential consequences of not making it clear to its members how their personal data is shared. I didn’t feel this was a rant (image of someone foaming at the mouth) but a clear presentation of the slippery slope.

  • @fbe42

    *applause*. Spot on. Thank you.

  • I wonder how many FB members have dumped their accounts since the privacy issue exploded. It seems that member stats have been increasing dramatically in recent times and the privacy problem isn’t even creating a dent in numbers. From people I’ve spoken to, I get the impression that many Facebook people simply don’t care about privacy – a scary phenomenon, part of which could be explained by the point you make about people having invested so much on their time and effort in it that it’s plain difficult to move to another social network.

    I had planned on using FB as a class web presence with my students. That’s out the window until / unless FB tighten up their act.

    Thanks for the articles, Dinah. FB is just too huge now not to take a more informed stance on how they effect society.

  • Very good rant, to the point! Any plans for translations?

  • “Zuckerberg and gang may think that they know what’s best for society, for individuals, but I violently disagree. I think that they know what’s best for the privileged class. And I’m terrified of the consequences that these moves are having for those who don’t live in a lap of luxury. I say this as someone who is privileged, someone who has profited at every turn by being visible.”

    The main problem I have with your rant is the “protocol” ideology. Let me explain, I can’t see why the mindset of Mr. Zuckerberg is relevant in any way, why there is a need to quote him. What matters to me is what decisions are taken by the software or induced by it. But there is a group that is looking for a leader personality of the platform. The special innovation contribution of Facebook is that is enables you to manage your settings and take responsibility.

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