Facebook Saved, Google Dilemma’d

Two articles I’ve previously blogged are now available in their final, published versions. Download them while they’re lukewarm!

The Google Dilemma, 53 New York Law School Law Review 939 (2009):

Web search is critical to our ability to use the Internet. Whoever controls search engines has enormous influence on us all. They can shape what we read, who we listen to, and who gets heard. Whoever controls the search engines, perhaps, controls the Internet itself. Today, no one comes closer to controlling search than Google does.

In this short essay, I’ll describe a few of the ways that individuals, companies, and even governments have tried to shape Google’s results to serve their goals. Specifically, I’ll tell the stories of five Google queries, each of which illustrates a different aspect of the problems that Google and other search engines must confront: “mongolian gerbils” shows their power to organize the Internet for us; “talentless hack” shows how their rankings depend on collective human knowledge; “jew” shows why search results can be controversial; “search king” shows the tension between automatic algorithms and human oversight; and “tiananmen” shows how deeply political a search can be. Taken together, these five stories provide a snapshot of search and the interlocking issues that search law must confront.

Saving Facebook (formerly “Facebook and the Social Dynamics of Privacy”), 94 Iowa Law Review 1137 (2009):

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 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. On the other hand, the potentially helpful interventions—such as a strengthened public-disclosure tort and a right to opt out completely—succeed because they do engage with these social dynamics.