Colossus 2.0

Last week, I wrote about the past — Myspace (My_______) — and how it gave way to the new kid on the block — Facebook.

Back then, Myspace was the ruler in the world of social networks. It blew away all other competitors and had the most users by a huge margin. And then it died. Almost just vanished as everyone migrated to Facebook.

Will Facebook do the same? Will it simply vanish away, all but completely forgotten in a few years?

Of course, today’s Facebook is leaps and bounds better than the Myspace of yesterday. It looks better, it integrates better, and most importantly of all, it works better. Even in the very beginning it was a better than Myspace. Perhaps then, that’s why people started migrating from Myspace: Facebook was simply better.

Where Myspace had horrid user-made pages, Facebook had unified and significantly less clustered pages. Where the user-made pages expressed personality they also made it impossible to find any information about someone. You’d have to look through the virtual snowstorm and the weird cursors and the flourescent marqees to find anything. Facebook just made it easy.

Perhaps a social network would simply have to be better than Facebook in order to beat it. Just as Facebook beat Myspace by being better, perhaps the next social network would just have to be better designed.

It turns out that this isn’t so easy. Though Facebook isn’t perfect, it’s pretty darn good. It would be very hard to make something significantly better than Facebook, and only settling with something that is only a little bit better than Facebook will not work. We can look at the recent example of Google + to see how something that was better than Facebook failed. It had everything: amazing multi-way video conferencing, uncompressed pictures, even a cool new way to control who sees your content called Circles. However, it flopped, not able to convince Facebook’s users to make the move to Google+.

Perhaps, then, privacy issues will eventually bring Facebook down. Just as the accusations of facilitating the distribution of pornography caused users to shy away from Myspace, perhaps the frequent perceived privacy violations will cause people to start moving somewhere where their rights are better respected. But then, we run into the same problem: unless the privacy violations are flagrantly ridiculous, people will not go through the hassle of changing their entire way of connecting with others.

It seems to me that, short of terrible business decisions on Facebook’s part, Facebook will not really be “overthrown.” The only thing I believe will work is a slow, creeping sneaking up. A social network entrepreneur must work from the bottom up, becoming a discussion platform of choice for a core group of people (say Beiber fans), and slowly reach out from that core group. It must essentially follow the steps of Facebook (targeting college students and slowly moving out) in order to beat it.

10,000 Friends…

Does Facebook really help us to connect with people and form stronger relationships with all of our “friends” on Facebook?  After looking at everyone’s Facebook page in our class (sorry for a little Facebook stalking), the combined number of Facebook friends is right around 10,000.  Fifteen of us really can have a combined 10,000 friends? To me, this shows how Facebook has grown an absurd amount since it was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, and it is clearly not a way for people to have intimate “friendships” on this social networking site.  Granted, everyone is obviously Facebook friends with their closest friends in real life so this is the rare example of a meaningful Facebook friendship, but other than that, I am sure people who have a thousand friends or more rarely ever talk to half of them, maybe even more.  I know this is certainly true for me.  I feel like I would accept a friend request from anyone who I went to high school with, and now that we are at Princeton I accept friend requests from anyone on the Princeton network, even if I don’t know them well at all.  It is very hard to say reject a friend request.  If you think about it this way, Facebook stalking isn’t really a sketchy thing at all, rather what Facebook is all about.  I know that countless times throughout the day when my news feed is refreshed, stories about people who I haven’t talked to in years comes up and every once in a while I check out the person’s profile and see what they have been up to, where they go to school, if they’re in a relationship, etc.  In this way, Facebook does help us connect with people and stay up to date with what our peers, old friends, and other are up to in their lives, but Facebook certainly is not a way to form stronger relationships with people anymore, seeing as that is has exploded and is used by 500 million people around the world.  This translates to 1 in 13 people, an incredible percentage of the population that is using this social networking site.  It is much more than a place to share information with friends.  At this point, all of Facebooks users are sharing their information with the world.  To me, as I’m sure many people agree, this is a very scary thing to be so exposed in todays technological world.

