Lit Review: Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook

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Stutzman, Fred, Ralph Gross, and Alessandro Acquist.  “Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook.” 2012.  Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality, 4:2.

“Access to increasingly granular settings, to determine  which profile data other Facebook users get to peruse, may have increased a member’s feeling of control and direct her attention towards the sharing taking place with other active, non-silent, members of the network; in turn, perceptions of control over personal data and misdirection of users’ attention have been linked to increases in disclosures of sensitive information to strangers”

Summary: Stuzman et al. use a private, long-term data set of Carnegie Mellon Facebook users, finding that over time users have looked for greater perceived privacy, but have in fact increased the information available to advertisers and Facebook itself, i.e. “silent listeners.”    Although the overall trend is to share less private information over time, they do find an uptick in 2009-10 which they credit to changes in Facebook privacy policies increasing users’ cognitive burden.

Analysis:  One particularly interesting point was that of “incidental data,” the creation of new data without actual creation, e.g. that aps pull information from users and users’ friends without an active choice to share such data.  They also mention that social media users consistently underestimate their audience size, being aware of only 27% of their audience. I see a lot of potential in further research that forces users to think about and analyze such choices.

The dataset has several limitations, sadly unavoidable in the context of having such “long-term” information.  The profile elements they analyze are very basic, such as birth date, phone, and favorite media.  Additionally, they don’t address the issue of how their participant pool ages, particularly the effects of leaving college on privacy seeking behavior.  They also mention that they couldn’t determine between non-disclosures based on hidden information versus information that was simply not given at all.  Despite these, having an unique longitudinal dataset makes this worth reading.

Overall:  It will make you feel really paranoid about your own Facebook behavior, but also pique your interest.  Also the lit review is really amazing in terms of summerizing the research on multiple presentations of self.

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