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Don’t blame academics like me for Facebook’s privacy crisis

发布时间:2017-08-07 08:01:29来源:未知点击:

Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/REX/Shutterstock By Ross Anderson Mark Zuckerberg has tried to deflect blame for Facebook’s privacy crisis by pointing the finger at my university. “We do need to understand whether there was something bad going on in Cambridge University overall, that will require a stronger action from us,” he told the US Senate this week. There is a short answer to that, and a deeper one. The short answer is that when Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher whose “This Is Your Digital Life” app is at the heart of the current row, applied to use the data collected by his company in university research, our ethics committees turned him down flat. The reason? While the people who installed his app had consented to their data being used in research, their Facebook “friends” had not. The deeper answer goes back almost 10 years, to when I asked two PhD candidates to choose a topic. They said “Facebook privacy”. Seeing my astonishment, one of them said “We don’t expect a married guy like you to appreciate this, but in Cambridge all the party invitations come via Facebook, so if you’re not on Facebook you go to no parties, you meet no girls, you have no sex, so you have no kids and your genes die out. It’s a Darwinian imperative to be on Facebook. Yet you seem to have no privacy. We’re wondering if it’s possible to fix that.” Six months later, they gave it up as hopeless. Facebook operates by providing users with a false sense of security, of being in a private and intimate space, so they puts lots of sensitive information online – which Facebook’s advertisers can then use to target them. Opting out is made deliberately difficult. Yet thanks to a decade of data on students’ privacy preferences, we now know that as time goes by, ever more users discover Facebook’s privacy settings and figure out how to use them. Facebook responds with periodic redesigns that often reset people to “sharing” their data with advertisers by default. As a result, users have to learn new and often confusing privacy controls. Yet, after each reset, more people choose to opt out. Academia has indeed got a lot to say about Facebook and privacy, but maybe not the things that Mr Zuckerberg wants to hear. Facebook is powerful not because it has great products, but because of network effects; people need to use the tools that everyone else uses. Competing firms such as Instagram and WhatsApp get bought out. And research shows that, although people often disregard privacy, they are starting to learn not to. More on these topics: