Privacy and the internet don’t really go hand in hand. People will tell you cautionary tales about that – “once it’s on the internet…!” Yup, you’ve heard the horror stories.

As you may have noticed, Facebook constantly changes its privacy policy. But what exactly are some of the changes? It seems that when a layout change occurs, people pay attention and give their time of day to explore the new settings, but notifications about new privacy policies aren’t given too much thought. When Facebook started out, your information was viewable by friends and people in your network (such as a school network). We observed the transformations across the years on this timeline. Facebook started in 2005 with the policy that “No personal information that you submit to The Facebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.” Five years later (by April 2010), it’s become “When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. …” and ended on the note that “If you are uncomfortable with the connection being publicly available, you should consider removing (or not making) the connection.” Oof, there goes your privacy!

Ever notice how personalized those ads are on the right hand side bar? Your information is shared with outside parties. Surprisingly, not too many people seem bothered by this. When asked about Facebook privacy, a friend of mine, Hayden, had replied: “I don’t really care about apps and advertisers having my ‘general info.’ It’s not like individual people looking at my page wanting to cyber-stalk me, so it doesn’t feel creepy or anything.” My other friend Abby had nothing but positive things to say about Facebook privacy – “My parents have been bugging me about adding them on Facebook for ages. With the new privacy settings, I feel like I have more control over what I can share with people in my friends list and networks. I can individualize customize settings on albums or statuses or photos that I don’t want my parents to see. They don’t know half the things that I do on there.”

Hayden and Abby’s views are not at all unique. We surveyed a few other students as well and visited online forums, and have come to the conclusion that generally people are okay with advertisers having their basic information as long as they are still able to regulate what their personal contacts have access to. In this article from the Huffington Post talking about new privacy issues on Facebook occurring this past February, we saw that though many readers’ comments were angry, most defended Facebook saying, “Facebook is a company and this is just business,” “No big deal. Just opt out.” “You still have personal privacy settings, don’t worry,” etc. If you Google “Facebook Privacy Issues 2011” only at the bottom of the page do you find links to mainsteam media like the LA Times and CBS, but even those articles are just about Facebook responding to claims or explaining why the site is safe and wonderful. It appears that we all drank the Kool-Aid and are totally Team Facebook.

This then leads to a much larger question. Why are we comfortable providing information about ourselves to random companies, but feel the need to hide our pictures and posts (that we’re sharing on a public domain to begin with anyway)?

Looking back at the research we did for our draft two weeks ago, we found that media coverage about Facebook invading users’ privacy has decreased as dependency on the site increased. Now the stories on major news sources are either like those described above or about how users are violating each others’ privacy (i.e. cyber bullying and stalking). Now that Facebook is such a part of mainstream society, people seem to be willing to accept the site’s privacy policies and instead turn on other users. Facebook is the hero trying to keep us safe. In the beginning on the month, Facebook even released new anti-bullying tools with the support of the White House.

Facebook, once portrayed by the media as a great villain invading our daily lives, is now a great online protector as Mark Zuckerberg and Obama fight to stop bullying.

For next week, we’ll look further into how Facebook’s public image has changed since 2005 and how users are responding to Facebook’s announcements. We’ll dig through archives on Facebook’s blog and Mark Zuckerberg’s page to find privacy announcements and how users responded not only to the announcement, but to each others’ reactions. We’ll also be continuing to attempt with someone on staff at Facebook to see what their approach to public relations and user feedback regarding privacy has been through the years.

- Kristen Kim and Elizabeth Connerat

3 Responses to “How Much Do They Know About Me?”

  1. msmith says:

    Great work. Seems like you’ve done some really thorough research.

    I think it’s totally reasonable to limit the scope of your original research to NYU students, but you lose a little credibility by lack of specificity (i.e referring to ‘a few’ other students, etc.). For your final, you might want to tighten up some of those claims and maybe even articulate the questions you asked your interviewees. It will give your readers more solid ground to assess your argument, which I think will ultimately be in your favor.

  2. Jessica Yu says:

    Awesome! I think the research you guys have done regarding the changes of privacy on Facebook is really great – to give an overall idea of what has been going on since Facebook started. And it’s great that you are tying into Facebook’s public image with their numerous changes on their privacy section. Like above, it might be better to interview people other than your friend or people from NYU, just to make it more credible. I personally always feel nervous whenever Facebook announce they changed their privacy seting again. I would always go and make sure I disabled the right thing, and nothing is shared to the public world unless I want to.
    Also, did you know if someone has ever typed their phone number in an event page, it’s Google-able? That’s how I found out who called me one time as an anonymous.

  3. Kevin says:

    This is a very important topic that you guys are doing a great job exploring. I feel like, as you mentioned, Facebook has become such a normal part of our lives that we go along with whatever it says. Even though people are concerned about their privacy, I feel like they are more concerned about the activity going on in Facebook, so they would not be willing to give it up. Like I commented last time, I get a reminder that my privacy protection is only at medium. I explored it more and in order to increase my privacy setting, I had to give them my phone number. This didn’t make any sense to me because that is just surrendering more of my private information to Facebook. I hope you guys are able to get some answers as to cracking the code that is Facebook privacy.

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