Deleting Facebook

After getting a fair amount of criticism in the mainstream press, Facebook has finally made it possible to delete a Facebook account. Prior to this, users could only “deactivate” accounts, in which case their personal information was no longer available on Facebook but was still stored on the company’s servers.

Despite much ado in the media, most of the college-age friends I’ve talked to have found the issue trivial. “Why would you even want to delete your Facebook account?” was their flippant response. Yet that is exactly why this issue is important. The fear is that because Facebook has become so ingrained in the lives of young people, it then establishes the norm for digital privacy. Unlike Beacon or News Feed, Facebook’s permanent storage of personal information doesn’t readily jump out as a violation of privacy. And because it is not obvious, it has taken over 3 years for it to change, in contrast to the much more immediate responses to Beacon and News Feed.

What is most disturbing then, is Facebook’s pattern of behavior. Although Facebook often emphasizes privacy as one of its strengths (compared to MySpace at least), its actions have proved otherwise. It has consistently pushed the limits of privacy, only step back in the face of a backlash. Perhaps it’s not so out of line to say that Facebook would not have put controls on Beacon if not for the media attention it received.

A few months ago, when Beacon was making its debut, I had the opportunity to sit in a guest lecture by Chris Kelly, the chief privacy officer of Facebook. He spoke a lot on the need to balance business decisions with PR, which the company, given its success, has done quite well. I’m inclined to believe it won’t have this type of popularity forever though. So at point will users become disenchanted with Facebook? But will this be a matter of privacy or convenience? Will Facebook have permanently changed our conceptions of privacy by then?

-Sarah Zhang

MySpace Photo Leak

Until recently, MySpace had a serious security flaw that allowed photos of users whose profiles were set to private to be viewed by anyone. Two weeks ago, user called DMaul uploaded a 17 GB file of more than 500,000 private Myspace photos available for download on torrent sites. The file was the 9th most downloaded file on torrent sites that week.

According to Wired, the file quickly lost popularity after people realized it was a random collection of typical photos — weddings, babies, birthday parties. DMaul has come forward to explain his actions, saying “I think the greatest motivator was simply to prove that it could be done. It is ridiculous to think that there is privacy on public websites. These types of situations are more education than anything.” So DMaul’s actions indeed had no malicious intent, and they should by taken for their educational value.

The real kicker is that the security flaw was known on various message boards for months before it was fixed. What’s even more disconcerting is how this flaw was exploited. A thread on the discussion forum back in October consisted of a self-described “pedo army” sharing the private galleries of 15 and 16-year-old girls. There have even been YouTube videos and commercial websites touting this flaw. It was only after Wired broke the story that MySpace finally fixed the hole. I’m also surprised that despite a fair amount of coverage in the blogosphere, the story hasn’t made it into the mainstream news either.

MySpace has so far refused to comment on the situation, so it’s hard to say whether MySpace was unaware of the situation or was aware and didn’t act on it. Either way, the blame should lie with MySpace for flouting the privacy of its users for so long. While most teens are perfectly aware of the dangers of leaving their profiles open, there is the expectation that profiles set to private will indeed be private. Is this expectation rational in today’s world? Surely the millions of people who do their banking or shopping online would think so. Social networking sites should be taking the privacy of its users more seriously, especially when minors are concerned. It has been suggested that sites like MySpace need to create special task forces that will prowl the Internet looking for security flaws as they arise. When users have done their part to protect their privacy, MySpace should do its part too.

Frontline’s “Growing Up Online”: What about the digital dossier?

PBS recently aired “Growing Up Online” (and posted the entire episode on their website) – an inquisitive look into the lives of so-called Digital Natives.  The program presented a world of young people spending much of their lives immersed in digital media – constantly connected to friends and others via mobile phones and web sites such as MySpace and YouTube. These are the lives of young people who are the first generation to grow up online, or those “born digital”, to borrow the term from John Palfrey’s and Urs Gasser’s forthcoming book of the same title.  Frontline addressed several of the key issues the Digital Natives project is investigating, including education in the age of internet, online identity play, cyber-bullying, and online sexual predators.

