Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Issues of power lie behind expectations of privacy

I've been reflecting on the draft publication of research by danah boyd (sic) and Alice Marwick, two researchers from Microsoft, into Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens’ Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies

Their suggestion is that teenagers still hold to a strong notion of privacy, but that they lack the power to enforce their expectations because 'Those who have power over them – their parents and the police – can use their power to violate teens’ norms, using accessibility as their justification' (p6). This last point about 'accessibility' is just simply the argument that because what's written on the Internet is essentially public information, those publishing it can have no expectation of privacy.

The suggestion from the research, though, is that teens still expect much of what they publish to be private - 'just because teens are socializing in a public setting doesn't mean that they want to be public figures' - but that the tools and systems available to them don't allow them to have granular control over what is published and to whom.

The problem, of course, is that the tools and systems available are made available free of charge simply because information is published in such a public form that it can be harvested to target advertising to fund the cost of servers and bandwidth.

Is there any alternative? Would users be prepared to pay directly for a service that offered them granular control over their privacy? Or would such a system only be the realm of criminals, paying for their use of the service with the stolen credit card details of those who pay for the use of more open alternatives by consuming advertising?
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