Baym: Facebook’s Views on Privacy are “Fundamentally Naive and Utopian”

GigaOm highlights an interview with Nancy Baym, associate professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas and author of Personal Connections in the Digital Age, on the limitations in Facebook’s approach to privacy.

The interview covers various important issues, but Baym’s main concern is that Facebook has a “fundamentally naive and Utopian” view of what privacy means online, stemming  from the fact that the company is run by “a bunch of computer science and engineering undergrads who don’t know anything about human relationships.”

I agree. I frequently remind myself that Mark Zuckerberg is only 26 years old, attended a very exclusive boarding school and university (which he never completed), and happened to be the last one standing when Facebook hit it big, making him an instant billionaire, and suddenly putting him in charge of the personal information of millions of people. He’s a kid; a privileged kid, who can’t really relate to the lived experiences of 99.9% of Facebook users.

Baym’s concern that Facebook is run by “a bunch of computer science and engineering undergrads” parallels my concerns with Google, where privacy is too often approached from strictly legal or engineering perspectives, failing to consider the broader ethical considerations. More on that soon…

1 comment

  1. Hmmm… in my view it’s more simple. It’s not naivete — it’s money and ego. Zucky is calculated; his perspective is that of a highly ambitious, amoral and megalomaniacal young man who is hungry to build a Charles Foster Kane like empire.

    I have complete trust in him. I trust that he will always push users to ‘share’ more and then backpedal when they protest enough and then push further again shortly thereafter. I trust that he will always act in his own self interest and his shareholders (at least in when those interests overlap) and I trust that he will compile psychographic profiles on everyone and sell them to companies like Choice Point. He may even believe some of his own lies.

    My favorite Zuky quote:

    “We’ve learned time and time again that privacy is the most sensitive thing. Now we feel like we have this privacy model that is going to let us scale.”

    So, Facebook has learned its lesson on privacy “time and time again”. Yes, they’ve learned to use the pattern of push, backpedal, doublespeak and push again. What does he mean by ‘scale’ — he means profit. The doublespeak (and the echoing of those words by the stenographers in the press) helps provide a counterbalance to his pushes which helps to keep the number of users who delete thier accounts lower. That’s a scalable model.

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