While the documentary hinted at the types of creative expression and activity taking place online, the focus was very much on the risks associated with socializing on the internet.  Discussion of young people’s private lives, which are increasingly taking place online, touched upon the shifting notions of privacy among youth raised with a mouse in-hand, and a number of the issues regarding the wide and unknown audience they present themselves to.  Hats off to Frontline for taking a fair – and realistic – stance in addressing the sexual predator issue.  Despite media portrayal of sexual predators lurking behind every corner of the internet – NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” has quite a good hand in this – research is beginning to show that this is a seriously, and dangerously, overblown threat.  A Cal State study by Larry Rosen mentioned in the program found that young people on MySpace are rarely approached for sexual liaisons, and those that are tend to be seeking these types of interactions.  Our research on the Digital Natives project has supported these findings – the overwhelming majority of teens are very aware of sexual predator concerns and are incredibly savvy at navigating the internet and avoiding contact with creepy strangers.  In fact, most youth we spoke with largely avoid online contact with anyone they don’t know personally.

The risks associated with teens socializing online were further highlighted by Davina, a high school student interviewed who took part in a lunchroom fight that ended in chair-throwing and a video that proceeded to earn her YouTube fame.  Davina is now legitimately concerned that this video – and her behavior –  is now permanently available for all to see – including college admissions officers. While kids socialize in online spaces they often feel are out of the realm of adults, college admission officers and prospective employers are trolling sites like MySpace and Facebook, searching for evidence of illegal or unsavory hijinks to deny offers of admission or employment. A media blitz last spring highlighting stories of employers discriminating against college grads based on unsavory Facebook photos and police officers searching for evidence of underage drinking on MySpace, appears to have affected youth behavior, to a degree.  We have found that youth, particularly those attending more elite high schools and universities, are increasingly becoming wise to these issues. They are taking charge of their social networking sites’ privacy settings, or removing all together those frat-party videos that seemed so funny last Saturday night. A serious issue is the inequality of awareness we have found among the students we talked to – in more affluent schools, college counselors and teachers are adamantly warning students from the start to be careful what they post online, while students from lower performing schools were more likely to hear the warnings from after-school programs they were involved with, or else, wait for the warnings to be passed down from friends.

One issue of a life online which was completely ignored by Frontline is the digital dossier:  the accumulation of personal data collected as people use digital technology.  In focusing the program so heavily on social networking sites, it is surprising that there was no discussion of the repercussions of the availability and permanence of online personal data – not to sexual predators or college counselors, but in mass form, to service providers and marketers.  As teens socialize online they share photos, videos, blog posts and personal musings – all of this content is hosted by sites that wield enormous power over what they do with these data, and who they share them with.  As children grow up online – starting with NeoPets at 4, to MySpace at 14, to Facebook at 24 – they document everything, and leave this documentation in the hands of companies that have profit, rather than kids’ best interest, at heart. For example, Facebook collects information about users and then reserves the right to share all the amassed information with third parties.  When signed in to email or blogger, Google is keeping tabs on every search the user conducts.  In twenty years, marketers may know a six-year-old’s interests and habits better than he knows them himself.

Our research has shown that while many young people are disinterested about data collection issues, they are also largely unaware of what is being collected, how it is being used, and what the repercussions may be.  Some who are more aware, cite the inevitability of compromising their privacy if they are going to engage in the social world, which, for the 12-24 age group, has migrated online.  As one student we talked to – a particularly thoughtful high school senior – said “… anyone can have access to your stuff. [..] do you accept that because you participate in using internet and technology like that or is there a way to fight that and create ways in which you can keep stuff private and keep stuff yours? [..] People Google everything because they just think to. They don’t know where this information goes. They don’t know that [..] when you log on to certain sites [..] they keep track of [..] when you log on and what you write. [..] It’s the fact that people don’t know. ..There’s not enough transparency for young people to know and they participate very unknowledgeably. That’s what scares me because you don’t know what that will end up looking at later on.” Perhaps rather than focusing efforts on bills like DOPA that limit access to social sites in response to sexual predator fear, congress should focus on protecting the mass amounts of information service providers like MySpace and Facebook amass from the millions of young people that live their lives on these sites.

