Susan Crawford has an excellent post that expresses much more intelligently what I’ve been thinking about lately regarding some of the privacy implications of social networks and other online information services, noting how “social networks are rich minefields for privacy backlashes, particularly when combined with governmental desire for data.” From her post:
MySpace, Xanga, Flickr, Facebook. Hugely popular, full of people, MySpace second only to Yahoo! in page views, and has more people visiting than NYTimes.
These sites are easily publicly searchable and viewable, although you have to register for MySpace and Xanga to look around, and have a college email address for Facebook.
Oddly, people using these spaces may feel that they’re just having a conversation with their friends, not thinking about large-scale, perhaps automated searches/hunts about them carried out. This is like being on a live TV interview, and seeing only the guy across from you, and not realizing that anyone can see you in the world. This kind of belief that the internet is a special area, not subject to usual policing, has recently come into conflict with the desires of actual police to track people down who are listed in these spaces. Princeton has caught people scaling buildings and drinking – both against campus rules – by searching these spaces, and Wikipedia has a whole page of campus/actual police raids of these spaces. Not to mention the records created for future employers and political enemies to check.
So this strangeness of assuming it’s a private space is running headlong into reality. Most of the social clues on these sites seem to indicate that you’re just talking to a small group, because comments come from people you know or who are repeat players. Users really don’t see EULAs or privacy notices. What they see is a warm community that seemes to care about them, and they don’t monkey with the defaults made available to them that could shield their information from people they didn’t know.
When people wake up and realize that MySpace and Facebook are not private, they will experience a kind of loss of innocence, and they may even take down their sites. Some are prognosticating that a long, slow backlash against Web 2.0’s social applications is now going on. The recent embrace of a deli.cio.us “no-sharing” setting for tags seems to support this trend.