Entries Tagged "Internet and society"

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The Battle for Internet Governance

Good article on the current battle for Internet governance:

The War for the Internet was inevitable — a time bomb built into its creation. The war grows out of tensions that came to a head as the Internet grew to serve populations far beyond those for which it was designed. Originally built to supplement the analog interactions among American soldiers and scientists who knew one another off-line, the Internet was established on a bedrock of trust: trust that people were who they said they were, and trust that information would be handled according to existing social and legal norms. That foundation of trust crumbled as the Internet expanded. The system is now approaching a state of crisis on four main fronts.

The first is sovereignty: by definition, a boundary-less system flouts geography and challenges the power of nation-states. The second is piracy and intellectual property: information wants to be free, as the hoary saying goes, but rights-holders want to be paid and protected. The third is privacy: online anonymity allows for creativity and political dissent, but it also gives cover to disruptive and criminal behavior — and much of what Internet users believe they do anonymously online can be tracked and tied to people’s real-world identities. The fourth is security: free access to an open Internet makes users vulnerable to various kinds of hacking, including corporate and government espionage, personal surveillance, the hijacking of Web traffic, and remote manipulation of computer-controlled military and industrial processes.

Posted on April 4, 2012 at 12:34 PMView Comments

Password Sharing Among American Teenagers

Interesting article from the New York Times on password sharing as a show of affection.

“It’s a sign of trust,” Tiffany Carandang, a high school senior in San Francisco, said of the decision she and her boyfriend made several months ago to share passwords for e-mail and Facebook. “I have nothing to hide from him, and he has nothing to hide from me.”

“That is so cute,” said Cherry Ng, 16, listening in to her friend’s comments to a reporter outside school. “They really trust each other.”

We do, said Ms. Carandang, 17. “I know he’d never do anything to hurt my reputation,” she added.

It doesn’t always end so well, of course. Changing a password is simple, but students, counselors and parents say that damage is often done before a password is changed, or that the sharing of online lives can be the reason a relationship falters.

Ethnologist danah boyd discusses what’s happening:

For Meixing, sharing her password with her boyfriend is a way of being connected. But it’s precisely these kinds of narratives that have prompted all sorts of horror by adults over the last week since that NYTimes article came out. I can’t count the number of people who have gasped “How could they!?!” at me. For this reason, I feel the need to pick up on an issue that the NYTimes let out.

The idea of teens sharing passwords didn’t come out of thin air. In fact, it was normalized by adults. And not just any adult. This practice is the product of parental online safety norms. In most households, it’s quite common for young children to give their parents their passwords. With elementary and middle school youth, this is often a practical matter: children lose their passwords pretty quickly. Furthermore, most parents reasonably believe that young children should be supervised online. As tweens turn into teens, the narrative shifts. Some parents continue to require passwords be forked over, using explanations like “because I’m your mother.” But many parents use the language of “trust” to explain why teens should share their passwords with them.

Much more in her post.

Related: a profile of danah boyd.

Posted on January 27, 2012 at 6:39 AMView Comments

Assisting a Hostage Taker via Facebook

It’s a new world:

An armed Valdez, 36, held a woman hostage at a motel in a tense 16-hour, overnight standoff with SWAT teams, all while finding time to keep his family and friends updated on Facebook.

[…]

In all, Valdez made six posts and added at least a dozen new friends.

His family and friends responded with 100 comments. Some people offered words of support, and others pleaded for him to “do the right thing.”

[…]

“I’m currently in a standoff … kinda ugly, but ready for whatever,” Valdez wrote in his first post at 11.23pm “I love u guyz and if I don’t make it out of here alive that I’m in a better place and u were all great friends.”

[…]

At 2.04am, Valdez posted two pictures of himself and the woman. “Got a cute ‘Hostage’ huh,” Valdez wrote of the photographs.

At 3.48am, one of Valdez’ friends posted that police had a “gunner in the bushes stay low.” Valdez thanked him in a reply.

[…]

Police believe that responses from Valdez’s friend gave him an advantage.

