Losing Face: An Environmental Analysis of Privacy on Facebook

by on Jan.06, 2010, under papers, rfc

Yesterday, I submitted Losing Face: An Environmental Analysis of Privacy on Facebook to a variety of science and technology law reviews. Its abstract is as follows:

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.

The Article is a heavily revised adaptation of the thesis I conducted for Ethan Katsh and Alan Gaitenby at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. If you’ve read my thesis (entitled “Saving Face”; title changed to avoid confusion with James Grimmelmann’s excellent Saving Facebook, recently published in the Iowa Law Review), then you’re familiar with the broad contours of the idea.

Losing Face, however, has been both greatly refined in its argumentation and noticeably reworked in its format (bah Bluebook) over the last year or so. I received invaluable feedback and assistance over the last from many people during this drafting process, including Helen Nissenbaum, researchers and interns at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, but most indispensably James Grimmelmann, who helped me navigate the convoluted and mystified norms and logistics of the publication process.

I’ve posted a copy of the Article here and on BePress for further comment while it wends its merry way through the editorial process. This is a draft only, and should not be used for citation. I’ve endeavored to make all references as clear as possible, though some are not as clear as they will be in the final version because I haven’t nailed down all the infras and supras yet. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about Losing Face, please feel free to drop a comment here or shoot me an email.

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18 comments for this entry:
  1. Grimmelmann and Privacy as Product Safety - Chris Peterson

    […] them “privacy lurches” in Saving Facebook, and they’re somewhat the focus of my “Losing Face” – but what is really great about this article is how Grimmelmann maps product liability law […]

  2. Luc

    Hi Chris.

    Just finished Losing Face. Great read. Nice sum up of the current privacy theories. You talk a lot about the construct of one social context insisting on its heuristic value. What about the face itself? How can one define himself within a context with the same expectations? An identity is more than just a picture with some meta data. Finally, how can such identity adapt itself based on the context?

    For instance, in life, I am a different person on a dance floor than in my office. This difference encompasses appearance, discussions format and topics, values and contacts.

    Thank for the reflection.


  3. sumanpark's me2DAY

    만박의 생각…

    페이스북 ë‚´ 프라이버시에 대한 환경적 분석 중, “페이스북이 회원 프라이버시를 보호한다는 신뢰가 있을때 그들의 정보를 공개할 것이다. 프라이버시 보호가 철저할 수록 사용자는 안전함을 느끼고, 페이스북을 신뢰할때 더많은 정보를 공유할 것이다.”라는데… 개방/발견은 포기?…

  4. Internet de Nueva Generación (UPM) » Blog Archive » La privacidad en Internet (3/4)

    […] explicación mas adecuada es que las redes sociales actualmente no facilitan suficientemente que las […]

  5. SSRN Success - Chris Peterson

    […] few days ago, I was informed that Losing Face (my revised article) had made the top ten list for articles in the eBusiness & eCommerce […]

  6. Being Social « Hibe

    […] Peterson’s excellent article “Losing Face”, help us understand […]

  7. Still More Updates on Facebook Privacy - Chris Peterson

    […] social network that claims to be explicitly based on the principles and suggestions of my article“Losing Face”. Nice to know someone liked […]

  8. Facebook Privacy

    […] Losing face: an environmental analysis of privacy on Facebook, Chris Peterson Das ist ein etwas längerer Text, in dem klargestellt wird, dass es beim Thema Privatsphäre nicht nur um Sicherheit geht. Peterson argumentiert, dass es fundamentale Unterschiede gibt in der Art und Weise wie mit Informationen auf Facebook umgegangen wird, im Gegensatz zum Informationsfluss in der richtigen Welt. Dass heisst, dass die Erwartungshaltung der Anwender bezüglich Privatsphäre, geprägt durch Alltagserfahrungen in der richtigen Welt, von Facebook unterlaufen wird. […]

  9. Quora

    How do you respond to people who say “If you dont have anything to hide, you wont need privacy”?…

    Build your response from this paper by Chris Peterson who really brilliantly applies Helen Nissenbaum’s idea of contextual integrity to Facebook – the idea being that often privacy isn’t so much about hiding things as it is about avoiding revelations…

  10. » Why I’m leaving Facebook (and you should too). Matthew's Designs

    […] Losing Face: An Environmental Analysis of Privacy on Facebook.  Chris Peterson.  http://www.cpeterson.org/2010/01/06/losing-face-an-environmental-analysis-of-privacy-on-facebook/ […]

  11. Facebook, Network Effects, and the Birth of Giants - Chris Peterson

    […] by chris on Jun.04, 2012, under general Benjamin Mako Hill, an excellent activist and academic associated with the Center for Civic Media and Berkman Center (among others), has a widely-circulated blog post up entitled Why Facebook’s Network Effects are Overrated. This is something I wrote about in Losing Face. […]

  12. David Brake

    I know how long it can take to get published – has this come out anywhere peer reviewed? Or is it about to be? Perhaps under another title?

  13. chris

    Hi David –

    Unfortunately no, it never came out anywhere. I was blanked at every law review I tried. Have thought about trying somewhere else with an updated version, or maybe a book; if you have any suggestions for venue, let me know!

  14. Always Already Mediated: The Myth of the Great Agora - Chris Peterson

    […] insight developed for me (and was explored further in my thesis) after reading the works of Larry Lessig, in this case his The Law of the Horse: What […]

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    One of the most readily useful tools for voucher company is the baseball card case.

  16. memek

    This is definitely really a brilliant post, many thanks for telling Excellent luck I found out about this specific blog site

  17. Do You Like “Like”? | MIT Admissions

    […] In any case, I would recommend that everyone take the time to check their Facebook privacy settings. In addition to the Facebook Privacy Dashboard, I would absolutely run the Facebook Privacy Scanner, Ka-Ping Yee’s Zesty Privacy Tool, and Facebook’s own ViewAs Functionality; ensure that your Friends aren’t revealing more information about you than you’d like; and generally take a few minutes out of your day to police your presence online. The Internet and Facebook are wonderful tools, but it’s all too easy to slip up when it comes to managing your privacy and reputation, especially in the case of the latter, the environment and design of which often confounds the privacy practices of the most sensible and s…. […]

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