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Losing Face: An Environmental Analysis of Privacy on Facebook


Chris Peterson


National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution

January 1, 2010


Abstract:     
This Article contributes to the ongoing conversation about privacy on social network sites. Adopting Facebook as its primary example, it reviews behavioral data and case studies of privacy problems in an attempt to understand user experiences. The Article fills a crucial gap in the literature by conducting the first extensive analysis of the informational and decisional environment of Facebook. Privacy and the environment are inextricably linked: the practice of the former depends upon the dynamics and heuristics of the latter.

The Article argues that there is an environmental element to the Facebook privacy problem. Data flow differently on Facebook than in the physical world, and the architectural heuristics of privacy are absent or misleading. This counterintuitive informational environment waylays privacy practices, opens a gulf between expectation and outcome, causes a crisis in self-presentation, and facilitates what Professor Helen Nissenbaum calls a loss of contextual integrity.

The Article explores possible interventions. It explains how regulatory solutions and market forces are themselves hindered by the the deficient privacy environment of Facebook and can’t solve all of its problems. This Article recommends renovating the design of Facebook to privilege privacy practices and proposes specific interventions drawn from the computer science and behavioral economics literature. It concludes with a message of cautious optimism for the emerging coalition of engineers, academics, and practitioners who care about privacy on networked publics.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 38

Keywords: Privacy, Facebook, Social Network Sites, Social Networking Sites, Contextual Integrity, Architecture, Behavioral Economics, Design, Social Media, Cyberspace

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Date posted: February 9, 2010 ; Last revised: January 28, 2014

Suggested Citation

Peterson, Chris, Losing Face: An Environmental Analysis of Privacy on Facebook (January 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1550211 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1550211

Contact Information

Chris Peterson (Contact Author)
National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution ( email )
Gordon Hall
Amherst, MA 01002-1735
United States
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