Facebook vs. Google: the Battle for Web Supremacy (Part 2)

Last week I talked about the history of the battle between the two web giants, Facebook and Google, and how Google plans to win with its “one Google experience.” If you haven’t read part 1 of this post, I strongly suggest reading it first as there will be references back to certain arguments I brought up. As for the rest, here is part 2, detailing Facebook’s similar yet fundamentally different strategy and how this conflict will affect us users in the end.

Facebook Everywhere

Try to sign up for an account on a website today, and most of the times you will see a little blue tab labeled “Connect with Facebook.” When did Facebook become so ubiquitous? Facebook originally started as a just an online social network, but ever since then, it has evolved to become so much more. Indeed, Facebook has slowly crawled its way outside of facebook.com and into more of our lives. Its goal, ultimately, is to be present everywhere, or as Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, put it, to be “a social layer across every device.”

It is really easy to generalize Facebook’s strategy to be the same as Google’s; however, to do so would be a grave mistake. While the two web giants definitely have similar, if not the same end goal, how they approach the goal is completely different. As detailed in part 1, Google wants to be in every part of your life, and in order to do that, it has built an ecosystem such that you never have to leave Google’s site. Facebook, on the other hand, sees things differently. While it would certainly love you to stay on its site, Facebook also recognizes that it cannot satisfy your every need.

Instead of keeping everyone on its website, Facebook aims to be everywhere. One way it has been doing that is through partnerships. In the past few years, Facebook has created partnerships with several strategic partners to fill out the void left by its services. For example, instead of building a music store, Facebook partners with Spotify. Instead of building a video chat system, Facebook turns to Skype. Instead of building its own app store, Facebook creates an online catalog  of all Facebook-connected apps that links back to other app stores. Very recently, Facebook struck a deal with Dropbox to bring better file-sharing to the social network. Facebook also has been working hard with Apple, Microsoft, and, ironically, Google to build system-level Facebook integration directly into their mobile operating systems. (To be honest, due to the openness of Android, Google may not have a say in the matter.) Facebook also has worked hard to create a powerful software development kit (SDK), allowing anyone to build Facebook-connected app, whether mobile or on the web, and send user data back to Facebook. Yahoo is a prime example here with its social reader, which allows Facebook to know exactly which article the user read. The famous/infamous blue “Connect with Facebook” tab is another example, which saves the user the hassle of creating a new account in return for giving Facebook information about the users’ activities on those sites. Through these strategic partnerships and a strong developers’ SDK, Facebook hope that wherever you are, Facebook will be there, too.

Personally, Facebook’s strategy is a lot more feasible than Google’s. In fact, Google’s strategy has put Google itself into a catch-22 situation; by choosing to compete with everyone, Google risks losing a portion of data just because its users choose to go to someone else for a certain service. For example, Facebook’s partnerships allow its social network to be integrated into Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. Google, sadly, gets to integrate Google+ into only one of the three. It is for this very reason that Facebook is not building a phone; it can simply achieve better results through partnerships.

Facebook needs to find a way to make itself present everywhere, not just social network. In many areas, creating partnerships will suffice. However, there are a few key areas that Facebook can simply provide a better solution. One such area is search engine. If anyone can break Google’s search monopoly, it is Facebook. Facebook may already have a deal with Microsoft and its Bing search engine, but, honestly, Bing is not making a dent. Google may have access to virtually all the search history in the world, but Facebook has access to the intimate parts of its users’ lives. Because of this, Facebook should (and it actually is) build its own search engine.