Authorities are now discussing whether some of Valdez’ friends should be arrested and charged with obstruction of justice for hampering a police investigation. “We’re not sure yet how to deal with it,” said Croyle.

Posted on June 24, 2011 at 11:40 AMView Comments

Get Your Terrorist Alerts on Facebook and Twitter

Colors are so last decade:

The U.S. government’s new system to replace the five color-coded terror alerts will have two levels of warnings ­ elevated and imminent ­ that will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances for limited periods of time, sometimes using Facebook and Twitter, according to a draft Homeland Security Department plan obtained by The Associated Press.

Some terror warnings could be withheld from the public entirely if announcing a threat would risk exposing an intelligence operation or a current investigation, according to the government’s confidential plan.

Like a carton of milk, the new terror warnings will each come with a stamped expiration date.

Specific and limited are good. Twitter and Facebook: I’m not so sure.

But what could go wrong?

An errant keystroke touched off a brief panic Thursday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when an emergency message accidentally was sent out saying an “active shooter” was on campus.

The first message was sent on the university’s emergency alert system at 10:40 a.m., reaching 87,000 cellphones and email addresses, according to the university.

The university corrected the false alarm about 12 minutes later and said the alert was caused when a worker updating the emergency messaging system inadvertently sent the message rather than saving it.

The emails are designed to go out quickly in the event of an emergency, so the false alarm could not be canceled before it went out, the university said.

Posted on April 8, 2011 at 1:23 PMView Comments

Risk Reduction Strategies on Social Networking Sites

By two teenagers:

Mikalah uses Facebook but when she goes to log out, she deactivates her Facebook account. She knows that this doesn’t delete the account ­ that’s the point. She knows that when she logs back in, she’ll be able to reactivate the account and have all of her friend connections back. But when she’s not logged in, no one can post messages on her wall or send her messages privately or browse her content. But when she’s logged in, they can do all of that. And she can delete anything that she doesn’t like. Michael Ducker calls this practice “super-logoff” when he noticed a group of gay male adults doing the exact same thing.

And:

Shamika doesn’t deactivate her Facebook profile but she does delete every wall message, status update, and Like shortly after it’s posted. She’ll post a status update and leave it there until she’s ready to post the next one or until she’s done with it. Then she’ll delete it from her profile. When she’s done reading a friend’s comment on her page, she’ll delete it. She’ll leave a Like up for a few days for her friends to see and then delete it.

I’ve heard this practice called wall scrubbing.

In any reasonably competitive market economy, sites would offer these as options to better serve their customers. But in the give-it-away user-as-product economy we so often have on the Internet, the social networking sites have a different agenda.

Posted on December 1, 2010 at 1:27 PMView Comments

Social Steganography

From danah boyd:

Carmen is engaging in social steganography. She’s hiding information in plain sight, creating a message that can be read in one way by those who aren’t in the know and read differently by those who are. She’s communicating to different audiences simultaneously, relying on specific cultural awareness to provide the right interpretive lens. While she’s focused primarily on separating her mother from her friends, her message is also meaningless to broader audiences who have no idea that she had just broken up with her boyfriend.

Posted on August 25, 2010 at 6:20 AMView Comments

Late Teens and Facebook Privacy

Facebook Privacy Settings: Who Cares?” by danah boyd and Eszter Hargittai.

Abstract: With over 500 million users, the decisions that Facebook makes about its privacy settings have the potential to influence many people. While its changes in this domain have often prompted privacy advocates and news media to critique the company, Facebook has continued to attract more users to its service. This raises a question about whether or not Facebook’s changes in privacy approaches matter and, if so, to whom. This paper examines the attitudes and practices of a cohort of 18– and 19–year–olds surveyed in 2009 and again in 2010 about Facebook’s privacy settings. Our results challenge widespread assumptions that youth do not care about and are not engaged with navigating privacy. We find that, while not universal, modifications to privacy settings have increased during a year in which Facebook’s approach to privacy was hotly contested. We also find that both frequency and type of Facebook use as well as Internet skill are correlated with making modifications to privacy settings. In contrast, we observe few gender differences in how young adults approach their Facebook privacy settings, which is notable given that gender differences exist in so many other domains online. We discuss the possible reasons for our findings and their implications.

