thinky paper about facebook and privacy and the law

My friend James Grimmelman, New York Law School professor, has published a paper about Facebook and Privacy which is my Labor Day reading. In it he asserts that while Facebook is partially culpable for having bad privacy policies and practices, a more nefarious side-effect of the Facebook universe is that the model encourages people to violate each other’s privacy. When you share information about yourself, you wind up sharing information about others who may have different approaches to personal privacy than you do. If you’re interested in understanding more about the Facebook mechanisms from someone who both uses and studies it, I suggest giving this article a read.

You think you’re my friend; I disagree. We may be able to work together in real life without needing to confront the basic fact that you like me but not vice versa. But if you Facebook-add me and say “We dated,” what am I supposed to do? Uncheck that box and check “I don’t even know this person?” Divergences are made manifest, sometimes to mutual chagrin.

Facebook’s reputation on privacy matters is terrible. When people use “Facebook” and “privacy” in the same sentence, the word in between is never “protects.” Facebook’s privacy missteps haven’t just drawn the attention of bloggers, journalists, scholars, watchdog groups, and regulators, they’ve also sparked mass outrage among Facebook users. An anti-Beacon group attracted over 70,000 members. and an anti-News Feed group over 700,000. Facebook’s pattern—launch a problematic feature, offer a ham-handed response to initial complaints, and ultimately make a partial retreat—hasn’t given it much privacy credibility. In short, consumers don’t, can’t, couldn’t, and shouldn’t rely on Facebook’s privacy policy to protect their personal information as they use it.

If you read all the way down to page 40 or so, you’ll get some analysis of legal attempts at social networking site use restrictions including DOPA which many librarians should be familiar with.

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