Effect on Users

So, what does this battle means for us users? Superficially, we seem to gain from the battle. After all, this is competition, and competition is good for consumers, right? Not exactly…as a consequence of this battle, unless you choose to restrict your web activities to just one of the companies, there is no easy way to integrate your web experience. For instance, Google’s introduction of Search Plus Your World seemed benevolent at first. However, Facebook and Twitter later accused Google of prioritizing social results from its own Google+ over other social networks’. This eventually led to a few companies, including Facebook and Twitter, creating a tool to “neutralize” Google’s tactic. This tool, named after Google’s very own slogan when it first started as a search engine, is called “Don’t Be Evil.” The deadliest sin is when I google myself, my Facebook profile is not the first result, or even the first page.

Now, imagine an ideal world where these two companies collaborate instead of battle. Facebook would be the ultimate social network, and Google would be the ultimate search engine. Whenever you search on the Facebook search bar, Google search results are integrated in. Similarly, when you search on Google, Google incorporate Facebook data into search results, so you will see exactly which articles your friends “liked.” This is only an elementary idea of how Facebook and Google could collaborate and give us users the best experience on the web. Unfortunately, these two giants are more focused on owning our web browsing screen rather than enriching it.

The National Archives could be “following” you

I stumbled upon an interesting article a few days ago. In it, the author describes a pilot program by The National Archives (you know, where the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Emancipation Proclamation are stored) to catalogue the collective American web history for future generations. This began in 2000 to document how the presidential election was presented online, but after the attacks on September 11th, 2001 the program expanded to include notable historical events. Today, The National Archives catalogues a variety of topical web history, including national election candidates’ internet presences, news sites that give permission, and Facebook pages that give their permission (mostly politicians).

The most concerning piece of web history that The National Archives catalogues, though, is Twitter. Ever since a deal struck with Twitter in April 2010, The National Archives has been recording every tweet from every Twitter feed. Your tweets, your best friend’s tweets, and Charlie Sheen’s tweets will be accessible to your grandchildren and all of posterity.

Why is that significant?

As of yet, the tweets haven’t been used for anything revolutionary, and in all reality their researcher-like interface will not be a means of “Twitter stalking” for the average Joe. However, this does mean that around 500 million peoples’ personal thoughts are now public property. For most, this will not affect their lives in any way. But it’s not hard to imagine that future presidential candidates and Fortune 500 CEOs are currently tweeting posts and pictures that could later get them in trouble. The National Archives catalogues the tweets once posted, even if they are deleted later.

This might also come into play for police investigations. While a police officer currently needs a subpoena or search warrant to obtain records from Facebook, they would not need those documents to access what is now considered public record. While criminals who post about their misdemeanors on Twitter probably deserve to be caught, this does beg some ethical questions. Should law enforcers have a right to peruse people’s personal feeds for information? Do Twitter users need to be made aware that their tweets are being recorded, or for the sake of recording history honestly is it better to keep this news hushed?

And, will Twitter be the next social networking giant to be hit by privacy laws and standards?

Facebook Stalking or Facebook’s Stalking?

It’s almost become natural for me. Whenever I open my Google Chrome, I click the address bar, type “f”, and hit enter. Chrome automatically fills in my most visited site, facebook.com, and sends me there. And before you make any judgment on whether or not that action is justified or not, there are plenty of good reasons why people today need Facebook.

Remember when Facebook was nothing but people’s profiles and a wall? Today’s Facebook has become so much more. From News Feed to Facebook Video Chat, the company has constantly updated their product in such a way to attract more users: by making Facebook more and more useful for everyone. And as Facebook becomes more useful, the less it can be regarded as a time-waster—a frivolous website unnecessary for any productive work. A number of recently introduced tools actually make Facebook somewhat necessary in today’s world: Messages, Groups, Photos, etc. (One could also argue that the world has just evolved to rotate around Facebook, but that’s another discussion entirely.)

As Facebook’s usefulness grows, so will concerns about privacy. No longer can you join a group at Princeton University, without providing to Facebook your Princeton email address and netID. You can’t utilize any of Facebook’s offers without revealing to Facebook what you enjoy buying. You can’t even stalk another person without letting Facebook know that you’re interested in knowing more about that person. (Try it yourself: go view the Timeline of a friend you don’t see on your News Feed, then see how often his/her posts show up.)