In spite of the current lack of attention among US lawmakers to these concerns, issues of privacy stemming from the use of new technologies are becoming increasingly relevant not only for digital natives, but for all citizens living online.   In Europe, stricter privacy laws are bringing more attention to these issues: the Council of Europe has organized the second annual “Data Protection Day” (January 28, 2008) marked by campaigns to raise awareness amongst middle school and high school students about how and why personal information is collected, and what is done with these data. As part of this initiative, the transatlantic privacy perspective will be discussed at Duke University Center for European Studies. Education about issues of privacy must be extended beyond fears of sexual predators and trolling college admission officers or potential employers.  The reality and implications of the widespread and largely unregulated collection and dissemination of private data must be taught to youth that spend so much time living and sharing online.  In order to be successful, this is an effort which must be undertaken by the many stakeholders involved – parents, schools, young people themselves, and policy makers. It is not only necessary to reform current laws in order to make service providers act responsibly in the collection and sharing of user data, but also to help young people understand the online world they inhabit, so that they may engage in knowledgeable and critical ways.

 – Corinna di Gennaro & Miriam Simun

MacArthur/MIT Press Series on Youth, Media, and Learning

(Cross posted from Dr. Palfrey’s blog.

Last month, the MacArthur Foundation, along with MIT Press, announced the release of a series of new books on youth and new media. The series is a treasure trove.

I have been working my way through the six books over the past several weeks as I’m simultaneously working on late drafts of the book that Urs Gasser and I are writing on a similar topic, called Born Digital (forthcoming, Basic Books, 2008).

I’d highly recommend to anyone remotely interested in the topic to read these books. They are academic in style, structure and language, but remarkably accessible in my view. I’m not a social scientist, nor an expert in most of the fields that are represented by the authors (in fact, I’m not sure if there are any lawyers at all in the list of authors!), but the editors and authors have done a lovely job of making their fields relevant broadly.

For starters, the series Foreword, by the group of “series advisors,” is wonderful. I can’t imagine how six people came to agree on such a clear text, but somehow they did. There must have been a lead author who held onto the pen; it’s far too coherent to have been written by committee. (The advisors are: Mizuko Ito, Cathy Davidson, Henry Jenkins, Carol Lee, Michael Eisenberg, and Joanne Weiss. One imagines that the voice of the program officer at the MacArthur Foundation who made it all possible, Connie Yowell, is in there somewhere too.)

The Foreword is worth reading in full, but a few key lines: “Unlike the early years in the development of computers and computer-based media, digital media are now commonplace and pervasive, having been taken up by a wide range of individuals and institutions in all walks of life. Digital Media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development.” Those are simple statements, clear and right on. One of the reasons to pay attention to this topic right now is the pervasiveness, the commonplace-ness of the use of these new media, especially by many young people.

Also, their working hypothesis: “those immersed in new digital tools and networks are engaged in an unprecedented exploration of language, games, social interaction, problem solving, and self-directed activity that leads to diverse forms of learning. These diverse forms of learning are reflected in expressions of identity, how individuals express independence and creativity, and in their ability to learn, exercise judgment, and think systematically.” The work of the series authors, I think, bears out this hypothesis quite convincingly.

At the same time, the series advisors make plain that they are not “uncritical of youth practices” and note that they do not claim “that digital media necessarily hold the key to empowerment.” It is this spirit of healthy skepticism that one can hear through most of the essays in the series — and which is essential to the academic enterprise they’ve undertaken.

