Teens and privacy online: why using Facebook doesn't mean you don't value privacy

Microsoft Research Group researchers danah boyd and Alice Marwick have posted a draft paper entitled "Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens' Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies" that reports on fieldwork interviewing teenagers about how they view privacy. It rebuts the cynical, easy dismissal of online privacy issues that says that kids don't care about privacy because they put their lives on Facebook; instead, it provides compelling testament from everyday kids that their use of Facebook and other social networks is governed by privacy norms because kids can't influence privacy laws or privacy code or privacy markets. In other words, kids have definite ideas about privacy, but limited power to put those ideas into practice.

Another dynamic that teens must navigate is the commonplace collapsing of social
contexts. While countless movies have been made about situations where contexts
collide in everyday life – e.g. running into your ex when out on a date – these are
considered exceptional moments. Yet, in networked publics, it is exceptionally
difficult to separate contexts. The flattening of diverse social relationships into a
monolithic group of "Friends" makes it difficult for users to negotiate the normal
variances of self-­‐presentation that occur in day-­‐to-­‐day life. Social media participants
regularly lament moments where worlds collide.27

A third dynamic brought on by the technological affordances common to networked
publics has to do with the blurring of what is public and what is private. As social
constructs, privacy and publicity are affected by what is structurally feasible and
socially appropriate. In recent history, privacy was often taken for granted because
structural conditions made it easier to not share than to share. Social media has
changed the equation.

In unmediated interactions, we assume a certain amount of privacy simply because
it takes effort to publicize interactions. When we share updates about our lives over
coffee, we don't expect our interlocutors to share them widely, because 1) we don't
believe that said information is interesting enough to be spread widely; 2) it's
difficult to disseminate social information to a large audience in face-­‐to-­‐face
contexts; and 3) recording a conversation or sharing every detail of an interaction
would violate both social norms and the trust assumed in a relationship. If we do
believe that our interlocutor might be interested in sharing what we said, we
explicitly state that the interaction is private and expect the social norms around the
conversation to triumph.28 And if our interlocutor wants to publicize every detail, it
is assumed that this intention will be announced (e.g., a journalist interviewing an
expert). Furthermore, people who are likely to share as much as they can remember
are often labeled as "gossips" – often because they initially violated the social norms
around sharing and are no longer trusted.

How Teens Understand Privacy