And to take it to another level, some of Facebook’s options are made to purposefully “stalk” you.

Who has ever used any of Facebook’s mobile apps to post a status or reply to a message? If so, you may have unwittingly revealed your location to the company. Sure, this problem can be solved by turning off Facebook’s ability to access your location, but for the legions of people in the world who don’t know how to do so, they are essentially allowing Facebook to track their movements around the globe.

 

Note the “Princeton” in the bottom left corner of the text box.

Note the “near Princeton, NJ.”

Of course, this was all a part of Facebook’s plan. They want you to use their service, to give information to them. How many study groups have been formed on Facebook’s servers; how many conversations have been conducted over Messages; how many check-ins has Facebook gotten you to willingly share with them?

By marrying a useful tool with a privacy invading default option, Facebook knows what it’s doing. And Facebook knows that its tools are too useful for the mass majority of users such that most will not leave the site, no matter what they do. The burden is placed on the user to carefully control his/her privacy while also taking advantage of everything Facebook has to offer them. And so far, this only applies to what a user posts about himself; it does not even cover any other things one’s friends may do. It comes close to being an evil diabolical plot to track and dominate the lives of everyone in the world, except for Facebook’s promise to keep all of the information private. (Sidenote: At least it’s better than China’s state-approved 人人网.)

Thus, the next time you go and stalk someone else on Facebook, just remember that Facebook is stalking you right back.

The Benefits of Social Media – How Crowd-Sourced Reporting is Revolutionizing Modern Journalism

Aside from the endless debate regarding the topics of privacy and security, social media has facilitated the rise of a “new” type of journalism. Recently, a disruption in the classic industry of news publishing has emerged. Its effects were first experienced through the introduction of web blogging when everyday people could post their own opinions on trending news stories to an audience. One no longer had to be a trained journalist who worked for a mainstream news agency – the only necessities to have your voice heard was a computer and access to the Internet. However, as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter surfaced, greater effects of rapid data transfer and large-scale communication materialized. Indeed, the events of last year’s Arab Spring were possible in large part to the aforementioned companies. With these events in mind, one can extrapolate the implications of the impact of social media.

Before an analysis can be made regarding the influence that social networks have had on conventional media, we must first break down the current status of journalism. The industry is controlled by a small number of big-name agencies; however, as with all corporations, other factors affect the news that the public receives. Politics result in censorship and bias. Modern news agencies like Fox and CNN are filtered through the views of a large corporation and are subject to bias from political, economic, or social influence. Clearly, a platform where unbiased and uncensored news can be shared is a concept that is in dire need of concrete implementation. For the past year, I have been involved in a startup called Orchive that has been attempting to discover the balance between social media and journalism that would allow everyday people to report the news and deem what articles are worthy of attention.

Essentially, Orchive would foster a community of dedicated firsthand reporters around the world who would not only compose articles of news occurring in their location, but also vote on the trending topics to determine what reports rise to the top of the news feed. Users have profiles and can create “organizations” that can then release reports as a collective whole. All in all, it’s a simple application of social media that has an immense impact on a specific market – journalism is meant to spread awareness of the truth, not a fabricated and predisposed version of it.

By now you’re probably asking the question, what does this have to do with Facebook? In the advent of social media, many of the things you see on the web have some connection with Facebook – a like button there, a share here. Orchive is incidentally linked with your Facebook account so your reports not only reach the online news community, but also your friends in everyday life. Every time you make a report, your wall updates with a link to the page. This sort of “publishing” is the crux of successful journalism – reaching all different types of audiences. And clearly, none of this would have been possible without the rise of social networking whose presence is felt everywhere today.

