a feminist technology blog

Month: April 2010

Berkman Center Literature Review: Youth, Reputation and Privacy

I am delighted to announce that a review of the literature on youth, privacy, and reputation that I co-authored with Diego Murgia-Diaz and John Palfrey has just been published on SSRN. This is part of the Youth and Media Policy Project, funded by MacArthur Foundation, for which I am a research assistant. This was a somewhat massive undertaking, but we’re all very pleased with the result.

Youth, Reputation and Privacy Report
Youth, Privacy and Reputation (Literature Review)


The scope of this literature review is to map out what is currently understood about the intersections of youth, reputation, and privacy online, focusing on youth attitudes and practices. We summarize both key empirical studies from quantitative and qualitative perspectives and the legal issues involved in regulating privacy and reputation. This project includes studies of children, teenagers, and younger college students. For the purposes of this document, we use “teenagers” or “adolescents” to refer to young people ages 13-19; children are considered to be 0-12 years old. However, due to a lack of large-scale empirical research on this topic, and the prevalence of empirical studies on college students, we selectively included studies that discussed age or included age as a variable. Due to language issues, the majority of this literature covers the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada.

Here’s the introduction:

Many adults worry about children and teenagers’ online privacy, predominantly due to a perception that youth put themselves at risk for harassment and solicitation by revealing personal information, usually to marketers or on social networking sites (Aidman 2000; Giffen 2008; Read 2006). First, commercial websites and advertising networks are said to manipulate children into providing personal data which is bought, sold, and used for monetary gain (Cai & Gantz 2000; Montgomery & Pasnik 1996; Moscardelli & Liston-Heyes 2004; Youn 2009). Second, recent privacy worries are centered around secrecy, access, and the risks that “public living” on sites like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube poses from educational institutions, future employers, pedophiles, and child pornographers (Palfrey et al. 2008; Lenhart & Madden 2007; Youn 2009). These concerns can translate to blaming youth for their carelessness, with the frequently-cited maxim that “youth don’t care about privacy” (Kornblum 2007; Nussbaum 2007; Moscardelli & Liston-Heyes 2004). At the same time that youth are castigated for their openness, children and teenagers are under increasing surveillance at home and school, facilitated by Internet filters, mobile phones, and other monitoring technologies (Berson & Berson, 2006; Hope, 2005).

Often, young people are viewed on one side of a generational divide (Herring 2008). “Millennials” or “digital natives” are portrayed as more comfortable with digital technologies and as having significantly different behaviors than their “digital immigrant” parents (Palfrey & Gasser 2008; Solove 2008; N. Howe & Strauss 2000). There is a risk of this discourse exoticizing the experience of young people from an adult perspective, given the fact that adults perform most of the research on young people, create the technologies that young people use, and produce media commentary on children and teenagers (Herring 2008). Much of the popular media’s commentary on young people lumps children and teenagers together using a “generational” rhetoric that flattens the diverse experiences of young people in different contexts, countries, class positions and traditions.

For many of today’s young people, peer socialization, flirting, gossiping, relationship-building, and “hanging out” takes place online (boyd 2008; Ito et al. 2008; Herring 2008). Young people primarily use online technologies to talk with people they already know. Sharing information through social network sites or instant messenger reinforces bonds of trust within peer groups.

The idea of two distinct spheres, of the “public” and the “private,” is in many ways an outdated concept to today’s young people. Much of the studies of privacy online focus on risk, rather than understanding the necessity of private spaces for young people where they can socialize away from the watching eyes of parents or teachers. These seeming contradictions demonstrate how understandings of risk, public space, private information, and the role of the Internet in day-today life differ between children, teenagers, parents, teachers, journalists, and scholars.

Download the paper from SSRN here.

Marwick, Alice E, Murgia-Diaz, Diego and Palfrey, John G., Youth, Privacy and Reputation (Literature Review) (March 29, 2010). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2010-5. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1588163

Note that like all literature reviews, it is impossible to be entirely comprehensive. I apologize if your fine work in this field was left out (but please do comment and leave citation suggestions!).

Job Announcement: Microsoft Research New England postdoc

It has been a LONG time since I posted anything in this blog– I used to be so conscientious! But I have some very exciting news. In September 2010, I will be joining Microsoft Research New England as a postdoc, working with danah boyd for the next two years. I will be finishing my dissertation this summer and moving to Boston in late August.

Danah has been an enormously significant mentor and friend during my academic career. I interned with her last summer, and we wrote two terrific papers, both of which have been accepted for publication, one in New Media and Society and one in Convergence (more about that in a future post). She is serving on my committee as an outside reader, and we have appeared on many panels together. I have learned an enormous amount from danah, not only about technology, but about professionalization, ethnography, method, and ethics. She is a superlative scholar and I am super lucky to be working with her.

I have worked with Microsoft many times before, starting as an intern on Windows CE 1.0 in 1997! Microsoft Research could not be a better place to work – the researchers are fantastic, the resources are unbelievable and I will have a great deal of freedom to design my own wacky research projects (last summer, as an intern, I studied celebrity and micro-celebrity on Twitter). Danah and I plan to do a lot of fieldwork and continue to write together, and I will be pursuing my own research agenda as well (I am so caught up in finishing the diss that I am not entirely sure what that will be).

In summary: yay! I need to thank my committee, Marita Sturken, Helen Nissenbaum, and Biella Coleman, for being tremendously helpful, and my partner, Harry Heymann, for helping me figure everything out (and serving as a beta reader for my dissertation). And of course all my other colleagues, mentors, and friends. I am confident that MSR will be a great place for me to begin my post-PhD career and I look forward to what the future will bring.

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