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Tag: privacy

How Teens Understand Privacy

Danah and I just released a new article draft. Here’s danah’s introduction to it:

In the fall, danah boyd and Alice Marwick went into the field to understand teens’ privacy attitudes and practices. We’ve blogged some of our thinking since then but we’re currently working on turning our thinking into a full-length article. We are lucky enough to be able to workshop our ideas at an upcoming scholarly meeting (PLSC), but we also wanted to share our work-in-progress with the public since we both know that there are all sorts of folks out there who have a lot of knowledge about this domain but with whom we don’t have the privilege of regularly interacting.

“Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens’ Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies”
by danah boyd and Alice Marwick

Please understand that this is an unfinished work-in-progress article, complete with all sorts of bugs that we will need to address before we submit it for publication. But… we would certainly love feedback, critiques, and suggestions for how to improve it. Given the highly interdisciplinary nature of this kind of research, it’s also quite likely that we’re missing out on all sorts of prior work that was done in this space so we’d love to also hear about any articles that we should’ve read by now. Or any thoughts you might have that might advance/complicate our thinking.

CNN: Online Sharing, the rock n’ roll of the digital generation

I was apparently CNN’s go-to privacy researcher last week as I’m heavily quoted in this (pretty good) piece on young people and sharing:

Alice Marwick, a social-media researcher for Microsoft Research, predicts that the stereotype of young people oversharing online may be starting to fade.

“I think that, a few years ago when this concern was really at a peak, the people who were judging young people for their online information practices weren’t really using social media themselves,” she said. “As we see more people in their 40s and 50s and 60s get involved … I think we’re going to see much less of this generational schism than we do today.”

Marwick is quick to point out, though, that age might not be the best way to judge attitudes, and aptitude, regarding digital privacy.

“Someone’s level of education, their access to technology in the home — those types of things are going to have more of an effect on their comfort level than their age,” she said.

This is part of my campaign to eradicate “generations” rhetoric, which I truly dislike. It encourages moral panics about what the “kids” are doing, it paints extremely diverse populations with a single brush, and it often takes educated, middle-class experience and universalizes it. You tell me all young people are super tech-savvy and I’ll show you a class of NYU students where 50% didn’t know you could edit Wikipedia, and one asked me what a browser was; and you tell me all young people are lazy, video-game addicted social deviants and I’ll show you a kid from a working-class family who’s addicted to 4Chan, very active in his church, and aspiring to be a US Marine. We do young people a disservice when we make broad claims about them and then attempt to regulate their behavior based on this. Tip of the hat to article author Doug Gross for acknowledging this diversity.

CNN on “the end of privacy”

John Sutter from CNN interviewed me for this story that provides a broad overview of information-sharing concerns. I think it’s fairly balanced, and I’m also happy that this quote made it in:

“The teenagers and 20-somethings we talk to — a huge aspect of their social life goes on online,” Marwick said. “Not participating in online life is like not having a phone or not going to parties — it’s choosing to opt out of an important part of their social community. It’s not really a choice for many young people.”

You’ll notice that I relay an anecdote that danah blogged about: a pair of girls we interviewed who used the “super logoff” and “whitewashing” methods. “Super logoff” is deleting your account upon exiting Facebook; “whitewashing” is deleting comments, pictures, and Wall posts after they’ve been up for a few hours. While we’ve only interviewed a few teens who’ve exhibited these behaviors, they’re part of a continuum of creative privacy-protection strategies that includes maintaining multiple profiles, “social steganography,” or posting coded messages that are meant only for a select group, switching from Facebook to SMS when appropriate, deleting one’s Facebook account, and a host of other permutations and possibilities. I’m glad that people are beginning to understand that participating in online social life doesn’t– at all– mean the participants “don’t care about privacy.”

This is the first of a series, and I’m very curious to see where CNN goes with it.

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!).

“There’s No Hiding on Facebook”

I was asked to write an editorial for the Guardian’s Comment website about Facebook and privacy. Here’s an excerpt:

Facebook has been repeatedly criticised on privacy grounds. While the company claims it doesn’t sell user information, details are made available to third-party application developers, who account for much of the site’s profits. And researchers have found that personal data can be “leaked” to advertisers and data aggregators, who already collect browsing and behavioural information about people as they move about the web. Just last week, Facebook announced a multi-million dollar deal with Nielsen, known for their meticulous tracking of television ratings and internet metrics.

Even without these partnerships, Facebook makes privacy advocates uneasy. University of Wisconsin professor Michael Zimmer accurately identified an “anonymised” Facebook dataset from the description that it was a private college in the northeast (spoiler alert: it was Harvard). Similarly, the “Project Gaydar” research team at MIT found that gay men’s sexual orientation could be identified based solely on their friends. It’s not just information you make explicitly available – age, partner’s name or favourite film – that identifies you on Facebook. Close analysis of a network of friends can reveal deeply personal details, even with a private profile. These studies suggest that it’s impossible to retain complete control over personal information within a detailed, publicly available network.

I’m happy with how it came out and I look forward to hearing everyone’s comments. The Guardian website right now has a majority in favor of “if you post your personal info on Facebook you deserve whatever you get,” so if your understanding of online privacy is slightly more sophisticated, feel free to leave me feedback.

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