Privacy in Social Network Sites

Privacy and Identity-relevant Information in Social Network Sites

Comparative study of SNS shows privacy controls lacking or difficult to find

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The Common Sense Media has released a short report on Web safety factors that their users deem important. I don’t necessarily agree with the scoring on those factors, but the report describes some interesting findings about privacy settings in Social Network Sites (SNS).

I see privacy settings in SNS as a way for users to bargain and unbundle. However, the unbundling and bargaining space that users have is very minimal. Bargaining about privacy is making informed choices about what of your information is visible to other and what information from other you have access to.
Unbundling includes not using every service of the SNS, for example using the function to post weblogs without having to use the photo share function or being confronted with your friend using the photo share service.

The report describes both Facebook and MySpace as putting many privacy controls in users hands. An important difference is that the tools to customize your privacy are built into MySpace’s registration process. This informs the user more than putting privacy controls six clicks away. The report mentions:

Sense Media Releases First-Ever Safety Analysis of Most Popular Social
Networking Sites for Tweens and Teens – Common Sense Media

addition, although many privacy and safety features were added to these
sites in the last two years, they are often difficult to find. 

Facebook users have many options to customize their privacy settings, but the effectiveness of these options depends on how useful these controls are and if users are able to make sense of them. When I talked to Adrienne Felt, she told me that a too granular approach to privacy settings can confuse users. With respect to Facebook she said that the terms used to describe the privacy controls are confusing and that Facebook doesn’t explain them very well.
In my opinion, privacy controls should be clear cut to the user and based on how you would give away information in real life. If you are not willing to show sensitive photos to relatives of your family, you should be easily able to do so. Earlier, I wrote a Dutch weblog on this subject.

Another remarking observation from the report is that users should disable Facebooks Beacon feature. The data collecting feature, that feeds information from third party websites to your Facebook profile, has been under fire for not implementing full informed consent. As I mentioned at the CFP2008 conference, I still think the implementation of Beacon is very in transparent to end users and that without good understanding users cannot give informed consent.

Internet Safety Scorecard

Parents need to know: Here’s a tip for more privacy: Disable Facebook’s “Beacon,” which reports users’ activities on third-party sites, by visiting this link: Click the box that reads, “Don’t allow any websites to send stories to my profile.” 

I am interested to see if parents, towards which this report is directed, or any Social Network Site, pick up these criticisms.

Written by davidrip

July 9, 2008 at 8:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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