So far, I’ve finished the book on “Youth, Identity, and Digital Media” (ed. by David Buckingham) and “The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning” (ed. by Katie Salen) and am part of the way through each of the others. Each one is excellent.

In the ID book, I found particularly helpful the first piece on “Introducing Identity” by David Buckingham, which took on the hard definitional and discipline-related questions of identity in this context. He put a huge amount of scholarship into context, with sharp critiques along the way. The essay by our colleague danah boyd (on “Why Youth (heart) Social Network Sites,” a variant of which is online) is already a key document in our understanding of identity and the shifts in conceptions of public and private (”privacy in public,” and the idea of the networked public — related to but not the same as Yochai Benkler’s similar notions of networked publics). And the notion of “Identity Production as Bricolage” — introduced in “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities” by Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell — is evocative and helpful, I thought. The many warnings about not “exociticizing” (danah often using the word “fetishizing”) the norms and habits of young people and their use of technology, as well as echoes of Henry Jenkins’ work on convergence and his and Eszter Hargittai’s study of the participation gap came through load and clear, too. (I am pretty sure I can hear dislike of the term “digital natives” in between certain lines, as well.)

There’s much more to like in the book, and much more to work into our own understanding of ID in this environment, than I can post here. There’s an equal amount of insight in the Games book too. (The class I am co-teaching with David Hornik starts in 31 minutes and I should probably prepare a bit more than I have already.)

John Palfrey

Text Messaging and Public Graffiti

There was a great article in the Boston Globe yesterday about two Boston area companies, Aerva Inc. and LocaModa Inc., that are pioneering so-called “public graffiti spaces.” In essence, they are connected displays that show content submitted via text messages. It is also broadcast online so that others can tune in to a given location and even submit content themselves. As “out-of-home” displays become more popular, I’d like to discuss the current and future applications of this idea, as well as the implications it holds for digital identity and privacy.

LocaModa Inc., which provides a service called Wiffiti (short for wireless graffiti) views interactive out-of-home displays as the answer to consumers’ “insatiable desire for connectedness” and the shift from a “’lean back’ TV experience to a more active ‘lean forward’” one. Traditional narrowcast displays, like those found in Wal-Mart or other retail stores, have been vehicles for open loop advertisements that do not respond to users or incorporate user-generated content. Wiffiti works by having a display in a public place, like a café or club, to which users can send text messages that will be immediately displayed on screen. A particular establishment can extend the effectiveness of the device by prompting the audience to, say, submit music requests, vote on their favorite bartender, or answer trivia questions. The model for this is shown below:

Public Texting

Marketers love this idea and view it as the new way to connect with potential customers. The Economist reports that Proctor & Gamble ran a promotion inviting women to text “secrets” to giant screen in Times Square that would also be broadcast on the website. (A representative message confessed, “I cut my sister’s hair when she was younger and told my parents that she did it herself.”) Executives at the company praised the promotion for dramatically increasing brand awareness.

Public text messaging appeals not only to the need for connectedness that some of us have, but also to marketers and the owners of a venue because of the inherent data collection ability. A user’s cell phone number acts as a unique identifier (like a cookie on a website) that can track the screens to which someone submits, what they actually said, and could possibly be combined with other databases of personal information. Of course, the availability of those other databases depends on the data sharing policies of companies with which one engages in business. Unfortunately, most people never read the fine print when they sign up for rewards cards at retail stores or other promotions. If the store has a lax data sharing policy and collected your cell phone number when you signed up, then the club or café across town might be able to associate you with previous purchases and be able to target advertisements, offers, or anything else in your direction.

But advertising companies are treading carefully; the trust of a consumer is of extremely high value and firms are anxious to preserve that. The founder of LocaModa notes that “the future of out-of-home screen media is unlikely to follow [an] Orwellian model.”

