That social media infringes on the privacy of its users is in no doubt especially in an era where most of the people have access to internet (Spinelli, p. 58). That is the case with Facebook, a popular social media site that has witnessed meteoric growth in the number of users over the recent past. With the growth of such social media sites expected to grow further in coming years, there should be a cause of worry. Every now and then, the world welcomes a different social media with increasing popularity. For instance, Snapchat was discovered most recently having been preceded by Pinterest in former years. Before these sites, the world had jumped to Instagram and Facebook. Indeed, we are living in an information age coupled with a growing importance of technology in daily lives. Each of these social media sites poses numerous privacy issues that must be addressed to cushion users against exploitation. But it is Facebook that is of great concern to the privacy of the users especially with regard to its Newsfeed functionality.
Upon signing up to Facebook and agreeing to the terms and conditions, one should expect a series of privacy violations in the use of the site. Although Facebook insists that it tackles measures to improve the privacy of user information, the company is faced with accusations of increasing tests on users’ information without their prior consent (Govani, p. 12). Perhaps the most widely violated is the location that is continually used to suggest friends and organizations to interact with. Additionally, the newsfeed continually updates the information based on the location data collected from different users. Most recently, the ‘request for permission’ window that pops up every time one tries to access an external application has a new feature prompting the user to allow the application to collect contact information from their page. In so doing, Facebook not only allows the application to collect basic information from the user but also their contact information. This is to say that the users are continually exposed to violations on their privacy as their contact information is shared with external users.
Facebook launched the Newsfeed feature in 2006 in a bid to increase the level of interaction among the users. At the time of the launch, the primary users of the site were college students and the feature allowed them access to list of all the actions that their friends had undertaken. For instance, data ranging from what friend had joined a certain group as well as who had commented on what post became public to the users’ friends. To date, this feature is a primary component of Facebook and is the subject of increased privacy violations (Debatin, p. 105). Although none of the information displayed in the feature is private in the first place, its insistence on displaying the information makes it more accessible to other users. In this regard, one needs not remember the relationship status of their friends as Facebook will have it displayed on the Newsfeed any time one logs into the site. It is not surprising, therefore, that users of Facebook initially revolted against the idea of the feature with people forming different groups to register their discontent.
Although Facebook is entirely defensive of the new feature and its role in increasing the level of interaction; it is largely an affront on users’ privacy. Indeed, Facebook initiated numerous responses to explain the rationale for the new feature. Countless times, Mark Zuckerberg has written blogs to either defend the feature or apologize for their lack of action in curtailing the violations of privacy (Govani, p. 5). Indeed, Facebook has been quite busy over the years with respect to the employment of different privacy options for the users. Despite these efforts, the newsfeed feature has continually violated the privacy of millions of users through such tricks as acce4ss to ones location and basic information. Once, in 2007, Facebook created a group where users could interact with Zuckerberg and seek clarification on the reason behind its development. In this interaction, Facebook insisted that the new feature did help users to keep tabs with thousands of their friends. In addition, Facebook held that only one’s friends could access the information which was already public anyway. Although the argument laid out by Facebook is logical, it fails to capture the different ways in which the feature changes the social dynamics at play.
The newsfeed feature as applied on Facebook is not the first to be accused of violating the privacy of users. In fact, the tech world has a tendency of approaching the concept of private as a single bit of either 1 or 0 (Spinelli, p. 61). Ideally, data can either be exposed or not depending on how a company treats user information. For instance, a decision by a company to make data visible results in users alleging of privacy disruption. In 1995, way before the rise in popularity of social media, DejaNews introduced a tool allowing people to search Usenet which was a newsgroup system distributed over the internet. Before the feature’s introduction, users were likely to be identified around their pages of interest with non interested parties staying out. With the introduction of the search feature, however, users found it easier to locate a particular newsgroup of interest. In addition, users could access messages that were out of context thus widening their accessibility of the entire newsgroup. In this regard, the location of a particular user’s activity no longer required the actual participation in all the similar groups. Rather, the search feature increased the visibility of users’ actions with everyone having the potential of tracking another user’s activities within the site. In this way, the feature violated the privacy of the users thus prompting them to shift to mailing lists.