Posted on August 11, 2010 at 6:00 AMView Comments

Young People, Privacy, and the Internet

There’s a lot out there on this topic. I’ve already linked to danah boyd’s excellent SXSW talk (and her work in general), my essay on privacy and control, and my talk — “Security, Privacy, and the Generation Gap” — which I’ve given four times in the past two months.

Last week, two new papers were published on the topic.

Youth, Privacy, and Reputation” is a literature review published by Harvard’s Berkman Center. It’s long, but an excellent summary of what’s out there on the topic:

Conclusions: The prevailing discourse around youth and privacy assumes that young people don’t care about their privacy because they post so much personal information online. The implication is that posting personal information online puts them at risk from marketers, pedophiles, future employers, and so on. Thus, policy and technical solutions are proposed that presume that young would not put personal information online if they understood the consequences. However, our review of the literature suggests that young people care deeply about privacy, particularly with regard to parents and teachers viewing personal information. Young people are heavily monitored at home, at school, and in public by a variety of surveillance technologies. Children and teenagers want private spaces for socialization, exploration, and experimentation, away from adult eyes. Posting personal information online is a way for youth to express themselves, connect with peers, increase popularity, and bond with friends and members of peer groups. Subsequently, young people want to be able to restrict information provided online in a nuanced and granular way.

Much popular writing (and some research) discusses young people, online technologies, and privacy in ways that do not reflect the realities of most children and teenagers’ lives. However, this provides rich opportunities for future research in this area. For instance, there are no studies of the impact of surveillance on young people– at school, at home, or in public. Although we have cited several qualitative and ethnographic studies of young people’s privacy practices and attitudes, more work in this area is needed to fully understand similarities and differences in this age group, particularly within age cohorts, across socioeconomic classes, between genders, and so forth. Finally, given that the frequently-cited comparative surveys of young people and adult privacy practices and attitudes are quite old, new research would be invaluable. We look forward to new directions in research in this area.

How Different Are Young Adults from Older Adults When it Comes to Information Privacy Attitudes & Policy?” from the University of California Berkeley, describes the results of a broad survey on privacy attitudes.

Conclusion: In policy circles, it has become almost a cliché to claim that young people do not care about privacy. Certainly there are many troubling anecdotes surrounding young individuals’ use of the internet, and of social networking sites in particular. Nevertheless, we found that in large proportions young adults do care about privacy. The data show that they and older adults are more alike on many privacy topics than they are different. We suggest, then, that young-adult Americans have an aspiration for increased privacy even while they participate in an online reality that is optimized to increase their revelation of personal data.

Public policy agendas should therefore not start with the proposition that young adults do not care about privacy and thus do not need regulations and other safeguards. Rather, policy discussions should acknowledge that the current business environment along with other factors sometimes encourages young adults to release personal data in order to enjoy social inclusion even while in their most rational moments they may espouse more conservative norms. Education may be useful. Although many young adults are exposed to educational programs about the internet, the focus of these programs is on personal safety from online predators and cyberbullying with little emphasis on information security and privacy. Young adults certainly are different from older adults when it comes to knowledge of privacy law. They are more likely to believe that the law protects them both online and off. This lack of knowledge in a tempting environment, rather than a cavalier lack of concern regarding privacy, may be an important reason large numbers of them engage with the digital world in a seemingly unconcerned manner.

But education alone is probably not enough for young adults to reach aspirational levels of privacy. They likely need multiple forms of help from various quarters of society, including perhaps the regulatory arena, to cope with the complex online currents that aim to contradict their best privacy instincts.

They’re both worth reading for anyone interested in this topic.

Posted on April 20, 2010 at 1:50 PMView Comments

Privacy and Control

In January Facebook Chief Executive, Mark Zuckerberg, declared the age of privacy to be over. A month earlier, Google Chief Eric Schmidt expressed a similar sentiment. Add Scott McNealy’s and Larry Ellison’s comments from a few years earlier, and you’ve got a whole lot of tech CEOs proclaiming the death of privacy–especially when it comes to young people.

