I’ve put online my latest draft, Facebook and the Social Dynamics of Privacy. It’s a comprehensive look at the shabby state of privacy on Facebook, and it’s been my main project this summer. My take is that it’s unfair to blame Facebook’s privacy woes entirely on Facebook; some of the privacy trouble is inherent in the very nature of social networking. The kinds of socializing that take place on Facebook—creating identities, relationships, and communities—intrinsically require people to reveal sensitive information about themselves.
Thus, I argue, law can help people understand some the risks, and it can protect them from truly unfair surprises, but it can’t make social network sites completely safe from a privacy perspective, and it shouldn’t try. The only way to make Facebook perfectly private would be to unplug its servers and drop them in the Mariana Trench. People want to socialize, and legal policy doesn’t recognize that fact will merely divert them into socializing in even riskier ways.
Here’s the abstract:
This Article provides the first comprehensive analysis of the law and policy of privacy on social network sites, using Facebook as its principal example. It explains how Facebook users socialize on the site, why they misunderstand the risks involved, and how their privacy suffers as a result. Facebook offers a socially compelling platform that also facilitates peer-to-peer privacy violations: users harming each others’ privacy interests. These two facts are inextricably linked; people use Facebook with the goal of sharing some information about themselves. Policymakers cannot make Facebook completely safe, but they can help people use it safely.
The Article makes this case by presenting a rich, factually grounded description of the social dynamics of privacy on Facebook. It then uses that description to evaluate a dozen possible policy interventions. Unhelpful interventions—such as mandatory data portability and bans on underage use—fail because they also fail to engage with key aspects of how and why people use social network sites. The potentially helpful interventions, on the other hand—such as a strengthened public-disclosure tort and a right to opt out completely—succeed because they do engage with these social dynamics.