You can learn more about Orchive at http://orchive.com/about and https://www.facebook.com/Orchive

 

But We Are “Friends”

In his article, “Saving Facebook”, Grimmell is careful to only refer to people who interact through social networks as ‘contacts’. This neutral term is reflected in the format of several social networking sites. For example, in Google+ you add contacts to your “circle”, and LinkedIn calls contacts “connections.” Facebook, however, coins contacts as “friends.”

Facebook’s nomenclature implies an environment of affection, companionship, and mutual trust. However, Facebook users know that is not what is truly meant by friends on Facebook. Urban Dictionary defines facebook friends as “friends on Facebook but not in real life” and “basic units of popularity”.

Although everyone knows friends on Facebook are not the same as real friends, I believe some of the social issues surrounding Facebook stem directly from its use of the word “friend.” Few people would feel comfortable positing pictures and private details about their lives on, say, Google for the world to see. Instead, they retreat onto Facebook, a place where that funny story about missing class will only be seen by “friends.”

On the other hand, if you are like the typical Facebook user that barely knows many of your 245 friends (on average), Facebook creates a false sense of security. You forget that so-called “friends” include that boy you met visiting a college you didn’t even go to, and that girl you met in SAT class two years ago.

A Disney channel star recently suffered from this phenomenon. Trying to lead at least a semblance a normal, teenage existence, she of course has a Facebook which she uses to post about her private life. While she certainly uses discretion when adding friends, as any public figure must, I can guarantee she does not know every single one of her “friends” personally.

How do I know this? Because she friended me a little while back. We have a mutual friend, but I must admit I was shocked to receive the request. Maybe he had mentioned me in conversation, or she remembered meeting me at an event, but our contact since then has been so minimal she has most likely forgotten she ever added me in the first place. Still, I have access to all of the information, posts, and photos that she designates for friends.

While typically innocuous, this can bite back. She woke up one morning to a scandal – someone had posted her somewhat racy profile picture to a fan site. The picture went viral. Some loved it, some hated it, but she cared less about their opinions and more about who had betrayed her trust and friendship. After all, she had posted the picture for a private audience.

Was this her fault? As a public figure, should she keep her Facebook usage down to only posts she would want the world to see? Should she have had better discretion when choosing her friends? Or was this the fault of her “friend”? Someone who should have adhered to a social norm and known that the photo had an implicit “do not share”?

Personally, I am not sure.  But I do believe the terminology of Facebook actively creates an atmosphere that is conducive to social dilemmas such as this one.

The Facebook Obsession

As an apprehensive and nervous freshman I was eager to get to lecture on the first day.  My politics class would serve as a conduit into the hectic and intellectually stimulating life of a college student. As I began to type the lecturer’s words, I got distracted by the “pinging” sound of cell phone and computer notifications; of course Facebook. Captivated, I look around the room to a lecture hall of approximately 100 students, almost all of whom had Facebook open on their computer screens. How can they be on Facebook right now? I began to examine what I have appropriately deemed the “Facebook obsession”. What started out as a means of communication has transformed social networking into a self-promoting, impersonal, and addictive computer persona. Facebook allows you to create your own reputations and strategically sculpt the way you want the world to see you. The puckered lipped “selfie” or the “ab shot” in the bathroom mirror can help you achieve the coveted 1000th friend, or the more deep-rooted psychological goal that Facebook can provide, an artificial validation of self-worth.

What worries me the most about the extent of this obsession is the trend towards less meaningful social interaction and more towards social detachment seen through wall posts, “muploading”, relationship status’s, pokes, and app requests. Why wall post? Why not just text your friend or call him/her? Why is it necessary to post a picture of every meaningful, or also in most circumstances, insignificant events in your life? This deviation from pure, unaltered experiences once shared with only those around you is depressing. Is it really living when you think, “Stop wait, I need to take a picture of this moment to post on my Facebook wall”?  Are relationships not legitimate until they are proclaimed on Facebook? The instantaneous gratification that Facebook provides seems to buttress this obsession. Now, with a click of a button, a user can virtually flirt with others with the poking feature. Games are now being played between friends through apps and have replaced the old wiffle ball gang down the street.

