Social Networking

Simon Davies wrote an interesting blog post on “Why I’ve stopped caring about what the public thinks about privacy” in which he explains the trap of advocates for any social benefit caring too much about whether there is majority support for their position. I agree with him that privacy advocates who understand the importance of privacy rights and privacy practices should not despair when faced with survey after survey after experiment in which many people, often a majority, either state they don’t care very much about their privacy or demonstrate through action that even if they care about privacy, they ware willing to give it up for a small perceived benefit. However, I think Simon’s article needs further consideration. Of course those of us who see the importance of privacy should not give up our advocacy. However, we should understand where the apathy or even hostility to privacy rights comes from. We need solid empirical research on this and good conceptual presentations of why it happens. Only then can we try to apply force to the right levers to improve everyone’s access to privacy.

My own work on the psychological impact of social network site affordances shows some of the reasons why people’s responses to surveys show that they have limited their desire for privacy. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that in order to maintain their sanity in the face of peer pressure and network effects pushing them into using things like Facebook, including using their “legal name” and having most things open on there, is to downgrade their privacy perceptions. If we can push back against the privacy invasive nature of these systems, giving people technological, legal and economic possibilities to connect without exposure, then I am sure that their reported perceptions of privacy will swing back.

As part of my research I need to look into’s Kindle account offerings. Because of their setup with geographic rights restrictions it’s difficult to set up such an account without a US-registered credit card. Does anyone reading this have an Kindle account who is also available to help us get information about their practices? It’s nothing bad, it’s that we’ve been told provide a “Family Account” with features we’re recommending more service providers should give, but which aren’t available on (and’s account information is mostly in formal Japanese which is a bit beyond me). (an academoc networking site) has an interesting alert service whereby they email anyone whose page is accessed with a referrer URL from one of the main search engines, and give the search terms, the search engine and, where available (from the web server log of rather than from the search engine), the country from which my page was accessed. It’s interesting to see how people find me and from where. Yesterday I got such an alert where one of my papers was found via a search on a minor paraphrasing of one of the significant sentences (i.e. not a linking piece of text but one of the presentations of the core ideas in the paper). Thinking about how I’ve worked in the past, I suspect this was an academic checking for plagiarism in a piece of student work that has made them suspicious.

One of my current research projects (DESVALDO, funded by the CIGREF Foundation) involves surveying people about their use of digital data. While our primary target is non-expert computer users, expert users are also welcome to take it. This is the survey.

Please complete with just one sentence “Facebook is…”.
We have some interesting results from Japanese students and I’m interested in gathering thoughts from other people.