Does Social Media Require Us to Lower Our Privacy Expectations?

I don’t always agree with Kent Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen. My last commentary on one of his posts was to take him to task for overreaching in his read on Randy Cohen’s brief thoughts on the ethics of format shifting a purchased book via a download. I enjoy the blog, though, and try to give Anderson the benefit of the doubt to keep my own assumptions and views more agile than they would be otherwise.

His response to the trending of privacy concerns on Facebook is thoughtful and thought provoking. He does a good job of summarizing the field without undue bias. I initially thought that his lede, setting the erosion of privacy against social media intrinsically requiring a lowering of expectations was going to be inflammatory. As it turns out, not at all.

Rather than a personal intuition about the space, what he is referring to is some research that suggests we may truly need to lower our privacy inhibitions to increase the value we derive from social connections online. I don’t credit Zuckerberg or any corporation upsetting the balance of privacy with this sort of considered understanding of how privacy and social networks mathematically interact. Anderson is less sure but I don’t think Facebook’s moves to force our expectations lower has anything other to do than with their desire for profit. It may explain why their profit is at the expense of our privacy more clearly than any other theory I’ve seen.

I also think that it is why some folks, myself included, are hesitant to exercise the nuclear option on Facebook, deleting our accounts. It does suggest that resolving the tension between wanting to extract some or any value and shepherding our personal data may not be so easy to resolve as inventing better, clearer privacy controls.

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