An important question about this technology is whether or not it helps the social nature of the location. Some would say that the last thing we need is another excuse to pull out a cell phone in a café or club. In my own experience, it is common for digital natives to be in a social, public space and message friends that aren’t present. During the time it takes to communicate, the DN displaces him or herself from the environment they are in. They are temporarily closer to the recipient of the message, miles away, than other people just a few feet apart from them. (For more on this, see Sherry Turkle’s excellent piece, Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self.) Proponents of social graffiti spaces say this is just the opposite; it is immersive in the way it connects an individual to the people in the same space.

What do you think about social texting? Would you engage in it at a café or club? Do you think it helps or hurts the real life social relations between people?

– Tony P.


Microcelebrity and Managing Online Identity

Clive Thompson of WIRED recently wrote a piece called The Age of the Microcelebrity. In it, he describes the phenomenon of being well known, followed, and even discussed by a group of followers, however small. Sure, well know bloggers like Scoble are followed by thousands of enthusiasts, but they are explicitly aware of this and, in my opinion, fall outside the realm of “microcelebrity.” As Thompson discusses interesting anecdotes of people being live blogged as they chat at a conference or his own experience finding a discussion about “whether it’s healthy for [him] to have a nanny look after [his] son during work hours ,” I started to consider how DNs negotiate this reality every day. How has the broadcasting of DNs affected their assumptions and how they operate?

Thompson suggests that “we are learning to live in front of a crowd,” and to some extent, I agree. It is normal on a Monday morning to receive e-mails that you have been “tagged” in photo albums that sprouted over the weekend. I imagine that bloggers with small followings experience the thrill of their posts being debated or discussed. For much of the information we post online about ourselves, privacy is not of paramount concern because we control it ourselves and—often, but not always—tailor the content for our target audience. But in some cases we may want to, as Thompson puts it and as I mentioned in an earlier post, use pseudonyms or private accounts to “wall off” personal details. And here is where many users of online services may go wrong. Although our profile may be hidden, the Terms of Use often allow the service provider to do anything it chooses with that data in the future. A false sense of security can be more harmful than none at all.

What are the effects of this (over)exposure to the rest of our social group and even beyond? Is it good to take care in what we say and do, for fear that we may be misrepresented? Or does that make normal conversation and expression rife with politics? Certainly the strains of managing one’s “personal brand” are felt more by working professionals than DNs still in school, but the skill to manage an online identity is a good one to have.

Thompson finishes with the keen observation that this may not be such a new thing: “Small-town living is a hotbed of bloglike gossip. “ It is true that networked communities dissolve geographic boundaries to give the feeling of that small down, but there are critical differences. Expression in the online world is replicable, searchable, oftentimes irremovable (from the web, once it circulates) and can be viewed by so-called invisible audiences. These differences are part of the digital literacy that is so important for DNs and other users of services to have and apply when negotiating their foray into the online world from the offline one.

   – Tony P.

Music, public spaces, civic engagement, and how to not let copyright stand in the way

Just came across Undersound, a very cool project at

It’s a prototype being developed that fuses Mp3 players, file sharing, and riding the Tube in London and brings it to the next level – kind of a futuristic, interactive labyrinth of music sharing. People riding the Tube upload and download songs from various stations, and from others that are in the same carriage as they ride the tube. The designers‘ goal is to infuse “riding the Tube and listening to the Mp3 player” with social interaction, a sense of place, and a lesson in one’s role in the globally connected world (and that you do have an impact):

“Through the stories that each of the [music] tracks tells us, I can now see that my personal choices have a global effect and, if I so desire, I can alter my course of action with this new knowledge in hand.”

