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Is Internet privacy dead? No, just more complicated: researchers

The numbers tell one story: With 10 billion Tweets sent and 400 million Facebook users signed, people clearly want to be heard and seen and able to hear and see others on social networks.

But Internet users also care about privacy, according to experts. Particularly when they feel like they’ve lost control of their personal information. That is when trust is broken.

“Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows,” said Danah Boyd, a social media research at Microsoft Research New England, during her opening keynote speech last Saturday at the South by Southwest tech and music conference in Austin. “When they feel as though control has been taken away from them or when they lack the control they need to do the right thing, they scream privacy foul.”

Such is the delicate balance of privacy and publicity in the social networking age, according to researchers.

Boyd was mostly referring to Google’s launch of its social networking application, Google Buzz, last month. Where the company went wrong, was that it took what is considered a private application – email – and turned it into a public platform. Even though a user could opt out of it application, “This created unnecessary panic amongst users, resulting in bad PR for Google that was technologically inaccurate.”

At the same conference, Google's Todd Jackson, product manager of Gmail and Buzz, told reporters that Boyd's criticism were fair and that he invited her to speak to employees at the company after the keynote, according to GigaOm.

Mary Madden, a senior researcher at the Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project, said with social networking becoming mainstream, there are bound to be missteps by Web sites that will challenge users’ views of privacy online.

In a study to be released by Pew in weeks, the center found that most people said they cared greatly about online privacy but they didn’t do much about it. When asked if a user plugged in their own name into a search engine to see what public information is available on them, the numbers dramatically dropped.

The study will be the first update on user sentiment toward online privacy in three years. But was conducted before Facebook’s high-profile change of privacy settings last December and the launch of Google Buzz last month. And it won’t capture questions about location-based services, as Facebook, Twitter and Google are reported set to announce features that would allow users to track where a person is based on global positioning systems and other location technologies.

Facebook said that after its new privacy settings were introduced, 50 percent of users tweaked their profile settings to either make their information more broadly available or more private. The company said it didn’t lose any users, but have only seen a steady increase in members.

The FTC is looking more closely into online privacy concerns, and has been pressed more aggressively by privacy advocates to address consumer complaints about Google and Facebook’s alleged violation of user privacy.

“Part of what you are seeing is that we’ve reached a point where social networking use is mainstream and there is so much more awareness of the idea of centering your life around a profile and that being a representation of yourself,” Madden said in a recent interview.

“With respect to things that have happened recently, there is going to be more outrage or stronger reaction simply as more people get engaged with social media and they have more invested in it. There is more to lose,” she said.

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 15, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  FTC , Facebook , Google , Privacy  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: China flexes its muscles, balks at Google in online censorship battle: reports
Next: Executive summary of FCC national broadband plan


Hahahaha, to say privacy is dead is an understatement. You ever been to ussearch[dot]com? 123people[dot]com? intelius[dot]com? Try typing your own name into these. Anyone who wants all your information, pictures of you, your address, all your relatives info, even your ss number, can get it. Some of it's even free - like your current address, relatives, etc. There's a lot of stuff that you may have never entered online, EVER, because it's "public record" and the stupid laws are old and outdated. I wish these were the worst sites I've found during my research of this, but they're not. A lot of sites will tell you that YOU have to pay THEM (ussearch is $10) in order for them not to post this information about you! Criminal. Stupid. Insane.

Evolving? Shhhiii... Tell that to people who have stalkers or people who wish to do them harm. Tell that to people who have kids.

Posted by: bobsaget1 | March 15, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

bobsaget is right, privacy is dead.

I couldn't believe how easy it was to find my name on, or my parents' names, or my girlfriend, or my friends. Its as simple as if you know "Jack Johnson" is from the Philadelphia region, you will be able to find his address within 30 seconds.

I can only imagine this will get worse as the internet slowly takes over our whole lives: our TVs, house electricity, bills, movies we rent (too late). Put your tinfoil hats on now or move to Northern Canada.

Posted by: SwampFox11 | March 15, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

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