May 3, 2007

Lit Review: Information Revelation and Privacy in Online Social Networks (The Facebook Case) (Gross & Acquisti)

The researchers conducted an analysis of over 4,000 college students using Facebook at Carnegie Mellon, utilizing the lens of information revelation and related privacy implications.
-Sought to examine the openness of individuals in revealing information (such as contact information, political and sexual orientation, and intimate details of one's personal life) freely posted in the public realm of the Internet.
-Collected actual field data, rather than surveys or experiments.

Information Revelation and Online Social Networking
1. Identifiability
-Varies according to the nature of the site, though most encourage identifiable photos.
2. Types of information elicited
-range from the semi-public to the private to entirely open-ended (diary communities).
3. Visibility of information
-Can be viewed by all members or limited to one's personal network.

-Anecdotal evidence reveals an utter willingness of members to reveal private information.
-Social Network Theory and Privacy: Discussions center on the complex nature of one's propensity to disclose personal information, the importance of weak ties in the formation of social capital, and expectations of privacy.
-In the offline world, relationships are dynamic and can exist at multiple levels of intimacy. Online, relationships are reduced to simply "friend or not".
-Though not necessarily supportive of strong ties, the Internet facilitates the formation of a large and dispersed network of weak ties.
-Situating the Internet as a vast network of rather weak ties, it has been described by some as an imagined community (Anderson), and thus the meaning of trust must be renegotiated, as well as the meaning of intimacy.
-The Internet slightly facilitates meaningful interaction while greatly enhancing the ability of others to access your information.
-Privacy Implications: Photos, demographic data, unique tastes may lead to a re-identification of an individual belonging to more than one SNC. This occurs either through recognition of a pseudonymous user by searching for this information, or knowledge of unknown characteristics of an identified subject on another site.
-Members are often not fully aware of a hosting site's privacy policies concerning information disclosure, or the magnitude of the site's user population and/or data archival.
-Risks include identity theft, stalking, embarrassment and blackmailing.
-Factors in information revelation include peer pressure, perceived benefits outweighing potential harm, casual attitudes regarding privacy, lack of awareness of threat, trust in the service and its members, or the SNC interface itself.
-College-oriented SNCs are often based on a shared real space that is extended to a bounded virtual domain.
-Increased sense of trust and intimacy, however outsider access and rapid network expansion quickly challenge the "realness" of the community and expectations of privacy.
-Photo: 91%; Birthday: 87.8%; Phone: 39.9%; Residence: 50.8%; Dating Preferences, Relationship Status, Religious and Political Views
-Facebook encourages validity of information and a valid e-mail address.
-->89% real names, 8% fake names, 3% first name only
-->91% provide images: 61% directly identifiable, 80% useful for identification, 12% unrelated - in comparison to Friendster: 23% joke images, 55% directly identifiable
-->CMU students average 78.2 friends at CMU and 54.9 at other schools
Data Visibility and Privacy Preferences: Default settings allow everyone at same institution to view full profile, and full name/institution/status/photo show up in any general search. However, visibility and searchability are able to be defined by the individual user. Less than 3% of users alter their privacy settings.

Privacy Implications
-Facebook users appear generally unconcerned about information disclosure and potential ramifications.
1. Stalking: Physical presence can be determined based on location and class schedule; AIM (listed by 77.7% of users).
2. Re-Identification: the linkage of non-explicit information (name, address) with explicit information (common attributes). This can be based on demographics (all one needs is zip code, gender, and birthdate- provided by 44.3% of users), face (provided by 55.4%), social security number and identity theft (birthdate, residence, phone number)
3. Building a Digital Dossier: Sensitive data revealed in college, such as sexual orientation and political reviews, is archived and can potentially be mined in the future.
4. Fragile Privacy Protection: Social networks can be hacked! E-mail addresses can be hacked, manipulation of users (when 250,000 users were sent a friend request, 30% were willing to make all of their information available by accepting), advanced search features are available to anyone in the network looking to search for someone at any college

This article is slightly dated (2005), and concerns over privacy on the Internet have since grown exponentially due to media dramatization and new features implemented by Facebook (namely, the News Feed, which encouraged many to finally implement some of the privacy options made available to users). A simple survey tapping into perceived privacy, protective behaviors, and perceived audience would be easy to implement- Facebook does make recruiting participants a lot easier! Also, Facebook has since updated their privacy policy- a little highlighted review:

We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile. Where such information is used, we generally allow you to specify in your privacy settings that you do not want this to be done or to take other actions that limit the connection of this information to your profile (e.g., removing photo tag links).

We do not provide contact information to third party marketers without your permission. We share your information with third parties only in limited circumstances where we believe such sharing is 1) reasonably necessary to offer the service, 2) legally required or, 3) permitted by you.

We may be required to disclose user information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. We do not reveal information until we have a good faith belief that an information request by law enforcement or private litigants meets applicable legal standards. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law, to protect our interests or property, to prevent fraud or other illegal activity perpetrated through the Facebook service or using the Facebook name, or to prevent imminent bodily harm. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies.

If the ownership of all or substantially all of the Facebook business, or individual business units owned by Facebook, Inc., were to change, your user information may be transferred to the new owner so the service can continue operations.

Individuals who wish to deactivate their Facebook account may do so on the My Account page. Removed information may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time but will not be generally available to members of Facebook.

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