Here’s an important question to ask yourself if you are an avid user… Are you living your life to live, or are you living it for facebook?  Sitting down at my class, I came to the realization of society’s addiction. Most of the students in my lecture who had a minute of free time immediately chose to log in to facebook instead of turning off the social network for 50 minutes and joining the outside world.

Facebook & The Use of Pseudonyms

Facebook has often been criticized for its failure to allow its users to employ pseudonyms on their accounts. Unlike Twitter, its policy requires that users have a real name associated with their account. To many foreign dissident or reformers who use Facebook to communicate with supporters, providing a real name can have fatal consequences.

Last year, I read Revolution 2.0, the autobiography of Wael Ghonim, who anonymously administered the “We are all Khaled Saeed” Facebook page for the duration of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. The page rallied Egyptians in protest around the death of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian who was tortured and beaten to death by the Egyptian police. For weeks, Ghonim organized anti-government protests via the Facebook page. Under his guidance, it functioned as a point of community and organization for Egyptian activists. He did not administer the page under his real name because of the threat of kidnapping and torture from the Egyptian police, who were not known for their kindly treatment of political protesters. Shortly before a large protest that Ghonim was organizing was due to begin, Facebook shut his page down because it was associated with a pseudonym. Leaving protesters without information or a location for the protest, Facebook nearly prevented the demonstration from occurring. Fortunately, Ghonim was able to arrange for a friend who was living in America (and thus safe from the Egyptian police) to take on nominal responsibility for the page to placate Facebook. Naturally, the experiences in this book made me question the ethics of Facebook’s real name policy.

So when I stumbled upon an article with the headline “Facebook to Allow Pseudonyms For Verified Accounts,” I happily assumed that Facebook had decided to accommodate dissidents in danger from oppressive governments by allowing the use of pseudonyms. In fact, Facebook is making the change not to aid government protesters, but rather to court celebrities. Apparently, the move is intended to be of service to “prominent users” who are known better by a stage name than a given one, such as Lady Gaga or Madonna.  Users can apply for a verified account by providing a government issued photo I.D. and Facebook will manually approve or deny their request. This policy change will not alter the plight of dissidents who use false names because users are still required to provide their real name to attain an account.

While I recognize that Facebook has an interest in having users employ their real names in the interest of preserving integrity and safety on its service, I am also keenly aware of the fact that the real name policy is far from strictly enforced. I have many acquaintances that changed their Facebook names to ludicrous pseudonyms (perhaps the most notable was “Sal-Sal Wood Nymph”) to hide their accounts from colleges last fall. Their accounts were never suspended for having fraudulent names. With this in mind, is it so wrong to suggest that perhaps Facebook should simply turn a blind eye to the use of pseudonyms when it seems to do otherwise would jeopardize the safety of a user? Its an unconventional approach, but if Facebook is willing to revise its actions for the sake of celebrities, then why not in the name of free speech?

Sources:

Facebook To Allow Pseudonyms For Verified Accounts [News]

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/australian-it/facebook-shuts-down-dissident-chinese-blogger-michael-antis-account/story-e6frgakx-1226018927561

Images:

http://tctechcrunch2011.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/verified-accounts-alternate-name.png?w=640

http://blog.tuvpn.com/wp-content/uploads/9.jpg

Why Government Regulation Won’t Work

In this post I would like to expand upon a point that was discussed during the seminar today: whether government regulation, or law, as one of Lessig’s four forces regulating Facebook, is an effective solution.