Just like DejaNews, Facebook did not publicize any information that was not already public in the first place. Rather, the two features improved the visibility of public information thus exposing the users to intentional privacy violations. The attainment of this violation is achieved through a disruption of the social dynamics within the sites (Houghton & Adam, p. 75). Indeed, privacy is regarded as related to a sense of vulnerability experienced by an individual in the process of negotiating data. It is not to be confused with the state of an inanimate object as the creators of social sites would like people to believe. Ultimately, the users of both Usenet and Facebook have a feeling of increased exposure and privacy invasion attributable to the deployment of the respective features. By making social information more accessible to users, Facebook has altered the manner in which people perceive private and public information. The case of Facebook and its newsfeed feature is not in isolation as technology is bound to change the social dynamics and posing threats to the privacy of users.
Perhaps one of the surest channels of privacy violation is through the exposure of users’ information (Debatin, p. 84). Such is the case with Facebook through its newsfeed feature that increases the vulnerability of users when they use the application. The disruption caused by the deployment of the feature is what causes most of the exposure leading to feelings of susceptibility among the users. Prior to the implementation of the feature, Facebook users were sharing public information without necessarily being exposed. Indeed, users did not mind accepting friend requests and commenting on different posts from other users. In fact, one could find out basic activities conducted by a certain user without having to view the newsfeed feature. However, the possibility of tracking what another user did on Facebook was limited to the actual sneaking of their profile and page. With the newsfeed feature however, the information is actively displayed on the home page of users thus making it even more exposed. This development of increased exposure results into a violation of the privacy of Facebook users.
There are arguments in defense of Facebook’s exposure of user information through the newsfeed feature. The display of user information on the feed results in more exposure thus violating the privacy of different users in the process (Boyd, p. 17). In the end, users feel awkward when interacting with their peers physically as they have information regarding their peers collected from Facebook. By developing the newsfeed feature, Facebook has resulted in the exposure of what was previously obscure. Traditionally, the information was not efficiently accessible as it was not aggregated thus making it easier to miss and forget. By changing the social dynamic that was prevalent in the platform before the feature’s introduction, Facebook suddenly made data to be much more visible. Worse still, the absence of privacy features during the development and rolling out of the feature made it much more difficult to maintain privacy. Users of the social site have no guarantee of privacy as all their basic and contact i9nformation is shared with external users (Jones & Jose, p. 35). Today, one is guaranteed that their information will be broadcast to the feeds section thus exposing it to external users.
Research has continually drawn a relationship between data exposure and the increasing absence of privacy among internet users. In the late 20th century, researchers observed that robots placed within a room to record the conversation of participants resulted in a feeling of being exposed leading to awkwardness among the participants (Lachman, p. 326). However, the collection of this information by the robot silently did not affect the users until it was required to showcase what it had collected. As the robot narrated its observations, participants felt uncomfortable as their information was now more exposed to the other participants. This feeling is in spite of the information being public and visible to all the participants even before the robot narrated its observations. The answers collected from the robot upset the social equilibrium leading to the judgment of different participants based on the observations made by the robot. In similar fashion, the publication of data on Facebook indirectly increases the exposure of user information to other users whether internal or external.
The existence of the newsfeed feature on Facebook confines people into considerations regarding the interpretation of shared information by third parties. Essentially, the feature guarantees the users of an active broadcast of their information thus infringing on their privacy (Houghton & Adam, p. 82). In the worst case scenario, these users are sure that their digital friends have access to basic and contact information. Perhaps, the case is much worse considering that thousands of users have no knowledge of the people they befriend on the social media. In fact, most of the users have no memory of the people that are in their friend list or how they might interpret the information shared to them via Facebook. The faceless nature of Facebook and other social media sites makes it even harder for the users as they cannot record the expressions among their friends. For instance, a user has no access to the reactions expressed by another digital friend upon accessing their public information through the newsfeed feature on Facebook. In this regard, the users have no control over the rightful interpretation of shared information thus exposing it to possibilities of misinterpretation.
The continued use of social media sites and especially the newsfeed feature in Facebook has limited the options available to most users (Miller et al, p. 81). For instance, most users have valid reasons for not allowing their information to be broadcast to other users. This is especially the case when users are involved in certain groups that may be seemingly embarrassing when broadcast out for other users to see. Most recently, people are becoming more aware of their sexuality and are therefore inclined towards an association with people of similar traits and character. However, the society is generally disapproving of certain sexual traits and is thus likely to judge users based on their sexuality. It is not surprising therefore that some users may not be comfortable with the broadcasting of private information that is considered public when shared on Facebook. The newsfeed feature continually uploads information related to user activity within the groups thus exposing them to ridicule and discrimination. In 2008, a group of users was not sure whether they should leave a group that associated with their sexuality following the incorporation of the feature. Leaving a group may be misinterpreted as having ceased to associate with the values of the particular group and joining a group may be assumed to mean an association with the specific qualities of the group. By broadcasting every action taken by a particular user, Facebook exposes the person to increased misrepresentation and judgment.
