This week we’ve discussed privacy and ethics mainly in the context of Facebook. Facebook is notorious for making control over privacy difficult to navigate. Boyd outlines the give and take between Facebook administrators and Facebook users over privacy issues in the years since its inception. User’s have demanded clearer privacy controls and administrators have been somewhat responsive.
It is difficult to know how to handle the complex issues surrounding social networking sites and privacy when the issues and the networks are such a new addition to out society. Personally, I have found that my attitude towards Facebook and privacy tends to play out in a cyclical fashion. I get really bugged out by someone telling me a scary ‘big brother’ story. I feel all principled about my rights and I feel like doing something about it. I think about what I should do. I may fiddle with some privacy setting, maybe delete a picture or two, maybe layoff Facebook activity for a bit. Then, eventually, I manage to push the complicated big brother worries out of my head by convincing myself that I’m really just apathetic about the whole thing. Apparently that’s not true because this cycle has yet to end.
Fortunately, there are organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Eva Galperin brought up a lot of interesting points regarding social networking sites and privacy. What I found to be her most interesting point was also the most relevant point to my cyclical dilema. Someone asked a question along the lines of, “Why should I care about Facebook privacy issues, I don’t intend to have the CIA investigating my life anytime soon?”
Eva responded by urging people to consider the importance of privacy to users whose quality of life can be drastically affected by privacy settings on big brother activities. The closeted school kid or the burlesque professor rely on privacy to live their lives to the fullest. Furthermore, people living in countries with governments that do not ensure their individual freedoms rely on privacy for their safety. This argument to look beyond your personal situation and consider the importance of the fight for people for whom it really matters struck a cord with me.
However, I still have a Facebook account, and I’m still not quite sure what to do about it.
Lessig is a major advocate of cyberspace regulations. He believes that regulation is essential to the smooth functionality of the web. Cyberspace isn’t a made-up space that is totally separate from the real world; rather, it is integrated with reality. Lessig emphasizes the importance of recognizing this duality. It is yet another space of human interaction that must be regulated in order to be used most effectively for the largest number of people.
So yes, regulation is a positive thing in this space. It is the issue of how to carry out regulation that complicates the matter. Lessig’s discussion of the smart worm that can search a computer for specific material and then move on without causing any harm is a complex issues. On the one hand, the worm only causes trouble for people who are guilty. However, it also searches without reasonable suspicion. The idea of this could be a problem in light of the 4th Amendment for some Americans. Personally, I have a gut reaction that it is an invasion of privacy. Lessig’s argument makes logical sense, but my gut reaction remains.
In conclusion, these spaces can and need to be regulated, but how to do so is problematic. The internet did not come about with regulations and adding regulations is generally hard to push within our own country because of the importance of an ideology of freedom. Complicating the situation even more is the fact that the internet knows no geographical boundaries and there is no authentification of who is using it. I admire Lessig’s continuing efforts to argue for regulation, both in 1999 and in 2006, but the fact that the basic original architecture of the internet still exists shows that the foundation is here to stay. We need to work with the existing architecture rather than restructuring to improve regulation if at all.