The title suggests an absolutist point of view; I will contradict that now by saying that government regulation is indeed effective in some cases, namely, when harm results from users’ expectations either being symmetric to reality or antisymmetric to reality through no fault of their own. The first case comprises a small subset of cases in which the user knows that harm will be done to them, and the company follows through on that expectation. The second, more prevalent case, comprises the subset of cases in which the user expects certain behavior from a company, the company intentionally violates that expectation, and the user could not have known any better. These two cases describe instances in which government regulation is in fact necessary. In both cases, the company is acting maliciously, so solutions which require the company to act productively, such as by a change in architecture or code, are destined to fail. The problem has nothing to do with the users or peer-to-peer violations in either case, so different social norms won’t work. And lastly, even though over time, users will recognize companies which fall under these categories as undesirable business partners, government regulation is important in the short term when users do not know any better, and it is important in order to completely eradicate these companies’ practices; just because the market will minimize their market share does not mean there is no public interest in completely eliminating intentionally malicious practices from markets. Therefore, in the real, non-idealized market, government regulation is still an important factor.

Unfortunately, Facebook does not really fall into either of these categories. It is not a company acting maliciously. Facebook is the type of company to comply with FTC regulations as it did in 2011 in order to resolve the last of its issues which fall under either category that can be solved as government regulation. The FTC found that Facebook had been violating users’ expectations of privacy; maybe not an intentionally malicious practice, but certainly one which creates harm through information asymmetry, through no fault of the user. Facebook has corrected this: it gives users advance notice before changing privacy settings, lets them know exactly (within their Terms of Service) with whom their information is being shared, among other adjustments. One could argue that more could be done for Facebook to be transparent about what exactly certain privacy settings do and what information is shared with apps and third parties, but the fact is that even if those changes were to be enacted because of more government action, people would still complain about privacy. They would still complain that potential employers found photos of them partying, and they would still complain that Farmville knows their marital status. Why? Because the majority of privacy problems on Facebook, after the major substantive changes to transparency were enacted, are now the result of peer-to-peer violations: violations that occur because of a faulty risk calculation on the part of the user with regard to an implicit or explicit agreement they enter into with other parties with respect to their information.

The series of clicks that one makes on the internet is merely a series of decisions, decisions that can be considered in much the same way as real-life decisions are. Each decision one makes online comes with a set of explicit and implicit agreements. As examples, explicit in the decision to join Facebook in the first place is the  agreement to Facebook’s Terms and Conditions; implicit in the decision to add a person as a friend on Facebook is the agreement to allow your friend to have all the information about you that you allow under your general privacy settings; etc. Of course, a fundamental assumption of this point of view is that a person owns a certain piece of information if he or she knows it. This is of course a rebuttal to the point of view that transferring a piece of information to someone else constitutes a shared ownership in which both parties must agree to any further transaction of that piece of information. Perhaps a future blog post will discuss this IP debate more thoroughly. For now, assuming this point of view, we therefore have only ourselves to blame for peer-to-peer violations (assuming Facebook’s architecture is secure and honest, which it very much is, especially after the 2011 FTC review). Much like Laurie’s email (from Professor Felten’s Class of 2016 Freshman Assembly reading by the same author of this week’s reading, James Grimmelmann), once person A makes a piece of information known to person B under certain conditions and person B does something permitted under these conditions that still does harm to person A, then person A only has themselves to blame. Perhaps person A, whom we’ll call Al, shouldn’t have made such sensitive information known to anyone but himself? Perhaps he should have considered more carefully to whom he was sending this piece of information? All we can say for sure is that given a network-secure architecture with honest and clear privacy settings (like who gets to see your wall post to Bob or the To: field in an email), people only have themselves to blame if their act of sharing information did harm to them.

People’s gut feelings about the realities of what goes on on Facebook will surely disagree with me, but when Facebook and other social networks are viewed as platforms on which users make completely free decisions — or can opt out of even making a decision at all — then perhaps social norms about information-sharing or better education about legal rights with regard to internet privacy are better courses of action than government intervention which ultimately cannot regulate the actions of individuals.