Such a project seems such a logical extension of mobile technology practices and culture of sharing that are the norm in the Digital Native life. It is also so filled with promise – not only in looking towards a solution in issues that are creeping up in regards to the loss of a social public (as Robert Putnam and Sherry Turkle point to) due to mobile technologies (and their propensity to take us “elsewhere” than where we physically are), but also to encourage civic engagement. Our research is showing that youth that are engaged in social or political issues do use digital tools to learn more about, promote and discuss their cause, but it doesn’t *seem* as though the web itself (and the capabilities if offers) actually encourages such engagement. It seems as though a project like Undersound – where you actually see your ripple/global effect upon the system and others, would very much encourage civic engagement among a new generation…and on their own (filesharing) terms.

But how can such a project co-exist with copyright regulations? Well, how about Creative Commons? By allowing a system to only accept files with appropriate CC licenses – projects like Undersound can become legal, and thereby, become reality. In the digital world, when there’s a problem, think about the technological solution! As my colleagues at Berkman point out, systems can be put in place to read the metadata off any file, filtering out any files that are shared with out artist permission. Beyond social and civic potentials in Undersound, one can see how such a project just become a huge opportunity for unsigned artists.

Currently, file sharing happens on grand anonymous scales, and people travel throughout cities often disconnected from the space they’re in, and the people around them – Undersound brings together file sharing and mobile technology, and brings with it the benefits of social connection, of enabling people to see their impact on a larger system, and of course, of sharing music.

Hey, I’d enjoy my morning T-ride a whole lot more 😉

– Miriam S.

Discussing ‘Born Digital’ with European Students

(Cross posted from Dr. Gasser’s blog)

John Palfrey and I are getting tremendously helpful feedback on the draft v.0.9 of our forthcoming book Born Digital (Basic Books, German translation with Hanser) from a number of great students at Harvard and St. Gallen Law School, respectively. Last week, John and I had an inspiring conversation about the current draft with our first readers on this side of the Atlantic: a small, but great and diverse group of law students here at The students, coming from Switzerland, Germany, France, Singapore, and the U.S., were kind enough to share their feedback with us based on reaction papers they’ve drafted in response to assigned book chapters.

Today, the second session took place. John and I are currently revisiting the final chapter of the book. The “final” chapter, of course, is by no means “final” – even not if it once becomes a chapter of the printed book. What we’re trying to do is simply to synthesize some of the things we’ve said so far, and to look ahead once again and ask ourselves how the digital world will look like for our kids given the things we know – and we don’t know – about their digital lives. In this spirit, the last chapter of the book in particular is an open invitation to join the discussion about the promises and challenges of the Internet for a population that is born digital. Against this backdrop, we prepared three discussion questions for today’s session here in St. Gallen.

First, what do you think is the greatest opportunity for Digital Natives when it comes to digital technologies? Second, what are you most concerned about when thinking about the future of the Internet? Third, what approach – generically speaking – seems best suited to address the challenges you’ve identified?

Here are the students’ thoughts in brief:

Greatest opportunities:

  • Democratizing effect of the net: DNs can build their own businesses without huge upfront investments (Rene, Switzerland)
  • ICT enables networking among people across boundaries (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Encourages communication among DNs (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • Increased availability of all kind of information, allows fast development and sharing ideas among DNs (Jonas, Germany)
  • Availability of information, DN can go online and find everything they’re looking for; this shapes, e.g., the way DNs do research; as a result, world becomes a smaller place, more common denominators in terms of shared knowledge and culture (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Efficiency gains in all areas, including speed of access, spread of ideas, … (Eugene, Singapore)

Greatest challenges, long-term:

  • Problem of losing one’s identity – losing cultural identity in the sea of diversity (Eugene, Singapore)
  • Dependency on technology and helplessness when not having the technology available; DNs are becoming dependent on technology and lose ability to differentiate b/w reality and virtuality; other key challenge: bullying (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Who will get access to the digital world – only the wealthy kids in the West or others, too? Digital divide as a key problem (Jonas, Germany)
  • Addiction: DNs are always online and depend so much on Internet that it may lead to addictive behavior (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • DNs can’t distinguish between offline and online world, they can’t keep, e.g. online and offline identities separate (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Notion of friendship changes; DNs might forget about their friends in the immediate neighborhood and focus solely on the virtual (Rene, Switzerland)

