As of this morning, the investigation is yet to expose any scandalous motives – still, users remain suspicious. One significant breakthrough, however, has come from TV presenter Jimmy Fallon:
“Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is apparently renting a new five-bedroom house. It’s a nice house, except as soon as you get used to the furniture, he rearranges it for no reason.” (‘Late Night Monologue’, 14 January 2011)
The implications that such ‘furniture-rearrangement’ has on privacy has been heavily debated, so I’ll run through and critique the main positions in this debate.
Firstly, check out what Mark ‘Sharing is Caring’ Zuckerberg has to say (due to trouble with Tubechop, here’s the full video via YouTube [0:19-0:39 most relevant]):
Reproduced in basic argument form, Facebook’s team of altruists have installed new privacy settings which are great because:
……………………People having control over what they share……………………
……………………Leads to more sharing……………………
……………………Which leads to a more open and connected world……………………
……………………Which makes it easier to solve the world’s big problems……………………
This progression appears logical enough, but is the assumptions the argument is built on which are problematic.
There is an attempt align Facebook with organisations with non-commercial political ideologies – Wikileaks is one such example, which fellow NetCom blogger ‘Joanna Pappa 33’ recognises.
But the fundamental problem with the argument is its assumption that Facebook users indeed do have control over their privacy and what they share. This position seems to be reliant on an oversimplification of ‘privacy’, which defines information with the binary of ‘private’ or ‘non-private’ (Boyd, 2008: 14). Privacy is a more complex concept concerning emotions and experience, and assumes a level of control of three factors which Facebook does not guarantee:
(1) Control over information – Today, with the help of a computer or even a phone, information we may have wanted to keep hidden can escape from out control and spread like wildfire (Solove, 2007: 29). This is by no means unique to Facebook; the ‘Star Wars Kid’ became a YouTube sensation at the cost of the reputation mental health of the unwilling subject of the video (Solove, 2007: 47). On Facebook, you can be easily be tagged in a less than desirable photo or video, contradicting Zuckerberg’s promise of control over what is shared in the above video.
(2) Control over context – As Jimmy Fallon joked, Facebook’s ‘furniture’ gets moved around a fair bit. One significant reshuffling occurred when the News Feed was introduced, which aggregated all your friends’ information and projected it live. Information posted under the assumption that it was not highly visible suddenly became so – as if the music stopped at a party and everyone heard the end of your conversation (Boyd, 2008: 15). As I have pointed out, News Feed now displays mainly the information of Friends that you commonly interact with, though this includes non-reciprocal interaction a.k.a. ‘stalking’.
(3) Control over audience – Related to the instability of context is the “social convergence” which Facebook facilitates. Whilst both are in public, you can distinguish between your statements and behaviour in a pub as opposed to a family park (Boyd, 2008: 18). On Facebook however, choosing your audience is harder – recent changes have allowed this, though it is not a particularly visible or accessible feature.
'Remixed' banner for the group.
Source: The Brocial Network
These deficiencies in the level of control Facebook gives users is evident in the controversial Facebook group ‘The Brocial Network’. This required members to upload pictures of their female friends for the viewing pleasure of other members (Brisbane Times news story). There is no doubt that in a large percentage of cases this was neither the audience nor the context the photos were intended for. Yes, these girls uploaded these photos and thus they were not totally private, but only a completely black and white view of privacy would assert that they did not lose control over what they shared.
Boyd, D. (2008) ‘Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion and Social Convergence’, Convergence: The International Journal into New Media Technologies, 14 (4): 17-49.
Brisbane Times Online (2011), ‘Facebook pulls Brocial Network’, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/technology/technology-news/facebook-trade-in-female-images-20110517-1erfu.html, accessed 3 June 2011.
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon – The Blog (2011), ‘Late Night Monologue, 1/14/11’, http://www.latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/blogs/2011/01/late-night-monologue-11411/, accessed 3 June 2011.
PC World Business Center (2009), ‘Facebook Simplifies Privacy Options’, http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/184123/facebook_simplifies_privacy_options.html, accessed 3 June 2011.
Solove, D. J. (2007) ‘How the Free Flow of Information Liberates and Constrains Us’ pp. 17-49 in The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale.
YouTube (2010), Mark Zuckerberg on Making Privacy Controls Simple, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWDneu_w_HQ, accessed 3 June 2011.