It’s just not true. People, including the younger generation, still care about privacy. Yes, they’re far more public on the Internet than their parents: writing personal details on Facebook, posting embarrassing photos on Flickr and having intimate conversations on Twitter. But they take steps to protect their privacy and vociferously complain when they feel it violated. They’re not technically sophisticated about privacy and make mistakes all the time, but that’s mostly the fault of companies and Web sites that try to manipulate them for financial gain.

To the older generation, privacy is about secrecy. And, as the Supreme Court said, once something is no longer secret, it’s no longer private. But that’s not how privacy works, and it’s not how the younger generation thinks about it. Privacy is about control. When your health records are sold to a pharmaceutical company without your permission; when a social-networking site changes your privacy settings to make what used to be visible only to your friends visible to everyone; when the NSA eavesdrops on everyone’s e-mail conversations–your loss of control over that information is the issue. We may not mind sharing our personal lives and thoughts, but we want to control how, where and with whom. A privacy failure is a control failure.

People’s relationship with privacy is socially complicated. Salience matters: People are more likely to protect their privacy if they’re thinking about it, and less likely to if they’re thinking about something else. Social-networking sites know this, constantly reminding people about how much fun it is to share photos and comments and conversations while downplaying the privacy risks. Some sites go even further, deliberately hiding information about how little control–and privacy–users have over their data. We all give up our privacy when we’re not thinking about it.

Group behavior matters; we’re more likely to expose personal information when our peers are doing it. We object more to losing privacy than we value its return once it’s gone. Even if we don’t have control over our data, an illusion of control reassures us. And we are poor judges of risk. All sorts of academic research backs up these findings.

Here’s the problem: The very companies whose CEOs eulogize privacy make their money by controlling vast amounts of their users’ information. Whether through targeted advertising, cross-selling or simply convincing their users to spend more time on their site and sign up their friends, more information shared in more ways, more publicly means more profits. This means these companies are motivated to continually ratchet down the privacy of their services, while at the same time pronouncing privacy erosions as inevitable and giving users the illusion of control.

You can see these forces in play with Google‘s launch of Buzz. Buzz is a Twitter-like chatting service, and when Google launched it in February, the defaults were set so people would follow the people they corresponded with frequently in Gmail, with the list publicly available. Yes, users could change these options, but–and Google knew this–changing options is hard and most people accept the defaults, especially when they’re trying out something new. People were upset that their previously private e-mail contacts list was suddenly public. A Federal Trade Commission commissioner even threatened penalties. And though Google changed its defaults, resentment remained.

Facebook tried a similar control grab when it changed people’s default privacy settings last December to make them more public. While users could, in theory, keep their previous settings, it took an effort. Many people just wanted to chat with their friends and clicked through the new defaults without realizing it.

Facebook has a history of this sort of thing. In 2006 it introduced News Feeds, which changed the way people viewed information about their friends. There was no true privacy change in that users could not see more information than before; the change was in control–or arguably, just in the illusion of control. Still, there was a large uproar. And Facebook is doing it again; last month, the company announced new privacy changes that will make it easier for it to collect location data on users and sell that data to third parties.

With all this privacy erosion, those CEOs may actually be right–but only because they’re working to kill privacy. On the Internet, our privacy options are limited to the options those companies give us and how easy they are to find. We have Gmail and Facebook accounts because that’s where we socialize these days, and it’s hard–especially for the younger generation–to opt out. As long as privacy isn’t salient, and as long as these companies are allowed to forcibly change social norms by limiting options, people will increasingly get used to less and less privacy. There’s no malice on anyone’s part here; it’s just market forces in action. If we believe privacy is a social good, something necessary for democracy, liberty and human dignity, then we can’t rely on market forces to maintain it. Broad legislation protecting personal privacy by giving people control over their personal data is the only solution.

This essay originally appeared on Forbes.com.

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): Google responds. And another essay on the topic.

Posted on April 6, 2010 at 7:47 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.