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The Blog on Emerging Academic Technologies


The End of Forgetting

The Web Means the End of Forgetting is an excellent piece in today's New York Times about the perils of web on professional life. Jeffrey Rosen's article has the broadest and deepest scope of the many articles I've seen about the problem.

It's often said that we live in a permissive era, one with infinite second chances. But the truth is that for a great many people, the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances -- no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you've done is often the first thing everyone knows about you.

What "privacy" means in the age of Facebook has been an item of both discussion and argument among our group. I think that "privacy" isn't exactly the right word, since much of the problem is the ubiquity and longevity of things people do, after all, "in public." However, there is definitely something akin to privacy that has been lost: the ability to keep our selves separate, and to leave some selves behind. I think Rosen hits the nail on the head when he describes the problem as an identity crisis.

For young people inclined to be silly or careless with their web persona, this can even put their future in jeopardy. Even more cautious folks can be photographed and identified at their weakest moment. For every job interview, they may as well show up drunk and wearing a lampshade hat, since their employer will see them that way. (Of course people with common names are a bit exempt from this issue. No such luck for the Kurtis Scalettas of the world.)

What can we do as academic technology consultants to help protect students from themselves? Will any warnings be similar to campus-wide anti-drinking campaigns, which may or may not have any effect on the inevitable experimentation and recklessness that goes with being young?


There is a new article by danah boyd and Eszter Hargittai, "Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?" in First Monday. 15(8).
It bears on this post, suggesting that savvy young people are indeed concerned about privacy as expressed in how they manipulate their privacy settings. Here is the abstract:

With over 500 million users, the decisions that Facebook makes about its privacy settings have the potential to influence many people. While its changes in this domain have often prompted privacy advocates and news media to critique the company, Facebook has continued to attract more users to its service. This raises a question about whether or not Facebook’s changes in privacy approaches matter and, if so, to whom. This paper examines the attitudes and practices of a cohort of 18– and 19–year–olds surveyed in 2009 and again in 2010 about Facebook’s privacy settings. Our results challenge widespread assumptions that youth do not care about and are not engaged with navigating privacy. We find that, while not universal, modifications to privacy settings have increased during a year in which Facebook’s approach to privacy was hotly contested. We also find that both frequency and type of Facebook use as well as Internet skill are correlated with making modifications to privacy settings. In contrast, we observe few gender differences in how young adults approach their Facebook privacy settings, which is notable given that gender differences exist in so many other domains online. We discuss the possible reasons for our findings and their implications.

Well, I think the emphasis on "privacy settings" is much overplayed, since the worst violations of privacy I have seen were done by so-called friends -- those people you have decided to share your content with cut and paste it somewhere else.

"Privacy was just a blip in history"

Different topic, different outcomes, but--we're all losing our privacy, with our without our willing/knowing participation!

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