Most promising approaches:

  • Teach digital natives how to use social networks and communicate with each other; law, in general, is not a good mode of regulation in cyberspace (Rene, Switzerland)
  • Technology may often provide a solution in response to a technologically-created problem like, e.g., privacy intrusion (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Don’t regulate too much, otherwise people won’t feel responsible anymore; education is key, help people to understand that it’s their own responsibility (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • The laws that are currently in place suffice (except in special circumstances); learning is key, but who shall be the teacher (since today’s teachers are not DNs)? (Jonas, Germany)
  • Generic legal rules are often not the right tool, problems change too fast; instead, kids need general understanding of how to handle technology; goal could be to strengthen their personality in the offline world so that they can transfer their confidence, but also skills to the online world (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Technology will most likely help DNs to solve many of the problems we face today; education is the basis, but focus needs to be on the question how to put education from theory into practice (Eugene, Singapore)

As always, we were running short in time, but hopefully we can continue our discussion online. Please join us, and check out our project wiki (new design, many thanks to Sarah!), our new DN blog, or for instance our Facebook group. John, our terrific team, and I are much looking forward to continuing the debate!

-Urs G.

Building Walls in Facebook

As a college student who has been using Facebook for the past few years, I have noticed a pronounced change in how some of my peers are using the tool: they are becoming wiser with regards to privacy. It’s as if all of the articles about people getting fired and losing job offers have had an effect. But there is another reason why people have started to restrict access to their photos, wall, and other sections of their profile: their audience has changed.

There are, of course, still millions of college students who post anything and everything to their profile, with no qualms about who sees it. Call it negligence, call it expression, it doesn’t matter. What does matter, and what interests me, is the growing group of students who have taken control of their digital identity by using granular security settings; ones that allow you to control who sees what, on a per-person and per-item basis. Potential employers have been prowling Facebook for at least a couple years, so why the change now? It’s simple: they’re out of the shadows.

Before Facebook opened up to anyone, the audience of whatever digital identity you had was visible only as your peers, the people whose faces showed up under your “Friends” box. Now, with adults (that could be offering you a job in the near future) and younger siblings (who can tell mom and dad) joining social networks, the presence of the complete audience is known. The reaction of people to control who sees what is a normal one: we speak differently and of different things with recruiters or professors than with our friends, and the success of a social network that strives to capture users across all ages may hinge on its ability mimic real life walls. By empowering users to control access to different parts of their digital dossier, they can construct settings that represent the different real-life social circles. I want to be connected, not exposed.

– Tony P., Cambridge, MA

Do You Trust Your Facebook Friends?

Facebook’s recently launched advertising strategy, dubbed Social Ads, attempts the harness the power of its social network and put it toward advertising dollars. There are two components to this strategy. There are Facebook Pages for bands, companies, and celebrities, on which you can list yourself as a “fan” of say, Coca Cola. Second is the integration of external websites. When you buy an item from a website partnered with Facebook, such as, a message is sent back to Facebook and your action may show up in News Feed.

The New York Times technology blog, Bits, has several posts criticizing Facebook’s new advertising platform on both social and legal levels. First of all, there is the question of effectiveness. As any Digital Native can tell you, the term “Facebook friend” has a meaning distinct from simply “friend,” and where you may care about the purchases of a real friend, it’s not the same with a Facebook friend. The second piece is about privacy, from both a legal perspective and in principle. Is there something uneasy about how Social Ads puts your face and name to advertise a product, even one you legitimately bought or proclaimed to be a fan of?

Despite the negativity found in the posts and comments of Bits, the new ad platform has seen relatively little internal discontent, certainly nothing close to the level of anti-News Feed hysteria. Have Facebook users, especially Digital Natives, simply accepted that they will cede some privacy for the use of this free and valuable service?

– Sarah Z.