Social Networks and Privacy, Redux


Here's an interesting thought: The more people are made aware of their privacy rights, the more concerned about those rights they become. That's what recent studies at Carnegie Mellon University revealed.


To reach this conclusion, Leslie John, Alessandro Acquisti, and George Loewenstein conducted experiments with different online surveys. In one scenario, some users were asked to sign a consent before answering a survey about their behavior in school, while others were not asked to sign the consent. In another, some users answered a very formal, official-looking questionnaire about ethics and moral behavior, and others answered similar questions in a less formally styled survey. In both instances, the users who were reminded of their privacy rights before answering the questions were more hesitant to reveal personal information.


Security expert Bruce Schneier says these results explain why social networking sites treat privacy the way they do. He says they "consistently hide any mention of privacy." Schneier goes on to explain:

These sites do talk about privacy, but only on hard-to-find privacy policy pages. There, the sites give strong reassurances about their privacy controls and the safety of data members choose to disclose on the site. There, the sites display third-party privacy seals and other icons designed to assuage any fears members have.


How businesses address privacy, then, depends on their target audience. As Schneier points out, the user generally cares about privacy but doesn't think about it all day, every day. Why remind him or her? On the other hand, for the "privacy fundamentalists" who care enough about privacy policies to hunt them down in obscure places, it's helpful to reassure them that their information is not being used improperly.