Facebook and Privacy

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Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

Facebook and Online Privacy: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Unintended Consequences Bernhard Debatin, Jennette P. Lovejoy
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University

Ann-Kathrin Horn, M.A.
Institut fur Kommunikationswissenschaft, Leipzig University (Germany) ¨

Brittany N. Hughes
Honors Tutorial College/E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University

This article investigates Facebook users’ awareness of privacy issues and perceived benefits and risks of utilizing Facebook. Research found that Facebook is deeply integrated in users’ daily lives through specific routines and rituals. Users claimed to understand privacy issues, yet reported uploading large amounts of personal information. Risks to privacy invasion were ascribed more to others than to the self. However, users reporting privacy invasion were more likely to change privacy settings than those merely hearing about others’ privacy invasions. Results suggest that this lax attitude may be based on a combination of high gratification, usage patterns, and a psychological mechanism similar to third-person effect. Safer use of social network services would thus require changes in user attitude. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01494.x

Introduction

Student life without Facebook is almost unthinkable. Since its inception in 2004, this popular social network service has quickly become both a basic tool for and a mirror of social interaction, personal identity, and network building among students. Social network sites deeply penetrate their users’ everyday life and, as pervasive technology, tend to become invisible once they are widely adopted, ubiquitous, and taken for granted (Luedtke, 2003, para 1). Pervasive technology often leads to unintended consequences, such as threats to privacy and changes in the relationship between public and private sphere. These issues have been studied with respect to a variety of Internet contexts and applications (Berkman & Shumway, 2003; Cocking & Matthews, 2000; Hamelink, 2000; Hinman, 2005; Iachello & Hong, 2007; McKenna & Bargh, 2000; Pankoke-Babatz & Jeffrey, 2002; Spinello, 2005; Tavani & Grodzinsky, 2002; Weinberger, 2005). Specific privacy concerns of online social networking Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 15 (2009) 83–108 © 2009 International Communication Association

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include inadvertent disclosure of personal information, damaged reputation due to rumors and gossip, unwanted contact and harassment or stalking, surveillance-like structures due to backtracking functions, use of personal data by third-parties, and hacking and identity theft (boyd & Ellison, 2008). Coupled with a rise in privacy concerns is the call to increase our understanding of the attitudes and behaviors toward ‘‘privacy-affecting systems’’ (Iachello & Hong, 2007, p. 100). This paper investigates privacy violations on Facebook and how users understand the potential threat to their privacy. In particular, it explores Facebook users’ awareness of privacy issues, their coping strategies, their experiences, and their meaning-making processes. To this end, we will first take a look at research on Facebook’s privacy flaws and at existing studies of user behavior and privacy; thereafter, we will lay out our conceptual background and hypotheses, and present findings from our both quantitative and qualitative empirical research. Finally, we will draw some conclusions from our research. Literature Review Privacy and Facebook: The Visible and the Invisible

The privacy concerns delineated above are confirmed by several reports and studies on Facebook. In a report on 23 Internet service companies, the watchdog organization Privacy International charged Facebook with severe privacy flaws and put it in the second lowest category for ‘‘substantial and comprehensive privacy threats’’ (‘‘A Race to the Bottom,’’ 2007). Only Google scored worse; Facebook tied with six other companies. This rating was...
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