Still, the use of the newsfeed feature von Facebook results to a type of privacy violation effected through invasion of user information (Boyd, p. 15). The bombardment of users with information regarding links posted by other users as well as their social preferences is a violation on their privacy. Indeed, one cannot adequately deal with the overload of information that is shared across Facebook. Although there is a limitation to the number of people that a person can actively keep tabs with, social media sites assume otherwise. Facebook, for instance assumes that all digital friends are actual friends and that users have the ability to maintain hundreds of friends given the right management tools. Despite having thousands of friends on social media, most people rarely keep up with the personal lives of these people. In most cases, the digital friends are not even a part of the close friends to the users of Facebook.
There is a tendency among Facebook users to maintain digital friends that are not close friends in a bid to fill their social obligations. The danger with this tendency is that it piles pressure on the users to actively keep tabs with the friends; something that is practically impossible. By assuming that all friends are friends, social media exposes users to privacy violation by broadcasting their information (Miller et al, p. 53). In some cases, users are likely to treat their friend list as a type of address book for use in the future and not necessarily to keep tabs with the people. In today’s convoluted world, there is an increasing difference between the people in one’s friend list and the number of friends that any particular user interacts with on a regular basis. The existence of the newsfeed feature does not differentiate between the close friends and the people on the increasingly growing friend list. Ultimately, the feature thus exposes the users to privacy violation as it aims at increasing the level of interaction through the broadcast of private information.
The inability of the newsfeed feature to recognize differences between different sets of friends on social media violates user privacy. In fact, social media has a tendency of treating all friends as equal and thus broadcasting updates and activities to all people in the friend list against the wishes of the user (Lachman, p. 326). In addition, the broadcasting of data attracts more users who are interested in forming an opinion of the user whose information has been broadcast. People in social media sites are more likely to use social information in shaping the social characteristics of a specific user. This is particularly so because social information forms a perfect measure of the connectivity and hierarchy of a specific user. The attractiveness of the newsfeed feature on Facebook is also enhanced through its ability to convey gossip. It is based on the very fact that people are cognitively addicted to social information. In the end, social media, despite providing an avenue for communication is detrimental to the users as it violates their privacy.
There is no doubt that social media is helpful in the forging of new relationships and maintenance of friendships. However, it provides increased exposure to privacy violation of the users by broadcasting information to both internal and external users (Jones & Jose, p. 61). In particular, the newsfeed feature on Facebook poses numerous threats to user privacy through exposure and invasion. Despite the company’s insistence on innocence and that the feature was developed in good faith, there have been cases of privacy violation. Perhaps the most notable is the use of location information in suggesting new friends and interactions on the site. The newsfeed feature violates user privacy by continually broadcasting their interactions for everyone to see. Further, it grants external users the permission to collect basic and contact information from Facebook users before they can access the applications. The results of this research suggest that Facebook as well as other social media sites have an active role in the violation of user privacy.
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Debatin, Bernhard, et al. “Facebook and online privacy: Attitudes, behaviors, and unintended consequences.” Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication 15.1 (2009): 83-108.
Govani, Tabreez, and Harriet Pashley. “Student awareness of the privacy implications when using Facebook.” unpublished paper presented at the “Privacy Poster Fair” at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Library and Information Science 9 (2005): 1-17.
Houghton, David J., and Adam N. Joinson. “Privacy, social network sites, and social relations.” Journal of Technology in Human Services 28.1-2 (2010): 74-94.
Jones, Harvey, and José Hiram Soltren. “Facebook: Threats to privacy.” Project MAC: MIT Project on Mathematics and Computing 1 (2005): 1-76.
Lachman, Vicki D. “Social media: managing the ethical issues.” Medsurg Nursing 22.5 (2013): 326.
Miller, Robert E., Michelle Salmona, and James Melton. “Students and Social Networking Sites: A Model of Inappropriate Posting.” Proceedings of the Southern Association for Information Systems Conference, Atlanta, GA, USA March 25th-26th 2011. 2011.
Spinelli, Christopher F. “Social media: no ‘friend’of personal privacy.” The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications 1.2 (2010): 59-69.
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