The More You’re Aware of Online Privacy Policies, The Less You Say

In a fascinating article in The Guardian titled “Facebook should compete on privacy, not hide it away, ” noted security expert Bruce Schneier argues that social networking sites with fairly robust privacy policies (like Facebook) should use it to their competitive advantage, rather than burying the details deep in the sites. Schneier describes the findings of a recent study at Carnegie Mellon ((Read the original paper: “The Best of Strangers: Context Dependent Willingness to Divulge Personal Information.”
Citation: John, L., Acquisti, A., Loewenstein, G. (2009, July 6). The Best of Strangers: Context Dependent Willingness to Divulge Personal Information. Social Science Research Network. Retrieved August 17, 2009 from about perceptions of online privacy like this:

The social networking sites don’t want to remind users about privacy, even if they talk about it positively, because any reminder will result in users remembering their privacy fears and becoming more cautious about sharing personal data. But the sites also need to reassure those “privacy fundamentalists” for whom privacy is always salient, so they have very strong pro-privacy rhetoric for those who take the time to search them out. The two different marketing messages are for two different audiences.

And therein lies the rub: social networking sites are really just an amped-up version of the old-school telephone.  If Sally Sue is the only person with a telephone, the telephone has practically no value (except maybe to throw at an intruder).  When Sally Sue’s friend gets a telephone (and, more importantly, makes a commitment to learn how to use it and then actually use it), the telephone’s worth has just exponentially increased. The worth of social networking sites is entirely dependent on the number of members (in the short term), but also the members’ free labor to self-disclose (over the long term, as these member-offered knowledge bits are what increase usage and draw new users into the site).   The study cited by Schneier clearly finds that the more privacy policies are made evident, the more people are aware of privacy issues and less freely giving with knowledge bits. While many users would probably benefit from a privacy policy reminder (especially just before releasing pictures from an inebriated vacation in Cabo), it’s clear why Facebook and other social networking stalwarts trumpet everything but their privacy policies: it’s not in their best interests to do so.

One Comment

  1. Miami Seo

    When I became aware of the privacy issues on SM sites, I began censoring myself. Yeah, the social media sites become less fun to me now because of this. But at least I won’t be haunted that someone knows a lot about me, and take it against me any time.

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